An Atheist Experiment

13 02 2011

(This is the first of a three part post wrapping up my thoughts on atheism.)

Let’s pretend we’re atheists and we’re spending the day at a local park having a picnic with our family and lazily watching the world go by. Just under the large oak tree twenty yards away, there is a casual, work-related volleyball tournament going on with players of all different sizes, abilities, and ethnicities. Off to our left there’s a couple in their early 30s napping in the sun and chatting about this and that. Just behind us a man with his dog is doing laps around the park. Parks are a good place to be on a Sunday, I say to myself. No one on their cell phones, no one on Facebook. The air is fresh, the sun warm, the grass cool. It’s a perfect, Pasadena day, and presiding over all of this are the San Gabriel mountains looming in the distance, sentinels of silence that give all our little park pageantries some perspective.

I get in a pensive mood, as is my wont, and I start to think about what’s going on around me in more existential terms. I’m happy that so many people look relaxed and are having a good time, but what’s it all about? I mean, what’s it really all about, all this laughter and happiness and good cheer? Well, it is exactly what it appears to be: people having a good time together, having fun, playing and relaxing. Okay, yes, that’s true. But what does all that mean? Well, it means that people are hardwired to like each other’s company, that people enjoy playing as a way to distract themselves from the vicissitudes of life, and that exercise and good company stimulates endorphins and Serotonin production, both of which make us happy and stress-free.

So it all comes down to chemicals, does it? Well, yeah, but who cares? All of life comes down to chemicals, and we make the best of our situation. We’re here for a limited time on our way to oblivion and this short, quick burst of existence called life is all there is ~ it’s all we’ve got, and it’s a miracle, relatively speaking. I mean, what are the chances? Here we are, living beings, made up of a material formed by a random sequence of events driven by natural selection, which produces in all living things the urge to survive, and to what purpose? To go to parks, play volleyball, lie in the sun, walk our dogs. But isn’t that circular?… that the meaning of all this is… this? Of course it’s circular, silly, since there is no meaning beyond what is. It is what it is. (Something deep in my cerebral cortex resists momentarily ~ somewhere long ago someone once said that all circular definitions are meaningless… but then someone suddenly spikes the ball and everyone cheers, and the thought vanishes as quickly as it came.)

So anyway, we make the best of it. But “making the best of it” is a chemical thing, too, right? I mean, putting this all into perspective is, itself, a chemical reaction that we call “a decision,” and in fact, everything we do and think is the result of our particular chemical make-up thrown into relationship with a given environment’s input, which conspire together to create consciousness of our existence at any particular moment, correct? Correct. (Again, a deep impulse in my cerebral cortex flinches momentarily, but quickly sinks beneath the surface.)

The man with the dog walks by. Looks like he’s alone, probably a widower. Bet he loves his dog. Well, “loves” his dog, since… well, right. Anyway, nice-looking dog. Man, and those mountains look so clear today.

I wonder what’s on TV tonight?

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