Thursday, October 29, 2015


One thing that I learned from Ta-Nehisi Coates is that: "You should never judge yourself by the standards of the owner of the boot presently on your neck." Or, less dramatically, that you shouldn't judge yourself by the standards of your critics. When I first read it, it seemed like one of these sayings of deep wisdom that is worth filing away somewhere, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was a simple admonition to be true to yourself as you experience yourself, and not as others do.

I do not believe in deities. I simply find no evidence for them in my world, in the same way that I find no evidence for ghosts, psychics or sorcerers. This does not mean that they do not exist, however. But if you left me with no other options, I would wager that none of them were real, and be confident that I'd be the one going home with the cash when it was all said and done.

But, as I noted, I do not stand firmly on the position that deities, et al must be fictional. In many circles, this is considered "humility" on my part. Which I understand. But I would note that when I speak to Christians and Moslems about their faiths, conceding that they may be incorrect in their understanding that God is real is not considered "humble." In the worst case scenario, that sort of doubt is considered sinful. Humility in faith means something completely different to them. In light of this, I suspect that praise for "humility" in non-believers is less about praising a virtue than it is about hoping to leave open an avenue of conversion.

My lack of belief in anything supernatural works for me. I can put together a workable understanding of how the world came to be and manage a viable system of ethics and justice without recourse to a controlling entity. I do not need my life to having anything that resembles, "meaning." (I think. I have never been exactly clear on what it means for life to have "meaning" in the first place.) If I need to understand myself to be part of something greater than myself, I need only look down at the Earth, or up into the sky. Neither of those things care one whit if I am here tomorrow or not, yet I would be very put out were either of them to go away.

But I know any number of people who believe in deities, several who believe in ghosts, some who believe in psychics and even a few who believe in sorcerers. And I like these people, and out of respect for them, I accept that they live in a world that is fundamentally different from my own. And out of respect, I let them stay in it. And so I have no interest in bringing them into my world. I understand the worldview that says that I am doing them a disservice by letting them live in a delusion, but my answer to that is that it works for them, and there is no harm in it. Religion may not make people good, but it doesn't make them dicks, either - we are all perfectly capable of being either of those things regardless of what faith we follow, or don't follow. The traits our species has are independent of such considerations.

Not feeling a need to undermine what works for other people is, like the understanding that the Universe is too vast a place to ever know either in its entirely or with certainty, in my estimation, different from humility. Likewise, the confidence that something one is unable to find any evidence of is not actually there, is different from faith.

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