Wednesday, March 14, 2018

God is irrelevant

One does not have to believe in a god to appreciate life.  This is paradise on earth.

Well, almost a paradise.

I passed a homeless man who was lugging his belongings on an overfilled backpack, with his dog walking alongside.

What is my obligation to that homeless man?

An atheist I am, I worry a lot about such questions.

I could choose to help him.  Or, I could ignore his very existence.  I could try convincing myself that it is somebody else's problem.  Right?

One does not have to believe in a god in order to answer that question.  Bringing god into this is a distraction.  God is irrelevant to figuring out how to react to the sight of a homeless man in this paradise.

If the case of the homeless person is not convincing enough, consider the following:
•            It is wrong to drive people from their homes or to kill them because you want their land.
•            It is wrong to enslave people.
•            It is wrong to torture prisoners of war.
•            Anyone who witnesses genocide, or enslavement, or torture, is morally required
to try to stop it.
Aren't all those true.  Well, a dick cheney or donald trump will favor torturing prisoners of war.  An assad has no qualms killing his own people.  But, an overwhelming majority of us--irrespective of what we think about god or any religion--will agree with those statements, right?
To say that morality depends on the existence of God is to say that none of these specific moral judgments is true unless God exists.  That seems to me to be a remarkable claim.  If God turned out not to exist — then slavery would be O.K.?  There’d be nothing wrong with torture?  The pain of another human being would mean nothing?
So, then, what has god got to do with any of those situations?

Over the years, I have come to understand that it is a humongous waste of time to argue over whether or not god exists.  It does not matter one bit.  What matters is how we live our lives, which includes our relationships with fellow humans and with other life forms and non-living matter all around us.

Consider the flowing river.  Will it be ok for me to dump sewage or factory waste into that river?  Whether it is about slavery or about dumping sewage, the question of whether or not god exists, or whose god is the real god, is immaterial, right?

The awfulness is how, for instance, slavery and Christianity coexisted, with religious folks explicitly justifying slavery. Or, even now, how the religious right considers coal as a gift from god that should be shared with the world!

So, back to the homeless person.   He makes me feel uncomfortable.  Not because I worry about the safety of my life or my property, but because I do not know how to react.  Should I ignore him?  Shrug my shoulders and move on?  Should I engage with him and try to help?  Should I donate to the organizations that help the homeless?  If I do not donate, does it make me a bad person?  Do I want to be a good person?  What does it mean to be a good person?  Why have I not figured out the answer despite all these years?

God is irrelevant in trying to sort out these questions.