Saturday, January 5, 2013

Lesson learned?

I was recently posed with the question of how the world would have been different if the myth of theology had never existed. The questioner was a theist of course, had the usual transparent and ill formed conclusions. But lets tackled his question anyway. How would the world be different had history been different?...

To be perfectly honest, I don't care if there has been myth in the past, or for a hypothetical past where there never was any. I care about now. The myths of the past may have been inevitable. Early man did not posses the knowledge that we do now, yet they had so many questions about the world they saw. They tried to answer those questions in terms they understood. They knew that people made things,
and did things, so a really great being must have made the things they can't make, and cause the things they couldn't cause. Considering what they knew, I can't really fault them for 'making sense' of the world in the way that they did.

However, that doesn't mean that we should continue restraining ourselves to that line of thinking to this very day. We have learned so much since those days. We have done the testing and the real work to expand our view and understanding of the world, and cast that view into the stars. So the question of if things would have been better if there was never myth is unimportant to me. The question that matters is, have we learned our lesson?

We live in an exciting world where we need not attribute lightning to an angry deity. But that doesn't mean that all myth is bad? The stories of the Egyptian, Greek/Roman and Norse gods are very interesting and intriguing. They are fun reading today even if people did once think they were actual truths at one point. I don't mind that the days of the week and most months are named for Pagan gods. And I enjoy the Pagan festivities that surround the holidays that eventually became Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. But I can do that without believing the mythical parts of them as truth. Again, what have we learned?

What the festivities mean to me now, need not be identical to the ones who started the traditions. There is a lot of wonderful art with religious subject matter, but as an appreciator of art, I don't let that stand in the way of me seeing the wonderful skill and vision of the painter or sculptor who produced it. I can see an oil painting of Jesus and see it as a well done work, without the need to bow down and worship him as my savior. The past is important. It shapes the course of many things. But it isn't everything. Remember, if you don't know history, you'll be doomed to repeat it.

So the question is not how history would have been different, or if it would have been better. Rather, the question is whether we have learned from history. And if we have, what does that history mean to us now? The same goes for personal history. Suppose that you went though your life having never hurt someone (physically or emotionally). Are you a better person having never hurt anyone by chance? Or are you a better person for realizing the impact those actions had, learning from them and choosing to avoid such actions in the future? I would wager that the one being consciously 'good' is superior to one accidentally being 'good'.

Remember that religion is not necessary for a moral and productive society. Maybe some people were 'good' to stay on a deity's good side. But such is not the origins of morality. We needn't be burdened by the errors or misunderstandings of the past. It's time more people realize that we can and do have productive and thriving societies through the hard work and cooperation of very real, and very alive people. No need to muddy the waters by trying to claim that it has to be based on any form of theology. So, what have we learned, and where will we go from here?

-Brain Hulk

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