Monday, January 28, 2013

Atheists ought to be the most non-judgmental people in the world

Okay, by "atheist" I really mean naturalist. Why should naturalists be so non-judgmental? Because people aren't really responsible for their actions. People do what they do, ultimately, because of their genetics and their environment. To what other causes could I possibly attribute their actions? If I were religious, maybe I could attribute their choices to an immortal spirit and allude to "free will" (whatever that means) as the ultimate explanation for their choices. But as a naturalist, I think choices are the result of neurons firing in a brain, and a choice is only a proximate explanation for actions, not the ultimate explanation. The ultimate reasons for an individual's actions is her genetics and environment, and she is not personally responsible for either of those.

I think people should only be held responsible for their actions if it's for their own good or the good of other people around them. A parent should impose consequences on their children's actions to teach them to behave well. Society punishes criminals to discourage crime. I think society should lock up criminals if they're likely to harm others. That makes sense. But I don't think people ever "deserve" punishment or pain, unless it's necessary for a good purpose. That's why I prefer treatment to punishment, both on a government-policy level and in my personal interactions. I'd rather try to change someone's bad behavior than punish them for it.

And that's why naturalists ought to be so non-judgmental. People may be irrational, be bad drivers, or harm themselves or others, but hey, why should I expect anything more from a species of somewhat-intelligent apes? When I can help someone improve their behavior in some way, for example by helping them better understand the consequences of their actions on themselves or others, by all means, I'd like to do it. But if I'm not in a position to influence someone else's behavior, maybe the best thing to do is just lower my expectations, and remind myself of why that person is behaving badly to begin with. Because of his genetics, his environment, and because he's a close cousin of the chimpanzees, just like all of us.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Finding spirituality as an atheist

After leaving religion, I felt like I was missing spirituality in my life. Because my religion had always been my source of inspiration, comfort, and spiritual renewal, I needed to find new sources for those things. I'm going to share some of the things I've come up with.

For a while, I made up an imaginary deity to pray to, because I missed prayer. I eventually came up with "Life Reviews" to replace prayer altogether. Once every week or two, I set aside some time to do a "life review." It's quiet personal time for me to review my past goals, set new ones, think about how I've been using my time, and how I want to use my time. I record my feelings about how my life has been going over the last couple of weeks, and my goals for the next couple weeks. I keep my writings password protected, because they're pretty personal. That way I can be totally honest about everything with myself. Life reviews help me remember the big picture and my life goals. I also have some specific goals that I check off daily in a spreadsheet to keep me focused and productive.

I also find spiritual renewal through reading great literature. I mostly read non-fiction books, but sometimes fiction. I enjoyed ExMormon, probably because I related so strongly to so many of the characters in it. I even read it twice. I really like coming-of-age novels (I recently read this one), probably because I feel like I'm still growing up and figuring things out too. Good movies, musicals, and documentaries can also provide inspiration. I loved Les Miserables, Wicked, and Easy A. I think they each teach important principles that I believe in.

I've also liked service projects, donating to charities, and talking with friends and family to maintain strong relationships with them. I started doing Yoga recently, which is pretty fun. Working out and eating right helps me feel good about myself.

So those are just a few ideas. I'd love to hear your ideas for non-religious sources of inspiration and spiritual renewal, whether you're religious or not. Feel free to comment!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Quick update

I've been busy commenting on some atheist/theist arguments on Gavin's blog, in case anybody's interested. New posts here are coming, probably this weekend.