I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Unthinkable Alternative

First: The stimulus package. Ever since it became an issue, I've resolved myself to the fact we would get this stimulus whether it was a good idea or not. And, while I would rather see congress and the White House work on tackling the deficit, I did at least look forward to getting the $500 check Obama had talked about on the campaign trail. I find myself wandering through computer stores looking at netbooks. I have daydreams about a computer I can carry in my pocket. $500 can buy a nice netbook.

Now, the $500 tax rebate is a $400 rebate. Good enough. Except, congress isn't cutting checks for $400--they are just going to tinker with your withholding and the $400 will be spread out over several months. It works out to about $13 a week for most people.

On NPR today, they said that by handing out money in this slow dribble, it would ensure that people would spend it rather than save it. A lot of people would just put a large check in the bank, but an extra twenty bucks they'll spend on eating out.

Sadly, I suspect this is true. But now, we get the debt, and I don't get my netbook. But I do get to grumble on my blog, which is still a source of pleasure. All things have their upside.

Now, back to my ongoing atheism rant. Sorry if this blog has turned into "atheism central" in recent weeks. I've been getting a lot of feedback on these posts in emails and in person. Naturally, the more I talk about a subject, the more I think about it, and the more I have ideas for posts.

This time, I'm going to tackle # 7 in my list of ten good reasons to believe in God: The Unthinkable Alternative.

By chance, Joseph Farah at World Net Daily just posted a very nice summary of this argument in an essay he titled "Atheism - a lose-lose proposition." The article is really more of a rehash of Pascal's Wager, but in the middle of it he has this nice summary of the "Unthinkable Alternative" argument for believing in God: Because life without meaning is so empty. Because life without truth and justice and accountability is unfulfilling. Because, at the end of the day, in this case your life, you still wind up with nothing. This empty, unfulfilling life of injustice and misery is all there is. ... Who would want to have no hope? ... It's not that I believe in God because I hope He's real. I know He's real and that gives me hope.

This is an argument I've heard a zillion times. If there is no God, then life has no meaning or purpose. It's just a tedious trudge through an ever decreasing number of days before we vanish from this vale of tears. One variant of the argument goes, if there's no hope of heaven, what's the point of living a good life? If we're just random blips of animated matter, why don't we all just kill ourselves?

I think this argument reveals a lot about the people who make it. Apparently, this world is so terrible that it's a given that life is full of injustice and misery, and the only hope is an external one: A savior is going to clean up this earth, punish the wicked, and take the righteous to heaven where things will be just peachy.

I think this is rather depressing way to look at the world.

First, I don't believe there is an external force providing meaning and purpose to our lives. But that doesn't mean that we can't find our own meaning and purpose. We are not alone in this world; we are surrounded by fellow members of our species. For that matter, even other species... there's a surprising amount of purpose and meaning in life that can be found just in hanging out with a good dog or cat. It feels good to make a cat purr; it feels even better to make other people smile. It feels good to laugh, and sometimes to cry, and sometimes to take long walks, and sometimes just to nap. Life isn't pointless; the point of life, I would argue, is to live. Enjoy life while you're here rather than placing all your eggs in the basket of an uncertain afterlife. Really, the whole heaven argument breaks down to, "We'll all be so much happier when we're dead!" That's kind of pathetic.

There is injustice and misery in this world. But rather than asking God to take us away from all these woes, maybe we can roll up our sleeves and get to work on trying to fix things. As much as I dislike our present government, it is so much better than any government that existed anywhere 1000 years ago, or 500 years ago. We can argue that there may have been points in American history when things were better than today, but it would take a very cynical person not to see that we are collectively making progress on a whole slew of problems that were once seemingly impossible to solve. I mean, in the span of a human life, we've gone from a country where blacks couldn't ride at the front of a bus to a country where a man with an African father is elected president. We've mapped the human genome and are scraping away at diseases and conditions that were once certain death sentences. Our cars are cleaner and safer than they were even twenty years ago.

It's true that all our solutions seem to lead to other problems--the astonishing freedom provided by automobiles has empowered oil rich countries that don't have our best interests in mind, for instance. Or, treatments to improve fertility have wound up producing the current scandal of the unwed octo-mom. But... we'll keep fixing problems as they arise, create new problems, fix them, and so on. Life won't get boring. And that's fine by me.

I don't need God to have hope. All I need for hope are a few good friends and eyes willing to look at the world objectively to see that progress is possible. And even if the world is falling apart.. even if it's short and you are beset by problems that are going to kill you... even when all hope is gone... if you're breathing, you can still find joy.

Two weeks before Laura passed away, she was so sick she could barely eat. She was uncomfortable sleeping, or standing up, or sitting down. Walking from room to room exhausted her. She had a lot of stuff to worry about; her insurance was coming to an end and it seemed like everyone she tried to work with in the government aid services was either burned out our just plain mean. Her car wasn't passing inspection, and she'd thrown too much money she didn't have at trying to fix it. If anyone had a reason to sink into despair, Laura was a candidate.

I have a photograph of her from that last weekend before she went into the hospital. She's outside in the yard on a sunny April day, with her daughter, placing plants into flower pots. She's got a small yellow flower in her hand.

And she's smiling.

If you can't find a reason to go on living in a sunny day, with flowers, with family; if all this is hollow and meaningless for you if there isn't a God waiting to carry you away... then I'm honestly sorry. I wish you all the best in the next life, should there be one. I'm sorry you couldn't find more joy in the one you're living now.

For me, giving up on this life, this world, is the unthinkable alternative.


Loren Eaton said...

Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson went back and forth on a similar point during a debate a couple years ago, which was quite fun to read.

My dad, by the way, has been fighting a malignant brain tumor for five years. Same thing Ted Kennedy has.

James Maxey said...

Sorry to hear about your Dad. (And, for that matter, Ted Kennedy also recieves my empathy.) I hope that he (and you, and even Ted) are able to still find the moments of peace and joy that are out there. Take him to Waffle House for a cheeseburger at midnight if he's up to it.

Thanks for the link. Hitchens is certainly on fire in this one.

Loren Eaton said...

Yeah, brain tumors aren't fun. I'm a bit concerned about Kennedy; his tumor isn't in a good place. My dad's been blessed with a strong constitution, though -- except when it comes to indigestion. Ix-nay on the urger-bay.

Regarding Hitchens and Wilson, I thought that Wilson actually pulled out ahead a bit in the end of the written debate. They spoke together in person, though, more recently (video's here), and I heard that Hitchens won that one. He's impressive on his verbal feet.