A History of Doubt, A History Untold

October 22, 2006

I just finished a book. I know, hold back your disbelief for just a moment. “What, you do something other than read?” Man, I can get bitter, can’t I?

Anyway, the book I just read, Doubt: A History, offers a fascinating account of “doubt” (which basically means atheism, agnosticism, deism, and materialism) throughout the ages of history. As the author puts it, we have plenty of knowledge about the history of belief (well, it’s available; I don’t know if many people actually know about it [I didn’t]), it’s about time we learn about the history of doubt.

And it turns out that the history of doubt is just as colorful and just as innovative. I was amazed to learn that all the new “new” arguments for a disbelief in god aren’t new at all; at the very least, they’re 2500 years old. From the philosophers of Greece, to the thinkers of India, to the doubting Jews of the Old Testament, this idea that maybe, just maybe, God isn’t all he’s cracked up to be isn’t new news at all.

But what really fascinates me is in America, WE NEVER LEARN THIS. Because we don’t talk about faith, we don’t talk about lack of faith. I mean, we assume that faith should be a moot issue: you have yours, I have mine, and never the twain shall meet (unless we get married). But I think that’s a great disservice to the intellectual dialogue of history. I mean, let’s face it, religion does matter. The lack of religion just as much. But we don’t learn this.

We don’t learn that Jefferson, when referring to men being “endowed by their creator” didn’t mean creator with a big C, but rather a universal, deist creator. We don’t learn that Hanukkah is a celebration of fundamentalist Jews ridding their ranks of the more progressive, secular Jews. We don’t learn that Thomas Edison, Sigmund Freud, and countless other scientists and inventors didn’t believe in god. Not to mention that most of the geniuses of all the ages didn’t believe God, at least as he’s portrayed by “religious” people around the world. We just don’t learn anything about atheists.

But I suppose that’s not surprising in a country where being an atheist ranks up there with having a criminal record as a reason not to vote for someone. But here again I must catch myself: my immediate reaction is to say, “Well, America’s just a hyper-religious nation!” But we’re not. We’re filled with doubters, and have been since our very inception as a nation. And we just assume that all away.

I myself don’t know how I feel about atheism. I have phases where I like the moniker, and other moments where the staunch materialism of some of atheism’s poster children pisses me off to the point that I don’t want to be associated with them. In the end, the label doesn’t matter. Call me an atheist, a theist, or an agnostic, and you’d probably be right about all three. I’ve tasted them all at one point, and I’ll taste them all again before I die.

I really loved this book. I love books that show you the alternative history that you didn’t quite get from the flock known as society. Like when I first read The Templar Revelations (a book that “reveals the true secrets behind the Da Vinci Code”) and realized that, wow, Catholocism might just not be the one and only true religion. That, horror of horrors, maybe there is no Heaven and Hell or an eternal soul. That there is no arbitrater God, or even an impersonal universal force. Hard to believe I thought all that just three years ago. Amazing how much a person can change in three years.

So, go out to your local library and borrow this book. Or buy it. Or ask me to get it from our library. But read it. You won’t be disappointed.

PS – Hm, maybe this is my very first “book of the month” (bom)? What a better place to start than with doubt!

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2 Responses to “A History of Doubt, A History Untold”

  1. Davum said

    Sounds like an interesting read. Yeah, we never do hear about stuff like that. I mean, I could understand why. It’s hard to find people here that don’t believe in god, but most of them that do are pretty cool people. This might just be me being a panzy, but I don’t want to make a person feel like they’ve been living a lie their whole life, especially if their philosophies and religions lead them to accomplish great things even for the secular community. I mean, sure, I could get my point across if I wanted to, but it doesn’t seem worth it because after you stop believing, then you have to find a new reason to continue your endeavor, and it takes a long time.

    It would be nice to have an intellectual conversation with one who was willing, but its a rough topic to get into. And I just find that I get pissed off a lot too, lol. So yeah… good stuff. Keep it coming.

  2. I enjoyed your post – and the book, too.

    I especially liked your comment, “Call me an atheist, a theist, or an agnostic, and you’d probably be right about all three. I’ve tasted them all at one point, and I’ll taste them all again before I die.”

    Many believers doubt their faith at times and many atheists doubt their materialism at times. Don’t most of us have MOMENTS of being a believer and MOMENTS of lacking true belief in whatever it is that we profess to believe? It’s refreshing to hear someone actually admit it.

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