Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Greatest of These

I’m really having to force myself into this writing thing today.  Not feeling terribly motivated – but as my self-help book says, motivation begins in action, not vice-versa.  Therefore, I am going to try to get on paper a few of the thoughts that have been bothering me.

First of all, I’m deeply saddened and disturbed by the destruction of Malaysian Flight 17 today by (either) Ukrainian rebels, Ukrainian military, or (sadly not unlikely) the Russian military.  Pace my beloved Christopher Hitchens, such sentiment is neither maudlin, nor is it a mere pastiche.  I find it utterly horrifying what we human beings can do to each other, especially because I know that under different circumstances, I could have been on that plane (or been targeting it, for that matter).  I suppose that’s really part of what’s been on my mind lately.

I haven’t had the heart to tackle this because, frankly, I’m scared of such a big, controversial, and deeply personal subject – but that’s what blogs are for, isn’t it?  To bare the grimy, unwashed corners of our souls so that grimy, unwashed souls on the internet can read and feel, well, less alone?

I speak, of course, of... RELIGION.

As will probably become obvious over time, I am not religious.  I was, however, extremely devout from childhood into my teenage years.  My family is extremely religious.  I went to an ostensibly secular state school which boasted the dubious distinction of housing numerous religious clubs and social organizations (including churches on campus) while being voted the #1 LGBT-friendly campus in the Southern half of the country.  As a result, tensions between conservative and progressive church people combined with the increasingly vocal secular students and their eager professors.

Needless to say, to go from a background of cringing in the dark for fear of the Devil and his minions stalking in the night and believing (and trying to argue for) the validity of the “Ken Ham Model” of cosmology into an environment where RA’s put together hall displays of condoms and other contraceptives, and my Intro to Biology professor banned questions/arguments about evolution, “Intelligent Design,” etc. as his first act of the semester – this was a bit of a culture shock, to be sure.  Moreover, going from an environment in which I was raised to consider all non-straight people to be AIDS-carrying “Sodomites” waiting to snatch my soul to serving (poorly) as a Resident Assistant for an “in transition” resident (trans-sexual) – this, too, causes some searchings of the soul.

Where am I?  Well, despite my immersion in the new world of the “new atheism” and “coming out as an atheist” (lots of which is hype, some of which is legitimate), I do not hate religion or religious people, nor do I think that if one believes in religious ideas, one is necessarily illogical, stupid, or evil (that’s the Dawkins camp, by the way – the man can be as harsh and big-mouthed as Bill Maher sometimes).  There are a great many kind, sweet, intelligent, and useful religious people in the world, and their faith cannot and must not be used in some way to discount their good characters.

But here’s the thing – there are a great many kind, sweet, intelligent, and useful atheists in the world – and agnostics, and all the other names that people coin in a desperate bid for individuality.  The point, ultimately, is what kind of person you are and what you do – your theories come second.  That’s something people tried to tell me when I was younger, and I’m only just now starting to get it through my tastelessly thick skull.

The same goes for IQ, by the way, and beauty, and athleticism, etc. etc.  If you’re good and do good, to paraphrase Lincoln, then you’re set.  But if you’re neither, then it doesn’t matter how smart or elegant you are – this is the GREAT shortcoming in the New Atheism, by the way, a wilful forgetting that amid all the wonderful scientific breakthroughs and fierce arguments about determinism and the Big Bang and transhumanism, we are ultimately lonely and weak people who very much need love, without which, everything else becomes rather grim and pointless.

That’s probably why the greatest thinkers come back again and again to an intangible, unfashionable, gushy thing like love, and why brilliant philosophers are driven to despair and suicide (or drive others to it).  it doesn’t matter how much you have or know or do – you need to love and be loved.  Bertrand Russell, Victor Frankl, Jesus, Stephen Fry, or the Beatles, the answer seems pretty much to be the same no matter who you dig: Love is the core of a meaningful life, and it is the most precious gift you can give to another human being.

Later, we’ll talk about things like determinism (psychological, biological, and physical); theology (the pain of hyper-Calvinism and the irritation of seeing it mimicked in secular circles); Unity of Life (and whether that means humans aren’t special); and the disturbing popular theories of anti-morality (that it doesn’t exist and is therefore unattainable).  We’ll talk about big ideas and names like B.F. Skinner, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Victor Frankl, Albert Ellis, and many, many others.  But if there’s one thing, and one thing only, that I could ever say to anyone before my tiny blip of a life is done, it’s this: You are more than an animal, and your questions and the deepest cravings of your soul ultimately point to love. That’s what being human is really about. We can be wrong about all kinds of stuff, but if we get this wrong, everything’s going into the toilet.

P.S.  One thing I DO love about Hitchens and Dawkins is the essential realization that the English Bible (Tyndale's New Testament and, by extension, the Authorized or King James series) does in fact contain some of the noblest language in Western literature, and thus has formed the backbone of that literature.  I'll go a step farther and say that it also contains some of the noblest sentiments in literature, period.  We'll chat a lot about that in days to come.  That's the reason for the grandiose title of this overwritten and overlong post.


  1. Very interesting blog post. I also agree that without love life has no inherent purpose. Everyone everywhere simply wants to be loved and accepted, no matter their beliefs both political and religious.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Sweyn. I guess the challenge is to get more people to hold that view instead of blowing each other up because of silly disagreements over religion and political theory!