In a previous post, I indicated what I consider the “dangerous” realisation that there is no top-down meaning; that our actions aren’t found to be important by anyone (or One) other than ourselves. This idea destroyed and continues to destroy many ideas I embraced (and that I encounter). Based on this, one must ask what follows.
One might become nihilistic, depressed and/or commit suicide; one might also choose to deliberately ignore all the evidence and conjure up bizarre claims about energy and so on, inflating our solipsism to the point where we view our actions as – from a top-down, metaphysical perspective – meaningful. These are just two, quite extreme, ways people respond to what they realise is a meaningless (from a top-down perspective) existence.
Many of us grew up with the idea that “right” and “wrong” were synonyms for God’s likes and dislikes. Pork and alcohol, premarital sex, praying regularly, clothing in special places, strange rituals, respecting one’s elders: these were the types of ideas that fit the bracket of “morality” for me, when I was young and considered myself Muslim. Looking at that list now, one can see how utterly solipsistic it is. From dietary to fashion, the invocation of God had little to do with what I realise now actually morally matters: the wellbeing and reduction of unnecessary suffering of others. For my younger self – and for many others –we need not worry about the well-being of others because that is God’s domain. What’s the use of interfering, when life is dependent on how much love you’ve earned from God? If something bad happens, it is because you have upset God somehow: you haven’t prayed correctly, bathed correctly, dressed correctly, respected correctly, thought correctly. Of course, “correctly” was a synonym for whatever God wants. Morality therefore became merely about how much or little you thought God loved you, followed by what you planned to do about it.
This apathy is certainly not true for all religious believers. Many are examples of the best people, including, for example, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, especially during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Here we have a man who played an active, powerful role in helping an entire nation, filled with complete strangers, many of whom were and are godless. He certainly did not believe things would “just work out”, if left up to God. Even the Archbishop then was not of the opinion that morality concerns random rules about our relationship to our god.
Dangers and superstitious relations
The point is that one of the main dangers of thinking there is a top-down, moral perspective, who cares about us – aside from believing a lie – is it relinquishes from us responsibility. Thus we can, too easily, dismiss truly difficult problems in the world by simply proclaiming god or someone equivalent will sort it out in the end (karma, reincarnation, Heaven, Judgement Day, etc.); or, similarly, that there is some kind of balance that we ourselves have upset and can, therefore, set right through arbitrary rituals or invocations. “But,” as Barbara Ehrenreich points out
mind does not automatically prevail over matter, and to ignore the role of difficult circumstances – or worse, attribute them to our own thoughts – is to slide toward the kind of depraved smugness Rhonda Byrne [author of The Secret. See previous link] expressed when confronted with the tsunami of 2006. Citing the law of attraction, she stated that disasters like tsunamis can happen only to people who are on the same frequency as the event.”
That is, they brought it on themselves. It was not the failure of poor foundations or structural engineering problems – that remained broken due to inefficiency, mismanagement, and corruption. No, instead, it was people thinking “negative” thoughts and sending these out into the universe. One can easily see similar kind of “reasoning” when Jerry Falwell proclaimed that 9/11 was (partially) caused by the gays and liberals in the US, for upsetting God.
Notice these are no different to superstitious behaviour. Black cats and broken mirrors are merely denial of our often horrible existence in quirky clothing: instead of attributing the car crash to pure chance, we try recall the last dark feline encounter. Instead of facing up to our failings as a marriage partner, we locate shattered reflective surfaces or astrological signs.
Prayers, rituals, blaming liberals and gays, shattered mirrors and black cats are all methods we invoke to try have some control on a chaotic, top-down meaningless existence that results in deaths and suffering over which we have no control. The danger is twofold: (1) we don’t engage with reality, to actually sort problems out and, similarly, (2) we rebuff responsibility on to arbitrary, non-causal “tokens”, like broken mirrors. Things won’t get fixed, problems won’t really be solved, but we will have a small moment of serenity when we stroke a cross or toss salt over our shoulder.
Hollowing out responsibility primarily empties moral action. If we are not responsible, then there is no reason to act morally. For example, by saying floods are caused by negative thoughts or terrorist incidents are punishments for upsetting God, we don’t need to look at fixing engineering problems or the growing danger of radical Islam.
Thus by not recognising there is no central moral agent, who can make things right because he loves you from that cosmic top-down perspective, we create a fake, essentially superstitious solution. We won’t solve problems. We don’t make the world secure. This is almost no where better represented than the utterly useless act of prayer: it does more to comfort the believer, pacifying him into inaction, but filled with feelings of accomplishment, than provide any solution to the problem being prayed for.
Again, this is not how many would react, but I am pointing out the dangers I saw for myself and what I see for others. Thus, aside from not recognising the reality of a top-down meaningless existence, we create a lie that perpetuates apathy in a world constantly and desperately in need of action.
My reason for writing, my reason for constantly trying to assess the reality of things is to undo what inaction and apathy does and has done to us; to try understand and undermine what believing you have the answers to right and wrong, because of magic books, does to our social policy and law. I recognise no magical being is going to solve the problems of the world and thus I think I need to do what I can to help. Whether you think I’m still wasting my time by writing and educating (though evidence tells me otherwise), I at least can be persuaded through engaging with the real world and not arbitrary, Bronze-aged moral rules.
Further reading: Christopher Hitchens on Elisabeth Fritzl
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