Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Faithlessly Thankful!

What is a non-believer to do when the holidays come along?  First off we can recognize that the
term "holiday" itself is result of semantic digestion and secular mastication.  Sure, the United States still endorses a Christmas "holy day," but the secularization of the outlandish virgin birth story has pretty much transformed the magical delivery of a messiah into the technological delivery of millions of gift-wrapped Amazon purchases, drone airspace regulations notwithstanding.

Thankful Item # 34,543: Unholy Deliciousness!
Moreover, Penn Gillette gets it right when he describes the non-conundrum with ostensibly religious holiday season, when he proclaims "Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!"  We non-believers simply don't need no stinking gods, miracles or new age energy to celebrate the beauty of the Universe, a joyful, meaningful life, time spent with friends and family, and involved with our personal ethical actualization.

Still, if there is one holiday that seems designed for the secular mind, it is Thanksgiving. Sure, Thanksgiving can celebrated accompanied by praise the lords, praise allahs, praise vishnus or none of the above.  Being deeply thankful requires absolutely zero faith in anything supernatural, yet Thanksgiving also is the perfect holiday to peacefully come together one and all to celebrate community and delicious high calorie nom-noms.

How can we give thanks and maintain our atheistic integrity?  Well, here are a few ways that I have found to express thanks with secular flair.

First, thank individuals for bringing meaning to your life.  This endeavor should be a sweet never-ending series of expressions.  Sure, a nice little gift out of the blue, say of some vegan, fair-trade chocolate never hurts.  Alas, sharing experiences with another person is the foundation of building a stronger connection, in particular when these experiences are buttressed by honest, kind conversation, conversation which can include our feelings and positions as non-believers.

Second, thank the greater secular community at large.  This can take the form of volunteering to do highway cleanups, providing services to the elderly, or any of a number of community beautifying and strengthening acts.  If we leverage our humanist and atheist organizations to be part of these efforts, we spread the heartfelt ideal of doing good for goodness sake that is a positive fundamental of our movement.

Finally, thank yourself every day.  Too often we forget to take the time needed to center our minds and allow joy to spread within us for the good things we have done daily.  I personally close out my day with remembered moments for which I was thankful that day, in particular how an ethic of rational perseverance aided in bringing a little more well being to the Universe.

And with that last, I'll simply say to each of you out there "THANKS!"

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Of Suffragettes and Suicide Bombers

Irony Never Quite Killed So Well
Recently I saw the historical drama Suffragettes, coincidentally in the immediate aftermath of the recent Paris attacks. The two events are quite different to be sure, but both also carry the common element of wielding violence to influence authority.

In the case of the British suffrage movement, London mailboxes were sabotaged, royal and public buildings damaged and a devoted woman stepped forward to her death injuring both horse and jockey in the process.  In Paris, several armed political Islamists connected to ISIS attacked a stadium, a performance hall and several other venues resulting in hundreds of injuries and over a hundred deaths including their own.  In both cases, the aggressors sought change by making a deadly statement.

The causes couldn't be more different.  The suffragette aggressors sought political equality with their male counterparts.  The ISIS aggressors arguably seek to reduce attacks on their expansionist and oppressive, politically Islamic regime.  

And of course, the scale of these two events are quite different both in human lives lost and property destruction. But one need look no further than September 11th to find a similar disparity: nearly 3,000 American civilians were killed compared to nearly 150,000 Iraqi civilians killed in the retaliative war.  Does a higher number of innocent people dead correlate unequivocally to a greater wrong?

Such statistics is enough to make one question seriously whether violence can ever succeed at resolving the difficult problems that continue to challenge civilization.  In an ideal world, everyone would lay down their weapons and discuss the best way to get along.  Established power structures will veto that idea outright.

Still, I am a realist.  Judicious retaliation may need to be part of a short term solution when a rebellious group is actively attacking, regardless if the attackers are suffragettes or ISIS members.

Long term, however, even the most precise targeted violence with the highest claims of justice will not solve the overarching issues at hand.   Undermining ideologies which leverage falsehoods, oppression and violence takes the deepest compassion and perseverance of long-sighted people. Only by investing in secular government and secular education can we create societies which provide its people with peaceful paths to effect progressive change.

Friday, November 13, 2015

When does life begin...really?

Having a little fun this week with one of the questions that has simmered in the collective stew pot of human intellectualism for millennia:

When does life begin?

If by "life" you mean all the living things that populate the Earth now and "always have," one can fall back upon any of hundreds of creation myths that ancient cultures assembled as a first iteration origins hypothesis.  Much magical story diversity is to be had, from piggybacking turtles to dust sculptors, alas one might summarize the gestalt of when life began in these unbelievable, colorful tales-- as the words of one extant myth compilation puts it: [Life began] "in the beginning."

If by "life" you mean the initial moment that a self replicating organism wiggled in the microscopic environment of our planet, current evidence speculates about 3.5 billion years ago (give or take a billion) chemical mixing of organic compounds alongside slow solar heating and other stresses converged into an RNA-like specimen.  This information carrying replicator perhaps unifies each plant, animal, protozoa, fungi, bacteria and virus as first matriarch. (speculation that life was seeded by even older spore carrying meteorites notwithstanding)

If by "life" you mean when a new generation individual is considered alive in its own right separate from its parent(s), then you have several parameters worth considering from the moment of parental chromosomal merging to first heart beat to first gill flutter to first neuron firing to first photosyntesizing reaction.  One might even suggest that individual lives have no true beginning, and rather are part of the greater continuum of life.

If by "life" you mean when a soul is present in a human being, I refer you back to the first entry to select from hundreds of various culture myths to conflate a soulful solution creatively.

If by "life" you mean when a human being should be recognized by the state as a person and subsequently protected under the auspices of secular law, refer to the legal precedents which exist.  Depending on the governing body, they tend to seek a reasonable compromise in a world of imperfectly implemented contraception and sex education. Factor in how ever much money religious organizations budget to support the feverishly clung to cultural myths they sell to their members.

If by "life" you mean consciousness, then we're entering subjective territory.  Because humans are the only current species in the vicinity throwing such abstract terminology around, expect the answer to be strongly connected to being human first.  If you're reading this, then I judge you alive and conscious, case closed.

Alas, if your work week ends like many who are strapped five days a week to the corporate machine which is in turn strapped to the even greater economic machine that is strapped to the living and resource limited Earth, your answer might very well be "Life begins at Friday Happy Hour!"

Of course, this last begs the question, are many of us dead 5/7ths of our working lives?  (see last week's post on finding true purpose)

Personally, I don't normally subscribe to black and white statements, nevertheless, given this blog's mission, I'll end this snarktastic pondering where it ought to have begun: "Life is Good!"

Friday, November 6, 2015

Purpose Revisited

Journey Forward!
Lately I've been contemplating my life purpose, or rather the many varied facets thereof, which, frankly is as it should be. A purpose uncontemplated is like a body unwashed. It is apt over time to get quite stinky. Purpose requires constant upkeep, refinement and re-evaluation to keep it working for you.

Importantly, the origin of ones purpose comes from within each of us.  The idea that one absolute guiding light purpose exists can be appealing, alas it is also simplistic, and all too often at the core of a profit making scheme. Sure external factors and third party input should be integrated into one's purpose after due consideration; however they should always be taken with a shaker full of salt. Too often even successful ideologies suffer from absolutist positions, be they religious, socio-economic or political.

Even my heartfelt philosophy of Goodness First has an aspect of ideological absolutism to it.  Yet, in spite of the first rule of Goodness First being its very name, the equally implied corollary is the recursive idea of Consider Second. Consider Second simply indicates the necessity of periodically taking a fresh look at all factors involved with an open heart and reasonable skepticism in play.

Of course, once you've recalibrated your purpose, implementation is critical.  Critical enough to warrant a dedicated post of its own.