The Ethical Atheist

Stumble send me wandering into the ethical atheist’s questions for God.

It’s weird reading atheists argue with Christians. I feel like Gulliver in Lilliput listening to a vehement argument about which end of the egg to crack. This is what the atheists lead off with:

Why don’t you show yourself? You supposedly made us and want us to believe in you, right? Why the big mystery? You’re also omnipresent, right? Why don’t you show yourself to all of us at once and have a personal discussion with us? You can pick the date and time, we’ll all stop what we are doing, I’m sure.

I actually argued pretty much this question slightly drunk post-Oktoberfest this past weekend. I mentioned working on the Habitat House a couple weeks ago, and one of my friends told me that it was nice helping people who needed houses, but belief in God was silly.

I’ve been in a mood about the God thing in general. The only thing I seem to be sure of when I talk to other people is that they’re all wrong. ☺ Here’s where I stand on the subject of the divine at this point in life…

I think God has already pretty much shown Himself to the world. Be it atheist, Christian, Buddhist or Hindu, pretty much everyone has some basic sense of discernment about what compassionate action is and is not.

Is that sense borne of our evolution? Is that sense borne from the presence of God in my heart? Who the hell cares? If someone chucks a rock at my head, it doesn’t matter if I figure out whether it is granite or limestone, there is a reality to it that goes beyond whatever words I happen to think are appropriate for naming it.

It’s frustrating to see so many people get so tangled up in the words and let that argument distract them from the real and existent whatever it is that is inside of them. Mostly it’s frustrating though because I don’t have the courage to do much more than that myself.

Carlos Castaneda wrote a book called Journey to Ixtlan which describes his experiences as an anthropologist wandering out into the desert and getting schooled by an Indian shaman. One of the things the shaman, Don Juan, says is:

Death is our eternal companion. It is always to our left, at an arm’s length… It has always been watching you. It always will until the day it taps you.

How can anyone feel so important when we know that death is stalking us?

The thing to do when you’re impatient is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you.

Death is the only wise adviser that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do , that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet.’ …

When a man decides to do something he must go all the way, but he must take responsibility for what he does. No matter what he does, he must know first why he is doing it, and then he must proceed with his actions without having doubts or remorse about them… Death is stalking me. Therefore, I have no room for doubts or remorse. If I have to die as a result of taking you for a walk, then I must die.

It reminds me very much of a passage from the end of Our Town when Emily returns to relive her twelfth birthday:

Emily: Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead. You’re a grandmother, Mama! Wally’s dead, too. His appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it — don’t you remember? But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s really look at one another! …

I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back — up the hill — to my grave.

But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye, Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover’s Corners… Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking … and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths … and sleeping and waking up.

Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?

Stage Manager: No. (pause) The saints and poets, maybe they do some.

Simon Stimson: Now you know! That’s what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those… of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years…. Now you know — that’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to. Ignorance and blindness.

It’s something that is hard to put into words because like the Buddhist parable of the monk who went seeking a fire with a lit lantern, you have it already, and in any case the lantern light blinds you to seeing a fire in the dark.

God is that preciousness in each moment, and the trick seems to be that it doesn’t matter whether or not that is true because when you experience it you don’t care about debating anymore. The moment is as the moment is, and you can either let it happen or you can try and take it apart, but doing both seems difficult.

Why then, if we are all constantly bathed in God’s eternal love, does the world suck as much as it does? Why is there so much suffering? Well, pretty much no one is listening to their heart and doing what they really feel passionate about doing. Instead of living, we sell our lives piecemeal to our employers and our possessions and even our friends and families.

I am sure as hell doing it myself. I really dislike the graduate program I am in right now. My experience with software projects strongly suggests to me that this one will never see the light of day. Even if there weren’t the issues with the management, design, and deployment strategy, I just don’t care about robots.

I definitely don’t care enough to spend 50 hour weeks and the emotional energy to try and change the course of things. I’m just killing time here waiting to get my degree and then my “real” plans can start.

How many kinds of bullshit is that? My entire moral philosophy is grounded in the idea that people, when faced with the real knowledge of their impending death, will act to do their absolute best in every moment.

Yet, I continue to agree to be a research assistant on a project I don’t believe in and think will fail. I continue to take classes that are 65% things I already know, 5% things I disagree on, 5% the arbitrary opinion of the professor, and so full of busywork that I don’t have time to pay attention to the 25% I might actually care about.

I live a life that I don’t respect and that bothers me a little bit more just about every day.

Sigh, I just get so worked up. I really do need to either find a way to care about what I am doing or find something else to do. Life really is too short to half-ass things.

For the longest time, the important part of St. Augustine’s, “Love God and do what you will” was about learning how to love God — how to purify the self and connect to that little shard of Godhood inside.

I’m now much more focused on the doing what I will. It’s nowhere near as pleasant as one might think. When I start to think that God (or Death) wants me to drop out of graduate school, not only am I hazarding poverty, I’m starting to wander toward Crazytown as well.

Meh, I suppose that in the grand scheme if I can pull off happy and nuts simultaneously, I don’t really mind nuts all that much.

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