Divali/Eid/Christmas From An Atheist Perspective

DiwaliPeople are wishing each other a Happy Divali today, just as others wish others a Merry Christmas or a Happy Eid on other days. There are other religions I have missed, and I apologize, but I’m no expert on any of these things..

All of these religious observations are focused on being the best self you can be. Underneath all of these religious observations are fundamentals of good triumphing over evil, and that would be pretty subjective if it weren’t how people implement them through religion.

Being nice to other people is generally a good idea – but how we’re nice to people varies. On days like this, people open their doors to friends, family and even strangers and share their food, space and even gifts.  Some people use it as a time to demonstrate how successful they are, as you find in any religion, and still others try to out-devout everyone else – again, just as you find in any religion.

It’s the rare person with pure intent. It’s the rare person who is that light in the darkness, even on the most brightly lit of deepest darkness.

We are all selfish, flawed creatures – some say we’re all sinners, and though the nomenclature is different the philosophical meaning is the same. We get caught up in our lives, doing the best we can within the confines of the prisons of our lives, and even with the best of intentions we’re imperfect.

There’s a part of me that wonders why people don’t strive to be the best that they can every day, and questions the need for such religious observations. There is another part of me that understands the need to pause and have some introspection on such things, which I believe the religious observations are truly supposed to be about.

So, to those going through their introspection on your religious observation, considering how to be better versions of yourself, refilling your cup with that which you think is good – I sincerely and without reservation, wish you the best, be it Divali, be it whatever your observation is.

For the rest of you – enjoy your day off. Try not to be too loud or make too much of a mess.

I Was Going Somewhere With That.

Little Green Man says THAT WAYOne of the more ‘fun’ things that happens with writing is the distraction – when you end up off on a tangent because of other things.

Like earthquakes. Introspection because of how you see other people react about earthquakes. And then, because you’re already distracted, you end up writing about an attachment to vehicles.

And that actually fits in with all of what I was getting at. Granted, some people are distracted by the antics of people who they implicitly give authority to with their attention, or have that societal attention deficit disorder as frameworks do what they were designed to.

When the earth rumbles and people realize just how powerless they really are – when they can’t run away from something and there’s nothing to fight – a morbid reality sets in that can’t be so easily dismissed… for a short while, anyway. It’s not as if understanding plate tectonics is going to save you from an earthquake. Breaks in frameworks begin to show, and the ambiguity of how safe one really is seeps into the society.

Time moves along, the ambiguity pumps are manned as people find explanations from either science or religion or that-person-down-the-street-who-knows-everything… they find some comfort, getting rid of that ambiguity.

And suddenly, they’re acting as if nothing happened at all. As if they are safe, as if the few hours of their lives they spent with seismologists was enough – because to them the world is dangerous to know about, it’s dangerous to understand what happens outside of those frameworks.

People don’t want answers. They want comfort.

And, oddly enough, that’s an important point on the way to where I was going.

The Search for Meaning.

Playmobile pottyI’m not sure we really matter.

No, this is not some existential issue I’m having. There have been enough of those, all without epiphanies. No, I’m writing about our species.

If, by some chance, I were to encounter a life form from another planet – or even a life form from this planet – I’m hard pressed to think of anything we do, as a whole, that is worth mentioning in a meeting where first impressions matter. Sure, we have technology, science, spirituality… the list goes on, but that’s all self-referential. If we actually look at what we do from outside of our species, it would make a very thin blog post. A colony of bees has a use. A planet of humans – we change everything to our own benefit even while changing things against our benefit. It’s wonky.

What is our purpose? Ask anyone and you’ll get a different answer. We’re convinced that our species is immortal when generations of us live and die under the light of dead stars. In a way we are immortal, somehow managing procreate faster than we die to the point where we’ve pretty much run out of space on a planet because of our own constructs. Governments pay farmers not to grow food in some countries while others starve. We have weapons in our arsenals that no one on the planet can run away from unless they have a ticket to get into space, and we haven’t quite figured out where we would want to go other than, ‘not here’.

It’s easy to imagine how our species got scattered around the planet. There was a lot of ‘not here’ involved. In fact, every country I have been to – those socioeconomic geopolitical divides cartographers note – has a fair number of people who want to go somewhere else simply because it’s ‘not here’. As a species, maybe that means we’re nomadic.

As individuals, we are defined and usually define ourselves by our role and status in society, but we would never admit to being drones serving queens in a hive. Or would we? And should we? I think so. We haven’t figured out a system that isn’t like indentureship – people work for a company, pay other companies, but really we work in a system and pay the system to live in the system simply because we were… born in the system. That’s pretty unimaginative.

We all agree to some extent on what life is. Our shared illusion, perhaps. We all know that death is a certainty and joke that taxes are too, when death is not of our creation and taxes are. We could, if we wanted, abolish taxes – but instead we fight to abolish death. And we’re getting better at that since in that way, the drones can pay more taxes before their deaths. That’s peculiar.

Let’s say that we abolish death. Does that mean we get to play life longer? How is that a benefit? I’m hard pressed to explain how that is a benefit.

Technology, science? Pretty self-referential so far. A bunch of primates staring at small screens while bumping into each other at varying speeds hardly seems like progress, particularly when meaningful conversation is lost amid the noise. It’s brownian motion. We’re as entertaining as a cup of tea.

Religion? Self-referential as well, and while Pascal’s Wager is worth exploring, people get indoctrinated into religion before they are allowed to make big decisions in society. It’s a child marriage of sorts. But beyond that, religion doesn’t say too much about what our species is supposed to do, just about how people should behave. Again, self-referential. Imagine the leaps the space programs of the world would have if religions dictated that prayers had to be made in space to be effective.

The very idea that we don’t matter eats at us. It devours us because we desperately, from within our place as cogs of society and the weight that comes with, want to think that all of this means something. That despite our species own demonstrated self-destruction while proliferating at a greater rate, that despite what we feel during those dark parts of our lives that we hide from, we matter.

Is not mattering such a problem?

So, here’s the fun part. If we don’t matter, it doesn’t matter if we think we do. We have a blank slate if we don’t matter, where we can define as a species who we really are… or we have the fingerpainted hieroglyphics of our past to define ourselves by.

Are we really defined by what we have done instead of what we could do? That’s how they measure the value of person in HR and in society – or more would be done for children in society.

Speaking for myself, I like the idea of defining ourselves by what we could do. 

But then, I don’t matter.

On Being Challenged On Faith

ANTHRO136SP11_GG_Cam20_23_16_003I make it no secret that I’m an atheist, but I don’t wear it on my sleeve. Still, there are those that wish to press on things because they, with good intention, want me to be like them.

I’ll let you in on a secret. If you’re religious, I’m not like you – and why I’m not religious can’t be found in religion. That is… sort of the point, really. But unlike the more vocal atheists, who are usually anti-theists, I have no real issues with religion or those who practice it. Just as they are astounded that I am not, I am astounded that others are – but it is not for me to judge, just as it is not for them to judge.

This is why, out of all the religious philosophy out there, I appreciate Buddhism. Not the Buddhism which is apparently popular, but the core Buddhism that comes from the writings of the monks 100 years after Gautama Buddha went beyond. Were the words that of the Buddha? As much so as other words of other people were their own, I suppose.

At the core of Gautama Buddha’s life was a search for understanding within his own context.  And, while not his most known quote, my favorite is the essence of my own personal philosophy:

Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others.

Everyone leads their own path. While a musician may want people to listen to his music, even using a loudspeaker to assure that this is so, do they appreciate the writer by reading what s/he writes? Do they appreciate what others do beyond their own context? And so it is with religion; while it is good to find your own salvation through religion, it does not mean that everyone must.

Everyone finds their own way. Or not.

There are people who could wax less than poetic about religion, or anti-theism, but really… what’s the point? Is it to tear down others to feel better about one’s self? Is it to have the hubris that others need your instruction, or the instruction that you have received? Is it that you have a true love for others and wish them to follow your path when they may have their own?

I do not know. But I know that I know my path, and that my path has been off the paths of religion – the bristly world I live in does not fit with the worldviews that the many religions I have studied have. Only the core of Buddha’s teachings seem aligned, but I am no Buddhist.

Faith I do not have in this way. I have faith in people, in both the good and bad, and see no reason to drag religion into any of it – or have someone else do so.

Unstoppable forces – meet immovable object.