72°
UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Dateline: Downtown

Dateline: Downtown
Dateline: Downtown

The agnostic is, of course, a fence -straddler between the realms of the blind believer and the thorough skeptic and thus can observe many errors and ironies that neither may see in themselves. The first holds contradictory assumptions and the latter leaps to conclusions, but the agnostic lives in stasis, unable to give himself over to the consolations of faith because they may be false ones, but also he’s unable to say with any certainty that after death there is nothing. He can’t say that he knows no God exists- there is that small kernel of faith-or-something-like-it. One supposes he will settle on some conclusion, likely a yea for God, by the time he perishes, but death may come swift in the night. This should be understood.

The atheist can’t quite rest because there is always the question of whether the “still small voice” is indeed environment and upbringing. I request proof, and find it presumptuous to pretend to any certainty, even to oneself, about this thing that jars, the post-existential question. The only one who sleeps is the believer, with the question of whether hers is not a dullard’s lull, but the sleep of the righteous.

Now. The fact that this question is open shows that our cultural milieu, in the West, has changed from one where heterodoxy and heresy brought war and punishment to one where doubt, and thus exploration, is permitted. There are positive outcomes of this and negative ones. It depends on how devout you are or how deeply you doubt. Of the first, we lose a certain social order, the peace that often binds people who follow a shared body of spiritual law and an ethics based upon a decency coda within that law (or Law). One who has lived as a believer among believers knows what this is like, and I am sure America as presently constituted misses a certain social cohesion that was present in our early, predominately Puritan, settlers. Losing this fellowship is a net negative.

However, there is in any community of believers ones in which the belief is not as fervent, and when doubts manifest in these freethinkers they are ostracized, perhaps persecuted, by the fellowship. Is it better, then, for a society to be entirely secularized?

What I consider the most positive aspects of the faiths are the stories of those whose doubt tempered their individual faith- or, rather, submerged it in cold water so the steel could harden. Islam has their Sufi who linger over doubt, Christians have their St. Johns of the Cross. Buddhism, famously the most welcoming religion to doubt, that actually encourages a powerful, examining doubt, has made countless people happy and gentler toward others, and more expertly forges in this wise than do the others.

While, in the face of the conspiracies and cynicisms of religious leaders in Christianity and totalitarianism in Islamic cultures there is intellectual sympathy to be felt for the atheist. But, the question must be asked whether the atheist does not make the diametrically opposite mistake the believer does. The believer assumes the answer to the unanswerable question positively, and then acts upon the following assumptions as reason dictates (or doesn’t). The disbeliever assumes and acts contrarily. Both beg the question, to my mind. How can you be sure?

On the whole, I prefer people who believe in ultimate justice, or some variation on it, than people who do not. But I suspect that not many believers believe as wholly and fully in their God as they perceive themselves to. Furthermore, I question whether what they do thinking God is on their side is not more egregious and outrageous to humanity than anything the most thoroughgoing atheist could commit. Of atheists, however, I note that (through no fault of their own) they have no ethical touchstone outside their individual capacity of reason. It is reasonable to want to distrust this capacity against time-bound, tested ethical guidelines that have led more than one person of equal intelligence or better to a virtuous life.

ADDENDATA: Michael Patrick MacDonald, Southie-bred author of ENG 102 mainstay “All Souls: A Family Story from Southie” will be giving the annual Shaun O’Connell lecture on the 18th of November at 2 PM on the 11th floor of the Healey Library. The lecture is titled “Kehd, Yah Dirty: Variations in the Southie Shuffle.” The first 15 people wearing Adidas breakaways and kelly green shelltoes win free Sully’s cheeseburgers…They’re paving the driveway so they can lay down asphalt for a semi-permanent parking lot “solution”. No more rocks. That’s what’s going on outside the garage…Hallelujah! T-Radio has been killed and it is never coming back…Whitey in London?…Congratulations to Jose Luiz Prado-Fillo and Lydia Grinnell, winners of the New England Students as Scholars research competition. Hopefully, winning the award got Fillo some dough…hi-yooooooooh…Please remember to fill out any survey the Healey Library gives you, either online or in class. It’s an enlightened self-interest thing. They’re going to revamp the Library over the next few years and need as much good input as they can get…Am I the only one who purposely attends class whenever I’m told to “Walk Out Against the War”, or to show support of the Jena Six, or for women’s professional bowling? Listen, man, I, you know, pay for my education and take it seriously. Find a new tactic…Go Sox…

About the Contributor
Dan Roche served as opinions editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2006-2007; 2007-2008; 2008-2009