Monday, July 26, 2010

The Word ‘God’ – The First and Fatal Flaw in Religious Logic (Polemic) by Edwin L. Young, PhD

You do not have to prove Christianity is full of contradictions, fabrications, or spurious revised history related to it or its origins in order to be an atheist. All you have to do is ask 'What does the word ‘god’ mean?’ Reverting to synonyms won't cut it.

When man evolved from Apes and constructed language, they made the mistake of reifying words that had no concrete or material existence. C. S. Peirce, the pragmatist philosopher, wrote that to know the meaning of a word, consider what practical consequences would result from using that word and that would be its meaning.

The word God only has meaning to group members who react psychologically or emotionally to its use and who have a network of related words that cohere. They act as though the word god and related spiritual words do not require 'object'-tive verification and as though the assertion that god or things supernatural are causal agents needs no verification. You cannot prove the negative. You cannot prove god exists and you cannot prove god does not exist. To begin with, no one can even say to what the word refers or what it means other than its idiosyncratic meaning to each unique individual. An attempt by a person to do so, that is to clarify what they mean, ends with the defending person accumulating words that have no concrete or material existence or observable cause and effect relations. These words are strictly subjective and their meanings strictly preferential. Strange as it may seem, heated debates over these intangibles can rage for hours and even decades and have been the Casus belli for so many ghastly wars, like one horrid example for instance the Crusades.

Well, harkening back to an earlier trip to the grocery store and a Chinese woman with whom I talked. She was a middle-aged woman, not unattractive, with a high-pitched voice. She followed me off the bus and launched into a description of her existence. She was homeless and indicated where she now lived and where she had lived in winter to keep from freezing. I feared she was going to ask to come live with me so I made a preemptive strike and said I was a very old and poor man who lives in a tiny apartment and sleeps on the floor. It worked but her curiosity must have been aroused so she began asking me about what I did for a living. Of course, I said ‘retired’ but I had been a psychologist. She seemed incredulous so I added that I had spent most of my career reforming prisons and the like and there was no money in it. I hoped that leaving it at that would satisfy her and it did. However, that just catapulted her into a narrative about how she had been a nurse and had made a quarter of a million dollars and then one day the Lord touched her life and she gave everything she owned away for the poor and became an evangelist to the homeless. I told her I was an atheist and she immediately told me that all I had to do was open my heart and God would take me back. I put my hand on her shoulder and said, as somberly as I could, “Bless you!” She looked at me like God himself had blessed her and went on her way.

The tales of the lives of these billions of humans around the world are each so strikingly unique and fascinating. What a bizarre and fanciful world our species entered into when it developed language. Language creates realities all of their own for humans. Most live happily throughout their brief habitation because they believe so completely in their fantasies about the meaning of their life, the imaginary explanations for causes of the effects in their lives, and their worldviews that provide a rationale for their often fruitless, trivial, corrupt, or even horrendously destructive careers.

My meaning is simple. That woman is doing no harm in doing her kind of good. My infinitesimal moment in her life gave her a momentary, delightful sense of validation. Ironically, it had the same effect on me, the atheist, who believes she is living an arduous, self-sacrificing, life with a sense of fulfillment, albeit one built on pure fantasy. My life, devoid of fantasy, received what I think may have been a close to identical sense of fulfillment in that moment.

Is that, after all, what, in the end and for the most part, life is all about: kindness and caring shared between one human and another. Lest I forget, I must quickly add that, while not returned in the same filial manner, for we all are kin, life must also be about extending kindness and caring to our dear Mother Earth.

Author bio:

Edwin is a 76 year old, retired, psychotherapist/institution reformer. His greatest satisfaction came from reforming many juvenile correctional institutions, a maximum security prison, a West Texas mental hospital, and the huge Job Corps in San Marcos, Texas. All in all there were thirteen institutions that he successfully reformed. In the last year of his PhD program, Edwin was one of the two PhD graduate students to be awarded the annual University Research Institute grant. His dissertation committee said his was the longest, best, and most complex in the history of the department. Since retiring, Edwin spends his time writing. His site is: The Natural Systems Institute.

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