My last two posts have been about the universal reconciliation I believe all of humanity can look forward to, and how sin is just another word for animal instinct. I want to head criticism off preemptively, because I can hear the argument now: “If we’re all saved and sin doesn’t exist, why bother following Christianity? Why bother following any religion, actually, or even worrying about being good?” In other words, can we be good without the impetus of damnation or salvation? It is, ironically, a question from which many atheists have to defend themselves.
The Humanist Connection
At the risk of pissing off both Christians and Humanists, I think the answer lies, at least partially, in Humanist beliefs. Humanists International says “human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives.” Human beings have the ability to reason, to be empathetic, and have the capacity for a wonderful imagination and problem solving. Whether you believe (as I do) that these are God-given gifts or simply the product of millennia of evolution is beside the point: we can all agree these abilities exist. We are a communal species, and as such, individuals benefit when the community benefits. Monkeys know this – they sleep together for protection and scream warnings to eachother. Lions know this – cubs are co-mothered and co-nursed by all the females within the pride. I could go on with crows, ants, and really any other communal animal. So, if animals with no religious beliefs (as far as I know), no promise of heaven or threat of hell, can behave in a way that is beneficial for their society, can’t we as humans do so as well?
Humanists believe so. The Humanist Society of Western New York puts it this way:
“We owe it to ourselves and others to make it the best life possible for ourselves and all with whom we share this fragile planet. A belief that when people are free to think for themselves, using reason and knowledge as their tools, they are best able to solve this world’s problems. An appreciation of the art, literature, music and crafts that are our heritage from the past and of the creativity that, if nourished, can continuously enrich our lives. Humanism is, in sum, a philosophy of those in love with life.”
Isn’t that a statement we can all agree with?
I also just want to point out the many secular societies that are doing good without any religious impetus: The ACLU, Doctors without Borders, The Nature Conservancy, and you know I’m going to go ahead and list Planned Parenthood, too.
Getting back to Christianity…
This is quickly turning into a defense of Humanism, so let me tie it back into my own beliefs. As a Christian, I believe it is my responsibility to “do good.” Not because I will be “saved” for doing so, but because I want to show my gratitude to my God, who has given me so many beautiful gifts: this earth and all its wonders; art in the form of music, painting, and dance; the promise of a life hereafter. I believe that everyone on earth is my sibling in Christ, and as part of my family it is my responsibility to help them, just as one would do for their flesh-and-blood family. I act – or at least, I try to act – out of love. My underlying motivations might be slightly different than that of an atheist or agnostic, but the end result is the same: the ability to care about and for humanity without needing to be scared into it by the idea of damnation or bribed into it by the idea of salvation.
A follow-up question might be, “so why keep reading the Bible?” I do believe it was divinely inspired. That does not mean I think it is infallible, or a perfect recording of history. The key word is inspired here, people. And it continues to provide inspiration, today. I view the Bible as a guide – something that can be read over and over to reveal new truths, help us meditate upon ourselves and society, and give us an idea of what is important to God. Is it the only way to know God? No. I think prayer is important, too (even though I’m terrible at it), and honestly just going outside and marveling at nature is probably the best way to be humbled and awed before God.
“Human decency” is a phrase for a reason: It’s something we’re all capable of, regardless of religious beliefs (or lack thereof). Honestly, if you are only good because somebody is making you be good – whether it’s God, a parent, a parole officer, or whoever, then you’ve got some serious soul searching to do. So why be good? If for no other reason, be good because a rising tide lifts all boats. Gratitude to a higher power is optional.
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