The Great Chain

The Great Chain

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why I Don't Believe - Humanity Doesn't Need Saving Part 2

If humankind really were the species we are often assumed to be, a species motivated purely by greed and spite and avarice and lust and violence, we would never have survived this long.  We would have murdered one another out of greed or pettiness or simple animal cruelty, centuries, perhaps millennia ago.  We certainly would never have constructed vast interconnected communities and nations spanning hundreds of millions or billions of people who spend the vast majority of their lives untroubled by violence or crime or death.

The simple fact is that humankind is not flawed.  We are not evil.  We are not bad.  We are not sinful.  More importantly, neither you nor any of the rest of us are evil.  You are not fundamentally bad.  You are not wicked or depraved or sinful.  And neither is anyone else.  Most importantly, neither you, nor anyone else require external redemption to make our existence worthwhile.  We do not need to justify our existence to an invisible, unknowable force in order to have peace or purpose or direction or meaning in our lives.

Do you make stupid decisions?  Certainly.  Every single one of us makes stupid decisions at different points in our lives.  Do you make choices that are occasionally harmful to yourself or to others?  Almost undoubtedly.  But do your lousy choices and your poor decision making skills make you a sinful person?  A bad person?  A depraved or wicked or evil person?


And believing that you are evil or flawed or bad or sinful, believing that you are somehow innately wrong does absolutely nothing to help you to make better choices or make wiser decisions.  Indeed, the reflexive assumption that you are flawed only serves to rationalize and justify and entrench patterns of poor decision making.  If you begin with the assumption that humankind is fundamentally flawed, that we are a fallen creature, it logically follows that we, both individually and collectively, have little or no power to effect any meaningful change in our existence.  It provides an easy rationalization and a perfect excuse for doing nothing and if there is such a thing as sin in this world, then doing nothing is as close as one can possibly get.

It is nearly impossible to overstate the corrosive effect of believing, that not only you, but all of humankind, is flawed and incapable of even taking steps to improve, let alone working to perfect our existence.  Such a belief encourages complacency.  When this belief in the flawed and fallen nature of humankind is married to a worldview where ultimate peace, prosperity and justice is only achievable through some external, supernatural agency that acts after we are already dead, complacency, inaction and stagnation are practically mandatory.  If you actually believe that at the End of Days the wicked will be punished, the righteous will triumph and good will be victorious for ever and always until the end of time, regardless of what happens here in the real flesh and blood world where all of us actually live, what possible motivation does that provide to actually improve life for everyone in the here and now?  What possible motivation is there to improve your own life circumstances?  The belief that everything will work out after we're dead through some supernatural act of benevolence renders action to improve the lives of the poor, the downtrodden, the destitute and the oppressed utterly irrelevant.  Indeed, depending on the particular 'end times' scenario, it may actually act to impede the coming Glory of the Lord which is not only irrelevant, but sacrilege.

We as a species need to move forward.  We need to progress.  We need to adopt an ethos that does not rely on varying interpretations of an ethical code set forth on varying sheafs of papyrus thousands of years ago.  We need to move on and we need to stop judging ourselves and others based on conflicting, outdated and utterly outmoded codes of morals and ethics that are almost wholly inapplicable to the world in which we live.

This is not to say that ancient wisdom is in any way irrelevant.  Quite the contrary, the text of the Bible, the Koran, the Torah and the Talmud actually carry a great deal of timeless human wisdom and virtue that transcends the ages.  Their exhortations to care for the needy and those less fortunate, to treat others as you would seek to be treated, etc., contain the seeds of transcendent human wisdom.  It is critical, however, to recognize that many of the assumptions that undergird those seminal texts are wholly inapplicable to the modern world and have been resoundingly refuted by the relentless reality of human progress.

Consider for a moment, the world in which we live.  Consider the billions of people who currently inhabit our planet.  Consider the simple fact that the vast majority of humankind, life is not locked in a bitter struggle for survival in a Hobbesian war of all against all.  Quite the opposite. In the history of our species, we have never enjoyed a more peaceful time than we are enjoying right now.

I recognize that this runs completely counter to the images of gloom and doom that dominate the mainstream media.  I understand that this conflicts with the longstanding desire of some to see the apocalypse constantly looming just over the horizon, but the simple fact is that our species is presently living in an age of unparalleled peace and plenty.

Consider the wonders of the age in which we live.  For the first time in human history, we possess a truly global civilization.  To be sure, our civilization remains somewhat fragmented by language, culture and geopolitical concerns, yet at the same time, our aggregate civilizations have never been more interconnected, interdependent or united.

Nearly seven billion people inhabit this tiny sphere of ours, vastly more than at any time in human history and far from some manner of ghastly all out war of all against all, the overwhelming mass of humanity lives at peace with the rest.  This in and of itself is evidence of our remarkable evolution as a species and the maturation of humankind as a whole.  Our civilization is truly a thing of immense beauty.

We are the luminous species, the species that glows.  Viewed from orbit, as the sun passes behind the horizon, something remarkable occurs, the entire landmass of our planet begins to glow.  Every night.  Through war, through peace, through famine and drought and all manner of calamity, our light burns on.  There are, on occasion, problems severe enough to disrupt this pattern, but throughout  the last century, the light of civilization has steadily increased through every trial and tribulation our species has faced.  That light in and of itself is an indication that our civilization is not nearly as fragile as some believe.

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