Life’s what you make it

… being some thoughts on today’s moment of enlightenment …

Let us accept for the sake of this discussion the broader atheist premise that there is no god, no supernatural force, no afterlife, no transcendent soul, no extrinsic purpose to life whatsoever. We are, in this perspective, highly evolved ants going about our time on this planet until our bodies cease to function, at which point the sum total of our mentations, all that we perceive to be ourselves, evaporates into the aether.

If we survive death at all, it is in the form of writings and recordings, and memories passed on to other highly evolved ants, who spend part of their own time accumulating the pieces of others. Only a handful of us will survive in this manner beyond a few centuries. A few dozen will survive a millenium.

If there is no extrinsic purpose to life, if no Deity has assigned us the role of being the best we can be or of worshiping Him, Her, or Them, if no great reward awaits us upon our departure from the mortal coil, then what’s left is intrinsic purpose: We have a choice: to enjoy our time here, to put it to good use, or to be miserable.

Let us further assume that no rational creature wants to be miserable, and that atheists value being rational. Therefore, all atheists seek to either enjoy their time here or to put it to good use, or both.

This leads me to a topic with which I have long struggled. I believe, in my mind of minds, that I am closer to being an atheist than to being a theist. However, one thing that bothers me is how much effort certain, in my experience most, atheists put into being rude about religion and believers. To what end?

Certainly being rude about religion and believers doesn’t change minds. If anything will change a theist into an atheist, it’s rational argument based on integrity, not name-calling and sarcasm.

Perhaps the belief is that rudeness will lead to a change in prejudicial laws. It is true, after all, that in the last few centuries, atheists have been more consistently oppressed by western laws and attitudes than any other major belief group. Granted, having to see a creche in front of the town hall, having to suffer through “under God” in the classroom, or not being able to buy beer on Sunday morning pales in comparison to being tied to a stake and burned alive, but even so, there has been a consistent cultural harassment of atheists.

However, hitting a hornet’s nest does not teach the hornets to leave you alone, and as the current “War on Christmas” ranks illustrate, harassing the harassers only leads to more friction.

So it serves no discernible positive function.

Which leaves the other possibility: Those atheists who ridicule the believers enjoy it. They enjoy making other people miserable, theoretically because they themselves feel miserable. They’re punching back.

The problem is, punching back is still punching. Sometimes self-defense is necessary, but the key to appropriate self-defense is to not exceed the limits necessary to get the attack to stop. Indeed, excessive response will lead to escalation, not cessation.

Sarcasm is easy, but then, so is throwing a punch. What’s not easy is turning away from an altercation when that’s the action with the most integrity. Ask yourself: How does it negatively affect you, really, when someone says, “Merry Christmas”? Sure, it’s frustrating that there are people who want to teach all children that macroevolution has no more reliable evidence supporting it than the notion that God made the world in a calendar week, but how is that countered by referring to God as “your invisible sky-friend”?

I am not recommending being friendly to everyone. That’s been presented to me in the past as a false dilemma: You’re either mean to people who bother you, or you’re nice to them. There’s a middle ground: Ignoring them when you can, being civil to them when you have to interact. If you’re mean to someone, and you value rationality, then the only rational conclusion is that you enjoy being mean. And that’s one sort of person I wish not to interact with.

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