September 11th of 2001 was a day that will live in infamy, and on it’s 10 year anniversary, many of us took time to look back on it and how the events of that day rocked our world. As atheists we tend to look at it as a day that really highlights the horrors that religion can bring about. After all, it was on that day 10 years ago that a handful of deeply religious men acting in full accordance with their interpretation of their holy-book committed a horrendous act of mass murder on innocent civilians. As I have often heard it put “Science flies you to the moon, religion flies you into buildings”.
I’ve seen this message very starkly expressed in a popular Internet meme over the last few years. Simply put the meme features a picture of the World Trade Center buildings standing tall on a sunny New York day as they once did. This image features the caption “Imagine no Religion”. This phrase was taken from John Lennon’s famous song Imagine. Since nearly everyone is familiar with this song, and the lyrics are readily available on line, I won’t rehash it’s subject matter other than to say that one friend of mine said the following about it:
“No countries, nothing to fight for, no wars, nothing for men to test themselves against, no religion, no hope for a better existence beyond this, living one day to the next, no wondering about the future of humanity, no religion, no philosophy, no possessions, so no ambition, nothing to drive you, no meaning or purpose for existence, no Alexander the Great, no Churchill, no Caesar, …John Lennon you may call this a dream, but I call it a nightmare.”
Here is my response (feel free to share your thoughts):
1. No religion- since there is no evidence that any of the world’s religions are true, the world would be a better place without them. What good is a hope if there is no good reason to think it will be fulfilled? It is far better for people to make decisions about the world based on what is actually likely, rather on some hope that things will be better when they die. The realization that life is finite makes people try to live everyday to the fullest. Religion is one of if not the biggest sources of violence, hatred, pain, suffering and divisiveness in human history.
2. No wars: How can you say that without wars men would have nothing to test themselves against? We are constantly testing ourselves by improving our ability to survive longer in the natural world, in the business world people are constantly testing themselves through competition, in athletics people are constantly pushing the limits of what their physical bodies can do. In science and intellectual pursuits people constantly test themselves by pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and improve lives as a result. Wars on the other hand, destroy human lives, well-being and wealth. The fact that they give men something to test themselves against is in no way a justification for the destruction they cause.
3. No philosophy: I don’t think that one is in the song, in fact the song seems to be sharing a sort of personal political philosophy.
4. No possessions: I personally like possessions, but it is possible that Lennon meant that he preferred wealth be spread more evenly throughout society and concentrations of power be dismantled (He’s dead though so I can’t ask him & ironically he was a guy who had a great deal of possessions and wealth).In such a society people would still have ambition and be driven to innovate by their desire to make life easier for themselves, gain knowledge,and experience new things etc. Also if access to wealth is more abundant to all, it means less people will be dependent upon small numbers of elites for work, and as such will be freer to pursue what ever type of inquiry one wants. (Note: the extent to which such an arrangement is possible is highly debatable, but I think that is what the song is saying, and have no problem with someone throwing it out there.)
5. “No meaning or purpose for your existence” The purpose and meaning for your existence are the purpose and meaning you choose. There is no authority but yourself. You don’t need a celestial dictatorship to assign meaning to your life, and even if you desire one, it does not matter because there is no evidence to suggest there is one, anyway. I personally, find meaning in the time spent with my friends and loved ones and exploring this amazing world and learning more about this amazing universe we live in. For me the human experience is more than worthwhile in and of it self and the fact that it does not stretch into eternity does not change this for me.
Alexander the great and Caesar were warlords who fancied themselves as Gods and used theft and violence to gain dictatorial power and force others to pay them tribute. While their military genius may have been admirable and impressive they used it for offensive purposes and much of what they did should not be glorified.
Churchill is a slightly different case since he was fighting a defensive war against Nazi Germany. I honestly share John Lennon’s hope that one day we will cease to see attacks from regimes like Nazi Germany and not need people like Churchill, to counter them with further violence.
That is why, this September, let’s not take for granted the struggle that took place to make the life you live so much nicer and more comfortable than that of your ancestors, and the role that science and technology contributed to this. Also, let’s try to be more mindful of how harmful dogmatic, rigid belief systems can be and try to be more open to the possibility we all could be wrong about even our most cherished beliefs.