Category: Meaning of Life
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.
U.S. drones kill five more kids in Afghanistan. The mainstream media keeps wondering why anyone would want to kill a U.S. soldier. Glenn Greenwald points out that these mental blockages tell us a whole lot about our warped view of the world:
To the extent these type of incidents are discussed at all — and in American establishment media venues, they are most typically ignored — there are certain unbending rules that must be observed in order to retain Seriousness credentials. No matter how many times the U.S. kills innocent people in the world, it never reflects on our national character or that of our leaders. Indeed, none of these incidents convey any meaning at all. They are mere accidents, quasi-acts of nature which contain no moral information (in fact, the NYT article on these civilian deaths, out of nowhere, weirdly mentioned that “in northern Afghanistan, 23 members of a wedding celebration drowned in severe flash flooding” — as though that’s comparable to the U.S.’s dropping bombs on innocent people). We’ve all been trained, like good little soldiers, that the phrase “collateral damage” cleanses and justifies this and washes it all way: yes, it’s quite terrible, but innocent people die in wars; that’s just how it is. It’s all grounded in America’s central religious belief that the country has the right to commit violence anywhere in the world, at any time, for any cause.
Today it was announced that authorities had foiled a plot to blow up an airplane. It was clearly stated that the plot never got off the ground, because the “attacker” was an informer working for the U.S. What dominated the news today? You guessed it. I’ll quote Glenn Greenwald once more:
Indeed, on the very same day that CNN and the other cable news networks devoted so much coverage to a failed, un-serious attempt to bring violence to the U.S. — one that never moved beyond the early planning stages and “never posed a threat to public safety” — it was revealed that the U.S. just killed multiple civilians, including a family of 5 children, in Afghanistan. But that got no mention. That event simply does not exist in the world of CNN and its viewers (I’d be shocked if it has been mentioned on MSNBC or Fox either). Nascent, failed non-threats directed at the U.S. merit all-hands-on-deck, five-alarm media coverage, but the actual extinguishing of the lives of children by the U.S. is steadfastly ignored (even though the latter is so causally related to the former).
I met 81 year old Ben Fainer two weeks ago at Grand Center Arts Academy in St. Louis. Ben had been invited by one of the social studies teachers to tell the seventh graders about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. As a parent of one of the students, I was also invited to attend. I found his presentation to be stunning and inspiring. One of the things that stood out to me was Ben’s admonition that, despite all he went through, he found hatred to be self-destructive.
On April 21, 2012, Ben (known as “Bendet Urman Fajner” when he lived in Poland as a boy) allowed me to videotape the story of how he survived six years in several Nazi concentration camps, from 1939 until he was rescued by American soldiers in 1945. He was only 9 1/2 years old when he was captured. Therefore, in this interview, you’ll hear what it was like to be a child imprisoned for the crime of being a Jew. At first, he was assigned special chores like shining shoes and cleaning offices for the regime. He grew up in these camps, though, and eventually he was put to work in factories alongside adult prisoners. In this video, you’ll hear that he would never have survived had he not lied about his age.
Glenn Greenwald has documented more CIA abuse, this time with a nod of approval by the federal courts:
In November, 2010, the Obama DOJ — consistent with its steadfast shielding of Bush-era criminals from all forms of accountability — announced that the investigation would be closed without any charges being filed. Needless to say — given how subservient federal judges are to the Executive Branch in the post-9/11 era — the federal judge who had ordered the CIA to preserve and produce any such videotapes, Alvin Hellerstein, refused even to hold the CIA in contempt for deliberately disregarding his own order. Instead, Hellerstein — who, like so many federal judges, spent his whole career before joining the bench as a partner for decades in a large corporate law firm serving institutional power — reasoned that punishment for the CIA was unnecessary because, as he put it, new rules issued by the CIA “should lead to greater accountability within the agency and prevent another episode like the videotapes’ destruction.” In other words, as I put it in a Guardian Op-Ed about Hellerstein’s CIA-protecting decision: the CIA has promised not to do this again, so they shouldn’t be punished for the crimes they committed.
The story gets much worse, as Greenwald describes how Jose Rodriguez, is now gloating about how he destroyed the these torture videos. He is doing this with the view, apparently correct, that no law enforcement authority and no court is going to do anything about any of his misconduct.
You could spend many hours at the Hubble site, viewing the photos of distant places–places that are so far away that you become an extraordinary space and time traveler whenever you view these images. The photo below is that of M51 – “The Whirlpool Galaxy.”
How many sentient beings living in M51 are currently viewing the Milky Way Galaxy and wondering how many people there are viewing them? That thought motivated the SETI movement and the Drake equation.
In this TED talk, primatologist Frans de Waal asserts that human morality has evolved, and that the existence of morality doesn’t depend on religion. He observes that “humans are far more cooperative and empathic than they are given credit for,” and that they are, in many ways similar to other primates.
From de Waal’s experiments, one can learn that chimpanzees (who have no religion) often reconcile with one another after fights. The principle “is that you have a valuable relationship that is damaged by conflict so you need to do something about it.”
What are the “pillars of morality,” that which morality is based on? Reciprocity (fairness) and Empathy (compassion) are two constants. He indicates that human morality includes more than these two factors, but not much more.
Check out the beautiful 1935 video of chimpanzees at the 3:35 min mark; they cooperate in synchronized fashion to pull in a heavy box of fruit. Then check out at 4:20 what happens when one of the two chimps is not hungry, thus not motivated to work hard. This is incredible footage that will remind you of a species you often see in the mirror. What makes the uninterested chimp to work at all, according to de Waal, is receipt of a past or a future favor, i.e., reciprocity.
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It wasn’t that long ago that I learned that I have a terminal condition and that I will only be around for a limited time. With that in mind, I’ve been trying to savor every moment, and to work hard to keep my chin up and avoid being maudlin. In that context, today was a good day.
Given my quickly dwindling time here on planet Earth, I have been keeping a look-out for time saving devices. I finally took the plunge and bought an iPad2 (I wasn’t convinced that the brand new version offered anything I needed). The iPad 2 has an excellent screen and lots of potential uses for me at work and at home (I’m already using an app called Note Taker, which allows me to use a stylus to scribble on pdfs on the fly. I uploaded the Kindle app, and I’m delight to say that I have a new tool for reading and reviewing books. The Kindle offers a function for capturing passages of books as “notes,” and then accessing those notes as a batch. I loaded up quite a few other apps that will help me at work, including Drop Box and Jump. Twenty years ago, I wanted to be on the cusp of technology. These days, I’m thrilled to be one step behind, because time seems to be one of my most precious commodities. I’ll let others screw with the newest and greatest, while I sneak in behind the commotion and enjoy things that have been out long enough that most of the bugs are worked out.
I’m still exploring the iPad and the Kindle, but I think this will be a great way to absorb and review books. Last night I foolishly bought a stylus at Target for $20, when I could have bought a 3-pack on line for $10. You’ve got to watch out for those accessories. Then again, I can’t take it with me . . .
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