Archive for May 16th, 2012
I was briefly enjoying the company of several friends yesterday when I decided to make a spontaneous toast. The reason for my spontaneity was this: it occurred to me that we were each extraordinary organisms in that we were each a modern day survivor of a long long line of ancestors. Each of of our ancestors somehow sidestepped numerous dangers (including predators), surviving long enough to launch the next generation. If one went back a few hundred years, the odds that any of the four of us would have been born, much less that we would be friends enjoying each others’ company in the same room, were remote. If you went back thousands (or better yet) millions of years (when our ancestors of other species), the likelihood that any of us would ever exist today would be closer to zero than one could imagine. It would be so close to zero that the fact that any of us actually exists (much less all of us) is best conceived of as a statistical miracle.
So there we were yesterday, all of us impossible-people sharing a place and a moment, as well as sharing stories and more than a few laughs. It seemed to be a good time to recognize that moment. My words were brief; I recognized the grotesque unlikelihood that the four of us would have ever shared a conversation in the same room.
As I write tonight, it occurs to me that most amazing thing yesterday was that our journeys had been for more momentous that I suggested. Each of us traveled more miles to get to Earth than the human mind is able to comprehend, except through great effort, wild metaphors and clever thought experiments. The problem is that we came from different stars, and it gets even crazier than this. I should have included the words of Lawrence Krauss in my toast.
I’m waiting to see whether anyone ever in my lifetime tells me any story of the origin of human animals, no matter how fantastic, no matter how detached from reality, no matter how dependent on supernatural beings, that is more spell-binding than the truth. The upshot is this: If you want to tell an amazing story, you only need to stick to the facts. If you want to make an incredibly memorable cosmic toast, there’s no need to exaggerate or pretend. There’s no need to express one’s thoughts in vague poetry. And nowadays, thanks to the Internet, there is no need to invest much time to learn or understand these overwhelming and disorienting truths. A cosmic toast is the intersection of well-established facts with the courage to embrace these facts. May we all consider giving cosmic toasts more often, to keep each other humble . . . .
George Dvorsky refers to getting past the frustration, anger and name-calling as “post-Atheism”:
I’m hoping to see atheists move past the religion bashing and start thinking about more substantive issues. This is what I mean when I say post-atheism. It’s time to set aside the angst and work more productively to help those who need it, while working to develop a world view and set of guidelines for living without God. It’s unfortunate and tragic that so many humanists have equated the movement with atheism, while completely forgetting their progressive roots.
Humanism is about the betterment of all humanity and the contemplation of what it is we wish to become. It’s about taking control of our own lives in the absence of divine intervention. And it’s about taking responsibility for ourselves and doing the right thing.
This is where our energies and attention needs to be focused. Not in ridiculous Facebook timeline posts that serve no one.
I wouldn’t call it “post atheism,” because the term atheism means that one doesn’t believe in God, and that is still true of the people who aren’t religious. But I do agree entirely that it’s time for atheists to move on. I get it, that we have been subjected to bigotry, but it’s time to move from our Malcolm X phase to our Martin Luther King phase. I discuss all of this in detail in my five-part series titled “Mending Fences.”
As for a good model to use for getting past the frustration and, instead, making the world a better place, I often refer to this declaration by Paul Kurtz as my starting point.
Ever since I heard the detailed story of holocaust survivor Ben Fainer, I’ve been haunted by Ben’s story. His video interview is about an hour long and it is riveting.
I was sick for most of the past four days, including two days on which I barely crawled out of bed. I had a fever, my muscles ached, I had chest congestion and migraine headaches and I couldn’t think straight. I’m better now, but while I was at my sickest, I wondered how Ben survived Nazi concentration camps for six years, even through the sicknesses that people periodically experience, especially when they were in the process of being starved. Ben just happened to call me yesterday (on another matter), and I took the opportunity to ask him: What would happen at Buchenwald if a prisoner was so sick that he was unable to report for work duty on even one occasion.
“The system was simple. If you didn’t report for work, several people would go inside the barracks to pick you up, and they would walk you over to the crematorium oven, which was burning 24 hours a day. Even if you were still alive, they would throw you into the oven. I saw this happen and I heard the screams.”
I still can’t conceive of how a young boy could have survived this horror, even as he aged into a teenager during his six years of captivity. And I’m so very lucky to live in a situation where sickness is usually not life-threatening, either biologically or socially.