#21 | AN ATHEIST LEFT WITH THE TRUTH | From Catholicism to Atheism: Finding Truth in the AI Age
A Journey of Faith and Skepticism: Klaus shares his journey from a Catholic upbringing to atheism, stressing his preference for scientific explanations and a sense of insignificance in the vast universe.
Role of Religion in Human History: Religions are seen as human attempts to explain existence, provide moral guidance, and offer comfort in life's challenges. The speaker appreciates the cultural contributions of religions.
AI and the Search for Truth: The discussion shifts to the realm of AI and the importance of truth in information dissemination. The speaker underscores the need for valid and honest information in an age of disinformation and its consequences.
I am an atheist by circumstance and choice. I was born five months after the start of WWll, about a mile from the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein, which fired the first shot of WWll on 1 September 1939 in the Bay of Danzig, anchored off the seaside town of Zoppot. It woke up my mother sleeping on a couch in a furniture warehouse to escape the radio propaganda… the Russians were invading from the West. Five years of wartime followed, and we wound up safely in the suburb of Hoechst in Frankfurt with my grandparents. In questioning my mother for the next 70 years, she never answered, “… were my sister and I ever baptized?” and in what denomination; you know, about every 15 years or so, around birthdays, evasion, and old stories ensued. Northern Germany was Catholic and some Lutheran, and grandparents followed Catholicism since Opapa was a history Professor of the Catholic Church.
When Mutti married an American Soldier, we got to the States in 1947, and we were now part of an Italian family in Brooklyn, New York. Of course, we became instant Catholics, and I excelled in parochial school and the rituals and routines of the Church and the Mass. Until one weekday afternoon when I was at the candy store up on 6th Avenue, I looked across the street at the Post Office and saw the local Monseigneur in a “t” shirt and sneakers, his belly hanging over his belt and I had an epiphany (so to speak). Under all the raiment and vestments, the clergy, nuns, and brothers were just ordinary human beings, not the glorified holy people to whom I bowed and lowered my eyes. In talking with Mutti, which was easy and comforting, she said to follow my heart, no matter what. I finished junior high in parochial school, graduating 2nd in my class. I was not baptized in the Catholic Church, but because of my age and attendance, I was “Confirmed” into the church and picked up a second alias. My name, Klaus Volker Luehning, would not stand on the streets of Brooklyn in an Irish/Italian “hood,” so I was asked to become Frederick De Blasio and then confirmed in the church, so now I was Frederick John De Blasio. I took back my name before graduating High School because of the Draft, Social Security, and hopefully college.
I have never been in a church since to pray for my sins or anyone else. However, I must admit that the “Church,” meaning all faiths, has contributed to music, art, architecture, literature, poetry, philosophy, and countless other pursuits, most of which I can certainly appreciate for their ingenuity and beauty.
All religions are figments of the imagination of humankind throughout history, trying to give fellow travelers through life some idea of their origin. Also, to devise a pattern of behavior to ease the pain of injury and loss, explain birth and death, and provide a ladder in thought to extricate themselves from the daily grind of existence. Making the god or gods anthropomorphic and giving them human emotions and tendencies makes them familiar and easy to understand. Even the angry gods are easy to relate to, given the fear and hostility of leaders to exact allegiance. Undoubtedly, the writers of the earliest theocratic texts were wise in their own right, using the best knowledge at the time or the best ingenuity. I grew up with my doubts and the more scientific explanations of my existence, and they are more acceptable to me to grasp the big picture. It also explains the imperfect collaboration of my organ systems to give me a sublime and pain-free life and challenge me to work with my DNA blueprint to minimize the extremes of my current medical capacity. When I die, I will return to the inventory of elements that is Earth and may, in some future, return as something completely different or float endlessly in water.
My focus is not the planet Earth as my limiting my view of existence; it is the Universe as we see it today and in its enormity. I am not noticeable except to my fellow travelers through the instant of life here on Earth. I do not feel bereft, alone, oppressed, forgotten, insignificant, empty, not to be embraced by a church and its doctrines with promises of life ever after or 260,000 years in purgatory to “work” of my life of sin and perdition (my Catholic experience). This is, above all, an opportunity to see what I can accomplish for myself in seeing me take advantage of the essences that make me think and do what I can and try to ferret out a chance at my biological inheritance. It is not a smooth ride. Now, what the hell has any of this had to do with A.I.?
Neither I nor A.I. have anything to do with a belief or a relationship with a higher power that is transcendental. But I am a real person, homo -sapiens, flesh and blood, born and will die, and leave some memories in people’s minds and some things I contributed to the world. I am not worried about going to hell, nor purgatory, having experienced the hellish propensities of my fellow earthlings that they are consuming and destroying. My remains will experience climate change and may alter the reuse of my elemental self. Still, I will not have any consciousness to worry about, other than I would be happier now to be left in peace for the next 5 billion years when the sun will run out of fuel and explode to destroy the solar system. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The working principle of almost all religions, from the earliest to the latest, is an ethic of a difference between good and evil, right and wrong, and a watchful eye on all of us, with punishment for digressions, either verbal or corporal and in the hereafter in purgatory and hell. A system of control over behavior to control group and individual actions in favor of a standard that benefits a group, a community, or a people, as a dogma, set of rules, or enshrined as law. I remember Madame Marie (a French order of nuns in Brooklyn) who chastised me for sneezing entering the cathedral and saying to me sternly, “What would the baby Jesus think of your insult?” Sneezing powder over the guy’s shoulder in my face. I kept mum. I looked at the crucified Jesus above the altar, age 32, and said to myself, Really??
There is no ethic of behavior or use, in a general sense with Artificial Intelligence, other than some common sense and personal guilt and shame acting on the creators and purveyors of the results of the work. The primary concern is the validity of the information in some form of media released to the public for consumption. The deception built into the information is known or unknown, and its effects are situationally good or bad depending on the consumer. In some ways, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, war, conquest, famine, and death, now have a fifth, which is disinformation. The focus of dealing with this conundrum is the value of the truth, in that it is the only foundation upon which any decision becomes anchored in reality.