In the last chapter of this saga, I been discussing my approach to valuing life – as an atheist but I didn’t really talk about how my views have been shaped and whether or not the values of my earlier faith have played a part.
Well, perhaps unsurprisingly they have, and I value that highly. As I said in an earlier post, I am sort of individualistic – my views about God have not been shaped by reading a lot of philosophy or theology, nor through exposure to a cadre of atheists in the workplace. In fact the ‘theists’ outnumber the atheists in most places I have worked.
I would have benefited from more reading I am sure – and I think I’d be more coherent in my writing about belief if I’d read a lot more in that vein. In a way, having not drunk to deeply from the shiraz and chardonnay of the ‘great thinkers’ on both sides of this debate (are there in fact sides to this?) leaves me free of at least some of the clichÃƒÂ©d arguments that must have been endlessly repeated.
Or at least I hope I am – its my first foray you see, so it is entirely possible that I am saying things that I think are original but that others have indeed heard before – too bad!
As a young Catholic I was exposed to Jesuits, Franciscans, and a range of other groups within the Catholic Church. This gave me a pretty good start in terms of my access to values that I cherish even today. One thing I will say for Christianity is that it does forgiveness better than just about anyone – at least in theory!
The teaching of forgiveness is something that is very valuable, and it is certainly not practiced enough. It is however one of the hardest parts of Christianity – particularly because any objective reading of scriptures makes in pretty clear that it is a must.
So under what framework then can a person that does not believe in God apply forgiveness in daily life. Its not a requirement of me that I forgive anyone. I’m not a superstitious person, and don’t believe in Karma – so why should I forgive anyone anything ever?
I’ve met people who never forgive. Dry bitter people. Just being around them is like having a 9-volt battery permanently attached to your tongue. They age before their time and live lonely lives surrounded only by their fantasies of what could have been – ‘only ifs’.
I do have the added luxury now of being able to consider some individuals guilty of ‘unforgivable’ acts. A pretty small group, thankfully. Like Christians I see redemptive value in individuals and given that we get one chance at life I don’t think people should be abandoned.
So for Christians, forgiveness has a fairly important meaning and is a central part of the teachings of Christ, but what can it possibly mean to an atheist? I’m not speaking for atheists though, I’m speaking for me – and for me forgiveness is an integral part of my acknowledgement that people need to be valued and forgiveness is a leg of the table – take it away and you lose the balance that allows you to honestly value other people.
Why should we value others? I may think independently, but I live in a world full of people who are different to me – and they interest me. I want to get to know them all better. I like people. I’m a little afraid of them, but they are fascinating. They do and say wonderful, funny stupid appalling things all at once. They are contradictions; they are a remote chance, a last hope, a fresh start, an accident and a carbuncle on the rest of the planet.
But they are also the only life form that we know of that has developed the capacity to think and to use this ability to build espresso machines.
Also I am one and by learning about others I learn about myself. By learning to forgive others I can also learn to forgive myself.