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Thursday, December 31, 2015

A New Motto: “I’ve Ceased To Care”

After we had known each other about two years my husband David and I were talking about some minor news item and he commented, “I’ve ceased to care.”  That sounded familiar to me and I must have looked puzzled because he smiled and added, “You say that all the time.”  Hmm.  That must be why it sounded familiar.

Since then I have noticed myself using it more and more, and it’s a handy little phrase to have at the ready whenever you realized you’re involved in something that’s a waste of time, no matter how promisingly it started.   Mutter “I’ve ceased to care” to yourself and you suddenly have the freedom to move on to something worth exploring.

The problem is that in the 21st century we’re constantly pounded by a blizzard of information in the form of social media, television, apps, news, printing on boxes, music, phone calls—the list is endless.  Much of this is fascinating and addictive.  Facebook, for example, which I used to scorn, can now reel me in like a fish, and hours later I look up and realize I’ve looked at one too many fascinating videos or discussions or startling ideas.  Sure there’s a lot of meaningless crap, but also the wonders of our civilization are presented seriatim until the brain rebels.  I find it very useful to blow the whistle on this by announcing to myself that I’ve ceased to care, at which point I rise stiffly from my current position and see whether my blood still knows how to flow.

But this experience is not limited to the internet.  I’m a longtime subscriber to Time Magazine, and I still find it informative.  But when I start into pithy articles and then realize that the article is going to go on for more pages than I want to read, the words “I’ve ceased to care” give me permission to skip to the next article. Extending this idea I’ve learned to snap off TV programs and even walk out of movies.

We only have so much time on the planet, and we should harvest that time so it is as productive and entertaining as we can make it.  Allowing ourselves to wade knee deep in trivia is messy, tedious, and embarrassing.

Of course you could say a number of other things other than “I’ve ceased to care.”   Some people routinely exclaim, “I couldn’t care less,” which is fine (I suspect it arose as a way of dressing up the simple comment of “I don’t care”).  The problem is that many people—even, alas, learned people—have shortened the phrase to “I could care less,” which means the opposite of what they intend (and annoys listeners who care about the English language).  [I’ve complained about this before; see “Picking Your Battles: The Meaning of Words”;]  The image below explains the difficulty. 

I was playing bridge at a tournament recently and Jane Witherspoon, a terrific partner whom I haven’t known long, between rounds was sitting with two men who were arguing in an animated fashion.  Seeing me coming, she rose to join me.  “What was that about?” I asked her.  “Oh,” she responded, “it was a disagreement on the origin of religion—but I’ve ceased to care.”  Then she smiled at me and we went off to play the next hand.

Related Posts:

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

“Picking Your Battles: The Meaning of Words,” July 3, 2011; 

“Pronouncing ‘2012’,” December 31, 2011;

“How To Stop Saying ‘You Know’,” April 28, 2012;

“Is It Okay Not To Use Proper English?” August 10, 2013;

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Happy Atheist

When I say “happy atheist” in the title of this post I don’t mean that all atheists are happy, but that most atheists are happy about being atheists.  Other than that attitude, atheists may be as happy or as miserable about the other aspects of their life as other human beings.

If you ask the public at large what atheists’ lives are like, you will get a list of adjectives, but I would bet a large amount that “happy” wouldn’t be among them.  If you ask atheists themselves how they feel about being an atheists, most would smile and say they feel fine, and are . . . well, yes, “happy” about it.

This might sound shocking or at least improbable to theists.  In the view of many religious people the only route to happiness is a firm belief in some sort of god or at least a spiritual existence beyond this world.  Asked what life would be like with no such belief, they usually envision bleak and sad drudgery.

From the atheist’s viewpoint the opposite is true.  A religious life is one spent wasting much of one’s limited time on this planet dealing with a fantasy: praying, going to church/synagogue/mosque, Bible/Torah/Quran studies, many meetings discussing various activities designed to buck up the religious model, etc.  Identify yourself as religious and family, neighbors, friends, associates, casual strangers will police you to see if you’re in compliance with the demands of your religion’s requirements for conduct, appearance, utterances, and much, much more.  And all of this—atheists believe—comes with no reward other than conformity with demands of those with similar beliefs and the warm fuzziness that some religious myths provide (your dead loved ones will someday welcome you into heaven, clapping you on the back and handing you a harp).

But when religious people die, atheists contend, the same thing happens to them as happens to nonbelievers: their existence terminates and it’s all over.  No god, no heaven, no harp, nothing.

Yes, theists get some comfort in believing in an afterlife, easing the path to one’s death.  But surely most theists also worry—even if they never articulate the thought—that their beliefs are wrong and maybe there’s nothing after life, so their “comfort” on their deathbed is muddied  by that possibility.  If this were not so why wouldn’t death always be an event to celebrate?  Why would survivors mourn for the dead if they have gone to a “better place”?

Consider then that atheists are free of all this metaphysical angst and can get on with making this life as pleasant as possible.  While doing so atheists have no time-consuming religious duties, so their lives contain more leisure for pursuing things worth enjoying here and now.  I have argued before in this blog that they even die well;

see “When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010;

This morning’s newspaper contained a letter to the editor commenting that Stalin was a “practicing atheist.”  Hmm.  I don’t know what that means.  How do you “practice” atheism?  The writer is treating atheism as just another sort of religion, something one does.  But that can’t be true.  Atheism, by definition, is not for something, it’s against a belief in a god: a-theism.  Here the “a” is the same “a” as in asymptomatic, arrhythmic, asexual.  It denotes the absence of a belief in god, but doesn’t espouse anything in its place.  Some wag once commented that calling atheism a “religion” is like saying “bald is a hair color.”  I suppose what the writer to the editor meant was that Stalin headed a regime that forbade religious beliefs (hence “atheistic”)—and that, of course, is to be condemned by everyone.  I’m a lawyer and I strongly believe in freedom of religion.  I also believe that right includes freedom from religion.  Our courts have agreed: civil rights laws forbidding discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs protect atheists as well as theists.
The atheist movement doesn’t include a goal of forbidding religion (though it urges all people to think seriously about the wisdom of such beliefs), but instead concentrates on making sure that governments respect all beliefs about religion, including the right not to participate in religious practices.  Thus atheists can’t be fired for their non-belief, nor can their children be forced to pledge allegiance to God, nor can religious rituals (like prayer) be part of governmental ceremonies or public education.  Atheists do bring lawsuits to keep religion from spreading from the private sector into public affairs.  Just as Stalin was wrong to forbid religious practices, religions are wrong to insist that everyone bow their heads and at least pretend to pray in public buildings. I am furious when this happens to me, and even in private non-religious meetings I can fume at the presumption that everyone present is a Christian [see my blog post “Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers,” December 9, 2011;]

There are some atheists who do miss the social aspects of church activities, and these folks have begun organizing Sunday meetings for atheists where non-believers can hear talks and meet other atheists and discuss current problems that concern secularists.  I’ve not been to any of these gatherings, and I’m not going either.  I was raised a Catholic (see “Related Posts” below) and, unlike many of my fellows, I hated church, finding it pointless even when I was very young.  I’m told by atheist friends who attend these nonreligious versions of church that, good intentions aside, they are typically pretty dreary affairs.

Most atheists don’t join atheist organizations (though there are a lot of such groups, many doing important work to combat the excesses of religion).  Most atheists don’t even mention their atheism unless pressed, and sometimes even then they’ll lie and pretend to be theistic just to get along with neighbors or family.  Most atheists consider their nonbelief as a very minor part of who they are, but to the extent they think about it at all they’re usually happy they aren’t caught up in the religious trap.

And that’s what I meant by the title of this post.

Related Posts:

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;

“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012;

“An Atheist’s Christmas Card,” December 23, 2011;

“An Atheist Interviews God,” May 20, 2010;

“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010;