Saturday, November 22, 2008

Am I an Atheist?

As I mentioned in this week’s weekend update, I was reading Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” during the weekend (and I’m not done yet). This made me reconsider my own position on religion.

Technically speaking, I’m still Roman-Catholic. That’s the way I was christened, that’s the way I was educated during school. (And it’s a strange thing that Germany advocates the separation of Religion and State, while public schools educate children according to their religious affiliation and the State collects church taxes.)

Due to neither of my parents being overly religious, though, I’ve not been taught to be a very firm believer at home. My mother is Roman-Catholic, like me, and my father is Lutheran. (In Germany, children usually get given their mother’s religious affiliation, because it’s still assumed that the mother will be the one to educate them on their belief.) Therefore there were always two different approached to Christianity present at my home. I learned about the Old Testament - and at the same time knew that for my father’s religion only the New Testament mattered. I’ve actually read a lot of the bible at one point or the other of my life (most of it during the horribly boring religion classes) and I can’t really say I can see it as a religious book.

Yes, there is mention of God. But apart from that it’s just a collection of names upon names on one side (because there’s whole pages devoted to who fathered whom) and violence on the other side. From Adam and Eve having to leave paradise right up to Jesus being executed (as crucifixion for the Romans was nothing but a kind of execution), you’ll find people being killed - quite often gruesomely -, women being raped and a lot of other sex and violence going on. If you took parts of the bible, changed the names and maybe the places, you could write stacks of thrillers, horror novels or softcore paperbacks for the mass market.

So this is the background I had after growing up. My father likes to read philosophical works (as do I, but I don’t really go for the old ones like Plato or Socrates) and my mother has a practical approach to everything.

I’ve never been a firm believer, even as a child. I could see the wonders of the world around me, but a higher being creating all of them never really featured in it. While I could spent ages watching bugs or spiders or other small creatures, I never really thought about someone creating them. They were there and they were interesting. And what I found interesting about them was not ‘who build them’, but ‘what are they going to do next’.

So, do I believe? I think it comes down to whether you ask me to believe in a religion or in a higher being. I’m not Roman-Catholic at heart and there’s no other church or religious group I really feel connected to. At the same time I know that for living things, the whole is a lot more than just the number of the parts. Take all the parts of a human being (or of various, do it Frankenstein’s way) and put them together, you’ll end up with some kind of corpse, maybe, but not with a living, breathing human. There is a spark of life, something that divides the world into animated and unanimated matter. There’s bacteria, there’s plants and there’s animals on this world (okay, and fungus, they’re considered something different from a plant or an animal by biologists) and they all have one thing in common: they live. Life basically means having some sort of metabolism. You take things in, your body processes them (even if that ‘body’ is just one cell, because you happen to be a bacteria), uses what it can use and flushes the remainder out of the system.

That’s the biological theory. But why life stops (and how it starts) isn’t all that clear. Okay, life is born out of other cells (but where did the first come from ... wait, that’s the “hen or egg” question, isn’t it?) and at some points the cells stop metabolizing. The reason for both seems clear at the first look, but isn’t, if you really start looking at it.

So yes, I think there is some kind of ‘Spark of Life’, some energy field or force (or Force?) that is essential to life. But I don’t think it’s some kind of god. I’m not even sure if it has a conscience. It exists - and as long as it does, so does life. I don’t pray to it, but I recognize its workings in the world around me.

So, instead of praying in church, I stop every now and then to look around, smell the flowers, hear the birds sing and put an earthworm back on the grass when it’s crawling across the stone path. Am I an Atheist? I don’t know ... and I don’t care.

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