David McConkey replies to Jen Gerson, and reminds everyone that the key to a good life isn't believing, but belonging.
Thanks for this article. I heard your interview this afternoon on the radio, forget which station. The interviewer admits he's religious, and after you signed off he described the question as "believing in God or a higher power" vs "believing there is nothing greater than yourself". That's what atheism is to him. Stupid man. At 13 years old it struck me one day in church that the religion passed on by my parents was probably all just made up. Taking a comparative religion course in university took me beyond even agnosticism. Sam Harris suggests that human evolution selected for strong social bonds as being favourable for survival of the species over individualism. He pointed out that bad behavior that disrupted the group's well-being has been historically punished with or without religion, and believes that sentiments like love, altruism, sharing etc predated religion. I tend to agree. Did god create us or did we create God? I'm a spiritual person without religion, have a comfortable cohort of friends and family. I would like a "green burial" so that what's left of me reverts to the beautiful cycle of nature, and feeds the earth.
I agree, it isn't the believing, it's the belonging. As such, there are many atheist groups that do get together and do things together. If you choose to be alone with your (lack of) religion, then you are alone.
What does it mean "to do it well"? Isn't that the rub, if "it" is being a good person? I choose not to examine this (heavy!) question using loaded terms like religion and atheism, but instead examine the works that have had things to say about being a good person. And every one that I have read treats selfishness as something to overcome as part of the journey to becoming a good person. I can see this in Marx and Hobbes just as easily as I can see it in the teachings of the Buddha or Jesus Christ. Take out the faith part and the teachings seem quite similar - give up something that a selfish person would not, and a happier life is supposed to ensue. If it's not that simple, I welcome corrections.
I went from believer to agnostic to atheist fairly early in life but spent a career in keeping people honest (consumer protection). Fundamentally, it's about not being a hypocrite and yes, accepting that we are by nature inclined to empathy and concern for others (as well as a number of less admirable inclinations). Haidt's book sounds interesting, will order it.