He is risen indeed?

Easter is the holiday that probably excites me the most as an atheist–in the sense that I get a bit agitated. That’s because the straw that broke the camel’s back, for me, was my realization that Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead. My evolving Christian faith had always depended on a cosmic happy ending, and that happy ending had been anchored to the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth quite literally overcame death (and that that overcoming would somehow, someday, extend to all or most of “creation”). When I realized how groundless my conviction was, that was it for me.

I could have been a liberal Christian, I suppose. I could have gone the metaphorical route, or whatever. But my Christianity was already so unorthodox that I would have been left with an impersonal “God” unworthy of worship. What’s the point? As a humanist, I get to keep everything good about Christianity–the fun stories about Jesus, the social and political critique–and I get to ditch the bad, all while helping myself to the good in the rest of the world’s religious and philosophical traditions. I get to be a syncretist hack. It’s great! I try to take the good and leave the bad wherever I find it.

Every Easter though, I revisit everything I find stale, frustrating, and false about Christianity. The false hope, the false enthusiasm, the false historical claims. I’ve come to rather appreciate the tragic beauty of the Crucifixion narrative. A peasant prophet man comes into town, railing against the elites and preaching the universal accessibility of God. He then stages a public protest in the temple, and is shortly thereafter betrayed and hung out to dry. If you care about what Jesus of Nazareth obviously cared about, it’s touching and tragic. You know, like all good stories.

But then there’s this silly Easter narrative (silly, at least, on the versions I’m familiar with) that has him overcoming death. I’m happy that’s spawned a hundred or so Zombie Jesus internet memes. From a narrative perspective, it’s a classic deus ex machina. The plot has run its course, things have come to an impasse, and so the narrator has the gods do the dirty work of fixing everything up all tidy. I suppose that “works” for the sake of the story.

But then again, this “savior” of the world gets hoisted up into heaven again, and leaves his followers all alone (convenient, dare I say, to have the man who overcame death take his leave at such an early point in the rest of the story!). What does he leave his followers with? The “Holy Spirit”. An intangible nothing, that means nothing, accomplishes nothing, and is worth nothing.

If Christianity were true, it would be amazing. Life changing. I’d still have plenty of questions for the man upstairs (along the lines of, you know, why so much undeserved suffering?), but at least I’d have something to look forward to. A Happy Ending. But if there is no Holy Spirit–and I haven’t met him, though I pretended I had, for a long time–then Jesus isn’t risen. Jesus is still dead. And if Jesus is dead, then Christianity, in its orthodox form, is false. Worse, it’s probably a waste of time. I suppose there are worse things to believe, a worse ways to waste one’s time, but there you have it.

So Happy Easter. Have some chocolate. Hide some eggs. Play dress up if that’s your thing. But spare us the “he is risen indeed” nonsense. Jesus is dead.

 

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What is a soul?

I was perusing my previous posts on this blog, and I realized I hadn’t written anything specifically about the soul. That’s quite an oversight, since reading and thinking about souls is a lot of what pushed me away from Christianity and towards atheism and humanism. Very briefly then, here’s an outline of my thinking on this topic.

(1) Most people today, in North America, believe in souls. That is my experience, and, to the best of my knowledge, the polls bear it out. This means that most people are not materialists. They think there is “more” to us than the stuff of our bodies–our blood cells, veins, muscles, gray matter, etc.

(2) What the word “soul” means is actually a matter of some debate. When I’ve asked my students, at least, they can’t seem to give me a straight answer. The simplest explanation is that soul-talk is something we’ve inherited from the culture, for whatever reason, and its reference is something underdetermined by its use.

(3) From the perspective of the history of philosophy, the evolution of the idea of the “soul” is easy enough to trace. For the ancients (Plato, Aristotle), the soul is what makes a body alive. Having a soul is what separates the animate from the inanimate. Students are typically surprised to learn that plants have souls (on Aristotle’s conception of the soul), but plants are very different from stones and dirt when you think about it. (“Soul” here is an empirical posit of sorts–it does something, it explains something. Not so, nowadays.) The more rationalist and human-centered approach of Plato has recurring appeal, and shows up, in some version or other in the later work of thinkers like Augustine and Descartes (to choose from two very different time periods). In Descartes’ work, “soul” or “mind” is characteristically human. It is known best through introspection, and it is a fundamentally different kind of stuff than material substance (which, unlike the soul or mind, is extended in space). In a way, materialism has been controversial for as long as people have been thinking about what is necessary to explain the world around us. The notion of the soul has been used as a stop-gap for whatever people have thought mere matter couldn’t explain.

(4) Soul-talk, in brief, is essentially dualistic. That is, it encourages us to view human beings (and perhaps other animals) as matter + something else. The view we get from the natural and human sciences, however, is fundamentally monistic. That is, rather than view human beings as matter + something else, it sees us as very complex organizations of matter. Of course, “matter” itself is weirder than we’d ever imagined. But the fact remains that our best scientific theories (our most empirically successful theories) tell us there is one world–not the two worlds of our culture’s “soul”-talkers.

(5) Soul-talk, as a result, has become obsolete. The reason my undergrads can’t pinpoint the nature of the soul is that it has no nature. At this point in our cultural evolution, the “soul” has become little more than a placeholder for that-which-makes-immortality-possible. My soul is me, minus all the material stuff that makes me me, like my body, my face, my feelings, my personality, and so on (fishy, no?). There’s a good story to tell about why thinking about souls is natural to beings with our evolutionary history (see Pascal Boyer’s work, for example). But we’ve got all sorts of cognitive predispositions which have likely been useful to us in the past, without by the same token telling us anything true about the world. The inchoate sense of a something “more” to life or to human persons is, in all likelihood, one more example of this type of phenomenon.

So what is a soul? Nothing much. Just a figment of our imaginations. A holdover of our evolutionary past; a hangover from Christianity. A lie we need to outgrow.

The problem of divine goodness

In the philosophy of religion, the Abrahamic God is typically thought to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent (i.e., all good). Of course, what it means, concretely, to be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, is up to interpretation. But the three “omni”s are a good starting point for philosophical discussion of theism and atheism. My own atheistic convictions connect most fundamentally to the third “omni”–the claim of God’s omnibenevolence. And this isn’t surprising, since God’s power and knowledge are nothing without his (alleged) goodness. If God were bored, disinterested, or apathetic, being powerful and knowledgeable would be pointless as far as human beings and human affairs are concerned. And so God’s being good is very important. If God is not good, then God is not God.

As I see it however, God is not good. Or, to put the same thought in a different way, there is no good god (and therefore no “God”, as conceived by the major monotheisms). Or, in yet another idiom, I cannot make sense of the affirmation that God is good. Why not?

Well, God is first and foremost (if you believe the stories) the creator of all that is. God is the maker or architect of the cosmos. God’s goodness is therefore reflected in the goodness of “Creation”–of the world. But is the world actually good? In and of itself, I think not.

You see, goodness and badness are evaluative terms that have their home in a basically functional context. A watch, for instance, is defined by its function. Therefore a watch that performs its function well is a good watch, and a watch that does not, is a bad watch. So also a good friend is a friend who does what friends do (listen, hang out, whatever) well. A friend is functionally defined (which is not to say that there’s complete agreement about what friends are for–which is also why there’s disagreement about who counts as a good friend). At the outer edge of this perspective, we can also talk about good people. A good person is a person who does whatever it is we think a person ought to do, and does it well. At the most general level, many of us (humanists, at least) will agree that a good person is a person who is a good citizen, friend, lover, etc. (or whatever other social role we happen to think is important). There’s a decent amount of disagreement about what it matters for a person to be, and so we disagree about what counts as goodness in a person to the same extent. None of this problematizes my key contention that goodness is defined in, and is intelligible in, an essentially functional context.

What of it? Well, in order to speak of God as good, we must find a way to speak of the world (“Creation”) as good–insofar as God’s goodness is supposed to be revealed in the world. But the world revealed to us by the natural sciences (and evolutionary biology in particular) is notoriously amoral. It is neither good nor bad. The physical forces that “create” biological life care nothing for pain or pleasure, for goodness, cruelty, or anything of the sort. Those who survive survive, and those who don’t, don’t. That is all. And evolution is not guided. There is no point to evolution–no direction. And so talk of the purpose or function of evolution is meaningless. For these reasons, I cannot make sense of talk of the universe’s function or purpose. And so I can’t make sense of claims of the universe’s “goodness” either. The universe beyond the realm of the human is neither good nor bad. It just is.

The universe is amoral. What claim then does its supposed “Creator” have to “goodness”? None, as far as I can tell.

I suppose many theists sense this and for this reason claim that God’s goodness is revealed (most fully) not in Creation but in his “providence” or in the Incarnation. Of course, those claims are problematic for different reasons (there is no way to distinguish providence from luck; and there is no evidence for the Incarnation–just off the top of my head).

But anyway, there you have it. I suppose this is my version of the “problem of evil”. Except, my claim isn’t that the existence of evil makes the existence of an all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God improbable. It’s that we have no meaningful basis for speaking about goodness when it comes to the universe as a whole. And therefore none for speaking about goodness when it comes to the universe’s creator.

And if God is not good, then God is not God. I conclude: there is no God.

What matters more than God

I write a lot about God and atheism. That’s because I find value in living with both eyes open, and because I think God goes away (that is, the concept “God” loses its function) when we live with both eyes open. Atheism has been an important step in my own intellectual journey, and so I’m happy to share my reasons for disbelief with others.

But.

God–or more precisely, belief or disbelief in God–isn’t actually all that important. That is, believing or not believing in God doesn’t make the biggest existential difference for most people (in my estimation–I haven’t actually surveyed anyone). What could be more important than whether or not a benevolent superpower created the world and everything in it, you ask?

Death.

Life after death.

Or, as I see it, the fact that there is no life after death, that death is the end of all conscious experience (for the organism that dies).

The most existentially important realization I’ve had, and I think, one of the most existentially important realizations anyone can have, is that my life will end, and there is no hereafter. This is it. This one small shot at living well, and then the lights go out. Of course, I can’t imagine not thinking, what with my own nonexistence being quite literally inconceivable from a first-person standpoint. But the realization that this life is it is life-changing.

More life-changing, I contend, than whether or not there is a God.

The two are hard to separate of course. For most religious folk I know, the belief in an afterlife is all bundled up with belief in a benevolent diety. As some of my undergrads have asked, what’s the point of believing in God if there’s no afterlife? What indeed!

I have no plans to halt my attacks on (the idea of) God. But I thought I’d take a minute to meditate on this wonderful, profound, recalibrating thought.

We’re all going to die.

Two baptist gods

I became an atheist because I became convinced that Christians didn’t have any special epistemic access to God. Or, to put the thought a bit differently, it became apparent to me that, beneath the many gods worshiped by Christians (even within my own small denomination) there was no true “God” to be found. God really is just whatever we think he is (which is why, as feminists note, he is so often a he–but that’s a rant for another day).

Here’s an example. In the small Baptist denomination I came of age in (the Baptist General Conference, or “BGC”), two popular pastors have become very famous for their very different pictures of God. According to Greg Boyd, God is the ultimate source of the universe, but he does not preside over the world like a meticulous architect. He is rather like an artist looking for co-creators. And so, while he may arrange for some things to happen, much of what happens on Earth is not in accordance with his will. The choices of human beings (and of invisible spiritual agents!) are causally important, as is sheer dumb luck. Prayer, on Greg’s view, exerts causal pressure on the world to change it. Christians, on this model, are individuals who have chosen to follow God and who at any moment can act with or against God’s purposes. If they fail to act (through prayer, or some other means), it is possible that God’s will might be thwarted. Though God is in principle “omnipotent” then, he does not exercise that power. Which is just to say that, practically speaking, God is not omnipotent on this model.

According to John Piper, God is not only the ultimate source of the universe, of right and wrong, and of everything everywhere, but he is also the causal source of everything that happens everywhere. If something happens, it is because God has willed it. Though prayer can be said to “change things”, prayer itself is seen as God’s foreordained means for making things happen. God’s will, in other words, cannot be thwarted. Whether someone lives a long happy life, a short miserable life, or whether someone is “saved” or burns in hell for ever and ever… it is all, on this model, because of God and to the glory of God. (Though I should note that Piper does think human beings are responsible for their actions, in spite of their being foreordained, which is why God is not a moral monster for sending sinners to hell.)

If we were to boil down (a bit artificially, I admit) each model to a single buzz word, we could say that, on Greg’s view, the love of God is supreme, and on John’s view, the glory of God is supreme. Of course, each pastor claims to view God as both loving and glorious, but clearly, that plays out differently for each of them. For Greg, the glory of God is his love–and human beings can know what love is without too much hassle. It’s not a big puzzle. For John, God’s glory is his love of himself (since he is so glorious)–a love into which (some) human beings are invited. But human beings, on John’s model, don’t really know what love is until they fall on their knees in front of God (said falling, of course, being itself foreordained for some, but not all, of us).

Let me now state the obvious: these are two different gods.

And, as both pastors are fond of noting in their published works, one’s picture of God is essential in structuring one’s religious and spiritual practice. Which is why followers of Boyd and of Piper (umm, I mean, of Jesus, of course) are so different. Are there similarities? Yes, of course. Enough similarities to warrant calling the Jesus and God of Boyd and Piper the same? Ehh… that’d be stretching it.

For anyone who has traveled a bit–whether literally (geographically) or figuratively (by going to a church of a different denomination, say)–the fact that Christians follow and worship different gods is no surprise. It turns out people tend to follow a god who serves their needs. Not their superficial needs, mind you (like for a new car or bike or lover, or whatever), but their existential needs. Most Christians will refuse to admit this. But it sorta jumps out at anyone who cares to learn a little about different denominations and religions. The fact is, different denominations are different religions. The names of some of the symbols are the same (“Jesus”, “God”, etc.), but the concepts and the practices vary as widely as do human lives.

I suppose there could be a true God and a true Jesus hiding behind all the wrappings and trappings. But then the question remains: how do we learn about such a God? And how do we know this isn’t just another human version?

My preferred explanation will be obvious: there is no God behind all the gods. It’s all wrappings and trappings.

Maybe there is a god…

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again: there are many different versions of Christianity. Personally, I think this should give sectarian Christians (who view their own tradition as the “right” tradition) pause, but that’s a story for another day. I rant and rave about Christianity’s errors on this blog. How do I reconcile that ranting and raving (actually, I try to make reasoned posts, but, you know) with the acknowledgment of multiple targets? After all, some Christians think atheists are basically right about the god of fundamentalists–but they don’t worship that god (see here, for example).

Well, let me say this much. Traditional Christianity, by which I mean the lived faith of most Christians in most of the world, centers, as far as I can tell, on or around the following points:

(1) There is an afterlife. For some (Christians, narrowly or broadly defined) it will be wonderful. For others, it will be dreadful. Going to heaven (or “being resurrected” or whatever) requires something on my part (belief in Jesus, baptism, the Holy Spirit, a “personal relationship” with Jesus/God, and/or whatever–varies from denomination to denomination).

(2) The universe does not exist of its own accord, but was rather created (and is presently sustained) by a personal Creator, who gave the universe its general structure (at the very least), and perhaps also controls much or all of what comes to pass on Earth (as Reformed folk tend to believe). For this reason God deserves our praise, love, and worship.

(3) The Creator God cares about me as an individual. He has a plan for my life. He wants my worship, and unless I explicitly reject him (perhaps even after that) he will “woo” me. This means my life (at least insofar as I am in line with God’s Purpose) has Meaning (given to it by God).

Those are what I would call the big three. Concretely, this is what drives most people. God created the world. God loves me. God wants me to x.

I suppose we could also add these doctrinal afterthoughts (afterthoughts for most Christians, that is):

(a) Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and walked in first century Palestine was and is one with this Creator God. We know the Creator best and most through Jesus. Jesus is therefore metaphysically unique. He is radically unlike other wise folk (Socrates, Buddha, etc.) throughout history.

(b) Jesus performed an act of spiritual and moral magic on the cross (the “atonement”), reconciling those of us who “accept” it to the Creator God.

And there are many, many others. Of course.

When I attack Christianity, I attack it because I think it can be shown that (1), (2), and (3) are false. (a and b are false too, mind you, but they don’t drive most Christians.) There is no evidence to suggest that we should expect the conscious experience to continue beyond death. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary (from evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and psychology, primarily). The claim about God’s “creating” and “sustaining” the universe is philosophically problematic. The claim about God deserving worship is morally problematic, because there is no valid inference from the fact of the universe’s existence to the alleged “goodness” of God (which is presumably a prerequisite for being legitimately worshiped). And finally, there is no reason to suspect that anything other than the generic laws of physics govern our everyday experience. Psychologists have amply documented the way in which we misattribute meaning and purpose to what in fact occurs merely by chance, or through otherwise well understood, non-mysterious, and non-supernatural means. I’m not aware of a single peer-reviewed article documenting rigorous research on ESP, the efficacy of prayer, or anything else Christians and other theists associate with God’s existing and being the God Christians believe he is that supports those beliefs.

For these reasons I say here and I will say again and again, there is no evidence for Christianity.

For what I’m calling “traditional Christianity”, that is.

But maybe, just maybe, this is a straw man. Liberal Christians do not view God as a personal being, perhaps. They do not view prayer as changing anything in the world outside of the mind’s dispositions. God is something else. Jesus’ significance isn’t in his skills at metaphysical moral voodoo. Being a Christian isn’t about believing things at all, but about looking at the world in a certain way, being a certain kind of person, loving others. Etc.

Ok, fine. If that’s all God and Christianity are, maybe there is a god. I’m not sure what the assertion means, if it’s good for anything. But there you have it.

But here’s the counterpoint: pick a Christian at random. From your Facebook friends, say. Tell them: there is no afterlife. There is no personal being governing the realm of human affairs. Jesus didn’t erase an invisible moral “debt” on the cross. And then tell them you’re a Christian. How do you think that conversation will go?

Gods and dragons

Have you heard the one about the fire-breathing dragon? It’s a dragon that lives in my garage. An invisible dragon. That breathes heatless fire. That floats in midair. Undetectably.

Actually, it’s not my dragon, it’s Carl Sagan’s dragon (see here).

But the point is, it’s no dragon at all. An invisible dragon that can’t be detected is just as good as no dragon at all. Because there’s nothing to tell it apart from no dragon at all.

It might not surprise you to learn that atheists think God is kind of like an undetectable dragon. A fantastic creature that curiously seems to evade all recordable detection. Let’s call this atheist argument one.

But since theists are clever and resourceful, there’s an atheist argument two, which is a response to this line of thought: the mistake of the invisible dragon analogy is to think that God is merely one being among others. As if God were a part of the furniture of the universe. But in fact God is beyond being. God is the ground of being. God is the condition for the possibility of being. It is through God that beings are.

Confused? So am I.

This theistic thought is clearly an attempt to bypass the idea that God is just a really big (powerful, smart, clever, generous, etc.) being. Like us, only bigger and better. The theist thinks that imagining God as just a bigger thing is kind of demeaning. And so there’s this attempt to use categories that show that we depend on God, rather than the other way around.

But of course that begs the epistemic question:

Dear Christian, how do you know about this God?

Did he reveal himself to you? How? When? Isn’t this the kind of evidence that could be tested?

If so, then aren’t we back to the dragon scenario? (And I’m still waiting for the evidence.)

If not, how do you know about him?

I’m actually really interested to hear how Christians think this line of thought can be answered. I’m genuinely at a loss. Christianity hasn’t produced any empirically verifiable (or falsifiable) claims. And attempts to bypass the requirement that such claims be produced raise the unanswerable question of how knowledge of a completely transcendent beyond-being being is possible.

The only attempt I’m familiar with is the line of folks like N. T. Wright, who think that history is the key to making sense of Christianity’s truth claims. But their research is… well, controversial, to put it kindly. And should you really need a Ph.D. in early Christian history to know whether or not there’s a God (who loves you!)? Seems odd, no?

Help me out here.

Predictive equivalence

A picture of the world (or “worldview”), such as naturalism, theism, or animism, is what we use to make sense of our past and present experience. But it is also and especially how we make predictions about what is likely to happen in the future, to us and to others. Those predictions then guide our behavior.

The extent to which two worldviews are different, concretely speaking, is the extent to which they make different predictions about what is likely to happen in the future. For example, many American evangelicals believe the world will end soon, in some sort of apocalyptic fashion, and that Jesus will return to Earth, riding on the clouds. There’s a “rapture” in there somewhere too, I think. Less dramatically, many religious folk the world over believe that praying about events or people can change how those events occur or how those people are doing. This is a prediction that flows from their worldview.

A naturalist and a theist then, differ on what effects one ought to expect to follow from prayer. They can agree on certain psychosomatic effects perhaps, but beyond that, the theist is likely to expect divine action of some sort, whereas the naturalist expects nothing of the sort.

The reason I am a naturalist is because I have found naturalism’s predictions to be borne out with a consistency that was quite unheard of in Christian circles. The reason Christians struggle with “unanswered prayer” is precisely because they’ve been taught that God answers prayer. When Christian leaders redefine “answering prayer” to mean “whatever actually happens that you can drawn some sort of lesson from”, believers subconsciously sense the switcheroo. Their predictions constantly need to be adjusted because they don’t fit what actually happens. Things happen in the world as if there were no God. And so to maintain the belief that there is a God, and that he answers prayer, the believer’s understanding of God and of prayer has to constantly evolve.

The endpoint of that evolution is predictive equivalence with naturalism.

There comes a point in the life of reflective believers when they succeed in managing their disappointment. Typically this involves giving up any hope for interesting divine intervention in their lives. Debates over so-called “cessationism” for example (roughly, the view that fancy supernatural signs from God no longer occur) are debates over what it makes sense to expect in our lives. The cessationists have realized that impressive miracles don’t happen, and that we shouldn’t expect them. They fit their theology to their experience. Anti-cessationists see that that concession is uncomfortably close to naturalism (to denying that God is the kind of God who can answer prayer), and so find ways to claim as “signs” from God phenomena which fall far short of the really supernatural (exhibit A: glossolalia; a.k.a. “speaking in tongues”).

So a key question to ask believers is this: what difference does your worldview make in terms of your concrete expectations for everyday life? We could put it more bluntly: please make a falsifiable claim by which your faith might be evaluated.

Believers might well return the favor, so here are some predictions I’m comfortable making as a naturalist:

– All my mental striving / praying / hoping / whatever won’t make a difference to what is in fact a matter of luck (e.g. the ratio of heads to tails in an iterated coin toss, the result of an election).

– If the world “ends” anytime soon, it will be because of boring causes: e.g. ecological devastation, asteroid impact, etc.

– When people die, absent radical medical intervention, or zombification, they stay dead (in their tomb say, or cremated).

Etc. You get the picture.

If a believer can’t identify a single thing that makes their worldview predictively different from naturalism, it’s worth asking them if they aren’t in fact naturalists. They might cling to a label (for understandable reasons, even). But if it doesn’t make a difference to your life, it’s probably not worth believing.

Just sayin’.

Moral anarchy

In political theory, anarchism is the view according to which all authorities are illegitimate. Anarchy in this sense is to be understood not as chaos, but along etymological lines: “an” = no; “arche” = ruler. It seems to me the schools of thought I’m drawn to most in ethics could be categorized similarly, as a kind of moral anarchism.

Moral anarchism, as I see it, as the rejection of moral authority outside of oneself. Now of course, an “anarchist” in this sense would do well to recognize the wisdom and the insight of others. So too, the moral anarchist need not see him or herself as a moral island, disconnected from others. But there is an important difference between recognizing the insights of others and submitting oneself to the will of another. That’s probably not the only way to think of how “moral authority” might work, I suppose. But play along for a bit, and I hope you’ll see where I’m going with this.

Submitting to the moral authority of someone else–whether one’s parents, one’s friends, the Pope, or whoever–is on this view abdicating responsibility for one’s decisions. There are many contexts in which we can get away with this. But the result of such decision making (or lack thereof) if it becomes a habit is living a stunted life.

A rich and full moral life, on the anarchist view, is a life you take responsibility for. You can’t redeal the cards you’ve been dealt. You’re stuck with your looks, your talents, your sex, your race (barring surgical alteration, of course), and so on. But you can play the hand you’ve got with all that you are. The anarchist view here fits in with atheism, because it takes for granted that this is all you’ve got. It’s this one, single hand, and then the show’s over. Are you going to go big, or are you going to go home?

Are you going to let someone else live your life for you? Or are you going to live your own life?

Do you have the courage to forge your own path? Or will you be a sheep, a lemming, your whole life?

To be clear, the challenge we face is not whether to run off into the wild or live a tame, “civilized” life with other people. Assuming the hermit lifestyle doesn’t appeal to you, or isn’t realistically feasible for you, we can take for granted that you’ll be around other people regardless of how you live. The question isn’t whether you’ll live in community. The question is how you’ll live in community. Whether you’ll allow tradition and “how things are done” to swamp your existence, or whether you’ll own the values you want to own and disown the ones you want to disown. Even if you’re an all-out conventional person, there’s a world of difference between going with the flow and owning the flow.

To be a moral adult, on the anarchist view, you have to own who you are.

So. Are you an adult?

An Easter meditation

Happy Easter!

Today is the day Christians around the world celebrate the alleged resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The significance with which this miracle is imbued varies from sect to sect, of course, but for most Christians, the “Resurrection” (you gotta capitalize a miracle) is the central miracle of the Bible. It communicates that God is control. That God is stronger than death itself. And it communicates that, somehow, at some point, there’ll be a cosmic Happy Ending (for at least some).

Easter is the holiday of Happy Ending Christianity.

Happy endings are nice, don’t get me wrong. But Happy Ending Christianity is a lie. There is no life after death. There is no evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead, because there is no evidence that he is alive today. Everything in the world has gone on in the world since Jesus’ alleged resurrection as if he hadn’t been raised from the dead. Nothing has changed. The simplest explanation is probably the best: Jesus is still dead.

There are branches of Christianity that flirt with this acknowledgment. Some liberal Christians will claim that finding Jesus’ remains would have no impact on their faith. That the Resurrection isn’t about flesh and blood, but about spiritual realities. And let me say this much–that’s all well and good. But there’s two ways of interpreting such claims. First, you might in fact be on board with the evidence: Jesus is dead, and his death has been interpreted by his followers in certain ways that give them courage to face their own deaths, so that “in Christ”, death is no more. Metaphor, metaphor, metaphor. Everybody still dies. The Earth still goes up in cosmic flames. No Happy Ending. Second, however, you might be trying to hold on to your Happy Ending, but making it an invisible Happy Ending. So Jesus’ body wasn’t raised from the dead; but his soul was.

Of course, there’s no such thing as an immaterial soul, and so your story is just that–a story. When told as truth, it becomes straight up undiluted hogwash (no offense to hogs).

So make a choice: do you want the Happy Ending? And do you want the mythical, make-believe world that goes along with it? Or are you willing to live in the real world? To sacrifice your guaranteed Happy Ending, for the possibility of some happy endings and some not-so-happy endings, here in the realm of mortals?

I’ve made my choice. I’ve come to the conviction that death is the complete cessation of conscious experience; that meaning and significance and joy are ephemeral human achievements, and not “gifts” bestowed upon us by the universe, or by an allegedly benevolent transcendent deity; and that unless I face the finality of my own death, I will in all likelihood fail to live as fully as I can. Having embraced the reality of my smallness, my materialness, my mortality, and my cosmic insignificance, I am now free from the need for Easter.

Jesus died. As we all will. End of story.

And that’s ok.