The Loss That Keeps Giving

I wrote some time ago of the statistically provable increase in happiness a sure and certain belief in a god and provident universe could confer, and how this was about as relevant to the truth of such beliefs as intellectual integrity is to… such beliefs. Still, not everyone values integrity over lackwit miserable ease, and so those beliefs are still touted with astonishing persistence at all of us when we are least able to filter out nonsense.

A personal idiosyncrasy is that I find the harm caused by the removal of something even ostensibly positive is harm of a particularly insidious kind. And it is something I had to go through at a fairly young age, once I’d realised the actual nature of the world. It is not a comfortable realisation when not even out of single figure age, having to consider if the adults were lying to you, or just stupid. And, since what atheist literature there is about this loss is sparse and generally intellectually difficult, it leaves a serious and despairing gap. A gap capacious in both darkness and duration.

I’m sure it would generate no dissent to say that religion persists in the more intellectually deficient in society. There are many routes to atheism, but a major highway is simply being unable to swallow the utterly inconsistent and irrelevant claims and commitments all religion requires, and this is the function of a functioning brain. And it is this thought which makes it surprising to me that even parents who are unconvinced by religion often still allow it to indoctrinate their children. Perhaps they hope that those children will find and retain the comfort of believing there is any point to anything. But in doing so they seem to be making a somewhat unfortunate bet: that their children will be too stupid to think their way out of delusion.

And, if those children turn out to be sufficiently intelligent to make this escape, they are automatically condemned to have a wrenching loss of worldview. Religion never stopped with wanting to explain the provenance of the universe, it had ambition and reached into everything.

It is almost as if there is no real upside to allowing the memetic corruption of minds.

Extreme, Close Up

Good people are extremists. And, though it is not going to be the subject here, it is worth noting that sentence structure is hugely important for meaning, since it is also the case that extremists are not necessarily good people (those of you with pencils might want to Venn that).

I would say that one’s values don’t matter except insofar as they are discharged with extremity. I might say that one’s values don’t even manifest unless they are equally discharged (apologies for the constant use of ‘discharge’, another word ruined, presumably by the people who took ‘incontinently’ away from us). However I am not sure whether what I am going to say is more about values or the actions springing from them.

I am a relativist, and I feel very glad that such was my ground state inclination, since had I been drawn to absolutism, and so likely some form of theism, I would no doubt be of the tome-thumping, loincloth-wearing, reality-denying, heretic-bothering, diet-proscribing, fashion-dictating, happiness-questioning type. Since I believe that what I believe matters, and that those beliefs need to guide actions and to do so with integrity and a certain amount of force, it is that ground state which dictates what kind of good person I am.

This is not something that most absolutists understand, and I have often been presented with the idea that relativism is relative because it has somehow weak-willedly fallen short of achieving absolutism. But this is not the case. I believe that there is no ultimate ground of, classic example, morality with a force and fury that could unsettle. I hold my right not to place the status of my own beliefs above those of others, except where it’s impractical not to, with colossal conviction. And I will respect the right of others to hold their own beliefs with a sure and unwavering certainty matched only in its magnitude by, typically, the utter lack of respect I have in the specifics of those beliefs.

Of course, there will be self-styled relativists who do not feel this way. As there are people lazily subscribing to an absolutist position without understanding that they have no consistent option not to constantly upend and harass dissenters. But both of these are examples of non-good people. The good people are those with the extremity to inhabit the normativity of their own natures and the shackles of whatever belief system enfolds them.

Which, of course, if nothing else has, shows the utter lack of point of using a word like ‘good’ without defining it first. But in many cases definitions are golden goose eggs. Pay too much attention to acquiring them, and you simply have a dead goose.