Sunday, March 22, 2009

Can Life Have Meaning Without a God?

One thing I encounter frequently is the argument that a meaningful life can only be derived from religious or metaphysical beliefs. I think this comes up because oftentimes the person making the argument had no meaning in their life until they found religion. I feel that I have found meaning in life without the need to defer to a metaphysical entity. I believe that the meaning of life is to continue living, growing, and improving. Life exists to beget new life, new ideas, and new creations.

So what does that mean on a personal level? It means that personally, you have to figure out your own meaning. One approach to do this is to ask yourself "What is my place in the world?", "What makes me feel fulfilled?", or "What would make me the best 'me' that I can be?". The problem with this approach would be the lack of a clearly defined personal meaning, or a clearly defined means of determining a personal meaning. The advantage is that the meaning I have found for myself is far more satisfying and personal than any purpose that a religion can offer.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Creating a Humanist Culture

There are several things needed to create a Humanist culture that can effectively replace religious culture. The first of these is a common mythology, but not in the sense of a bunch of made up stories. Rather, these are culturally shared stories that may be a bit idealized or simplified. For Humanism, two obvious examples would be the story of human life evolving, and the second would be Darwin's development of the theory of evolution.

The second thing that needs to be created is a common morality that is practical and understandable. The three Humanist Manifestos are a good start, but are too abstract and vague in nature to be sufficient. Instead, the morality should consist of simple principles demonstrated in examples and backed up by justification. The existence of moral gray areas also should be addressed.

Third, a set of common, purposeful rituals need to be developed. For example, a community ritual (like going to church on Sundays) could help connect Humanists and allow Humanists to develop their understanding of Humanism. Acknowledging your own place in yourself, your relationships, society, the world, and universe at some regular, predetermined times (say after waking and before falling asleep) to help keep your life in context of your beliefs. There are countless other rituals that could be used.

Fourth, Humanism needs to clearly state why and how a life can be purposeful without a need to defer to the divine. This may sound simple, but this needs to carry enough weight that it can stand next to the divine arguments made by religions.

Finally, Humanism needs a clear and formal set of threats and promises to differentiate it from religions. These can be based off of a Humanist view of the future, combined with the shortcomings of religion. Threats and promises create incentive for people to convert, and also act to combat the argument that an atheistic belief system is inherently nihilistic.

So what would these things do? It would make Humanism more appealing and useful for its adherents and potential converts. It would also allow Humanism to engage in dialectical relationships with the more reasonable manifestations of religion. Finally, it creates a pseudo-religious religion alternative that isn't lacking (after leaving Christianity 6 years ago, I still miss many aspects of having a church).

Also, I don't think this list is complete or infallable, nor do I have any good ideas for implementation. As always, feedback is much appreciated, either directly or using the comment system.

On a side note, I now Twitter, so feel free to add punkideas, and friend me on MySpace and Facebook. Also, I'm trying to get a feel for my readership, so let me know if you are a reader (thanks to David for being the one person to let me know he's reading)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Atheism, Humanism, and Religion

I don't believe in a god in any sort of traditional sense, but I reject the label of Atheist. I think the word, besides having a negative connotation, does not convey what I really believe. I consider myself a Humanist in a broad and general sense, since I feel that the label more properly conveys what I believe, rather than what I don't believe. Atheism is only the belief in no god, and has no other intrinsic beliefs. Humanism, on the other hand, is the belief that people and humanity are the most important thing in human existence. Also, Atheism is the second most disliked "religion", behind only Scientology, probably because all that outspoken Atheists do is attack religion.

I think that people who don't believe in a god or other supernatural powers, or don't claim to know whether a god exists need to move away from labels that say what they are against (like "Atheist" and "Agnostic"), and begin using labels that state what are the most important principles of their beliefs (like "Humanist" or "Naturalist"). I think that the outspoken Atheists, like Richard Dawkins, need to focus more on the negative outcomes of fundamentalist religion, rather than the absurdity of the premises of religion. This will help reduce the marginalization of non-religious beliefs. I also think that non-religious people need to stop condemning religious moderates who are not imposing their views on others.

Finally, I think that non-religious people need to come together and form some sort of common culture. Specifically, I think that Humanists and others need to take a page from religion. Religion is based on supernatural threats and promises, like hell and heaven. Humanism should promise a fulfilling life based on rational thought, while stating the belief in metaphysical entities can lead to a wasted life and the misleading of others. Furthermore, there needs to be a community. All the Humanist forums and many of the blogs I have found online are dominated by religion-bashing, rather than good discourse about how people can live and be moral without a god or something similar. Instead of spending all our time saying what we are not, we should spend our time defining ourselves, and contrasting it to what we are not.

If anyone knows of a place where a progressive Humanist can talk with like minded people, you should let me know