- Published on Monday, 14 February 2011 05:42
- Written by Eric Thomas
- Hits: 3320
Why do atheists have reason to be optimistic? As a group, or philosophy, atheists have been defined as antagonistically critical. While I might agree on a semantic level, freedom of expression should not be judgmental. The very real challenge of the various philosophies that disagree with "theists" is that they do not have a prescription for the future based on "belief" alone. Unlike a future that has been dreamt up by a self serving religious leader, a core value of the non-believer world is that we have to decide, for ourselves and then for our community what the future might look like. We need to "think".
Theists suggest that one of the repercussions of our disagreement is that atheists are going to hell. If there was such a spot we might be concerned.
Is there an optimistic perspective for religious adherents? Well, maybe.
Atheists, by definition, question what religion calls "dogma". Atheists are usually associated with the cross they bear against the inanity of the "shut up and believe" syndrome pontificated by religious leaders. It is a short trip to include other "non-religious" philosophies of, agnostics, Humanists, free thinkers, critical thinkers, or my favorite, "humans accepting humans", ("HAH"), who reject formal, structured dictates. Where does the optimism come from if there is not a prelate preaching the future for us?
Is the source of optimism outside of our ability to think? With a pervasive flooding of our senses, our world presents us with pessimistic or mind numbing thought through a multitude of media. Or even worse, we are subjected to media that demands no thought at all. We are affected by what happens to us at a cerebral and physical level. Our thinking or "rationalizing" about those events can be a source of optimism or pessimism. Is there training available to show us how to respond? Al Gore eloquently argued in his "Assault on Reason" and Marshall McLuhan suggested in "The Gutenberg Galaxy", we have a choice to make. I would add that it is our evolutionary obligation to "think".
Think, for a minute, about watching the; "if it bleeds it leads" news or seeing a criminal act or feeling the aftermath of a child being bullied. All of those events impact us. What we do with the impact, we like to think is up to us and regularly, it is. However, our neurological functions, (what and how we think) are a very complicated set of chemical reactions that include "conditioned" responses as warped logic. Before we evolved with solutions based on science that told us, "the bump in the night was an earthquake based on natural plate tectonics", we invented explanations. At least we were thinking. While some explanations may have been designed to comfort children, many non-thinking adults still look for answers in the strangest places. An angry god made the toaster catch on fire. (Really, the proof being..?) We are capable of reality when armed with facts.
What we think is only partly based on fact. Science is wise enough to acknowledge that it does not have all of the answers, nor do we consider all the facts all of the time. As an option to incomplete rational thought, why would we accept the archaic ramblings of "wise men" from thousands of different religions as fact (or gospel)? Are our brains going to develop to allow us to deal with fact more than fiction? Atheists think so, optimistically.
I have purposely focused on the root of optimism as opposed to the tactical side of dealing with life's challenges which lead to temporary pessimism or optimism. My belief is that dealing with the practical aspects of living life is a result of our mental attitude not exclusively a barometer of the impact of those issues.
To yield our mind to what we are being subjected to, is mentally easy as it requires no inter-action or effort. With print, TV and an Internet presence the competition for our mind rages, proactively. Perhaps "mind" may be the wrong word as it brings "brainwashing" or "mind control" to, well, mind. If we use "competition" for our "attention" instead the subject may become clearer. Or at least give us a comfortable, if false, sense of security that we are not being programmed. Our "attention" is "ours". Can we keep ownership, or do we allow external dynamics, media and religion to rule us?
Media and religion have an economic model or power hungry structure that drive their existence. That of paying advertisers or special interest groups whose agenda is served by influencing the mass of humanity that supports their existence. Is our mind to be an economic participant? Do we appreciate what happens to our mind when we sit for hours listening to "Latin rambling"? As a source of pessimism, these exposures are ripe with opportunity to resist.
Ask an artist what the "thinking" option generates when your thoughts, education and experience flow. Unencumbered thought is a core value of art. Are there politicians who transcend the next election and focus on sustainable economics or a sustainable society that offer optimism, even without art?
How can we be optimistic about our use of our mind when external stimuli have an objective for us that are not in-sync with our own? Can we integrate internal thoughts with the "flooding" of our senses? First we need to decide that we have a mind of our own. Not, for any of us, at all times, is that a true statement. Our ability to balance conflicting inputs develops with information and our open-minded education. This balancing act is impacted by our personal history, by our desires, our sloth and our personal morals.
What kind of mind is the source of optimism? A mind that is energetic, inquisitive, open and honestly not judgmental can be a fountain of optimism. However, to deal with competing inputs our mind cannot be just optimistic. It must be able to judge good from bad and all of the shades of grey in between. The decision of where "good and bad" fit in our personality is a "judgment" by itself. Is determining the "facts" and deciding a course of action the answer or just one of the answers? How do we allow for an absence of all of the facts? We can deliver a "moral" and optimistic society without a "god's" direction.
Our cognitive capacity has evolved. We have a "mind set" that has to deal with a level of understanding of our place in the world that is unique in our short history on this planet. Our understanding of tactical facts and our humanity is greater than at any time in our history. Surely that is a source of optimism.
Perhaps religion can help teach us. It can certainly show us which lifestyle does not deliver a fact based life. Discussing "belief" with religious zealots of even grey haired adherents, an argument of fact frequently digresses to a level of "there is no proof, (I read fact), and the power of my belief is that I believe". Do adherents find that amusing or at least just a little rhetorical? What is to be the source of optimism for humanity that rejects being lead and leads themselves? While I fervently hope the current trend away from organized religion will accelerate, I have too much respect for the honest supplicants to dismiss their efforts. Open communication and fostering shared objectives can lead to optimism. There is no secret in my philosophy, nor is there a hidden agenda in my dialogue.
Apart from religion, there are other pressing issues that affect the 75% of the world who have moved beyond the religious and historic paradigm, (authors estimate, some demographics are higher). Religions are like politics, homeopathic medicine and Santa-Claus; they require an obnoxious level of gullibility. Well maybe not Santa as he delivers way cool stuff and I rather like him. Our economic models and environmental management have not had sustainability as their drivers. Religions are also not sustainable in a society of "thinkers". We can introduce optimism if we agree to change and grow. The need for change has been chronicled. Our children and our future demand change in their desire to evolve in a positive way. Future generations will judge our success by our ability to deliver a secular, thinking world.
To truly evolve as a species we all must believe in the privilege of life. Our future as a species is bleak if we continue to manage our world without fact based science. The way we have been managing ourselves and our planet is in need of steerage and tutelage. Optimism reigns when we base our future on inclusive knowledge. Will our religions participate or continue to "believe" arcane rants from dim history?
Is it the age of "Enlightenment" all over again? We can but hope.
Atheists are optimists and welcome theists to the party.