Sunday, July 22, 2012
An Atheist Morality
I was reading an article in Harper's about the quest by atheist thinkers to reframe morality in a secular, rather than a religious, context. In other words, as the article asks, "Granting that there is no God, what now?"
You know how I feel about existential philosophy. It's needless agonizing over pointless, unanswerable questions. I've never understood people who ask, "Why are we here?" The fact is, we are here, and there doesn't need to be a reason.
In fact, I think our existence arose purely accidentally -- through chemical combinations and subsequent evolution governed by the powers of physics, chemistry and biology. I think I'm incredibly lucky to be writing this sentence.
(I was amused by another recent article about an Italian town that appointed a municipal philosopher. In this era of austerity measures and government cutbacks, how was that post approved?!)
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for some philosophy, though, I found the Harper's article interesting -- perhaps because it wrestled with more pertinent questions about how to live, rather than why we're living. Author Christopher R. Beha reviewed three books -- by Alex Rosenberg, Sam Harris and Alain de Botton -- exploring the motivation for and construction of morality without religion.
Obviously our religions dictate much of our moral code, but I don't see humanity descending into an immoral lawlessness without religion. So much of morality also seems like common sense. Don't we have an internal guide that tells us not to needlessly harm each other, not to inflict unnecessary pain, not to steal or kill? Obviously people do those things, but I think they first have to overcome their own natural instincts not to. They have to become incredibly deluded by anger, greed or ignorance.
Buddhism -- a philosophy or a religion, depending on who you ask -- teaches that we're all Buddhas. We just have to recognize and cultivate our Buddhahood through practice. (That may seem like a somewhat religious approach, but technically Buddhism doesn't preach the existence of an external God. Can you be an atheist and a Buddhist? I'm not sure.)
Anyway, food for thought.
On a completely separate note, I took the photo above while in Kent. Can you tell what it is?