Saturday, October 07, 2006

Why I Wake Up Every Morning

Or: Why Ayn Rand Was On To Something.

If you're looking for another travelogue post, check back in a few weeks when I get around to posting the Vancouver pics.

Despite the tone and title of this piece, let me make one thing very clear: this is not a plea for help, veiled or otherwise. I have certainly reached deep lows in my life, but never so low as to lose faith in myself or hope in the future. If you take to heart what I have written here, you'll understand why.

I'm an aetheist. I'm an aetheist who treats his beliefs as seriously as the faithful treat their faith. I'm an aetheist who, for a long time, looked for positive beliefs in a philosophy that does no more than reject all others. I'm an aetheist who accepts the possibility that Something could exist, but feel that it probably doesn't care about humankind.

Having grown up in an essentially religious vacuum, I think I'm lucky to be an aetheist unencumbered by my parents' religion. I don't dismiss religion out of hand because I have some sense of how it serves all of us. From personal experience, it is hard to overstate how it can soften the grief of death; few things are so traumatizing as the loss of a loved one, and few places offer such comfort as a temple of God. Add to that a sense of purpose, organized charity, places of refuge, and established community inherent to any religion. (And yes, this perspective includes the exhaustively-documented ills of organized religion; there is no need to re-hash here what others have so capably done.) Further, I view a lot of religious injustices as reflective of human nature. Islamic terrorism is a great example: though religion provides a justification for the means, the roots lie more with poverty, economics, industrialization, corruption, and government surpression. On a deeper level it has to do with cultural traits like pride, family, social mores, identity, gender, and honor. If we had a world devoid of organized religion, I suspect that humankind would find plenty of other avenues to persecute itself--and to better itself as well. I'm sure many of you disagree.

But back to the original topic. This post is aimed at the aetheist who gives lip service to their beliefs, or the aetheist who refutes religion without providing an alternate philosophy, or the lazy aetheist who just enjoys spite (this was me for a long time), or the spineless fuckwits who chose aetheism because they're too embrassed to be religious.

So why write at all? My belief system:
  1. offers no moral/ethical underpinning for day-to-day existence;
  2. destroys any sense of significance;
  3. is negative rather than affirmative--i.e. it rejects Faith and doesn't offer a positive path.
How could anyone realistically refer to themselves as aetheists? It's a wonder they aren't killing themselves left and right. I mean, Aetheism upends our entire existence, right? Doesn't it boil humankind down to a bunch of Darwinian/genetic impulses? And more significantly, how could Aetheism have existed for so long without imploding? How do I justify waking up every morning when my entire existence is accidental and irrelevant?

Simply put, I embrace Humanity. I embrace the best parts of what makes us Us. I would not be here thinking about this if I didn't have uniquely Human qualities: love, hate, insecurity, ego, trust, pride, honor, rage, sadness, or that oddly Human urge to reach out. I would not be Human without unconditional love for my family, without complicated friendships, without the scars I carry inside, without a fear of mortality, without ego. I would not be Human without joy.

My Aetheism defines an empty Universe but my Humanity fills it. And to what end? Joy, love, pride--is that all?

Yes. It's an irrational belief, impenetrable to logic and grossly egotistical in scope. But if we didn't have that ego, if we didn't have that sensation of standing on a mountaintop in the freezing wind and screaming from the toes, we wouldn't exist at all. And no, we don't need to actually stand on a mountaintop--genuine friendship, love of kin, fear of the unknown ... all of these Human expressions are easily equivalent.

Moving back to the lower-case human realm, none of our relationships are as warm and gooey as I describe. We do those most amazingly awful things to ourselves. As groups, we have committed such horrific crimes that our collective psyche is scarred; who in the world doesn't know what a Nazi is? Who doesn't know about nuclear weapons? As individuals, we thieve and lie and distrust others; who in the world doesn't carry keys on them? Who hasn't seen a relationship dissolve over infidelity? But despite this, we (most of us anyway) don't live without some form of hope. Be it genetic of cultural, it is always present.

Now you should understand why I get righteous when confronted with manipulation, dishonesty, unfairness, or lying. They betray our best qualities. They poison us--me. They diminish what and who we are. It's that incredulous reaction of "How is it possible that you don't understand how this all works? How can you be so short-sighted?" When people get so wrapped up in their insecurities or fears (and fear is the most terrible of all), I become so angry. So much energy is wasted on internal stress. Are you still rebelling at your parents? Do you still hurt from that last relationship? Do you over-compensate for your weaknesses? For myself and for you, it's just not worth it. The bottom line is that we're going to die. What happens between here and then is up to us: a life spent worrying or compensating or hiding or scared, or a world of experiences and sensation and people.

So there: a very, very rough draft of my beliefs. Really this whole thing is a poor justification of why I want to learn how to dance like David Bernal (Elsewhere). We now to return to my irregularly-scheduled paint removal and the few sunny days left in the season.