I was reading a post on one of my favorite blogs, Hemant Mehta's Friendly Atheist earlier today, on the Freedom From Religion Foundation's recent billboard campaign in Florida. I wholeheartedly support the effort, as I am completely for the separation of church and state as well as the desire to let other non-believers know that they are not alone. There are a shit-ton of us, and we'll gladly stand right beside you, or even allow you to buy us a beer.
As I've said many times before, I completely support the right of the individual to believe or not believe whatever they please. I've recently converted to Pastafarianism myself, not out of any real conviction that the Flying Spaghetti Monster (sauce and cheese be upon Him) actually exists, but rather because it makes just as much sense as any other religion. And at least, with the FSM, you get to eat really well, drink a lot of beer and dress up like a pirate instead of going to church: Three of the biggest goals in my life down in one move. And, on the off chance that Our Noodly Lord (basil and garlic be upon Him) does exist, I get to go to the Beer Volcano and Stripper Factory in the sky. It's a better version of Pascal's Wager...you know, because of the beer and strippers. That combination makes anything better. (Seriously, think of ANYTHING at all off the top of your head. Now add beer and strippers. See?!) But I'm off topic yet again. Point: individuals can have any religion they want, but the U.S. government, by design, cannot make or pass any law that endorses or decries any of them and therefore must act in a secular fashion for the common good. So, good on ya, FFRF. Keep it up.
Now, on to the real meat of this piece. (heh. Meat. Piece. I will NEVER tire of dick jokes.) In wanting to read a little more on subject of the FFRF's billboards, I clicked through to a story on Tampa Bay Online covering it. It seemed a little biased against the FFRF, but nothing too extreme and that's really par for the course, so no surprise there. Toward the end of the article, however, a quote brought up something that's been bugging me awhile:
"David Clarke, a Tampa psychologist and author of several Christian books, says he supports the right to post these billboards but 'feels sorrow' for the sponsors at the same time. "Without God," he said, "life is meaningless and there can't be any real morality.'"
I really don't have a problem with religious folks feeling sorrow that I haven't embraced a (or more specifically their) god. Nor do I have too much of a problem being prayed for (I used to, but generally the sentiment comes from the heart. It's pointless, but harmless all in all. I do, however have a BIG problem being prayed at, which happens far more often.). I suppose if I truly felt that everyone who didn't believe the same way I did wasn't going to the Beer Volcano, I'd be sad about it, too. The thing that has really cottaged my cheese for a long time, even before I fully let go of the idea of God, however, is Clarke's last sentence: "Without God," he said, "life is meaningless and there can't be any real morality.'" Fundies have been claiming the moral high ground since forever, so there's no real shock to it, but I'm going to offer yet another counter argument, if only because this dude is supposedly a psychologist and should know better.
Clarke and others of his ilk argue that religion (around these parts that means Christianity, but really, the sentiment is pretty interchangeable across the Big Three) is necessary because God lays out the way we ought to live. Through the bible, humanity is given its moral compass, and without believing that there's a god to please, a heaven to aspire to and a hell to avoid, we'd all just go around stabbing each other, raping anything that moved, and eating babies. And that's just asinine.
Morality isn't a religious mandate, it's a biological one. We come from a long line of social creatures. Long before we built cities to live in, we still lived in groups. Over the long millenia to get us where we are, our morality has evolved. We ought to treat others well because we're all connected as a species, and its the best chance we have of surviving and thriving. We all have the same basic desires (with a few kinks thrown in here and there according to personal tastes): food, shelter, love, happiness, etc. It really doesn't take a divine revelation to tell us what's good and what's not. It's the Golden Rule at its simplest: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That was around long before the idea of Jesus (they just kinda shoehorned it in there. Gives the J-man a little more philosophical heft.), and with any luck it'll be around long after it, too.
To quote Penn Jillette: "Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around."
I live a life without god, and it is devoid of neither morality nor meaning. I aspire to kindness, though I may fail here and there. I treat people well. I give to charity. I help my brothers and my nieces with their homework. I've helped feed and clothe those less fortunate than me. I make my friends laugh. I do these things not so that I can be rewarded after I'm dead (though I will take a couple of bucks now, if you're giving it away), but because it makes me happy to do so. (It's not completely selfless, to be honest, since I enjoy the feeling it gives me to help someone out, and since I would hope someone would do the same for me if I needed it) I have never raped or murdered; I don't intentionally harm people at all. The last thing I ever stole was when I was a kid, and I felt terrible about it for a long time, even then not because I felt God would be angry at me, but because I stole something that belonged to someone else. The wrongness of the act was instinctual, not simply because I felt as though I would get in trouble. (Though I did, in the end. God's got nothing on my mom when she's pissed. I owe a lot more of my morality to her than to any god, that's for sure.)
So, that takes care of the morality. As for meaning: I have a lot of joy in my life. There are people I love and who love me. I have a wife I depend on and who depends on me. I have beer, cheesy midnight movies, Tom Waits music, Martin Scorcese, stand-up comedy, sunsets, glacial caves, romance, bromance, Shakespeare, Vonnegut, birthday parties, etc. etc. etc. Most importantly, I have the consequences of my actions, both good and bad, and I'd much rather make people smile. All that is enough for me. I don't need heaven, and wouldn't want it. It wouldn't be heaven if there's a hell, it would be unbearable. And if you think otherwise: fuck you, you selfish prick. :)
I don't want to say that I'm better than religious folks because of all this, that would be unfair. I'm better than some and not as good as others, the same as anyone else. There are plenty of believers that have had an amazing positive impact on just my own life; to discount them would be unthinkable. My point is we shouldn't be good because we want some big payoff from the cosmic slot machine; we should do what Aristotle, Santa and Bill Murray have told us to do all along: Be good, for goodness' sake.
And so, I leave you with a reading from the Loose Canon, one of the holiest books of Pastafarianism. Specifically, from the Random Number of Not Commandments, Suggestions:
"2. Thou ought not do stuff thou already knowest is wrong, like killing, lying, cheating, stealing, etc. Dost thou really need these carved into a rock?"
May your sauce be forever warm. RAmen.