Lately I’ve been catching up on Godless Bitches, a fantastic podcast put out by a few members of the Atheist Community of Austin (of The Atheist Experience and The Non-Prophets fame). The show focuses on feminist issues from an atheist perspective. And in listening to it, I’ve realized some uncomfortable facts about myself.
Hurricane Irene is slowly plowing her way up the eastern seaboard of the US, drawing inexorably closer to where I live. But by the time she gets here, she’ll be little more than a tropical storm (if that). Earlier in the week, they were predicting that she’d still be a Category 2 by the time she got here. I’ve been complaining on Facebook about how boring things were going to be; I’ve kind of got a thing for big storms.
After reading this post from Hank Fox (author of Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist, which I highly recommend), I won’t be doing that anymore. Because I realized that the fact that I’ll be having a boring weekend is largely a result of me being lucky enough to be born anywhere other than in a Caribbean nation.
So I’ll take whatever I get, but I’ll also try to do what I can to help out the folks down in the Caribbean who’ve been hit pretty hard by this. I’ll also continue to be grateful to the scientists who gave us the technology to predict these sorts of things and track where they’re going.
Hank said it better:
All of this is really to make this one point: That here in this era of science (which I maintain is really only about 300 years old), we get to see the storm coming. Days, even weeks in advance, and from thousands of miles away. We can prepare, depart, or just sit tight and amuse ourselves with the approaching spectacle.
By contrast, in the era of religion, the previous tens of thousands of years, you got to see a storm when it hit your horizon, mere hours ahead of time, and you could flee at the speed of a human walk or — if you were rich enough — a horse’s trot.
Religion: Impotent. Lame. Late. Worse, as far as understanding the real world, religion not only fails to deliver the light for seeing things clearly, and at a distance, it blinds its followers from seeing what really is there. (Evangelist Pat Robertson said the recent Virginia earthquake is a sign of the end times, and Glenn Beck sees both the earthquake and the hurricane as a message from God.)
Science: As fertile as a thoroughbred stallion, it spawns stunning technology, useful information, world-spanning power to make change (admittedly not always a fantastically good thing), and, in this case, time to take shelter from the storm.
THIS is how lucky we are: We have science in our lives now. Instead of just religion.
Reader Alex recently asked a question in a comment on an older post:
Hi Mike, I’m sorry for my hard words, but there is no other way to tell it. I just read what you say in “About Me”. The very important question that you should pose to yourself some day, when you feel strong, is the following: Considering that just very recently I was stupid enough to be fundamentalist Christian, how can I be now so sure that being an Atheist is very intelligent?
In other words, if I was so wrong before, how can I know I’m right now? It’s a perfectly fair question, and it’s one I’ve asked myself several times. And there are several reasons I think I’m smarter now.
I have a confession to make: I want to fix everything.
Back when I was a Christian, I never really had to worry about injustice. The suffering we endured in our life here on earth wasn’t all that meaningful, since we were guaranteed a happy and peaceful afterlife for our faithfulness. I figured that God would make everything work out for the good in the end.
Now, as an atheist, I have no such assurances. I look around at the amount of suffering in the world and I feel simultaneously motivated to do whatever I can to reduce it and impotent to actually accomplish anything meaningful in response to it.
Last Thanksgiving, I spent a week with my parents down in Mexico. On my second to last day there, while we sat comfortably in our condo watching people pass us by on the road, a homeless woman came along with her two children. While my parents commented about how amazing it was that she seemed so comfortable carrying her infant on her back in a sling fashioned from a scarf, I was watching her collect soda cans from trash cans along the street. All I could think of was that this woman was, because of purely random and meaningless circumstance, resigned to a life of struggle and hardship, scraping along with whatever she could manage just to be able to live to see another day. I desperately wanted to figure out what I could do to help her, and as soon as I started to think about it I realized that there must be tens of millions of people just like her all over the planet.
From my perspective as a person living in a first-world nation, this seems to be something that disappears all too quickly from view. There’s no reason that I should have a better life than these people, and I shudder to think of all the potentially brilliant minds that fade into the background of the story of humanity simply because they’re not wealthy enough to reach their potential.
So… what? Am I crazy to feel guilty about this? Is it wrong for me to willfully ignore these people so that I can get on with my life? What can I actually do to help fix the underlying roots of their suffering? Should I even worry about it?
I’ve managed to dig up an almost four-year-old discussion on a web forum where I argued (with cringeworthy levels of smarm and fake logic) for the existence of God (of the generic Deistic variety) against a few atheists.
Worthy of note is the fact that I was a college senior and most of the people I was talking to were high school students or younger college students, and yet they tend to come off sounding more rational than I do.