I wrote about Dan Dennet’s TED talk on memes before. Right now, I want to talk about a 25 second section out of it, between 5:00 and 5:25:
I myself am a philosopher, and one of our occupational hazards is that people ask us what the meaning of life is. You have to have a bumper sticker, you have to have a statement, so this is mine:
The secret of happiness:
Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.
He points out that this is The subordination of genetic interests to other interests. No other species does anything like this. Fine, yes, that we know of… but Dennett said that!
What Dennett’s bumper sticker wisdom is advocating here, as the secret to happiness, in “New Testament Terms”: find yourself a god.
In interaction between theist and atheist, this use of theistic language is a great source of strife. Theists sometimes points out that atheists also have a god, and the atheists argue. The reason? Atheists go by the definition of “god” that is “a metaphysical personal sky-daddy that performs miracles”, while the “theological-psychology theory” of god-worship is not that. For a scriptural example, the New Testament talks about the worship of mammon. Says Wikipedia:
Webster defines ‘mammon’ as: 1) the false god of riches and avarice. 2) riches regarded as an object of worship and greedy pursuit; wealth as an evil, more or less personified. Winston defines it to mean: 1) wealth, worldly gain; 2) greed for riches; cupidity. Oxford defines: god of wealth, regarded as evil or immoral; ‘those who worship mammon’ = greedy people who value money too highly.
Mammon is considered a “false god” by Christians, by which they mean mammon is not worth worshipping, that materialism is a degenerate way to live. A non-Christian money-loving capitalist might disagree, believing mammon is worth worshipping. Irrespective of whether mammon is worth worshipping or not, mammon is a “god” in the sense of “meaning/purpose assigner“. This is the concept of “a god” that I’m running with.
Consider another of these greater ideals: humanism. The humanist — committed to the “more important” idea of humanism — would, in “ancient-lingo”, be worshipping a god of reason and empathy/compassion towards his fellow humans (love your neighbour), irrespective of his metaphysical convictions.
With regards to Matthew 22:36-39 then:
36″Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[b] 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Compare that to a humanist that is committed to humanism, an idea more important than himself, with all his heart and all his soul and all his mind, with an integral part of that idea being to love his neighbour as himself. So yes, a humanist has a “god”, when cast into the terminology of that “theological-psychology theory”.
More: the “god” that Pullman (a secular humanist) advocates, is apparently a god of “inquiry, curiosity, maturity, compassion, determination, loyalty, opposing tyranny and evil”. (Hat tip to Timothy Mills for that list — I wrote about it in my post about the Golden Compass.)
Most humans have a “god”: most humans seek a purpose, seek meaning in life, except maybe committed nihilists. And atheists? Well, there are different kinds. You do get nihilistic atheists, but they are really not very common. (I wonder how many nihilists reached nihilism by “deconverting” from a supernaturalist worldview, in comparison to how many naturalists end up at nihilism? The ratio would determine whether supernaturalism might not have to bear much of the blame.) Most atheists are not nihilists. They do have a “god”, that “god” is just not personified and named, and is not an interventionist god.
Comments, thoughts, objections?