The instinct to understand our world can be traced to the Stone Age, when people told stories about natural events they did not understand. Evolution of the mind indicates we no longer need made-up-stories and can rely on science and critical thinking for our sense of wonder. Although science often fails to feed our need of community, that, too, can be dealt with through thought and action.
The wonder of it all
There's a quote out there somewhere (which I'm too lazy to look up right now) about us being star-stuff. Basically it states that starts died, which created the elements that our bodies need. It gives me a spine tingle to think that my body is composed of something that is billions of years old.
Yes, it was Lawrence Krauss who talked about stars died so that we could have life.
Carl Sagan: we are made of stars stuff.
Neil deGrasse: we are stardust.
Things that fill me with awe:
my heart pacemaker that keeps my heart pumping and gives me energy to do the things I like to do. My garden that changes every single day and throughout the year, and even from year to year; plants die and others take their place; always with new shapes, colors, textures. My three children that have overcome some incredibly difficult experiences and turned into fine adults, raising beautiful children and grandchildren (that makes me a great-grandmother!) The ways my children have created lives for themselves that are far better than any I could have wished for them. My grandchildren growing up in a technical age and learning how to use them as easily as I use a kitchen knife. My great-grandchildren who give me an opportunity to see the world through their eyes and with their sense of wonder; I love the way they look when they hold earthworms gently and thoughtfully. The way my quadriplegic friend survives year after year with great spirit and intense fun. The way friendships grow and develop over long periods of time, with growing families, changing circumstances, and advancing years. How our neighbors come together as family, watching out for each other, sharing the good days and bad, participating in ways that say, "I love you and care about you!" Watching the seasons come and go; observing changes taking place over the years and making adjustments necessary to adapt to new conditions. Being able to have daily conversations with people from all over the world, sharing ideas, experiences, values, hopes and dreams. Having friends who I have never seen yet feel very close to them and their lives. Exchanging communication with others in different time zones and even in different days. Learning about my family tree that goes to the 1600s and not having to leave my desk, and going to places of my ancestors and trying to imagine their lives, how they coped, realize their challenges. Having celebrations for birthdays, anniversaries, memorials, using the changing seasons as a way to view a lifetime. Having access to information about extreme poverty, hunger, disease, homelessness, joblessness and knowing they are my family. Seeing the devastation that happens to entire ecosystems, such as seeing the Black Forest ravaged by acid rain, or entire agricultural regions overcome by drought, and trying to imagine a way to meet these challenges. Watching storm warnings, such as,"http://chrisallenchallenge.wordpress.com/". Seeing the Earth from the universe, or through the rings of Saturn; http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/cassini/multimedia/pia08324.html. Seeing Mars landscape from Rover: http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/gallery-solar-system/en/.
Of course there are all the internal events taking place within my aging body, noticing failing eye sight and hearing, the aches and pains of joints, a back that doesn't like to work as hard, hair that is white and skin that has extra rolls and paunches, toenails that seem to get too thick to cut, even as each morning begins with a great joy and gratitude of having yet another day, and going to sleep each night just dog tired and sleeping with the sleep of the innocent.
Living a Splendid Heresy.
I read your marvelous words and I feel happy for you. Your outlook, your insight, your attitude all indicate someone who is at peace with their place in life. You can't buy that.
I was initially drawn to this thread by the title. It is something I have been thinking about. We are unlike the "other team" in that I believe we tend to be more independent in our thinking. Maybe we tend to even be a little rebellious. They can get together and surrender to "group think" and feel all warm and fuzzy about how they all share the same belief and will be "saved." We have a more heroic path and in my estimation a more noble one because we face our mortality without safety nets or crutches. We are a minority that follows the truth of science despite the criticism and risk of being ostracized. But I think your premise is well taken. We still enjoy being validated by the thought that there are others that share our perception of things. So while we have strong urges to be independent and go it alone, we still have some yearning for a community to share our feelings with. I'm no anthropologist but I suspect it is a survival mechanism that is hard-wired into our genes to encourage cooperative effort. Actually I think we are just a more evolved segment of the species. One less prone to superstition and blindly accepting what we are told. One that can be more independent because of the advances of science and a better understanding of psychology and philosophy. There in lies the rub. We are a bunch of independent thinkers that celebrates our freedom from the mob but we still want a community, even if it is a very loosely formed one. We independent rebels don't willingly subject ourselves to the tyranny of any religion.
I hope that makes some sense.
Geoff, you make perfect sense and your response resonates with my life-strings. I especially like your discussion of independence in community, not being led by dogma or superstition but by thoughtful rebellion. You write powerfully and with a sense of compassion. Thank you for sharing.
Let me just say that it is nice to interact with people that are thoughtful and stimulating. People that I can respect for their courage and brains. I just recently joined this community because of the nonsense going on in the political arena. I felt like I had to stand up and be counted. When I was quite young I took the stance that since I could never really know the answers to religious questions, I wasn't going to waste my time thinking about them. Now I am older and these issues have taken on some importance, especially when I think about what is at stake for our society. As an added benefit, I just enjoy reading some of the things you folks are thinking.
Geoff, the world is in such turmoil; changes of all kinds are taking place. My understanding of current events is that we are coming to an end of an era and entering a new one. The changes create conflict, and distrust.
I interpret the world by trying to imagine what life would have been like in the Stone Age, when individuals had little power against the elements and found comfort and strength in numbers. These people noticed patterns, probably seeing clouds and then rain or snow and they created stories to explain such events. They saw wild animals and figured out how to survive against greater strength, noticed patterns and told stories explaining their experiences and feelings. I can even imagine they felt different feelings toward others, and experienced sexual attraction; in the natural order of things, babies were born and I imagine they had special feelings, after all, even a cat or dog has special reactions to their babies. The Stone Age ended, not because they ran out of stones, but because they developed the ability to create and use tools.
Thus, the Tool Age emerged. Ancient stories, told and retold became dogma, litany, rules, and expectations of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
Somewhere along the line a god figure entered the conscienceness and over eons of time the stories grew. Kingdoms came and went and families gathered into clans and tribes, and large communities and social structures became formalized.
Somewhere along this line came the Bronze Age, and the Agricultural Age, the Machine Age, the Ball-bearing Age, the Age of Reason, not necessarily in that order. The Age of Electricity came along, then Nuclear Age.
Now we are on the cutting edge of a new age that is almost like the planet has a neurological connectedness, an Age of Interconnectedness with the computer being the energy that facilitates its development. We don't have laws or codes, or protocols for this new way of being. Suddenly, with the failure of all past political systems: communism, socialism, capitalism failing, and with national boundaries complicating relationships, and with the clashes of classes, the have's and have not's struggling to find ways to feed and care for all the people of the planet when machines are doing a very large proportion of the labor, the gap between hungry and well fed is growing.
What are the rules of conduct? How do we manage the differences of people who believe in a god or gods and those who do not believe god/s exist? Some believe government is to protects property while others believe it is to protect people. Some believe they have the right to the goods and services of the earth because of who they are or where they were born or how they conduct their lives and that others are created to serve them. Others believe each human being is entitled to opportunity and has a right to living wages for work rendered.
Conflicts! Disagreements! Different values! Different views of the purpose of life.
I don't know how others feel, but I feel I am made of the same stuff as the stars, that I am created and have a conscious mind and a sense of conscience and am sovereign. I am servant to no other and no other is to serve me. I am created to participate in life, so are you, and so is each human being, not to have dominion over all that swim, crawl and fly or over water, soils and air. The issue is not dominion but participation.
Melinda, thank you for your kind words. I like exchange of ideas.
Do we even have good role models for Atheist communities? Many meetings I attended felt more like lectures than community participation.
To build "good role models for Atheist communities" would include what?
One thing is a core of people who feel comfortable and confident in their not believing in god/s.
Being able to celebrate that awareness, not by talking about it endlessly, but living it. The scientists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Brian Cox exude their sense of awe and wonder.
Being able to articulate why belief in a god leaves me with a sense of powerlessness and dependency, and not hearing a story that inspires or encourages is not helpful. For me there was always the sense of fear and reward with religious teachings, not a sense of wonder and realizing we have the ability to think and reason, and make choices and live out the consequences of those choices.
Trying to live as I was "supposed" to live put heavy burdens on me and I failed to reach inside myself to discover what creative, imaginative, original, or natural nature that is within me that I am responsible to develop and reveal to the world. The "shoulda-oughta-gotta" thinking got in my way of thinking of my native abilities and talents. I assume others have a similar feeling as I and also feel the freedom of stopping being externally motivated and becoming internally motivated.
Therefor, an Atheist community that has the capacity to listen to the "ain't it awful" stories that people bring to the group and hearing them until they hear themselves.
Challenges are important, too. When asked, "Do you really believe that?" really forced me to rethink and discuss, and ask questions, and explore, and experiment until the issue was resolved in my own mind and I could stand with confidence, admit I change my mind, or not, and discover yet another way my thinking kept me bound. This is the process I call "breaking footbinding/mindbinding".
My goodness, there must be many other factors involved in building an Atheist community with "good role models." What would you and others add? or subtract?
I think I have seen some good role models for an atheist community. For me it is the person that can patiently work the Socratic model, gently asking questions that assist another in coming to the mental model that is good for them.
Unfortunately, whenever a community of more than one gathers, doesn't it becomes political to some degree? Meaning, one or more members of the group tries to influence the others. In unhealthy groups, that would take the form of dominance. I remember attending a Quaker meeting while in college. The ground rules were openness and inclusion but there was one personality that took over the meeting. Maybe that was a good thing for as I was told in a cattle judging contest, in any group there will be differences in quality or ability. But I would suggest, there has to be community norms to address this.
Or am I wrong? Would the natural independence and rebelliousness of an atheist community be all the norms necessary?
I certainly agree with Joan that casting off the yoke of dogma does free us to go where ever we feel we need to explore. That is liberating and contributes to a more fulfilling community.
Geoff, I like your reference to the Socratic model, and blended with the gentleness as Ruth admires, presents a warm and welcoming place for chaos and confusion to find a sense of stability with confidence. Part of the atheist community I like is the independence and rebelliousness of members, there is no one "right" way to think, and there is more than black and white. Another thing I like are those who continue o remind me that being atheist means nothing more or less than one does not believe god exists. There are no scriptures, no promises of heaven or hell, no dogma, no fear of punishment for thinking or asking or exploring. There is no one to take care of the poor, hungry, homeless, ignorant and prayers don't stand up to these conditions. Ultimately, one is responsible for doing or not doing, see or not seeing, feeling or not feeling. No one to blame, no one to rescue, no one to speak for god giving instructions.
If a person in a group tends to dominate, it is up to another in the group to express his/her thoughts and feeling. There is no hierarchy or authority to take charge. Conscience comes from within and is trustworthy ... unless shown to be untrustworthy. It all comes back to having the confidence, comfort, and character to be in charge of oneself and not to be in charge of another.
Natural independence and rebelliousness is part of being in an atheist community ... kind of like a herd of cats. I love that image: strong willed, independent, self-reliant, able and willing to participate in a group but with limits. And one had better get used to not being herded, just like cats.
For me, not believing god exists means I am self-directed and I have choices with consequences. I have no obligation to submit or sacrifice myself for others, and I am a participant in communities.