Monday, October 7, 2013

Our Collective Subjective: Or, There's No Such Thing as Objective Truth

From the universe's point of view, we are of no more concern than any other atom, planet or speck of dust. The universe does not distinguish the violent ending of a human life from the snapping of a tulip's stem. There is no Universe or God of Tulips who is going to prevent you from clipping those buds in late spring. Because the universe doesn't care. It is indifferent.

In Secular Wholeness, David Cortesi observes: 
This universe regards the murder of one human by another exactly the way it regards an avalanche falling on a human, or a virus infecting one: with sublime indifference. Avalanches fall; viruses infect; mammals prey on one another-- it's what they do
Because the Universe is not a conscious, all-encompassing being--at least there's no indication of this so far--it negates the possibility of an objective reality or truth. As humans, we can only know truth from our own individual and collective perspectives. But as insignificant beings in a vast universe without (so far) other conscious life, there is no objective, fixed and ultimate, truth. 

Even if another conscious species were to come along, that species would be subjected to their own collective subjective. Objective reality, or truth, cannot exist because there is no One who can see every view point. There is no One who is omnipotent, though it would be vastly convenient if there were. 

Does this negate human morality? Far from it. Cortesi continues:
Now, this absolutely does not mean that we should be indifferent! On the contrary, desiring to be moral, trying to be compassionate, and urging other people to be moral and compassionate are also things that we do quite as naturally and with better outcomes for our own survival.
What it means is that there is no objective morality; there is no right and wrong beyond what humanity ascribes as right and wrong. However, the morality invented by humanity will only be from humanity's subjective viewpoint. Because you are human and I am human, This Means You!, we are accountable to our species' definition of morality. In fact, it is this very collective subjective which creates our morality, a code for living.

Religion will tell you that there is only one right way to to be and do. Which we know to be completely false as religion has failed, and continues to fail, at it's own morality as well as the collective morality. 

Additionally, as Cortesi points out, it is the refinement of this collective morality which increases our chances of survival as a species, though not necessarily as individuals. Another excuse to be immoral? Possibly. But consider your probable chances of a happy life if you choose an illegal occupation over a legal one. Consider the quality of your close relationships if you continuously lie and manipulate, instead of treating others with compassion. Yes, bad things do happen to good people, but morality substantially increases your chances of happiness.
What does the subjective collective mean for you? First, it means you cannot view the world in black and white, good and evil. Those are concepts we have created. The same way we have created countless gods, civilizations, and poetry. You will have to look at the evidence and you will have to think. You will have to use all of the tools at your disposal to come up with what you should do, how you should behave, how you can help others. You will have to make the decision. 

Second, it means you cannot judge other humans based on an objective moral code. Judging and convicting criminals is part of our society, but the rules by which we pass judgement cannot be set in stone. In every case, it is the betterment of the species that has to be considered, the collective subjective. As we grow and access more knowledge of the physical universe, our understanding of right and wrong changes. Our collective subjective changes. 

It is by coming together and facing the indifferent universe united as a species that we will progress.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Does the Average 'Sunday Jane' Really Believe This Shit?

My former profession was a female-dominant workforce. I shared a working space with three other women, all Christian, two Catholic. Though we never discussed it, I believe they were aware I did not attend church and was a "nonbeliever". From time to time, I would overhear conversations about various church happenings and promises to pray for this or that personal calamity.

I attended an undergraduate Evangelical college. (Evangelicalism is a branch off of Protestant Christianity which, most distinctively, recognizes the believer's "assurance of faith".) I took many classes on the history of Christianity, the doctrines of the faith, and even entire semesters devoted to single books of the Bible. So I have a heafty understanding of church doctrine. Not necessarily something I'm proud of, but then, you work with what you have. Clergy, pastors, reverends and others like me have a deeper understanding of exactly what is meant (at least according to current century interpretations) by phrases such as "the Word became flesh" (John 1) or "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood" (Luke 22).

Now back to my three co-workers, or even just the average church-goer in general. What happens when you try and bring up these tricky questions with them? Of course they can do little more than repeat doctrine they have been told, if they are even able to do that. But more practically speaking, when you are talking about something as important as the meaning of the universe or the final destination of your "soul", isn't it important to actually know what you believe? Even if you can't explain hundreds of years worth of the Popes' memoirs, shouldn't you have your own basic understanding of your religion?

Why is it that the average church-goer (or adherents of any religion) are satisfied with not knowing what the church actually teaches? Why are Christians embarrassed to talk about the important questions of their faith outside of church?

For the sake of argument, imagine me bringing up any of the following topics with my three pious church ladies:
  • The Holy Spirit is God and is all around us. So, you're telling me that God, in spirit form, is right here in the air between my fingers and the keyboard. If I wave my hand over my head, I'm waving my hand through God? If I lay a stink-bomb, will God choke and gag?
  • Those who reject Jesus go to hell. You're telling me that as we sit in this meeting discussing our plans for next quarter, all the while I'm (unknowingly) going to spend eternity in hell? How can you just sit there tapping your pencil? Don't you want to save my soul? 
  • Prayer will bring about divine intercession that otherwise would not have occurred. So, your brother's uncle's sister-in-law is in the hospital and will have life-saving surgery tomorrow and you say you will keep her in your prayers. If you are so convinced this will have such a significant impact, why don't the two of you step outside and pray in the parking lot for this poor doomed lady? Why not? Oh, because you actually know that it's not going to work and you'll look silly in the process ... oh, wait, I'm ruining my own punch line.
Given half a chance, Christians will talk your ear off about the community service their church is involved in. The pious Christian is happy you recount for you Sunday's service as well as who they saw there and the latest gossip. But how often do you hear Christians in the real world talking about exactly what they believe? (And I'm not talking about the loony sandwich board guys. I mean, the soccer moms, PTA presidents, and bus drivers.) Their silence is odd considering how important all this supposedly is.

The first reason: They feel they are uneducated about the finer points of their faith. But even stripping Christianity down to its most basic belief that Jesus died for your sins, the average believer is at a loss to explain exactly what this means. How exactly does the "sin" transfer from one person to another? Once transferred, how does the death of this one individual make the "sin" disappear?  Assuming "god" is able to make all this magic happen, wouldn't it be quicker to just hose everyone down like they do with uncooperative asylum initiates. Even the most uneducated Christian needs to understand this most basic doctrine of the faith, enough to talk about it the same way you explain to your children that thunder and lightning are the same thing.

The second reason: They are afraid of criticism. Or, in other words, they are afraid of looking stupid. (I will skip the arguments for martyrdom, knowing that not everyone was born to be a martyr.) Why would someone criticize your beliefs? If they criticize your beliefs, can you present logical arguments to defend your position? Usually, the religious are able to do little more than repeat what they have been told about their religion. They do very little thinking about it for themselves. This is something to be embarrassed about. When Einstein or Newton or Galileo presented their "beliefs", how did they deal with criticism? They presented logical arguments, and continued to speak out. In the end, it turned out that their critics were the ones embarrassed. Why don't Christians (the average ones, not the educated ones) avoid the criticism?

The answer is that ultimately the every Sunday Jane and Joe know that their religion is hokey. They know they look silly praying outside of church, even though that is what their religion tells them to do. They know that the doctrines about Christ's saving blood don't mean squat. They don't argue with nonbelievers because they know how silly most church doctrines are.

This isn't enough, however, to turn Jane and Joe against the church. This would mean losing their family, friends, support network. Also, they can easily change the subject to the morality the church teaches (which Humanism also teaches) and how the church provides aid to third world countries (which non-religious organizations do also).

Ultimately, average church-goers aren't religious outside the comfort zone of their own church walls because they don't believe it. But they aren't ballsy enough to think for themselves which might actually mean they have to stand up and contradict the religious majority(?).