Atheism And The Meaning Of Life. Pt. 6: Dude, I Am You!

The previous parts of this series:
Pt. 1: A Distinction
Pt. 2: Motivators
Pt. 3: Christian Existential Nihilism
Pt. 5: Biting The Bullet

The image on the left is an image of the Cat's Eye Nebula. It is a composite image, but it displays the awe striking beauty of the universe we live in. Whenever we look up, above us lies what seems to be an endless expanse of mystery and wonder. When we look down to the tiny world below us, we see the great mysteries of life unfolding, and below that, the often puzzling world of the subatomic. If our lives were only occupied by wandering through these vast mysteries, I think that would be a life well lived. 

But there is something else, a sort of experience that is difficult to describe, a feeling of being small, the feeling of the earth spinning around its axis, the earth around the sun, the sun around the center of our galaxy. The feeling of being an energy fluctuation in a sea of other fluctuations, where there are no objects, no lines to distinguish one thing from another, where time is arbitrary, where you can feel your body exchanging oxygen, or imagine your neurons firing in an exquisite symphony of thought. 

All of this sounds pretty abstract, and it is. I admit that when I first felt that I was hurtling on a huge ball of rock around a small fiery star I was struck with fear and panic. Any sense of control was lost. After being gripped by fear, almost at once I let go and I realised what a wild ride life is. In its miniscule scale and transience, there was beauty and wonder. I felt freedom in a way that was indescribable and overwhelming. This is life, and it is awesome.

These kinds of feelings are not unique to me, and there is a specific lyric, which would do better to be called poetry, expressing this feeling.

Black then white are all i see in my infancy.
red and yellow then came to be, reaching out to me.
lets me see.
as below, so above and beyond, I imagine
drawn beyond the lines of reason.
Push the envelope. Watch it bend.

Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition, missing opportunities and I must
Feed my will to feel my moment drawing way outside the lines.

Black then white are all i see in my infancy.
red and yellow then came to be, reaching out to me.
lets me see there is so much more and
beckons me to look thru to these infinite possibilities.
as below, so above and beyond, I imagine
drawn outside the lines of reason.
Push the envelope. Watch it bend.

over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind.
Withering my intuition leaving opportunities behind.
Feed my will to feel this moment urging me to cross the line.
Reaching out to embrace the random.
Reaching out to embrace whatever may come.
I embrace my desire to
I embrace my desire to
feel the rhythm, to feel connected enough to step aside and weep like a widow
to feel inspired to fathom the power, to witness the beauty,
to bathe in the fountain,
to swing on the spiral
to swing on the spiral
to swing on the spiral of our divinity and still be a human.

With my feet upon the ground I move myeslf between the sounds and open wide to suck it in.
I feel it move across my skin.
I'm reaching up and reaching out. I'm reaching for the random or what ever will bewilder me.
what ever will bewilder me.
And following our will and wind we may just go where no one's been.
We'll ride the spiral to the end and may just go where no one's been.
Spiral out. Keep going.
Spiral out. Keep going.
Spiral out. Keep going.
Spiral out. Keep going.
Spiral out. Keep going.[1]
I don't want to analyse the lyrics too much, but the feeling of embracing the random is something I can identify with. I thought, when I became an atheist, that I would never have a spiritual experience ever again. Instead I got something much better. These feelings are not hard to come by either. Just look up at the sky on a dark night, you will see it there. You will see the universe looking at itself.


There is another experience that I want to mention briefly. I was lucky enough to go to a Chimpanzee sanctuary for my birthday last year, and the chimpanzees were being fed macadamia nuts. A female was trying to open a nut with a stick, when I noticed an already open nut just behind the fence in front of me. I picked it up and tossed it to her. She picked it up and ate it, and then proceeded to stare into my eyes for what was about one minute. The experience was humbling. She is an animal, and so am I. We are family, and it felt as though during that minute, she and I understood this kinship.

The feeling of being free, and being one with nature and reality is humbling and it is this poetry of living that can sometimes drive tears of joy into my eyes. No religious experience could ever compare with that ever.

[1] Tool - Lateralus

Moral Philosophy For Kids


This is a response to a video by +Christian Talour  where he defends an anti-gay law.I respond directly to things in the video, so you need to watch it first. Sorry!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Amt3ApV77Xs


"If you put a gun to my head and say 'tell me that you love me' and I say I love you that's not really sincere. I can't really see how that's sincere. If the government's going to come and throw me in jail because I don't bake a cake for you and I make it, I am not showing a lot of love there"

Okay. So if god threatens you with hell unless you love him and you say you love him you are not being sincere? Got it!

"Should the government be able to tell businesses whom they serve?"
Yes.

Your gun analogy:

Are you saying that baking a cake is the same as selling someone a gun? Are you seriously equating a harmless cake with a suicidal person buying a gun!? THINK MAN THINK!
"We should be able to make rational decisions"
How is refusing to bake a cake for someone because of where they put their junk in any way rational hmmm?

Billboard Example

How would you react if your channel here on youtube was deleted because Larry Page and Sergey Brin were atheists? Would you consider that fair. How about all the christian pages deleted off of Facebook? Sound fair? If Microsoft refused to sell software to churches. Fair? If atheists ever become the majority group, you should hope they don't consider the same kind of treatment fair that you do.
"It's like we're asking for persecution"
Right, so imagine it is Sunday and you just finished church and you go to the mall to have ice cream with your christian friends. You're all bibles in hand smiling and humming the songs from church. You walk into the ice cream shop and sit down. The waiter comes but has no menu and an awkward look. He quietly asks you to leave. This is what gay people already experience. THINK ABOUT IT, no really have some sympathy for your fellow man.
"No matter how vaguely this bill is worded, I don't think that is gonna stand up in court"
Exactly. It is unconstitutional. Making laws that won't survive a single lawsuit are not good laws. They must be redrafted to be more specific. The problem is that discrimination is always unconstitutional. NEXT.
"Wouldn't you rather err on the side of freedom?"
If your freedom restricts the freedom of others, how is it freedom? What promotes your freedom over that of others? So does this bill increase or decrease freedom for gay people?
"I just go to the next restaurant"
What if there is no "next restaurant". Have you ever considered that?
"It just makes sense"
Yeah, it always makes sense intuitively to be selfish at the expense of others, unfortunately we have to think a little further to figure out that being selfish is a bad idea.
"I'm not going to go to a muslim restaurant and ask them to make me pork"
They will just tell you they don't have any, but you can have chicken. They won't chase you out.

All your analogies are bad, all your examples are false, all your ideas of how such laws being okay are based on your being part of a majority. You should really consider thinking about things before opening your mouth about them. 

Atheism And The Meaning Of Life. Pt. 5: Biting The Bullet

The previous parts of this series:
Pt. 1: A Distinction


When I was a teenager, I became enthralled by heavy metal. The music had so much energy and passion, but the guitars were the absolute highlight to me. I resolved to learn to play the guitar, and my mom bought me a cheap classical guitar and got me lessons from an interesting middle aged burnt out rocker type guy who smoked about 30 camels a day (not once during a lesson though!). Learning a new skill is extremely frustrating and unfulfilling,  when you learn to play guitar it is really bad. Not only do you sound horrible and keep screwing up every three seconds, your little softie fingers have to keep those chords that feel so contrived and they start to hurt pretty soon. My teacher always used to tell me just to "bite the bullet", and I did. Not only did I choose to suffer through this learning process, I also chose to not occupy that time by watching television and gorging myself on crisps and condensed milk.

Why is that though? Why is it that we can set aside immediate gratification? The simple answer is that sometimes delaying gratification has immense payoffs in the long term. This is the very thing that makes the human species so successful. Toiling right now to plant crops that we will only harvest much later was one of the single greatest achievements of mankind. But the payoff at the end of the suffering is not only food we eat or the new ability we gained by painstaking practice, when we reach that point we feel an immense feeling of gratification, and all the suffering before starts feeling very much worth it. 

Through this learning process we realise that delaying gratification is worth it, and we can even find joy in doing it. We like being challenged because we anticipate the delight of eventually meeting the challenges we set for ourselves. We enjoy climbing mountains because we know that if we can reach the top, we can feel accomplished and content as we look back down at our perilous journey to get there. 

This is where we can find higher meaning. It is not some cosmic destiny, but it certainly makes us feel like life is worth pursuing, because in life there are things worth doing. The things that are often most worth doing are things that require us to set aside our immediate desires, and we do this with stunning gusto.

When a runner runs every day so that they can one day run a long distance marathon, that is quite puzzling to me, but it isn't to them, and therein lies the next key to meaning. We find our meaning subjectively. We get to choose. We get to choose exactly because there is no cosmic predestination. What we find meaningful some other people might find boring or senseless. For religious believers the same principal applies.

Religious believers try to engage in the ultimate act of delaying gratification. The goal is to diminish gratification in this life so they can have it in the next. When they see other people not engaging in this same mission, they think that those other people have meaningless lives. It seems as though they think that their subjective meaning is the only valid meaning to be found, so they equate it with absolute and ultimate meaning. The arrogance of this kind of position is tragic. How can someone call themselves humble when they actively demean that which others find meaningful?

So we are left with lives where we find and choose our own meaning. This question used to bother me as a Christian, because I always wondered what god's purpose for my life was. When I realised that the choice was mine, it made my life more meaningful, not less. The purpose of life is life itself, to find fun, challenges, and learning. There is not much more I could want, but life offers us even more, something I will explore in my next post.


The next, and possibly final part in this series:

Pt. 6: Dude, I Am You!

Atheism And The Meaning Of Life. Pt. 4: Christian Misanthropy

In case you missed the first three parts, here they are:




In my previous post, I explored Christian Existential Nihilism. In this view, everything about life is practically worthless. There is another aspect of christianity that has a negative effect that is just as bad. It is important that a christian reader understands why Christian Misanthropy is important in the context of meaning in the atheist life. Since we do not suffer from the same problem, we see life differently, and missing this would be an error on my part. Once again, I don't wish to attack christianity, but my lack of knowledge about other theologies would make it wrong for me to suppose that they have the same problems. It is also important to note that christians suffer this problem to varying degrees, and I don't aim to make any sweeping generalisations here, but to explain a general problem with theology with regards to humanity. So what is Christian Misanthropy?

One of the greatest drives in the life of a human, or any animal for that matter, is sex. Christian dogma is not kind to sex, and focuses on telling people that their lust and self gratification is wrong and dirty.
Matthew 5:28 ESV
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
I hope that people realise that any unmarried person who masturbates is committing a sin, unless you can imagine masturbation without fantasy.  

Hating yourself is the beginning of this misanthropy, because humans will be humans although these behaviours might be denied by the self, the outside world still engages in them. This creates the view that human beings are filthy and dirty. Could you imagine a society where adultery or premarital sex is expunged? Even when the punishment is death, people still engage in these activities. Religion places an impossible task in front of human beings, and thus they can only do wrong. The introduction of thought crime from the verse above only worsens the situation.

But the dogma goes further, claiming that every human being is born evil and wrong. This idea that we are all dirty and must grovel for forgiveness fearfully to an almighty king is exactly anti-human. It denies the will and the desires of the person and humanity and instead claims the entire life of a human in service of this powerful deity. The following video illustrates Christian misanthropy nicely:


If you look at christians, some often pine for the end times, when judgement will be done on this dirty and godless world. They get giddy when there are "signs" of the end times. They stand politically against human self realisation and freedom, opting rather to impose dogmatic values on those who they deem dirty sinners. 

So what is the alternative? Well, humanism is an ethical value system based on humanity, not on gods. Let me put here two points of interest from their manifesto (my emphasis):
  • Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.
  • Life's fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.[1]
 Let's rephrase the same paragraph, but rather inserting the christian ethic.
  • Ethical values are derived from human God's needs and interests as tested by experience specified by the Bible. Christians ground values in human welfare  God's will shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond  God's commands. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity  worthlessness and shame, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility  God's will.
  • Life's fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals serving God. We aim for our fullest possible development obedience and animate our lives with a deep sense of God's purpose for us, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence serving God, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists Christians rely on God. the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.
The Christian view is in direct opposition to the fulfillment of man's desires and needs, and focuses squarely on the needs of a god. If we are right, this god does not even exist, so it becomes an empty act of humans hating themselves for no apparent reason. From the perspective of humanism, this is immoral and wrong. What is most important though, is that humanism emphasises us. It does not place us in the center of the universe, but it lets us take some pride in our accomplishments, and responsibility for our own failures as a species. It does not deny that which is essentially human and harmless in order to please a dictator in the sky (or indeed beyond the universe itself). It focuses on the here and now our future, what is important to us

Christian misanthropy can make life seem like a chore, because you constantly must deny your humanity to please a god. Christians need to realise that without that requirement life seems much less laborious and worth living. The charge from the video in the previous post then, is making the mistake of framing purpose within the existence of a thing, and then claims that everything else is meaningless from that vantage point. If we were Sisyphus it would be true that we actually enjoy pushing the stone up the hill every day, because it is human to enjoy a challenge. I have an important question for all theists visiting this post. You can answer in the comments if you like, but I would prefer that you reflect privately on this: If it was shown that god absolutely does not exist, that there is no chance, that we are absolutely certain that there is no god, would you kill yourself because you no longer had a purpose?

In the next post I will try to solidify meaning in a godless world a little more. For now. I leave you with the following video:
[1] http://www.humanist.org.nz/beliefs/manifesto3.html - A thanks goes to +Angela Martin for originally sharing this on Google Plus


The next part in this blog series: Pt. 5: Biting The Bullet