Bridging a Great Divide

I had a post about morality planned for February but it’s taking longer than I thought to write.  Instead, I’d like to share a video which to me relates very much to morality.

I found the video on one of Eva’s posts and I was very moved by it:

In the video, Naomi Feil, a Jewish woman, makes a connection with a woman who suffers from Alzheimer’s by singing Christian songs.  I think this made an even deeper impact on me given that I know of the aversion to Christianity that exists in the Jewish community.  This was very clear to me growing up in a Jewish home, and I also found it to be true, albeit to a lesser extent, in a more liberal Jewish congregation I attended several years ago.  There’s a lot of history causing that aversion, but happily I believe it is dissipating.

To me this is just one example of someone crossing over the boundaries of religion to make a beautiful connection with another human being.  I have always highly valued all human beings no matter what their beliefs are and my beliefs about ultimate questions have never changed that.  This was one of the things that attracted me to Christianity back in college – I believed that it represented true goodness and that it matched this value that I had within my heart.  That strong value didn’t go away after I left Christianity though, and no matter what my beliefs are about the existence of gods, that value of mine will remain unchanged.  To me this is an important part of what morality is all about.

Is Meaning Possible in a World Without God?

I was going to do a series about meaning but as I was studying and writing the series on morality I realized that there is a whole lot of overlap in the 2 subjects.  They are both based on values which would explain that.  Many of the things I wrote about morality could also be written about meaning.

One example of this is in the question of God being the answer to meaning.  Just as in thinking about morality, the question is obvious here as well – where did God get his meaning?  If he is not disturbed by the fact that there isn’t something outside of himself that provides meaning then why should we be?  Why does adding another conscious entity to the equation solve the problem of meaning?  If it turns out that there is no God does that remove all meaning from our lives?  I discussed these kinds of questions when discussing morality as well.

I won’t write too much about the idea that we can create our own meaning in life – it has been hashed and rehashed many times, and I certainly agree that we can create our own meaning in life.  I think it is important in discussions with theists to make a distinction between a simple practical and “ordinary” usage of the word “meaning” versus a more “cosmic” or “outside of humanity” kind of meaning.  Most atheists including myself are willing to admit that there may not be this kind of cosmic meaning, but in practical terms we can still have meaning in our own lives, and the foundations for this are just our own values that we may have.  For example my children give great meaning to my life – I don’t see this as a cosmic, “outside of humanity” meaning, but just meaning in the sense that they are extremely important to me.

Also, just as in the discussion on morality, I believe there is a possibility (again the possibilian in me) that some kind of meaning exists in “the fabric” of reality, and perhaps it is even beyond the current capability of humans to understand (i.e. transcendant).  I do not see why It is logically necessary to believe in gods to believe in this kind of possibility.  Perhaps this is a bit mystic or spiritual, and I don’t mind getting “kicked out” of the atheist community for expressing this kind of idea. 😉  I don’t claim belief in this kind of meaning, but I do see it as possible.

And furthermore, on a bit less less of a mystic tone, for me, while the big questions seem unanswerable given what we as humans know at this point in time, and I have embraced that, I also can’t know for certain that there won’t be a day sometime in the future that this changes due to the increase in human knowledge about reality (as well as the changes that may occur from further evolution).  While this seems unlikely to me, I can’t deny the possibility that humans will obtain concrete answers to these questions, and therein lies a great deal of meaning and purpose for me.  The constant pursuit of truth and facts with the express purpose of helping the people who might live many many years from now is actually very inspiring for me and it is one reason why I blog about these kind of things.  But in the pursuit of truth, if it really is truth that we are seeking (and for me it definitely is), we must constantly apply rigorous objective methods, and also must question our most cherished beliefs and allow others to try and falsify the claims that we make about what truth is.  That is the primary way as humans we will get closer to what we are seeking, given that this kind of process will help to overcome the biases that all of us are so plagued with.  And the possibility that this leads humans in the future to real answers to these big questions is a huge driver for meaning in my life.

If you are an atheist, agnostic, or just plain doubter but are struggling with a sense of a loss of meaning, there are a lot of resources out there for getting a better grip of this subject.  As a small starting point I would recommend this post by Richard Wade on the Friendly Atheist blog.  There are a couple of other links to videos on there as well that you may want to watch.

Secular Humanism

In all of my previous posts I’ve focussed more on my methods and approach to finding out what is true in the realm of reality.  I’ve used some labels for myself such as implicit atheist, weak agnostic, and possibilian.  I haven’t yet mentioned a much more important description of myself which describes what I believe about morality and how to treat other humans.

I am a secular humanist.  This doesn’t mean I believe in every precept of the secular humanist movement, but since I don’t claim belief in any supernatural entities I fit into the secular category, and because I believe very strongly in treating every person as having inherent worth and dignity I fit perfectly into the humanist category.

I recently read “Good Without God” by Greg Epstein, and while I may lean more to the agnostic side in my openness to the supernatural or transcendant possibilities of reality, whatever differences I felt I had with his description of secular humanism was very minor.  His book is a good introduction to the subject for the layperson.  He didn’t dive deep into the epistemology of morality (although he did touch on it a little bit) and he did seem to go off on a few tangents, but otherwise I thought the book was a good intro.

The subject of morality is an essential one for a blog like mine and I think my next post will be the morality post (or series) that I have wanted to write for a while.  I’ve been procrastinating because I feel like I have only touched the surface of this very important topic, but I’m going to jump in because it is so important.

The importance of this cannot be underscored enough for me.  As I’ve described before, my doubts about the truth of Christianity grew as time went along and for maybe a year or more before I decided I could no longer call myself a believer anymore I was fighting very hard to push my doubts away.  While I’m sure there were a lot of factors for why I did that, I know very clearly of 2 – one was the feeling that if I left my belief I would no longer have my moral compass, and would in fact have no moral compass at all.  The other was a concern for the loss of meaning or purpose in life.

One just needs to peruse the blogosphere of Religious/Atheist dialogues (if it could be called dialogue 😉 ) for just a short time to see that these 2 things are very important big questions in humanity’s search for truth.

So not only do I have plans to post some of my ideas about morality I also plan in the future to post my ideas about meaning and purpose in life.