Monday, July 18, 2016

As this atheist turns 60

I recently had my 60th birthday. Whoopee for me, right? Well, I was thinking that it has been some time since I posted a particularly thoughtful article on topic here and I thought this occasion would be a good time to get back into the swing of it and continue my blog posts. So I started considering what I might have to say that would be interesting or noteworthy. In an election year there are a lot of things I could discuss but for the moment I’m going to steer clear of that can of worms. I could talk about atheists being slaughtered in Bangladesh and elsewhere or the insidious and otherwise silly notion of a national day of prayer. However, I’m not ready to tackle those just yet. Nor am I ready to discuss the plethora of terrorist attacks in Florida, France and elsewhere. I’m working on those, to be sure. I’m just not quite ready to put those down in a post.
One of the things I’ve noticed as I enter my seventh decade is that as people get older a lot of them tend to double down on their religious beliefs. Either that or they seek to reconnect with their religious roots. For me, as an atheist, this makes no sense. I don’t understand why magical thinking would suddenly seem sensible just because one gets old. There are those who become senile or experience dementia when they get old and I would never make an issue of someone going back to religion if their mind is going. But when you still have all of your faculties intact, why would you abandon reason just because time is growing short? If reason, facts and evidence were important to you as a twenty year old, why would they suddenly become less important just because you have started to get grey and wrinkled? Nevertheless some people expect that we atheists will also start to drift back to god or gods as we reach senior citizen status. Well, some religious people think that everyone gets concerned about god when they are getting close to death no matter what age they are. Like the notion that I’ve heard from several people over the years that there are no atheists in foxholes. A large number of the religious assume that everyone begins to pray when in imminent danger or under extreme duress. It’s a comforting myth that many theists hold on to because it reassures them that they are the ones who have been doing it right. It’s just another part of the delusion of religion as far as I’m concerned.
There seems little doubt that for a lot of people fear of death becomes more of an immediate concern as it gets closer to the end. It's understandable that feeling your mortality leads to such thoughts. Death looms larger as you get older like the opening of a tunnel that seems barely visible when you are far away but begins to fill your field of vision as you get close to it. In your teens, death is a far-off, nebulous concept but when you reach my age it is a very substantial impending threat. The dread of death often manifests as a particular interest in what, if anything, happens after life ends. Many people tend to become increasingly fearful about it. For some, apparently this leads to religion although I can’t figure out why it would be that way for an atheist especially if that atheist’s lack of belief stems from reason and intellect as opposed to mere unfamiliarity and a lack of exposure to religious ideas.
One thing I want to do in this post is to make sure that I announce, loud and clearly, that I have not remotely come near to entertaining religion as I have begun to feel my final days approaching. If anything, religion is less attractive to me as I get older. The detrimental effects of religion in the modern world are, if anything, far more striking than ever before in my life. I still don’t buy the pseudo-logic of Pascal’s Wager or any other argument for belief. My rationale for becoming an atheist in the first place has not faded nor has my resolve to seek knowledge through the scientific method weakened in the slightest. I’m still not likely to fall for false promises or placebos. I won’t deny that death has become a far greater concern to me these days and I have been careful to eat a healthy diet and I’m trying to exercise in order to forestall this inevitable fate for as long as possible. However, fear of death is not going to make me opine for the old notions of heaven and eternal life I was raised to believe in.
While exended life is something I would choose to pursue if there was some scientific basis for that pursuit, I find those concepts to actually be unattractive as they are presented in religious dogma even if they were true. To spend an eternity in obiescence to some repugnant deity like the Christian or Muslim god is a nauseating idea. If life after death turned out to be a reality I would be happy as long as it didn’t come at the expense of others or mean that any of the traditional god concepts I’ve encountered turned out to be real. To spend eternity in slavery to one of those egomaniacal monsters isn’t something I would care to endure. I don’t actually think there is any chance of that but I do consider all possibilities when I think about such things.
In a humanities class I had back in 1998, one of the questions we were asked to consider was whether we would want to live forever if we could. It was an exercise that revealed a lot about the people in my class and led to some interesting discussions as well as a couple of heated arguments. The majority of my classmates said they would not want to live forever even if they could although it would depend to some extent on whether they would have to live a life of weakness and frailty or could live that time in youthful vigor. I agree with this concern. I would not want to live forever frail, weak and sickly. Who would? In fact, I was almost the only one there who responded in the affirmative even given the guarantee of being able to live that life in good health with full faculties. I would even consider having my consciousness transferred to a robot or computer simulation if those options where available. I think having many more years in which to learn and experience new things would be something I would like. One of the major concerns would be having to live long enough to see loved ones, even children, die before you. I recognize that this would be a painful thing to endure but it would not disuade me from choosing such an extended life.
For me, life is desireable for its own sake and preferable to the oblivion that I am sure is the only alternative. But as I said, even though I would want to be able to go on living as long as possible given reasonable health, I don’t see religion as having anything to offer on that topic. I find the idea of resurrection in perfection to be particularly silly and not worthy of consideration. It is clearly an empty promise. Having been a Mormon for the last few years of my prior religious life I think the additional notion of living in heavenly families is even more of a stretch of wishful thinking. I’m embarrassed to say that it was one of the things that attracted Mormonism to me as my final attempt to find something salvagable in religion before I came to my senses and admitted it was all nonsense.
No matter how old I get, as long as my mental faculties are intact, I will continue to follow the facts where they lead no matter whether I like the answers or not. If others find false promises attractive in their dotage, that is their business. I don’t see the attraction but I don’t expect everyone to be sensible. I just know that I’m not going to be one of those who will jump back into the mire of religious nonsense no matter what promises it makes. Until there is the slightest evidence that any of it is true, it remains completely useless to me. I will never abandon reason to chase rainbows pointlessly nor would I want to encourage others to do so.