Are we negative or positive?

Or neutral?  Or does it matter?

This article in the Guardian about the attitudes of different “types” of atheists articulates quite well the delineation between different approaches to non-belief.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/09/life-without-god-bleak-atheism

The “old” atheists were bleak nihilists who lived in a purposeless universe.  The “brights” movement tends to be counter this by celebrating the potential of the unencumbered human mind.  In the former, moral clarity is unattainable.  In the latter, harsh realities of life on a cruel planet are glossed over.

If it is important to you that your world-view be consistent with reality then neither of these modes of thinking can be entirely satisfying.  In response to nihilism, there are certain things that are right and certain things that are wrong.  It may not be as clear cut as religion says it is but it is true nonetheless.  In response to the brights, better days are indeed ahead of us, but we owe it to a world full of suffering to not pretend that grave injustices exist and it’s not going to just be okay when the world is rid of irrational thought.

It may be the case that there is above us only sky, and no hell below us.  But there is often hell on earth.  Let’s acknowledge this externality and strive to develop a better understanding of the world around us, be it a positive view or a negative one.

I think what we will find is plenty of both.

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2 thoughts on “Are we negative or positive?

  1. Michael Spitzer

    We need to acknowledge that all people suffer, at least part of the time and to some extent. Dealing with this reality involves two aspects that we need to address.

    1. As atheists/skeptics/secularists, our viewpoint seems to entail the desire to minimize human suffering to the extent we can by virtue of sound approaches to acheive this goal. Sound appraoches = empirically responsible solutions, which can be operationalized, in part, by social/political means.

    2. Emotionally, we can cultivate compassion that helps us understand and reach out into the world to accept suffering without nihilism and ameliorate suffering to the best of our individual ability. There are sound empirical approaches, now known via the neuroscience literatlure, that can improve our ability to feel compassion and “touch” the lives of others. I conjecture that these approaches have the potential to go well beyond the positive charity offered by religion (Christianity) without the demands required by a vengeful, angry “God”.

  2. Clayton Nash

    The key here is the idea of minimizing human suffering. Religion does not seek necessarily to do this. Many religious people do work to help others, but their efforts always take a back seat to questions of their religion’s morality. The best example of this has to be Mother Teresa’s refusal to advocate contraception. I agree that secular groups can do this better than religious ones because we are not encumbered with these unnecessary distractions.

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