What Matters Most: Part I
A friend of mine is dying, recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. He’s got a life expectancy of two years or so at most, I’m told. It doesn’t look encouraging. It started me thinking today about some of the things that matter the most, and I thought I’d post a few words on one of those here.
Be warned, I may ramble a bit here…
First, there’s integrity. To me, that means something…If I can’t be trusted to be honest with myself, how can I be with anyone else? To me, the first and worst sin, if you could call it that, isn’t pride — it’s self delusion, and from that the deception of others.
If there were any sort of god or gods in any truly evidential, objectively incontrovertible, unambiguously obvious sense, knowable to all, then I would have no problem accepting the fact — it would after all be a fact, one that would not require me to believe first, either by conversion experience, or mere accident of birth, for it would be knowable despite unbelief to the contrary.
But the source of my unbelief in gods is a glaring lack of real evidence for them, and without that evidence, demonstrable by anyone no matter what anyone else personally believes, myself or anyone else, I’ve simply no grounds at all to believe in any sort of supernatural agencies or beings, not without surrendering my integrity.
It seems to me that the universe is not given to granting wishes, mine, nor anyone elses, and I have to live with that. The cosmos doesn’t care about me, and isn’t even aware that I exist. Like it or not, I must face reality, glorious, terrifying, depressing, stark reality, whether I like it or not. It’s a source of contentment to me, to live to change what I can and accept what I can’t.
I’ve often argued against faith as a way of knowing. And for a good reason, for the sort of faith I argue against denies knowledge to preserve belief. It’s that sort of intransigent faith I oppose, that which rejects evidence and closes the mind to inquiry, to believe, to paraphrase one father of the early Christian church, “…because it is absurd.”
My religious nonbelief is not something I chose, something I decided to do merely because it was cool or trendy. When it happened to me, it was neither cool nor fashionable. It was not something I wanted at the time.
My unbelief was a realization that came upon me over my adolescent years. It was a thing imposed on me by reality itself and the necessity to say goodbye to my need to believe, to let go of something that was no longer me, and could never be me…ever again.
It meant giving up a part of myself that now seemed out of place with my understanding of the world and myself. I said farewwell to my naivete, not without some regret, and never looked back, even after I tired of looking into other religious and spiritual traditions. None of them were suitable, none of them fit my needs — and I explored a more sensible, pragmatic, secular worldview.
Truth to tell, early on, I flirted with absolutist views of philosophy and had mistakenly absolutist views of science, but those proved just as spurious as anything else I found myself giving up.
Then I flirted with relativism, before finally noting the flaws in it, the very incoherency that made it untenable as a philosophical position — even on it’s own merits, it made no sense — too many glaring logical holes.
Neither absolutism nor relativism were sound positions — one led to dogmatism and bigotry, the very things about religion that repelled me, and the other led to fuzzy thinking and mistaken tolerance of bigotry.
So I rejected both.
An understanding of the history of philosophy and the sciences reveals that the search for absolute truths about the world is forlorn, and holding all ways of knowing as equally valid means that none of them at all are valid.
A viable way of knowing needs methods of revealling error and miscalculation, and the outcome of our observations must make a difference or they tell us nothing of any real worth.
I’m human, of course, as much as I may imagine otherwise in my frequent science fictional musings, and so I err, I slip from time to time — but don’t we all, whether we admit it or not?
I would betray my integrity, whatever it’s worth, if I consoled myself with false hopes and wishful thinking that all will be right, and that my friends, especially those seriously ill, will get better, and I’ll see them again someday in somebody’s version of an afterlife.
But given what I’ve come to understand of the different concepts of the soul and afterlife, the history of those concepts over time, and the nature, history and origins of the various holy books of the major religions, no good reasons present themselves for my willing acceptance that any of them are true.
I cannot make myself believe, cannot force myself to believe in spite of the evidence of reality.
Rather than identifying myself with any sort of doctrine or creed, I’ve chosen ethics, conscience, and my rational empiricist values as my guide to the path I walk. Where I wind up is anyone’s guess, and I know not where or when that will be.
But I won’t betray myself, and by extension, those who trust me. If I lied to myself, tried to convince myself that all will be warm and fuzzy if I believe in the unbelievable, realization and cognitive self-chastising would quickly follow. That’s no boast, that’s just how it’s always been since my deconversion.
Every. Single. Time.
So with my obligatory skeptical arched eyebrows (a la Jack Nicholson…), I have to say, that however uncomfortable it may make me, I wouldn’t give it up for the world — or the afterworld.