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Why I Am an Optimist

Transhumanism
On the drive down to Florida Poly Retreat a few weeks back, I had an epiphany.

You see, I've always harbored a not-so-secret desire to crush the earth beneath my iron boot, but in the past twoscore years, I've made very little progress toward realizing that goal. And it occurred to me why that is. I'm actually very optimistic about the state of humanity, and unbridled optimism about the human condition doesn't lend itself to the kind of monomaniacial dedication required of a true James Bond-class villain.

There is a reason I am an optimist. That reason emerges directly from the fact that I do not believe in god.




This might seem, at first glance, to be something of a contradiction. Many people cling to a belief in some kind of divine, personally involved caretaker high up in the sky precisely because it's the only way they can find optimism and not despair. There's even a Web site set up by a Fundamentalist Christian organization that is organized around the idea "if you don't matter to God, you don't matter to anyone." The site is advertised by banner ads like this one, showing some gangster wannabe who, without God, presumably has no reason not to blow your punk ass away:



I find this attitude, that without god there is no morality and no meaning or purpose in life, very, very interesting...more for what it says about the people who subscribe to it than for anything else. The Web site that this banner advertises is strongly anti-evolution and pro-creation, and I think that's extremely telling.




There are, I think, two driving forces behind much of religious thought: fear and despair. The despair comes from the idea that human lives and human achievement are without meaning or purpose in a universe without god, a universe where we are the natural result of natural processes on an insignificant and not terribly remarkable part of an insignificant and not terribly remarkable galaxy lost in a universe that is quite literally inconceivably huge. When you look at an image taken from the Hubble Deep Field camera of a teeny, tiny patch of sky, and you see that everywhere in the universe, as far as you can look, you see not hundreds or even thousands but billions of galaxies, and every one of these galaxies is made up of billions of stars, and we occupy such a tiny sliver of this universe that our entire galaxy could vanish or be destroyed in some kind of cataclysm and the universe would scarcely even notice, some people get all freaked out.

But it's true.



Every object you see in this picture with the exception of the bright object in the lower left of center (which is a star in our own galaxy) is an entire galaxy. The scale of the universe beggars comprehension, and we feel insignificant.

So the creationists, who never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge, invent a new universe to satisfy their need to feel special. They imagine a tiny universe, a limited universe, a universe only a few thousand years old, a small place containing a world (which is seventy-five percent water) deliberately created just for man (who has no gills). They post videos on YouTube arguing that the hand of god is clearly visible in the banana, which with its convenient wrapper and hand-pleasing shape was deliberately designed by a benificient creator to fit easily in our hand and be eaten--though they ignore contradictory evidence, like, say, the coconut. Or, they argue, since the evolutionary idea on the origin of life claims life can begin when non-living matter is exposed to radiation, then how come life doesn't spontaneously begin from other non-living matter, like peanut butter?

It's easy to mock creationists; they're just so cute when they pretend to be scientists! But their folly isn't born of stupidity; it's a product of the very human need to feel special and significant.




When you add the Void to the mix, the problem becomes even greater. Human beings have the cognitive tools to generalize from their experiences and make predictions about future events, and that gives us the capacity to realize that one day we are going to die. Facing the Void is, for many people, the very embodiment of stark raving terror. We are going to die. There will come a day when we will be gone, and there is nothing we can do about it.

So we as a species respond the only way we can: by denying it. We pull the shade down over the Void, and then decorate that shade with an entire bestiary of gods and demons and angels and supernatural forces of all descriptions imaginable who will protect us from the certainty of death. When you look at all the various gods and deities people have worshipped throughout history, all the supernatural beings we've ever believed in--the sun gods worshipped by almost all hunter-gatherer tribes; the god Tezcatlipoca of the Aztecs; the various gods of the Egyptian pantheon; the feuding, spiteful divine teenagers of the Greeks; the vengeful, erratic, emotionally volatile god of the ancient Israelites--one thing becomes very, very clear: these gods are all us. All these divinities are distorted, funhouse mirror caricatures of humanity. We pull the shade down over the Void, then project onto it ourselves. All our fears, desires, petty insecurities, all our need for conformity and control, all these things are reflected in the gods and demons and pixies and faeries we invent. All these dim, distorted projections, created to convince ourselves that the Void is not real.

And it works. The first time I was confronted by the Void, at about thirteen years old, the thought of going to heaven was the only comfort I could find. When I lost that, I lost my only defense against the Void, and that's not easy to do. These crazy funhouse projections serve a purpose.




But there is a price to pay for this comfort, one that I suspect many people aren't even consciously aware of.

Part of that price is truth. If one cares passionately about the truth, one can not help but notice that every time a religious entity has disagreed with empirical science about some matter of empirical fact about the physical world, the religion has been wrong. Every single time, with not one single exception. The creationists seek meaning and purpose by believing themselves to be the favored of a supernatural entity that created the whole of the universe just for us, yet this belief requires them to imagine a universe much smaller and much younger than it actually is. Their need for meaning, their desperate desire to feel special, causes them to adopt the notion that the whole of creation is only six thousand years old (5,997 years, according to Orthodox Judiasm; Fundamentalist Christians put the figure at about ten years older), in spite of massive, overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

And this notion leads naturally to other notions as well, including the idea that humanity, the favored of the divine architect of the universe, can do no wrong. Environmental responsibility? Social responsibility? Outmoded beliefs of godless liberals; we were given divine sanction to do as we please, and that's exactly what we should do.

God made the universe for us. We are the most important things in all of creation. The world was put here specifically for the purpose of housing us. If we believe this, we will never die; God won't allow it.

If you don't matter to God, you don't matter to anyone.




When people let go of the idea of god, they're left with a sense of despair. If there is no god--if we are simply the result of natural, mindless forces operating in a universe that is incomprehensibly huge and incomprehensibly ancient, a place that is steered by no divine force and a place where an airless rock is just as good as a planet teeming with life, then what meaning can any of us have? What meaning can any of our struggles and triumphs have? What point is there?

And that attitude, tragically, misses the point entirely.

For you see, if we were made a brief time ago in God's image and put here for the sole and express purpose of worshipping and exalting God, then what we are now is what we will always be. There is an upward limit on the things we are capable of. We are born disgraced, pale shadows of the original models who fell from that grace, and our job is to struggle through this brief life of misery and tears hoping we somehow manage to do and say the right things so that god will rescue us. We have no purpose other than that which is given to us by god--and looking around, I gotta say it's not much of a purpose.

But if we are evolved monkeys...

Ah, now things are different. If we are evolved monkeys, if we are the result of natural processes that conspired across a vast sea of time to give rise to sapient, self-directing entities capable of understanding themselves and the physical world, then all bets are off. Now, there is no limit to what we can become. Now, anything within the physical laws of the universe is potentially within our grasp. Now, we have the power we once reserved to our gods; now, we can, through the application of our will, make of ourselves anything we choose to be.

And now we have meaning and purpose far beyond that of crawling around chanting to some insecure creator-god about how great and magnificent he is, and would he please please not strike us dead? Now, we are the part of the universe capable of understanding itself. We are of the universe; we are a part of it, not above it; but we are unique in all the universe we know in that we can understand it. We are aware. We are the universe's way of understanding itself.

And that is a far more magnificent purpose than telling a child-god over and over again that yes, he's great, really, he's great, he's good, he's wonderful, no really, he's great, and we love him, really we do.




There is a saying: "with God, all things are possible." The saying is false. With God, all things are possible save for rising above our station and becoming anything more than what we are right now.

Without god, however, all things not disallowed by the fundamental laws of physics really are possible. Without god, we make our own meaning and purpose; and that power lets us use the gifts granted to us to transform ourselves and the world around us in any way we want.

This power fills some people with fear. Without god, they say, how will we know what is moral? Without god, they say, what punishment can there be for people who do things that are wrong? To this I say: Your morals, given to you by your belief in god, allow for the most appalling atrocities, historically and today. Your morals teach that some human beings, simply as a result of the way they are born, are inherently unequal to others. The notion that there is one and only one right way to live is the cause of more human suffering, more grief, and more evil than any other single idea in all of human history. This is your morals? Your morals, like your gods, are a distorted mirror of your own prejudices and your own evil. You will not find heaven by backing away from hell; the fear of retribution is not the path to enlightenment.

We don't always make good choices, it's true. But we're still a young race. And I am very optimistic about what we can accomplish.

Comments

( 63 comments — Leave a comment )
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lefthand
Apr. 3rd, 2007 07:27 pm (UTC)
mark up error at "on the drive down",

good write up so far.
tacit
Apr. 3rd, 2007 07:28 pm (UTC)
Markup error's been fixed. :)
(no subject) - lefthand - Apr. 3rd, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
sarahmichigan
Apr. 3rd, 2007 07:35 pm (UTC)
It's amazing to me that modern scientists are still rebutting the same sort of arguments (the eye was obviously made to see, the banana was made for the hand of a human, flowers were made beautiful for people to see them, and so on) by creationists as Darwin was rebutting in his day. He's already addressed this crap, people!
tacit
Apr. 4th, 2007 06:36 pm (UTC)
I think that's disappointing, but I don't really find it surprising, for two reasons.

First, people do not--even today--actually know what the theory of evolution is. This becomes painfully clear when you read Web sites about creationism or talk to people who are creationists; they're reacting strongly against something, but they don't know what they're reacting against. None of these people can actually tell you what "evolution" is or how it works.

Second, rebutting the arguments is like treating the symptoms of a disease without treating the underlying cause. People make these arguments out of desperation, because they feel that accepting evolution will deprive them of something. It's that sense of loss, not any cognitive process, that drives the arguments against evolution, so answering them with rationality doesn't do anything to address the reason behind the arguments.
_luaineach
Apr. 3rd, 2007 07:44 pm (UTC)
Very nice. I love posts that save me from having to say anything.
red_girl_42
Apr. 4th, 2007 12:41 am (UTC)
Indeed. I want to respond, but there's nothing for me to say except, "yes."
(no subject) - _luaineach - Apr. 4th, 2007 12:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - zotmeister - Apr. 5th, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
radven
Apr. 3rd, 2007 08:05 pm (UTC)
Awesome!
This is inspired writing. Almost as if you had been touched by the hand of god. :-)

"Now, we are the part of the universe capable of understanding itself. We are of the universe; we are a part of it, not above it; but we are unique in all the universe we know in that we can understand it. We are aware. We are the universe's way of understanding itself."

Amen.
indywind
Apr. 4th, 2007 05:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Awesome!
Hallelujah.
lefthand
Apr. 3rd, 2007 08:32 pm (UTC)
I always found it interesting that religious people believe that without god to smite them, they would run wild in the streets, raping and pillaging. They always kind of scared me because they didn't get that I, without a god, didn't do that sort of thing because I thought it rude.
red_girl_42
Apr. 4th, 2007 12:43 am (UTC)
Yeah. I can't understand those people who say that without religion, you can't have morality. Just because I didn't get my moral code from some old book doesn't mean I don't have one. And it's pretty freakin' strong!
(no subject) - lefthand - Apr. 4th, 2007 02:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - red_girl_42 - Apr. 4th, 2007 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lefthand - Apr. 4th, 2007 05:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - red_girl_42 - Apr. 4th, 2007 10:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Apr. 4th, 2007 06:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lefthand - Apr. 4th, 2007 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
cgmp
Apr. 3rd, 2007 08:33 pm (UTC)
What I Like About Creationism
The good part about Creationism is that it implies polytheism. After all, one look at the world and one must conclude it was designed by a committee.

Rev Si
violet_tigress1
Apr. 3rd, 2007 09:08 pm (UTC)
Re: What I Like About Creationism
That would be the obvious conclusion. I think that would be a hilariously funny notion. Nothing would have ever gotten finished.
Re: What I Like About Creationism - cgmp - Apr. 3rd, 2007 09:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: What I Like About Creationism - violet_tigress1 - Apr. 3rd, 2007 09:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: What I Like About Creationism - tacit - Apr. 4th, 2007 06:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: What I Like About Creationism - peristaltor - Apr. 5th, 2007 05:12 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: What I Like About Creationism - red_girl_42 - Apr. 4th, 2007 12:43 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: What I Like About Creationism - trillian42 - Apr. 4th, 2007 03:03 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: What I Like About Creationism - red_girl_42 - Apr. 4th, 2007 05:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: What I Like About Creationism - tacit - Apr. 4th, 2007 06:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: What I Like About Creationism - trillian42 - Apr. 4th, 2007 06:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: What I Like About Creationism - trillian42 - Apr. 4th, 2007 03:03 am (UTC) - Expand
catalyticdragon
Apr. 3rd, 2007 08:34 pm (UTC)
I am glad you beat me to the punch. I have a "why I'm an atheist" post bouncing around in my head and you've said it much more eloquently than I can at the moment.

Other than: I'm happy because I don't believe in god. I don't believe in god because I'm happy. It works itself out.
chipotle
Apr. 3rd, 2007 08:47 pm (UTC)
I remember years ago coming across poems by a Unitarian Universalist minister who was also an atheist. (UUs tend to be a rather eclectic bunch for a purported denomination.) I remember being struck by his poems mostly because, as opposed to most of the Sartre existentialist-style attitudes that could be summed up as, "There is no God; everything is meaningless," Ken Patton's poems were thematically more along the lines of, "There is no God; isn't that wonderful?"

Your post -- which is good stuff -- reminds me a bit of a stage monologue done last year which I bought as an audiobook from iTunes a couple months ago called "Letting Go of God," about a lifelong Catholic's journey toward atheism. It's funny (the author/performer is Julia Sweeney, who was on "Saturday Night Live" years ago), but pretty thoughtful.
redtheda
Apr. 4th, 2007 12:12 am (UTC)
I remember years ago coming across poems by a Unitarian Universalist minister who was also an atheist.

My Dad has always said he liked the Unitarians because they believed there was *at most* one God. ;)

Great post, Franklin. You are an amazing thinker and writer. I've always been annoyed by the religionists attitude that those without religion have no morals, as if everyone is a child that needs to be told wrong from right. I think that if you don't believe in any certain afterlife that it makes life and the Earth even MORE precious, because this is all you have, Heaven and Hell are all right here and now. There is one line that I love, ironically enough from the (albeit liberal Episcopalian) church service - "This fragile Earth, our island home". Religion on the other hand has been used since time immemorial to keep the peasants down - after all, your reward is in Heaven, where the rich man can't fit in through the eye of a needle, it's okay to live in miserable feudalism now.
joreth
Apr. 3rd, 2007 09:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you thank you thank you thank you

for once again saying everything in my head that I can't get out in an understandable manner.

For me, though, letting go of God was not followed by despair. It was followed by such an immense sense of relief, for precisely the reasons you state above for being an optimist.

Whenever a religious person uses the "without God, people would do bad things" argument, I counter with "1) I have no god and I do not do those things and 2) you are telling me that only your fear of god keeps YOU from doing those bad things ... does that mean you really want to do them now and only the fear of punishment keeps you in check? That doesn't say very much for your moral standpoint, especially since I have no desire to do those bad things and it's not fear of retribution that keeps me from wanting to ... I just don't want to."

That usually starts them sputtering when I call their own actions into question.

I'm favoriting this post so I can point links back to it later,and I may outright steal some of it when I right my own posts/threads/entries/webpages on the subject. You always know just how to say what I'm thinking!
redtheda
Apr. 4th, 2007 12:13 am (UTC)
For me, though, letting go of God was not followed by despair. It was followed by such an immense sense of relief

Exactly my thoughts when I read that part.
(no subject) - peristaltor - Apr. 4th, 2007 04:45 am (UTC) - Expand
sacredchao
Apr. 3rd, 2007 09:56 pm (UTC)
Awesome post. In a completely un-godly way. ;-)
quadrapop
Apr. 3rd, 2007 10:41 pm (UTC)
loving it... please come live in Oz? i think i'm falling in love with your mind;-)

I faced the void before i knew what it was and then played devils advocate for 3 years in highschool at religious ed camps (I went to a methodist college)... much to the amusement of myself and the Rev who ran them... luckily he was more interested in encouraging thought than dogma.

I'm posting a link to this on my blog...
(Deleted comment)
tacit
Apr. 4th, 2007 06:54 pm (UTC)
Don't mind at all!

Interesting take on the "speck on a speck in a speck" thing--the Chinese are currently embarking on a very ambitious program of manned space exploration. They've already designed a knockoff of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and their goal is a manned lunar landing in the next decade or so, followed in short order by a permanent lunar colony.

As part of that project, they've just announced that they're developing an unmanned lunar rover, which will be sent to the moon ahead of their manned mission. The lunar environment is quite harsh and solar power isn't much of an option, so the lunar rover is nuclear powered; it's run by a radioisotope battery.

Protesters have already started drawing the battle lines against this idea. One of the protesters quoted in a C-Net News article a couple days ago said wee have to stop the Chinese from junking up the moon with radiation.

Clearly, this man is lacking in perspective. And, er, a background in astrophysics.
redheadlass
Apr. 4th, 2007 02:15 am (UTC)
Wow, now I'm hungry...
serolynne
Apr. 4th, 2007 02:57 am (UTC)
Another great writing :)

As you know, I grew up a-religious without a concept of a 'god' of any sort. So I never had one to let go of, and thus really can't fully comprehend the process of letting go or this despair you speak of. I also don't have a fear of the "void", or any profound fear of death. That's never been a driving force for me. I appreciate my mortality, it makes me realize to make the best of every day I'm blessed with living, and to realize my place in the way ideas evolve amongst our collective minds.

So while I completely get, and experience, the sense of optimism without clinging onto a higher power - I haven't necessarily gotten to that perspective via similar paths. And that's the wonderful thing about life.. is finding others with similar viewpoints who got there in different ways :)
sweh
Apr. 4th, 2007 03:29 am (UTC)
(aside: I wish you'd lj-cut these long posts; when I'm scanning my friends page I don't spend the time your writings deserve, in order to be read and comprehended and grok'd)

The insignificance of man was neatly summed up by Douglas Adams in "The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe", talking about the Total Perspective Vortex...

The Universe, as has been observed before, is an unsettlingly big place, a fact which for the sake of a quiet life most people tend to ignore.

Many would happily move to somewhere rather smaller of their own devising, and this is what most beings in fact do.

For instance, in one corner of the Eastern Galactic Arm lies the large forest planet Oglaroon, the entire "intelligent" population of which lives permanently in one fairly small and crowded nut tree. In which tree they are born, live, fall in love, carve tiny speculative articles in the bark on the meaning of life, the futility of death and the importance of birth control, fight a few extremely minor wars, and eventually die strapped to the underside of some of the less accessible outer branches.

In fact the only Oglaroonians who ever leave their tree are those who are hurled out of it for the heinous crime of wondering whether any of the other trees might be capable of supporting life at all, or indeed whether the other trees are anything other than illusions brought on by eating too many Oglanuts.

Exotic though this behaviour may seem, there is no life form in the Galaxy which is not in some way guilty of the same thing, which is why the Total Perspective Vortex is as horrific as it is.

For when you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says "You are here."
peristaltor
Apr. 4th, 2007 04:54 am (UTC)
(Bow Deeply)
I don't know what brought you to my own journal years ago; but one day you were there making great comments. I learned how to reciprocate the Friending (eventually) and later still learned how to read one's "friends list."

I learned then, as I have so many times in the past, how much I have to learn about how best to convey ones thoughts through words. This latest learning experiece is one of the best yet.

Honestly, a core of your posts and the ensuing exchanges we have had have made the entire LJ experience both memorable and worthy of pursuit.

If I haven't said it before, thank you. Once again.
shiva_kun
Apr. 4th, 2007 11:22 am (UTC)
Re: (Bow Deeply)
And I find it amusing that I found his journal through yours, and the both of you have caused me to stop and ponder until I grok in fullness.
shiva_kun
Apr. 4th, 2007 11:32 am (UTC)
I'll admit that I still fear the Void. I've been an agnostic since birth, and an atheist for the past few years, but the concept that one day my conciousness will one day cease to exist scares the hell out of me.

I completely agree with you about why religion is still around (I've other ideas as to it's origins, but I digress). I believe in a soul, and/or reincarnation, simply because without those beliefs, I can't function. I just fall into a depression and can't do anything other than think, and after awhile, my thoughts become rather depressing; it's a rather ugly cycle. For me, I guess the beliefs are like sunglasses; I can still see the Void, but it's no longer blinding.

On a different note, I've actually convinced a few of my conservative christian friends (you'd never know they were, until you mention darwin) that evolution exists, and is the driving force of life. All it took was the explanation of what a theory is, and the fact that, for all we know, the origin of life itself is in fact divine, and evolution merely took off from there. Personally, I don't believe it, but sugar-coating it helps them believe.
binks
Apr. 4th, 2007 02:15 pm (UTC)
Though I'm not an atheist, I'm absolutely delighted with this post, especially this part, which rings beautifully true to me:

Now, we are the part of the universe capable of understanding itself. We are of the universe; we are a part of it, not above it; but we are unique in all the universe we know in that we can understand it. We are aware. We are the universe's way of understanding itself.

Wonderful!
sydneycat
Apr. 9th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC)
Hi! Got a link here from a friend. I am really impressed by the eloquence of this essay. It's pretty much exactly how I see things as well. Though I consider myself to be one of those people who just fundamentally lacks the ability to believe in God, I still have gone through a long road of deciding exactly what that meant for my life. (I was raised Roman Catholic but around 13, I realized that the only reason I went to church was because I liked helping people by volunteering and that I did so well in CCD because it was school and I'm good at school. Happily my parents were supportive of me. I still think that one of the things that made me lose all pretense of faith was when 'Father Mike' told my CCD clas that hell was an ice-cream shop where the spoons were too big to use and no one would help you. Yeah. I know I was a fairly young at the time...but that's no excuse for telling someone such stupidity. As I still remember it to this day...I do truly believe that had something with my coming to realize I didn't believe any of the stories I was being told.
Hope you don't mind if I add you to my f-list.
tacit
Apr. 9th, 2007 08:41 pm (UTC)
I still think that one of the things that made me lose all pretense of faith was when 'Father Mike' told my CCD clas that hell was an ice-cream shop where the spoons were too big to use and no one would help you.

Wow.

An ice cream shop where the spoons are too big and no one would help you. I suppose it's not the most ridiculous of all possible conceptions of Hell, Hell being an inherently silly idea to begin with, but one wonders if it doesn't perhaps represent an...umm, unhealthy fixation on ice cream on his part.

Welcome aboard!
6_bleen_7
Apr. 10th, 2007 03:55 am (UTC)
Bravo! Well said!

I have a question: The present year in the modern Jewish calendar is 5767. Assuming the Jewish lunar-solar year is on average the same as in the Gregorian calendar, and that the calendar was "started" at Creation as per Genesis, that would make the Earth some 240 years younger than Archbishop Ussher's calculations would imply. Does the age of 5997 years you quoted above reflect a different calculation by Orthodox Jews? I've read some about attempts by Christian scholars to reckon the age of the Earth from Biblical evidence, and I know that there is a whole slew of varying dates of Creation to choose from; but alas, I have heard nothing about attempts by Jews.

As an aside, it amuses me to no end that Christians are so cocksure about 4004 BC being the date of Creation, when the Jews—whose ancestors actually wrote the Torah, and who still study a form much closer to the original—disagree.
tacit
Apr. 13th, 2007 05:08 am (UTC)
I have a question: The present year in the modern Jewish calendar is 5767. Assuming the Jewish lunar-solar year is on average the same as in the Gregorian calendar, and that the calendar was "started" at Creation as per Genesis, that would make the Earth some 240 years younger than Archbishop Ussher's calculations would imply. Does the age of 5997 years you quoted above reflect a different calculation by Orthodox Jews?

Good question. The figure I used came from an article about Christian and Jewish Creationism in Skeptic magazine, though it's not impossible I'm misquoting the number. I do know that belief in a young (~6,000 year old) universe is one of the central tenets of Orthodox Judaism, and one of the key elements differentiating it from Reform Judaism, though whether there's universal agreement on the age, I have no idea.
nevynn
Apr. 10th, 2007 07:23 pm (UTC)
Hello to nothing and no one.
Such is a prayer in the case of atheism. But I do it anyway.
I am not a good atheist. I know that the universe is incomprehensibly huge, and varied. I know exactly where gods came from, why they were created, and what purpose they serve to the individuals who look to them for guidance and whatall else.
But I still think well of my personaly contrived gods. I still work within certain peramiters and I still aknowledge their supiriority to myself. They are after all my own ideals. But they are mine, and mine alone. So I can do as I wish with them. I personaly do not believe in Devine right, more like devine obligation. But you would have to read between the lines to get what those are.

Thank you for sharing this perspective of yours. It is good to know there is reason by way of inspiration out there. Keep going.
brenner
Nov. 11th, 2007 07:34 pm (UTC)
A most excellent meditation!
And the perspective it describes is very much my own ~
as so many of your respondents have concurred, too ~
although the conclusions I draw from that perspective are a mite askew your own.

The idea that We are the part of the universe capable of understanding itself
evokes in me the thought, "Well, that's nice, but so what?"

I mean, with no offense intended,
I just can't derive much other than a faint abstract pleasure from that idea,
and I certainly have no truck with optimism regarding the human race's ~ or other sentient beings' ~ making any practical worth from the knowledge.

(Of course, there's all manner of speculation been going on concerning such a circumstance ~
from Stapledon's "Odd John" to Tiptree's "A Momentary Taste of Being,"
and all that lies between and beyond, and many cheers to them, along with similar cheers to your thoughtful post here, Tacit.)

Optimism, even when most stringently derived from empirical knowledge,
smacks of faith ~ which ever, ultimately, disappoints ~ and in any case is unnecessary
for the business of existing in this particular universe.

Your Mileage, as they say, May Vary.

What is palpably delightful and joy-inducing, even for such a curmudgeon as this one,
is the knowledge that you and your respondents (and so many brave others)
base your lives on the perspectives and precepts so well expressed in your post,
rather than diving, with the majority of people, into the narcotic tar-pits of irrationality.

Hmmmm. "Narcotic tar-pits of irrationality."

I suspect it's time for me to either
1) trademark that phrase or
2) STFU before I grow even more florid.

Thank you, and I look forward to further essays of yours.
tacit
Nov. 21st, 2007 03:51 pm (UTC)
Re: A most excellent meditation!
"Narcotic tar-pits of irrationality." Dude, that phrase rocks.

For me, optimism comes not from what we are now, but from what we are capable of becoming. It's not the kind of Panglossian "once we transcend the limitations imposed on us now, everything will be Perfect Forever," but rather an optimism that says our potential is virtually limitless. As a species, we're pretty fucked up, but we're still better, I think, than insects.
sylvar
Nov. 12th, 2007 12:17 am (UTC)
Typo
s/empirical about science/empirical science/

Well said, though.
tacit
Nov. 12th, 2007 03:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Typo
Thanks, typo's ben fixed!
godofbiscuits
Nov. 12th, 2007 04:14 am (UTC)
Extraordinarily well-said
Like you say, it's easy to mock the preciousness of the Fundamentalist self-deceptions, yet you never become a simple contrarian, stooping to playing their game with their rules.

Take it a bit further by going a bit backward: despair is simply one expression of fear.

yet if you collapse your piece from addressing them as two separate things and just call it fear, or, if you will, "Fear", you gather in all of these phenomena of human fear (including the Void, he said without irony).

The Void, the future, the unknown, death, pointlessness of life, the true age of "all creation" (which minimizes the part each of us plays in it) are all a form a xenophobia. To my way of thinking, the notion of god just provides a wedge to separate "us" from "the out-there" and removes all the nuances and seasoning to xenophobia.

Under these conditions, labels like "optimist" and "pessimist" can exist. I'm not dissing you at all for using the term, but isn't optimism really just the mental habit of allowing for the unknown to visit our lives in ways that aren't necessarily detrimental? That change isn't always deleterious?

And that even when change and the outside can be damaging that we each possess the abilities, faculties or even just charms to work the changes to our own advantage?




pulsecub
Nov. 12th, 2007 05:13 am (UTC)
[speechless]

I hope you don't mind (and not that I mean this as a boast, as if my list is somehow exclusive); but on the strength of this post alone, you have been added to my Friend's list. I want to read more.
tacit
Nov. 12th, 2007 03:21 pm (UTC)
Welcome aboard! :)
(no subject) - exodavinci - Nov. 12th, 2007 08:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
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