The Church of I Don’t Know

Way back in early October last year, I was stopped in Durham hanging out with the legendary Anthony from Man Vs. Clock.

One afternoon, between web-work sessions at the city library, we were strolling along the cobbled streets when a young college student approached and asked if we’d like to partake in a quick survey. He was an Asian chap named Chawie, which we assumed was the typical Chinese mispronunciation of Charlie, but then his English was otherwise flawless. So I’m not sure what that was about.

Anyways, in that survey we partook.

It wasn’t long before we realized that Chawie was actually part of some Christian association, and the survey was a front to try recruit new members to their church. In a very serious and concerned tone, he asked us questions like…

If you were sitting at a bar, and God sat down next to you, what would you ask him?

… and…

What do you think happens after you die?

After playing ball for a while, Ant and I decided to ask Chawie a few questions of our own. I recall asking him if he really thought all Muslims were going to hell because they didn’t believe Jesus was the son of God.

Chawie nodded, lowered his gaze and replied quietly, “Unfortunately, yes.”

I voiced my disagreement, and Chawie ended up challenging me to read the Bible. I, in turn, challenged him to read the Koran.

Stalemate.

We about left it at that.

The Church of I Don’t Know

When folks inquire about my religious beliefs, I like to tell them that I’ve formed my own church: The Church of I Don’t Know.

It’s a nice, friendly, and non-existent church that doesn’t claim to know the unknowable. The church advocates no specific beliefs, because, when it comes to beliefs, there is no true and false, only useful and detrimental.

The church has no symbol, nothing to compete with the crucifix. But if it did, I imagine it would be the image of a dude shrugging in front of a giant wooden question mark. And instead of trying to provide answers to the big questions, the Church of I Don’t Know likes to keep it honest and humble…

— Is there a god?
— I don’t know.

— What happens after you die?
— No idea.

— Why are we here?
— Beats me.

— Is Elvis still alive?
Uhh…

It’s a tough sell though, this Church of I Don’t Know. As you can see from the video above, shot on the streets of Kathmandu, my recruitment spiel needs a bit of work 😉

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36 Comments

  1. Oops, the video is “private,” so I can’t see it. I’m on the email list, and I’ve been able to see all the previous videos…maybe you accidentally clicked the ‘private’ button?

    I really would like to see this video 🙂

    Thanks!

  2. I would surely join your church. Where do you hold your meetings? LOL
    It sound’s like you are an agnostic. Your church doesn’t know if god exists or not. The step you took to ask random people to become member of your church was very brave of you. I was thinking of doing these types of things myself but couldn’t go any further.I am fed up by religious people and their ideology. plus they asking me to join their deluded church.
    I am quite sure you know about Pastafarian, The church of Flying Spagetti Monster.

    If the non-religious were to immediately leave the USA, USA would lose 93% of the National Academy of Sciences…but they’d only lose less than 0.21% of their prison population.

    What I don’t understand is how 7% of scientists could be religious.
    Even more baffling though is how even one person could believe religion is a good thing. How could telling children some sky-wizard will forgive them for anything promote morality?

    Statistics like this seem to confirm what is obvious to me: that religion not only teaches immorality and calls it morality, it also destroys all reason to act moral.

    There is no legit reason to suspect Jesus was ever even a real person… it is just so obviously a scam at best. I honestly cannot distinguish the difference between churches and harpies.

    1. “If the non-religious were to immediately leave the USA, USA would lose 93% of the National Academy of Sciences…but they’d only lose less than 0.21% of their prison population.”

      That’s fascinating. Where did you get that info?

      “Even more baffling though is how even one person could believe religion is a good thing.”

      I don’t agree entirely with this. I remember reading a few of M. Scott Peck’s books, and he recounted tales from all his years as a psychiatrist. He found that some people achieved better mental health when they moved towards religion, while others improved when they moved away from it. So it can be good for some people at certain times.

      It really depends on what part of a religion people cling to. If you want to treat others as you’d like to be treated, Christianity may give you solid guidance. But if someone wants justification for their homophobia and bigotry, they can find that in the Bible, too.

      1. I got that info from:
        http://freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Percentage_of_atheists

        http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html

        I was about to link it in the previous post but thought it would look like a spam comment to promote myself, so didn’t bother to link.

        As Matt Dillahunty said, Science relies on evidence to lead us to the best possible conclusions about what happened and religion relies on something other than evidence. Why? Because they don’t have evidence, faith is the excuse people give when they have no good reason for their beliefs. If you had a good reason, you wouldn’t need faith.

        Every religion is so obviously just a scam.

        There is no reason better than a decades-long game of telephone to suspect Jesus may have even existed, yet we are supposed to believe he was some sort of cosmic crime-absolving zombie… and we will be tortured if we are not this laughably gullible… right…

        The “Good News” is that some genocidal sky wizard sacrificed himself to himself to appease himself to save us from himself so now we should be grateful? This is good news to some people?

        The only real good news is that there is no reason to suspect the bible or any other religious book is anything more than a poorly written work of fiction.

        This article best explains if jesus existed or not: http://www.nobeliefs.com/exist.htm

        Isn’t it really fucked up how the laws currently in place against child abuse don’t apply to certain religions?

        If I mutilated and permanently disfigured the genitalia of a newborn it would be called “assault on a minor with a deadly weapon” and I would go to prison for a really long time, and for good fucking reason. If I guilted and threatened a child into handing me 10% of their earnings it would be called extortion and would be a class E felony, and for good fucking reason.

        What a warped world we live in where people are anything but disgusted and outraged by the sight of clergymen. They are literally professional lobotomists; carefully damaging the minds of children so badly that they can’t even distinguish fiction from nonfiction and are addicted to delusions of a genocidal sky-wizard just to feel fleeting moments of spiritual bliss.

        It’s good to be against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world and the only meaning of life worth caring about is the one that can withstand our best efforts to examine it.

        Anything religion does is to help our mind ignore evidence, logic and reason while being able to believe in fairy tale based on faith alone. And being proud of it rather than being ashamed.

        1. Agreed with the FUBARness of many religions, but I think there’s an irony here…

          You can’t understand how religious people can be absolutely sure about something for which they have no scientific evidence. But then you’re absolutely sure that they’re wrong.

          I think that kind of certainty — whether for or against religion — is the main problem. Sure, nobody can prove that God exists, but nobody can prove that he doesn’t either. Hence, I’m not going to state or believe anything with absolute certainty. I’m happy to accept that I just don’t know.

          1. “I think that kind of certainty — whether for or against religion — is the main problem. Sure, nobody can prove that God exists, but nobody can prove that he doesn’t either.”

            Yes, but there’s a difference, Niall.

            Ask a religious person what it would take for him to change his mind about the existence of god, or other tenets of his faith, and the answer is 99.99% of the time going to be “Nothing would change my mind. I am certain of my beliefs and I would never change them.”

            Now, ask any scientist – heck, ask Enwil, or me – or any other atheist – the same question, and the answer is very likely to be: “I would change my mind in an instant, given evidence that I was wrong.” See the difference?

            The issue is, of course, that there is absolutely NO evidence – no verifiable evidence – of the claims of religion.

            But you are right in that it’s easy for a nonbeliever to appear nearly as deluded as a religious person, and that’s a shame, because it gives rise to the accusation that atheism is “just another religion.” It’s not, but religious people like to make the claim because they don’t really understand non-belief. And of course, not all non-believers disbelieve in exactly the same way.

            Atheists have a bit of trouble organizing into groups, because leading them is often considered to be about as easy as herding cats. Nevertheless, there are some good atheist organizations out there, not the least of which can be found at http://fofdallas.org. I am a founding member, but there are dozens of other successful atheist organizations. This one is notable because we are located in Texas, in the middle of one of the most religious populations in the United States.

            It’s very refreshing to see that, while you didn’t recruit a whole bunch of people to your church, at least some of the people you approached at least listened to you. I wonder what would have happened if you had approached older people. Probably you would have gotten a bit less cooperation, but maybe I’m wrong. I would love to be wrong about that!

            This was an excellent thought exercise, and I’m so glad you did it, Niall. It also raises my opinion of you a great deal, (not that it was ever low) just knowing that you are willing to say “I don’t know.” That willingness seems to be in short supply amongst many people these days. Maybe there’s hope for future generations! 🙂

          2. ////Sure, nobody can prove that God exists, but nobody can prove that he doesn’t either.////

            For this you need to understand that Makers of supernatural claims have an inescapable burden of proof. please consider watching this video:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KayBys8gaJY&feature=youtu.be

            I really respect you and your thought as well. All the best!

            I would like to conclude with a quote of Sam Harris. 🙂

            “In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.” We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”
            ― Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

  3. I don’t know about the symbol with a dude shrugging, but otherwise this church does exist. It’s called the Unitarians. Every Unitarian church is slightly different, but their one guiding principle is that what you believe isn’t as important as how you act while on this earth. People from all religious backgrounds and beliefs congregate under the same roof, sharing with each other their ceremonies and appreciation for one another, regardless of dogma. There’s probably more to it than that, and I don’t go to church often. Now that I have one literally just up the street from me, it’s probably time I return. Give it a try if you come across one in your travels!

  4. Hi Niall,
    That was a very nice bit of escapism to watch while I’m stuck at work. I love your style when approaching people & it really comes across that you’re having fun 🙂
    I’m surprised about the number of English speakers there. All tourists & travellers?
    Looking forward to the next post.
    Andrew

    1. Hey Andrew,

      Yeah, lots of tourists in that part of town, but most Nepalese people I meet seem to speak pretty good English. Tis becoming the world’s second language.

  5. I’m a fan of this ‘church’. My beliefs tend toward demolition of certainty and demolition any specific, fixed beliefs, so this is right up my alley.

    One thing that bothers me about a lot of existing churches is the abundant reverence-on-tap – the fact that there are certain symbols and entities that need to be revered right now (or at least on the holy day or prayer time).

    Must be my inner 9 year old brat, but when I’m told that “X” is so holy and needs to be revered and respected, my instinct is to feel and do the exact opposite, and have very disrespectful thoughts about “X”. So a lot of the observed effusive praise that takes place traditional religious institutions is hard for me to muster up. (Not that I am rude about it – just respectfully quiet.)

    And yet I am not without reverence – when I see a sunrise light up a large body of water, or face the power of a summer lightning storm, I feel a sense of what religious people probably feel. Which is contact with the mysterious and the primal, and amazement that we’re all on this 6400 km rock sphere floating in space and it all kind of hangs together and works. I just find it hard to create that feeling without a tangible target.

    But I definitely maintain a contrarian stance – and mine the situation for lulz – when a person approaches me as a target for conversion. Doubt and uncertainty are too precious. All that “I” am certain of is that there apparently exists something that appears to perceive, that’s centered on this particular body. The rest is uncertain.

  6. “I imagine it would be the image of a dude shrugging in front of a giant wooden question mark”

    Dude….sounds like you gotta get that logo designed! 😉

    Epic taking to the streets, Niall. Btw, do the people get mad when they know you’re filming them?

    1. Thanks, Josh.

      We asked some people if we could film. Others we just went for it without asking. Nobody got mad. Some got uncomfortable. Some footage I didn’t use, like the conversation with two Australian girls. They really didn’t get the joke.

  7. Great post, Niall. To believe something is to accept it from outside of yourself and claim it as your own. One will never gain any altitude doing that. It’s all inside us from the beginning anywayz. Peace & Love! ~ Ricky

  8. Loving the controversy as always my friend! Love the idea.
    Still, I prefer to call myself atheist, even if the term shouldn’t really exist, as Enwil says 🙂

    Keep on rocking!

  9. I agree with your post, but I think Bill Maher has copywrited the phrase “The Church of I Don’t Know”

    1. Did he use that phrase in Religulous? I saw and loved that movie a few years back. Good chance I heard the term there and it stuck with me.

      I sincerely doubt he has it copyrighted though.

  10. The reminds me of Simple Pickup, except the guys picking up girls instead of church members. They have a Youtube channel that I’ve happily spent hours on.

    This was kind of painful to watch, because of the awkward situation, and what’s the best result you were hoping for?

    I applaud you though, for following through with this unusual idea! What’s another way you could apply it?

    My first thought is getting a girl to go on a coffee/lunch date with you right then, to meet new people while you’re in Kathmandu. That could lead to new adventures.

    A more interesting task would be to go up and talk to people with the goal of offering to help them with whatever they need. What kind of help would people want? How could you make it happen?

    1. I’ve happily spent hours on SimplePickup’s channel, too 🙂

      Best result I was hoping for? Nothing really. I didn’t have any specific expectations. Just thought it would be fun to try and it would push my comfort zone.

      “My first thought is getting a girl to go on a coffee/lunch date with you right then, to meet new people while you’re in Kathmandu. That could lead to new adventures.”

      I try to do that daily 😉

  11. Really funny and thought provoking post, Niall! I wonder how people would have reacted if you were recruiting for the “Temple of I Don’t Know” instead of a “church” 🙂

  12. Pingback: The Secret to Freedom: Don’t talk about it, be about it | Jets Like Taxis

  13. No one knows if God exist , that is were faith comes in. Believe or not just faith in man kind is the belief in the unknown which in some peoples eyes is God or should I say their meaning of God.

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