Saturday, December 27, 2008

Be Good for Heaven's Sake?

Nearly half of Americans surveyed in a recent Pew study, Charles Blow reports, said that "atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go." They thought "you could achieve eternal life by just being a good person," no specific faith-based dogmas required.

Wow. I'm guessing respondents from my region were not proportionately represented in this survey, but still... I won't kick and scream, as long as the door to heaven opens both ways. I'd love to go and investigate Mark Twain's observation that hell must be lots more fun.

Is this a testament to the tolerant pluralism of average believing Americans? Or just another way of misrepresenting the moral life and making goodness instrumental to the gain of eternal reward? No. Be good for goodness' sake.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I just listened to an annoying radio interview with Jose Feliciano, who was asked if he worried that anyone in the world might ever tire of hearing "Feliz Navidad." The gist of his reply: only the atheists are likely to tire of this tune and its simple message ("I want to wish you a merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart" etc. etc. ad infinitum) - and atheists don't like anything anyway.

Well, Jose, we like plenty - thank you very much. And I do want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. I don't believe a virgin ever birthed a savior, but I'm happy to celebrate the birth of anyone who brought or brings tidings of peace, love, and understanding. I'm sure Jose is not alone in thinking that atheists are only nattering nabobs of negativism. That's a misconception, and I'll be doing my best to correct it when I teach a course next Fall I'm tentatively calling "Atheism: Old and New." My mission: make it clear to students that renouncing belief in God is not tantamout to renouncing life and spirit and meaning and hope.

This is my first post in this forum since July - and that was itself a cameo appearance. I'll probably blog again, but never again (I think) on a self-imposed schedule. I have a cartoon on my office wall: "Thank goodness you're here," says the desk-bound Everyman to Mr. Death, "I never get anything done without a deadline."

In fact, deadlines per se don't motivate me, except negatively: I resist and defy and recoil. But perhaps thinking about death, in some strange way, does inspire. My last post concerned the very public death of Randy Pausch. What was much on my mind then, but unacknowledged, was my Dad's leukemia-induced decline. He passed in September, after nearly eight decades of a salutary life. That loss feels heavier today than it has most days since.

I've not consoled myself at all with thoughts of eternity or reunion in heaven, and cannot. In one of our last significant conversations, I shared with Dad an exchange between William James and his own fatally-ill father, in 1882:

"As for the other side, and Mother, and our all possibly meeting, I can't say anything..."

Well, I can say of such a reunion that I don't expect it and - if faith is a condition - don't deserve it. But my disbelief is not simply a negation, it is an affirmation of the life he lived on Earth, and the example he set for those of us who attended and will follow. It is a commitment to pass the torch he handed me and my siblings to my own children, to the best of my ability. I'm not looking for a transcendental bailout. I don't think he was either. Accelerating Intelligence News