When one is an atheist in small town conservative America, one learns to play things close to the vest. Maybe later, after getting to know someone, the truth may be divulged. But it is known that premature sharing comes with a significant amount of risk. It’s a lovely place where the wrong bumper sticker will get your car keyed.
One company in that small town, named after a biblical location no less, asked about my religious beliefs during a job interview. That was my first clue that the game was afoot.
Later, when applying for another job in that same small town, my due diligence ended up freaking me out. I didn’t particularly get a good feeling from my research and, thanks to the internet, learned the owners of the company were flamboyantly religious. I was on a quest to get out of the frying pan and into the fire, so naturally I didn’t let this slow me down.
Despite shouting his religion for all to see, the man was one of the most unethical business people I’d ever met. And that’s saying a lot. He was no slouch. Yet there he was, up on the high ground, at least in his mind, looking down his nose at everyone else. Compensate much?
When office discourse finally turned to matters of politics and religion, I defiantly let fly with my disclosures. His reaction was one of thoughtfulness and class. “Atheist, eh? I have a question. Why don’t you kill people?”
Although flabbergasted by the audacity, I still think I handled it with style and aplomb, especially considering the source. “You don’t kill people because God forbids it,” I said. “I don’t kill people because I choose not to. It’s my decision.”
Right and wrong. Good and evil. Yin and yang. Night and day. Black and white. Betamax and VHS. DVD and Blue-ray.
But now, after assessing more empirical data, I now think, perhaps, I was a bit hasty. It’s time to bust out with yet another theory. I got a million of ’em.
As an atheist, I’d given the matter some thought. What do we know? The universe is comprised of matter and energy. So, ultimately, I reasoned, there is no such thing as right and wrong and good vs. evil. Everything we know and see is just one collection of atoms interacting with other atoms.
Murder? The taking of another life? That’s just this bunch of matter and energy reacting with that other blob of matter and energy, both of which are transformed into another state of being. Big deal.
But, if that was true, why wasn’t I out killing, too? Something was modifying the limits of my behavior. If it wasn’t a belief in a supreme being, then what?
Eventually I decided that it was humanism based, at least in part, on self interest. Based on what I’d seen, certain courses of action would be detrimental to my welfare and existence. (I call this empathy with the future.) The probabilities of undesirable outcomes from such behavior were exponential. I had decided, through genetic disposition, environment and reasoning that I didn’t like pain (at least while I remain alive) so why would I want to cause pain in others? There was no obvious benefit. I was a secular humanist. It seems logical to me. Life is hard and we’re all in this together. What good can come from running around and deliberately making it worse?
But now, here I am and it’s time to revise my beliefs. Again. It’s time to take it to the next level. And, again, it’s based on empirical data.
I believe if something is true, there’s no use crying about it. Might as well embrace it. To deny a truth would be illogical. And what is true? That there is no such thing as “right” and “wrong.” (Good and evil if you will.) Those, apparently, are nothing more than imaginary human constructs.
How did I come to this conclusion? Simple observation. By far, the vast majority of human behavior falls into the classification that I naively have known as “evil.” But, if that’s true, then the whole good vs. evil thing must be false. There is no “good.” If everyone is doing the same thing, then that’s not the exception. It’s the norm. The average. The way that it is.
Thus, human behavior itself becomes the proof that “good” and “evil” are nebulous and non-existent concepts. All that remains is the way things really are. That’s the only possible conclusion from the singularity of human selfish-based actions.
An aberration like myself, an alien if you will, is an obvious mutation. Perhaps the only purpose of my existence is to compare and contrast. Not that it matters much. With no good or evil, life matters even less than I thought.