Sunday, February 8, 2009

Who is in the Room?

E.D. Kain is tired of all the arguing over god:

[A]ll of this talk on whether or not God exists is simply pointless. It means nothing, signifies nothing. It has no bearing on the world itself. We all believe what we believe, and no 300-page diatribe will change that, be it religious or atheistic or agnostic. What matters is how humans interact. What matters are those fault lines where religion, atheism, politics, culture, language, economics, and history intersect and the inevitable human consequences that manifest within those intersections. I imagine a best-seller could be found among some of these themes, though it might not be so easy to pitch. Taking pot shots at those who have different views is easy money, and the choir loves it. Really trying to understand this crazy, screwed-up world of ours takes time and empathy and humanity…
Andrew Sullivan disagrees and so do I. We are social creatures, defined by our interrelationships with others, so there can be no more fundamental question than "who is in the room with us?"

Answering this question matters. Getting the head-count right is part of understanding the resources available to solve any given problem. We don't equate the situation in which three matrilineal ancestors are in the room with the mere what if suggestion that three matrilineal ancestors are in the room -- either they are in the room or they are not, and the difference is unmistakable. Likewise it matters whether the police are listening in or not as we speak on the telephone, just as it matters whether the police actually exist when we call 911 to report an assault. It matters whether the occupants of the adjacent room can hear our normal speaking voices through the thin hotel wall. And so on. On a very basic level, putting aside all finer philosophical musing, it matters whether god exists.

And on this theme, it happens to be true that the new Humanist Symposium is now posted and ready to read.


Snowbrush said...

I suppose that whether it matters depends upon how one defines God, no?

Printemps said...

Who is in the Room?

Dale said...

Snowbrush, thanks for the comment. If god is an agency / consciousness / mind with the power to hear prayers and respond to them, it matters whether he is actually in the room or actually not in the room. Most believers take this view of god most of the time.

If god is something more ineffable than that -- say, a name given to the laws of the universe or to mankind's collective search for truth -- then there really isn't a question of in the room/not in the room. The more salient question, in that case, is getting clarity on what we mean by the term 'god' (and, preferably, sticking to that from one conversation to the next). After that threshold is crossed, the in the room/not in the room question will either obviously matter or obviously not apply.