Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"The anxiety of the atheists"

There was an article Republished in the Oregonian today that I found very striking, you can read it here on the Herald Tribune website. The author, Richard A. Shweder, questions why people are so quick to dismiss God and instead hang onto science and knowledge.

His point: Three hundred years ago we came out of the dark ages and the enlightened age began - people began to put God into a box and saw science and knowledge as the answer. The implied promise has been that science and knowledge could create a society that would no longer be opressed, we would be civil, live with less fear, the problems of the world could be solved, religious groups would break down and bond with one another.

Quite the opposite has happened. The wars during this past century have been far more severe than any religious war of the past. Has fear really decreased? For every problem science solves it seems to create or uncover ten more. And religious groups have only grown more intense in their hatred of one another.

As people we tend to continue in the direction that we are facing. We don't want to face regret, so we keep plowing along in the chosen direction, justifying each increasingly large step. For example, when we fill our lives with the latest gadgets, furniture or recreational vehicles we find that the satisfaction fades quickly and find ourselves craving the next purchase. That initial burst of satisfaction, no matter how small, keeps driving us onward. The same truth applies to wanting just one more friendship, one more step in the career path, a little bit more salary, a little bit more house. In the end, none of it satisfies.

As a society we have those same cravings for science and knowledge, cravings that have snowballed to the point that it is tearing at the very threads of our being. Just look at soaring health care costs, the fight over stem cell research, and global warming.

As I look at the increasing surge of articles on global warming during the last few years I see an increase to the intensity and buzz to the point it is beginning to create fear in peoples lives. It's hard to tell where the reality ends the the hype begins, but in it all, science promises to have the answer. How are we going to prevent this catastrophe? Scientists say sacrifice and discipline from each of us will over time bring us all back to rightness. (Sounds alot like religion.)

The more I see the cravings around me in society, even the cravings for more answers through religion, or science, or morality, or personal freedoms, the more I feel that satisfaction can only be found in the opposite - stepping back and finding peace in a simple life. A life that was given to us by a master creator who intended us to enjoy this world one simple day at a time. No fear, no burnout, no regret, but a simple steady daily life filled with beauty.

And that is the anxiety of the atheist - the possible reality that heading away from religion isn't fixing anything after all.


Sherie said...

Thanks, Adriel, for drawing our attention to the excellent article. Although not the focus of your insightful comments, I was especially drawn to John Locke’s comments about atheists, "Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of God. Promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human societies, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all." We have found this to be true of the atheistic post-Soviet society in Russia. There is no fear of God and so promises and contracts are meaningless unless that fear is replaced with a fear of the state or judiciary. But because the judicial system here in Russia is ineffective and the fear of the state is only related to political or economic opposition to state control, private contracts have little value. A small example of this would be our rental contract that we had made back in ’94 with our Russian landlord. We quickly found its worthlessness when she invalidated it by simply stating, “I’m keeping the contract. I’m just changing a small part of it, that is, the price you pay.” This same attitude toward contracts in this country holds true all the way up to international agreements on the mega scale. Just as Locke stated, promises and covenants have no hold upon an atheist. When those agreements no longer serve the self interest of the atheistic party, then it is dissolved or ignored, regardless of the promises made.

Isaac said...

Interesting points. They say happiness is not having what you want, but rather wanting what you have. But I myself am guilty of being part of the American consumer society, full of cravings and material wants. Those cravings extend beyond the tangible, to cravings for things like a meaningful life, a satisfying relationship, health and safety. Lots of people don't even have those, and are still happier than some.