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Monday, December 19, 2005

Infinite Perspective Vortex: Morals in a Materialist World View

This was supposed to be a submission to the God or Not Carnival on Morality, but I'm a little late. A number of the theist articles reminded me why I wanted to write this piece, in particular Maureen at Dying in Christ, who wrote about The Utter Depravity of "Human" Morality, and the Mathetes post on Evolutionary Ethics - I think it's really important to get the atheist perspective out there, and with as much passion as theists have for their moralities. So this is my best shot.
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I remember the time I realized I was going to have to be an adult whether I liked it or not. I was in third-year university, in an honours program that I just couldn't hack, and I knew I had bitten off more than i could chew. There were several courses I was going to have to withdraw from right away, or else fail them, and if I withdrew from any courses, or failed any, I would be kicked out of the honours program.

And I remember sitting there filling out the withdrawal forms and thinking, my mom can't write me a note and make it all better with the teachers any more. I felt very alone, because at the same time as all the academic sh!t was hitting the fan, I was going through a deep depression which eventually left me without religious faith. (And yes, the depression was probably a lot of why I couldn't hack the academics) And so there I was, my parents couldn't fix things for me and God wasn't there, so I would have to deal with it and take responsibility myself.

At the time, it was a sad, scary experience, and I have the impression that theists imagine a life without faith to always be in that sad, scary, lonely place. I won't deny that it can be.

In the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, the worst way to be executed was to be thrown into the Infinite Perspective Vortex - the victim would see, for an instant, just how vanishingly insignificant they were in the face of the entire universe, and the terror of it would kill them. Zaphod Beeblebrox avoids being killed by the Vortex because (iirc) he gets transported into a parallel universe whose sole purpose is to bring him into existence. The Vortex simply confirms his belief that he is the centre of the universe.

Given the choice, I'd rather live in a universe that was created for me and my species by some benevolent entity, but I haven't found any evidence that this is the case, and I see plenty of evidence daily that it is not the case (not the purpose of this post or I'd elaborate).

So here we are, utterly insignificant in the eyes of the universe, if the universe could be personalized enough to have eyes, which it can't be. The only thing we are really sure we have is our own individual lives, and our collective lives as a society. Which have the unenviable position of counting for fuck-all in the grand scheme of things, while simultaneously being all we've got.

I imagine I still haven't sold naturalistic atheism to the theists at this point.

But here's the thing: My life is the only thing I have, and the only chance I have. The rest of humanity is in the same boat. Up against more than any one of us can handle alone, and without our mommies, or our deities, to get us out of our messes, we're left with the choice of hanging together, or hanging separately.

And that, in a nutshell, is where I get my morals from. I know that I'm no more or less special than anybody else. I don't want anybody to take away my one chance to exist and to flourish, because even if it means nothing in the grand scheme of things, it means everything to me. I don't want anybody else's chance taken away either.

My life's goal is far from heroic. I have no delusions that I will ever be a Gandhi or a Mother Theresa, I don't have what it takes to go out and try to save the world. But I do hope that my life can touch other lives in small ways and make them better, and at the same time I feel that I have an obligation to further the flourishing of humanity worldwide in other small ways - respecting the earth so we have somewhere to continue flourishing (or at least trying to); opposing tyrrany; doing what I can to help people in need.

I can't explain why I believe existence is better than non-existence, or define flourishing any better than I can define pornography (I know it when I see it), maybe those are my articles of faith, I'm not sure.

All that I am really sure about (as much as I can be sure, which isn't much) is that while the universe doesn't, and can't, care, the rest of the human race just might. If I can make life better for even one person, it may not matter to the universe, but it matters to that person, because their life is all they have.

My worldview can be bleak and cold and often lonely, I won't deny that. Scary too. But that's life as a grown-up. Freedom and the responsibility that comes with it, are scary things. But I wouldn't ever trade them in.
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Part II of this rant is available here.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Boris said...

Well put.

8:33 PM

 
Anonymous The Happy Feminist said...

This post is SO spot on!

9:24 PM

 
Blogger Dave said...

Great post!

9:02 AM

 
Anonymous Nance said...

Which have the unenviable position of counting for fuck-all in the grand scheme of things, while simultaneously being all we've got.

I imagine I still haven't sold naturalistic atheism to the theists at this point.

**********************

LMAO!!! No, that wouldn't be the best sales pitch. But it is, as you say, what we've got.

Nance

5:47 PM

 
Blogger Richard said...

Interesting post. If you haven't already, you must read The End of Faith, by Sam Harris. Very compelling book. He argues that universal morals can readily be found via the process of reasoning, which I suspect is pretty much how you seem to have arrived at your own values absent faith.

I have not always been an atheist myself, and I have to admit that sometimes I wish I had been the type of person who could easily feel the comfort of a faith. I was raised to believe in matters of faith and it is not easy to wrestle them aside when there is no apparent “replacement” to focus on to fill that space. But theism was for me was intellectually empty and I just couldn’t sustain it honestly. Sometime I hear theists say that atheism is an easy way “out” (out of what, they never say), that it’s morally irresponsible, but I could not disagree more. Atheism is hard. As you point out, the absence of belief in supernatural things places a big responsibility on the unbeliever to account for his or her life in a manner that the theist does not have to. Finding meaning based only on what is knowable is difficult stuff.

7:02 PM

 
Blogger T. Comfyshoes said...

Richard - bang-on. When I am forced to spend time with my extended family (evangelical Christians of the stereotypical variety) I often envy them their comfortable confidence that someone is looking out for them, that they're in the right, and their sense of community with others who believe the same.

I intend to write a part II of this post on exactly what you said, "the absence of belief in supernatural things places a big responsibility on the unbeliever to account for his or her life in a manner that the theist does not have to."

8:12 PM

 
Blogger Kristopher said...

tr1c14-

Thanks for both the link, and a great summary of the atheistic position. (insofar as morality goes) You didn't pull any punches (why would you?) and I respect that.

You know I disagree with you, but thats cool. I look forward to perhaps further dialogue with you.

3:59 PM

 
Blogger T. Comfyshoes said...

Kristopher - in turn, thank you for getting me thinking.

One thing we do agree on (if I recall your post correctly) is that evolution doesn't make much of a moral foundation. (Anything that produces things like smallpox doesn't strike me as much of a moral authority!)

8:56 AM

 
Blogger msherbalpills said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:51 PM

 
Blogger msherbalpills said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:56 PM

 
Anonymous herbal penis enlargement said...

Interesting discussion.

3:55 PM

 

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