Strident – Promoter – Activist – Militant

To be called strident, promoter, activist or militant in any arena carries a certain set of additional baggage. It sometimes carries the perception of being an pain in the butt. Yet, it’s the leaders of any movement or ideology that effects change in the world. Without the these heroic souls to lead the charge, we would go nowhere.

I wrestled with an acronym for these people. If we use the names that I’ve placed in the title we can call them SPAM. We can also call them MAPS. Depending on your perspective you could look at them all how we look as spam in our inbox. Or we could look at them as a we do a map showing us the way. I think I like MAPS.

Abraham Lincoln, Hitler, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Mozart, Joseph Stalin, Susan B. Anthony, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Caesar Chavez, Christopher Hitchens, and Martin Luther King were inspirational individuals that made a difference in the world. They took the heat. Dealt with the rejection. They persevered.

Using the MAPS analogy, you can see that all of them didn’t necessarily show us the best route to get someplace. In face, some of them showed us the all time worst way. I guess we could label them MAPS or SPAM depending on the route they took. I’d rather be a MAPS person. I’m sure you would be too.

We all have an opportunity to become a MAPS. But do we all need to?

For me, the answer is no.

Living in the fourth quarter of my life brings me a certain contentment to simply believe what I believe without having to shout it to the world. The peace that I’ve found within my own space is enough. While I would be happy to discuss this with anyone who initiates and wants to have a genuine conversation, I’m unwilling to bring my message to the front of the room and make any kind of announcement.

I find that since I’ve given up my fundamental Christian beliefs I am more compassionate than ever before. I’m more thoughtful. I’m more purposeful in what I do. Instead of praying for someone, I now think of ways I can actually help them or how I can make a difference in their situation from a practical perspective. I find it much more satisfying to be a humanist than I ever did being a Christian. I’ve read the Humanist Manifesto several times only to be caught up each time in how incredibly kind and loving it’s words.

I believe I can, within the micro world of my existence, make a tremendous difference by simply living out what I believe. I’m learning that the philosophy of humanism is more suited to me than any religious dogma. The American Humanist Association tells me that “humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility.” I can get behind that idea. I can work to make that a reality in my life.

interestingly, just as Christians can do a myriad of good things without ever mentioning their beliefs (which rarely happens, by the way) so can I. I can, as the Sunday Assembly teaches, Live Better, Help Often and Wonder More without ever saying a word about atheism, deities (or lack thereof), or anything supernatural. I can live completely faithful to my beliefs and philosophies without ever being a MAPS (or a SPAM).

Religion meets people where they are and beats them into a submissive sheep mentality. Humanism meets people where they are and helps them follow their heart. Both have guidelines. One does damage, the other does wonders. 


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We The People

Renowned biologist, professor and heralded champion of atheism, Richard Dawkins has written extensively of the world as it relates to evolution through natural materialism; the notion that the world in which we live with all it’s complexity and diversity can be explained by the simple laws of physics and chemistry as played out in living things. Of such a world governed by materialist evolution he says

Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and
genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people
are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it,
nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties
we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose,
no evil, and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

— Richard Dawkins: 
River Out of Eden; A Darwinian View of Life 1995

No rhyme, no reason, no justice — A world filled with pitiless indifference. Sounds pretty bleak, I admit. If I had to live in a world like that, I’m not sure I’d have a tremendous desire to carry on, to persevere, or to even think that I had the remotest chance to make a difference.

Yet as I consider Dawkins’ assessment, I find little with which I can mount any parade of disagreement. When I visualize the vast open spaces of the world where the elements conflagrate with wildlife, weather and the cycle of life, it is indeed a place of pitiless indifference. Plants are frozen out of existence. Soil is baked to the point of cracking. Animals reproduce more young than possibly survive under the conditions. Some die slow, agonizing deaths with  their life forces squeezed out of them by drought, extreme temperatures, floods or fires. Others suffer painful, horrific torture literally being eaten alive by predators.

I really need not even to venture in my mind to the remote, uninhabited corners of our planet for I can see the same drama played out in little vignettes in my own back yard. A lizard drowns in my pool, a grasshopper is caught in a spider’s web, a red tailed hawk swoops from its lofty perch to snatch a lingering gopher (THAT was so totally cool to see! Does this bespeak of my loathing of gophers… oh well!).

I watch the human existence around me play out in similar fashion. A loving husband and father is snuffed out in a tragic traffic collision. A construction worker suffocates when the earth collapses around him and his colleagues cannot dig him out quickly enough. A child is taken from us by lymphoma after a lengthy battle. An elderly couple, in love and married for over 60 years is run down by a drunk driver returning home from a party the night before while taking their long-standing ritualistic morning walk together. These senseless, tragic, everyday occurrences challenge our sense of reason and justice. But if we live in a world governed only by the simple, unaffected laws of physics and chemistry, is there really any other alternative paradigm?

Can there possibly be any meaning to life or reason for living given these godless facts of existence? Many would argue that there must be a higher power that gives purpose and meaning to this brief vapor of existence we all traverse. Some find that the only comfort they can derive from this life is that there is a supreme existence that leads and guides, comforts and encourages them through their journey. While there is no evidence for such a being, millions upon millions of people across the wide stretches of this planet will die before denying the existence of this yet unproven being of omniscience, omnipotence, goodness and love..

So how then do those of us who have no belief in any such supreme being cope with the seemingly meaninglessness of this life. How do we carry on with day after day of “no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference?”

Since I have given up my religious beliefs, I have found more meaning and purpose to my daily living than ever before. So omnipresent was the promise of a better life after death that I gave nearly as much thought to the prospects of that existence as I did to my real existence here on earth. Now that I’m freed of those divided loyalties, all of my focus is here. Today! This very moment!

I greet each new day with the prospects of this one life I have to live. There’s no hope for heaven. There’s no longing for some problem free existence where there no more tears. (sounds like a Johnson’s Baby Shampoo commercial) All I have is today. And when my todays are run out, it’s over. WIth only the prospect of this limited number of solar cycles I have to spend here, I’m thrilled for today.

Who can I meet? Who can I love? Who can I touch? Who can I inspire? What can I learn? What can I experience? What joy can I experience and share with others?

I’m not world famous, rich, or in a position of great influence. I have but a few people on this planet who even know or care that I exist. But therein lies the magic of living. I have my immediate family: my beautiful wife, my three grown children, their spouses and five grandchildren. I have a few very close friends, a dozen or so regular friends, and maybe another handful of acquaintances with whom I see on at least a semi-regular basis.

Between just me living my own life to the fullest and the opportunities to interact with and make a difference in their lives is all the meaning I’ll ever need in this life. It’s the people that have and will continue to fill my life with design, purpose, and goodness, WIth these sacred beings around me I will not suffer blind, pitiless indifference but rather a visionary, compassionate zest for living that will fill my days with wonder and meaning.

The answer is you and me and the people around us. The answer to a meaningful life is indeed, We The People!

As A. C. Grayling puts it in his introduction to The God Argument, “the most wonderful resources for good and flourishing lives lie in the intelligence, the experience, and wisdom and insight of our fellows in the human story.”

The purpose of life is simply to live it. And it’s the people around us that make all the difference.

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