Last week, I let y’all know that my PC was dead. Not mostly dead, or kind of wonky, but good old fashioned dead. The only access to the internet I had was my Palm T|X which is fine for many things, but since the Blazer Browser can’t support flash, I couldn’t log into wordpress, and I couldn’t update or otherwise access this lovely blog.
Well, thanx to the altruism of the lovely and talented Jim and Brenda (last names withheld until I hear different 😉 I am back on the web. They lent me a nice little Linux machine, and we’re back on the air so to speak.
It’s a good thing too, because I had something happen last week that I really want to share with all 12 of you. 😉
This week I had my first post-christian run-in with a Jehovah’s Witness. Well, witnesses actually, there were two of them. I saw them coming up the street, and I actually got excited. Here was an opportunity for me to face down two people and see how I could handle my new role as an apostate in a real-world test. Would I cave and fall back to my old ways of thinking? Would it turn confrontational? Would I be prepared to answer their arguments and point out there logical fallacies? Would I just be a nice guy and listen to their spiel and send them on there way?
It turns out that they were two older (50’s +) women. They didn’t want a fight, they weren’t prepared to defend their faith. They were just there out of their religious obligation and earnest desire to “save my soul”. I can’t really get angry at that, it’d be like yelling at your grandmother for baking you cookies because they were high in fat and sugar. Yes it’s true that they’re not “good for you” and one should strive for honesty, but it can also be seen as unnecessarily cruel and ungrateful. So I backed down. I told them that I was no longer religious and briefly why, but I let them have their say and go through their script. It was all well and done, but then she said something that’s stuck with me all week.
She said (with sincerity and the earnestness of the truly faithful) “This isn’t the real world, you know.” She went on to describe how pain, sickness, war, etc. were not part of her god’s plan for the world and that everything will be better when his kingdom reigns and so on. This in itself is nothing new. Many if not most, religions teach that suffering in this world is transient, or otherwise unreal. That only what happens in the spiritual world or eternity really matters.
I think this is the key to why humanists and secularists find the religious so frustrating and dangerous (and vice versa) To put all of your energy and resources into preparing for some world-yet-to-come means that you have less time and money for the here and now. This is fine if you think that you’ll be living forever in some other type of existence. It makes perfect sense, what does 70 years mean in the face of infinity? It would be vanity to think that your pain (and the problems of those around you) actually matter in the face of eternity.
On the other hand, if you don’t believe in eternal life after death, then you realize that all we have is here and now. The real life is difficult, and for some people, intolerable. There are wars, famine, diseases, hunger, violence, hate. It’s true. If you don’t believe in the supernatural, you realize that things aren’t going to magically improve after some miraculous event. There is no deus ex machina, There is no backup, there is no help coming. All we have is us.
If you don’t think that’s enough, then you can get very depressed and bitter. A lot of the religious folks (I used to be one) assume that since humanity is inherently flawed (sinful) there can be no real improvement of this world, and that without god, all hope is lost. So therefore atheists and humanists must be bitter and self-absorbed. (and frankly, some of us are)
But there is another perspective. What if you believe that people aren’t inherently good or evil, but can choose? What if you think that we really can put nonsense like race, religion and politics behind us, and work towards a better future for everyone. What if you believe that we can really do it? It’s hard work, it will take the effort of everyone, but we can really get our act together and make life better for all of us. If this is the one life that we have, it should be our wish to make it the best life possible for all of us. If you believe this, and understand the tremendous amount of resources it will take, than it feels like the time spent on the afterlife is doubly wasted. Not only will they not reap the benefits of the next life, religion forces its adherents to ignore a large amount of the good they can do in this life.
Religion is NOT the only cause of war, but how much misery would end if only people would live as if this was the only life they or anyone else would have? Would there be suicide bombers if the martyrs didn’t believe in heaven? (Yes, but a lot less!) How hard would it be to ignore hunger, and violence if you truly believed that this was the one shot people would ever have and it was in your power to improve it. We live in a real world where actions have real consequences. I’m not pretending these problems are easy to solve. They aren’t, but the more time and effort we spend on things that will never happen, the less we have to fix what we can.
Still can’t visualize it? Need an example of what a secular humanist future with respect and tolerance for everyone can be? Go check out a few episodes of Star Trek: TNG. Seriously. Yes, there are aliens and cool tech, but Gene Rodenberry’s vision of a future where religion to a backseat to respect, compassion and tolerance is the real reason its fans are so passionate about it.
If we can put aside our ancient superstitions and wishful thinking just long enough to craft a world where we can all search for happiness and well-being, we might just pull through this. This is the real world. It really is, and it’s the only one we’re ever going to get. So we HAVE to do everything we can to make this life as good as we can. As a man much greater than I once said/sang:
“Live life like you’re gonna die, because you’re gonna”
(20 points if you can find the quote/song, no hints!)