May 26, 2020

No News from Doodlebug Island . . . by William F. Jordan

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“The trouble with atheism is that it’s unattractive, argumentative, and dead-ended,” said Giles, casting his line into the swollen waters of Oak Creek, which, so far as our luck was concerned, seemed to have washed the fish downstream in the direction of Cornville.

“Far be it from me to interrupt a repentant nay-sayer, but aren’t those three troubles?”

Giles pulled a wry face. “I’ve made a complete examination of the field of agnoiology—the study of ignorance—and have found you to be a ready specimen. Now, suppose you pretend you’re not the editor of the Doodlebug Run-on—a rag of questionable reputation—and assume sounding-board qualities. Why do you think I brought you along on this little soiree?”

“First you insult me and invite me not to think, then you ask me to do the opposite and reason why my presence is considered desirable. You’re a walking case of contradictions, my doubting friend, not the least of which has to do with the fact I invited you to this soiree, as you call it.”

“You may be technically correct, but your invitation was freighted with the knowledge that I’d likely furnish the intellectual grist for an otherwise dull afternoon.”

“I had thought you’d be mildly amusing although I was fearful you’d want to talk me to death and scare all the fish away. But, when an atheist finds atheism troubling, that may  be reason enough to risk death or endure the futility of an expedition from which we would return sans fish, sans amusement, and sans rectitude.”

Giles looked pained. “Anyone who floats a new idea your way is likely in for a cross- examination that would exceed the expectations of the Inquisition! The fact is that I’ve been reviewing my position as it affects belief, and, while I haven’t changed my mind on any part or the whole of that rationale, I’ve begun to think it’s not enough.”

“If you mean that atheism is simply a black hole that sucks life and its component parts past some arbitrary event horizon, you’re right. It is unattractive and dead-ended! Are you suggesting there may be something past that horizon, something bordering on hope?”

“Nothing so simple as that, yet your analogy of a black hole is apt. Once beyond that ‘event horizon’ you spoke of, it’s conceivable that we could be caught up in some sort of singularity, but what that might be, or what might be the eventual conclusion is as indefinable as what happens to matter caught in a gravitational field great enough to stop light. I’m thinking that the voice of atheism should be less harsh, more muted, softened, if you will, to the level of theory, not a strident reaction to faith. I’m suggesting an amelioration that keys to human needs. There should be more to atheism than the oblivion it has sworn to, perhaps a sympathetic support of what’s been described as the ‘human condition.’”

“You sound more like an agnostic than an atheist. Why, if you keep this up, we agnostics may have to extend you membership, and uncertainty makes us question whether or not we’d want to.”

“Droll, very droll. Well, you can save your membership for those folks Madelyn Murray O’Hare described as ‘cowardly atheists.’ Just because I’m advocating a more tolerant view doesn’t mean a restructuring of doubt; it’s more in recognition that there’s been a Pharisee-like smugness that has attached to the label ‘atheist.’ Truthfully, it’s hard to feel conceit when we have no alternative to offer.”

“This is some kind of joke, right? In a minute or two you’re gonna yell, ‘April Fool!’”
“No joke, Bill,” he said in seriousness. “I’ve grown uncomfortable living in the negative, defining my life by what I don’t believe instead of what I do. There’s no possibility of my becoming someone of faith, but that shouldn’t mean a denial of brotherhood and the joy of shared experience.”

Giles’ admission left me speechless. As an agnostic, I held the view that I knew nothing and knew I knew nothing, making it possible to hold a neutral position while exercising tolerance. In effect, this was what he was striving for, and reason told me he wasn’t going to make it! His doubt was too strong to admit the amelioration of which he spoke. The results will be worth watching!

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