Drawing on Darwin and the rest, new atheists inherited an intellectual arsenal sufficient to win many arguments with religious believers. They have proven less adept in genuinely persuading or learning from other people. That’s too bad, because atheists, agnostics, and people of faith struggle with similar basic questions about how to live our lives and what these lives are really for.
To embrace our common humanity, we must do a better job of crossing boundaries between believers, non-believers, and doubters. We must really be able to see that people who find very different answers to these questions are capable of living their lives with the same insight, dignity, and depth of experience that we hope to do.
Ross Douthat, in a deeply-felt but I believe mistaken essay memorializing Hitchens, writes: “Rigorous atheism casts a wasting shadow over every human hope and endeavor.” That’s not the way I experience things. I feel no less joy at my daughter’s dazzling smile, no less pain at the sight of the wrinkles on my mother’s beautiful face, than any religious believer. There’s no need to accept or reject any particular religious view to be moved to action at the sight of a cancer patient going medically bankrupt and losing her home.
There’s plenty to find meaning about in our short stay on this earth. Finding and pursuing that meaning is a challenge for everyone, regardless of one’s religious metaphysics. This is true whatever God is up to, and whether or not he is even there.
We atheists could express the most important and humane messages simply by living worthy lives. We could lower the dose of bullying polemicism and set a better example of humility and empathy, too. Saint Francis instructed: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Not bad advice, even for us.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Harold Pollack in the Washington Monthly makes more sane points about living as a non-believer, and reaching out rather than pushing back.