|Chapter 26 - What does it all mean?|
Let us pause for a moment and review the evidence that we have seen in the prior 25 chapters. If God exists, how do we explain all of the different things that we have seen?
On the other hand, if we assume that God is imaginary, then all of these questions are very easy to answer. Our world makes complete sense.
What you realize, if you take the time to probe into your religion and think about it deeply, is that all of this evidence is telling you something important. It is telling you, clearly and concisely, that God is imaginary.
If you are a Christian, I realize that your immediate reaction may be to completely ignore what you have read here and turn away from it. Rather than turning away, however, I would ask you to examine all of the evidence that you have seen in this book. Think about the questions at the top of this page. Give your mind permission to understand what the evidence actually means. Allow your brain to analyze your religion rationally. What you will find is that all of this evidence points in the same direction: God is imaginary.
Reviewing the evidence
In this book we have looked at God from many different angles. What we have found is that there is no evidence for God's existence. God does not answer prayers. God did not write the Bible. God has not incarnated himself. In other words, God is imaginary.
How do we know, for sure, that God does not answer prayers? As described in section 1, we simply pray and watch what happens. What we find is that nothing happens. No matter how many people pray, no matter how often they pray, no matter how sincerely they pray, no matter how worthy the prayer, nothing ever happens. If we pray for anything that is impossible -- for example, regenerating an amputated limb or moving Mt. Everest to Newark, NJ -- it never happens. We all know that. If we pray for anything that is possible, the results of the prayer will unfold in exact accord with the normal laws of probability. It is easy to demonstrate this fact. For example, if we ask 1,000 devout Christians to pray that a coin toss come up heads, and we then have all one thousand of the Christians flip a coin one time, about 500 of them will see their coins land tails. If we repeat the experiment, the same thing will happen. In every situation where we statistically analyze the effects of prayers, looking at both the success AND the failure of prayer, we find that prayer has zero effect. That happens, always, because God is imaginary. Every time a Christian says, "The Lord answered my prayer," what we are seeing instead is a simple coincidence. Christians never talk about failed prayers, but if we look at all the prayers that fail as well as the prayers that work, a statistical analysis proves that God does not answer prayers. Seesection 1 for details.
How do we know, for sure, that God did not write the Bible? As discussed insection 2, we simply read the Bible and note how uncomfortable it is in so many places. We note that God is a huge proponent of slavery in the Bible, despite our absolute certainty as normal human beings that slavery is a moral abomination. We note that God is a huge misogynist in the Bible, despite our certainty that misogyny is a moral abomination as well. We note that God kills huge numbers of babies and small children in the Bible, and we know that this is both an atrocity and horrifically disgusting. We note that God, who is supposed to be all-knowing, knows no more than the primitive men who actually wrote the Bible. And so on. Anyone who takes the time to actually read the Bible rapidly reaches the conclusion that the Bible was written by primitive men, not by an all-knowing God. See section 2 for details.
How do we know, for sure, that Jesus was a normal human being? As described insection 3, we can ask this simple question: If a man were to proclaim himself to be the son of God today, what would we do? We would want to see incontrovertible proof. Jesus does not get a pass because he lived 2,000 years ago. We note the fact that none of Jesus' miracles left any lasting evidence. For example, even though Jesus proclaimed that anyone can move a mountain, we note that no one -- not even Jesus -- has moved a mountain. All of Jesus' miracles are either faith healings or magic tricks, and we all know that faith healers and magicians are frauds. We also note that there is no evidence that Jesus is resurrected. Jesus could easily appear to each of us in the flesh to prove that he is resurrected, just as he did with Paul. Yet Jesus never does that. If he did, there would be thousands of videos floating around on the Web showing Jesus' appearances. We note that Jesus says dozens of things in the Bible that are plainly wrong. We note that even though Jesus is the all-powerful creator of the universe and promises to answer prayers, all of his churches depend on the money of mere mortals to support themselves. And so on. It is obvious that Jesus was a man like any other. See section 3 for details.
It is also interesting to note that, by proving any one of these things, we have automatically proven the other two. For example, once we know that the Bible was written by primitive men rather than God, then it is automatic that God does not answer prayers and that Jesus was a completely normal human being. The Bible is the book that tells us about prayer and Jesus, so if the Bible is meaningless then prayer and Jesus are meaningless as well. The fact is that we have proven all three things separately. Jesus is not God, the Bible is not the word of God, and God never answers prayers. These three things are true, therefore, both directly and by association
Understanding your delusion
In this book there is a tremendous amount of evidence showing us that God is imaginary. You have just seen 25 chapters of good, solid, easily-digested evidence. It would be easy to present a hundred more chapters just like them. The evidence is all around us.
On the other hand, there is no evidence showing that God is real. A Christian can point to prayer, but it is easy to disprove the efficacy of prayer with statistical analysis (see Section 1). A Christian can point to the Bible, but it is easy to show the myriad problems with the Bible (see Section 2). There is no verifiable evidence for Christians to present.
Is God real, or is he imaginary? At this point, we have our answer. We can look at all of this evidence and we can see that God is imaginary. Christianity is a delusion. Religion in general is a delusion.
I understand that the word "delusion" is uncomfortable. However, it is the correct word in the English language to use. The dictionary defines "delusion" in the following way:
I know what you are thinking. If you are a Christian, you are thinking, "I am not delusional. Christ is the way, the truth and the life." What if I could show you your delusion? What if I could hold up a mirror that would allow you to see your own delusion in the reflection? If you would like to clearly see how the delusion of Christianity works, please read Understanding Delusion.
All religion is delusion. With any luck you can see that now, and you can start down the road to recovery -- you can begin the process of healing that will free you from your own personal delusions.
What does it mean?
There are three reasons why it is important for us to speak honestly and openly about the delusion of religion:
Reason #1: Religion truly is delusional
Let's start by asking a question: Does it matter? In this book we have proven, conclusively, that God does not answer prayers, that God did not write the Bible and that Jesus is not God. In other words, the God of popular religion is imaginary. But does it really matter? What difference does it make if half of the people in the United States want to believe in an imaginary being? What does it hurt?
Let's ignore the danger that can be found in the ashes of 9/11/2001, and the subsequent events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Madrid and London. There are many zealous and misguided Muslims who believe that, through Jihad, they must kill non-Muslims -- Christians and Jews in particular. Let's ignore that.
Let's ignore the ill effects of religion around the world over the last several decades. We have Muslims killing Christians (and vice versa), Jews killing Muslims (and vice versa), Protestants killing Catholics (and vice versa), Shiites killing Sunnis (and vice versa), etc., etc. All of it is completely pointless, because all human gods are imaginary. But let's ignore all of that killing and destruction.
Let's also ignore all of the insanity that religion has brought us through the ages -- the crusades, the witch hunts and all the rest. Let's ignore it because it's all water under the bridge.
Even in the United States -- a modern, advanced nation -- religion creates problems. The delusion created by Christianity is so extreme and so pervasive at the moment that we have Supreme Court justices and politicians who publicly claim that God handed down the Ten Commandments to us in the Bible (see chapter 13). These justices and politicians are speaking about a book that openly advocates slavery and misogyny along with many other notions that are beyond absurd. Yet no one can question their claims in public because it is far too dangerous (see next section for details).
To have otherwise intelligent Americans babbling on about an imaginary God like this is dangerous, if for no other reason than this one: If so many people are this delusional in the area of religion, it makes you wonder where else they harbor equally significant delusions in their thinking. In addition, religion in America is now actively restraining scientific research and social progress. The problem that American scientists are having with stem cells is just one of the many manifestations of the problem today.
There is also growing evidence that the delusion of religion may cause significant social dysfunction. Statistical research is revealing the problems that go with religious delusion. For example, a recent article in the Journal of Religion and Society points out that religion is correlated to the significant social difficulties that we can see in America:
Reason #2: We must freely discuss the delusion of religion
Religion creates significant free-speech and free-thinking issues both here in the United States and around the world. Let me help you to understand what I mean when I say that, and offer a solution to the problem.
Let's imagine that any normal, intelligent American were to stand up in public today and say something like this: "I do not believe that an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God wrote the Bible or the Ten Commandments. The reason why I don't believe it is because the Bible openly advocates slavery and misogyny in both the Old and New Testaments. God could not love slavery or hate women." See section 2 for details on his statement.
In today's America, being branded as an atheist is poisonous. It is as poisonous as being branded during the McCarthy era in the 1950s. Imagine someone who has been branded as an atheist trying to run for public office in America today. Many christians are so polarized and so sensitive right now that they will crush anyone with an opinion contrary to their own. Once branded as an atheist, the candidate is attacked in the public forum.
Then look at the rest of the world. In many Islamic countries, women cannot freely choose how they dress, much less what they do, where they work or how they behave. They often cannot even drive a car. The repression of women's freedom in Islamic countries is well known, and ridiculous.
There really is only one solution. It is time for Americans, both religious and non, to openly discuss the evidence showing that God is imaginary. Let's stop hiding the discussion, or attacking it. Let's talk openly. Let us have an honest, open, rational, civil conversation about all of the evidence that we have seen in this book.
If we have that debate in an open forum, the majority of us will reach agreement that God is imaginary. The reason why we will come to that conclusion is because the evidence, as presented in this book, overwhelmingly favors it.
We must also recognize as a society that there is no such thing as an atheist. We must end the branding and the name-calling.
Reason #3: Understanding why people create religions
What I am proposing to you in this book is both quite profound and quite baffling. It is this: Everything that we associate with religion is imaginary. God, the Bible, Jesus, the resurrection, prayer, the Ten Commandments, the creation story, your soul, everlasting life, heaven... every bit of it is the product of human imagination. The same goes for Allah, the Koran and so on. As a species we have believed all of this religious dogma for centuries, and most of us believe it today to some degree. And yet... it is all fiction. It is just as fictional as were the gods of the Egyptians, the Romans and the Aztecs. We have seen 25 chapters of clear, unambiguous evidence and all of it supports this conclusion.
If it is so obvious that God is imaginary, then why might half of the American population profess belief in God? We have asked this question throughout the book because the whole situation is profoundly strange. Why would we, as a species, create all of this mythology and nonsense over and over again through the millennia? We must do it for a reason.
If we can understand the reasons and deal with them rationally rather than through the silliness and mythology that is religion, we actually can do ourselves a great deal of good.
There are two important reasons why humans fabricate all of our religions:
Once we understand why we create religion, we can begin creating the social structures that will replace religion. The remainder of the book discusses this process.
Chapter 27 - When you die, you die
Death is a central feature of every human life. As we live, we know that we will die.
For some reason, many people find death terrifying and mystifying. Throughout the ages this terror has been a constant. You can go all the way back to the Neanderthals and find that they buried their dead. They even placed flowers and other artifacts in the grave. This was happening tens of thousands of years ago. Obviously death has been a very big deal for a very long time.
The central feature of the Christian faith, therefore, is "eternal life." In John 3:16 we find the signature verse of Christianity on this topic:
- "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
If you are terrified by the idea of death, you can imagine that the promise of "eternal life" is quite compelling. This is one of the fundamental reasons why so many people turn to religion.
There is only one problem: "eternal life" is a fabrication. The Bible is a fictional book written by primitive men (see section 2), so its promise of eternal life is make-believe.
The reality of the human condition is quite simple, and it is this: the time that we have on earth is all the time that we have. For many people this idea is terrifying, but it is a fact of life:
- There is neither heaven nor hell. These two places are fairy tale worlds that spring from the human imagination.
- You do not have an "everlasting soul." The concept of a soul is completely imaginary.
- People do not have "eternal life" after their deaths. The whole notion of eternal life is a fantasy.
- People do not meet back up with dead friends and family members in the afterlife, nor is there any reincarnation.
- There are not 72 virgins waiting for you in heaven if you martyr yourself in a suicide bombing.
- And so on...
Some people have a tremendous amount of trouble getting their arms around this fact of life. Chances are that you have heard about "eternal life" and your "everlasting soul" since you were a toddler. Heaven is as deeply ingrained in you as is your native language. Nonetheless, "everlasting life" is imaginary. Let's look at the evidence so that you can better understand this.
Understanding the chemistry of life
It should be obvious to all of us that "eternal life" is imaginary. Simply by understanding the chemistry of life you can see why life after death is impossible.
To understand how death works, we can start with a bacterium cell. A bacterium is a tiny bag (a cell membrane) filled with a variety of molecules. These molecules react together in different ways to create what we call life. Some of the molecules react to build and repair the cell wall. Some of the molecules react in ways that allow the cell to move. Some of the molecules react to provide energy to the cell. And so on. A bacterium cell is a little chemical machine.
One of the molecules inside a bacterium cell is a long DNA strand. There are molecules floating around the DNA strand that are able to copy parts of the DNA to manufacture new molecules that the cell needs.
Although all of these molecules are reacting in fascinating, interlocking ways, they are still nothing more than chemicals reacting. The "miracle of life" is no miracle -- it is a big chemical reaction.
Let's say that a foreign molecule gets into the bacterium cell and it gums up a part of the DNA chemistry. Or let's say that something damages the DNA strand in the bacterium so the cell can no longer manufacture an important molecule that it needs. Eventually the chemical reactions inside the bacterium will stop. The cell "dies." Its cell wall breaks down and bursts. All of the chemicals inside the cell float away and the bacterium ceases to exist.
A bacterium is nothing but a set of chemical reactions. When those reactions stop, the cell is dead.
Now here is the question: When the bacterium dies, does it go to heaven?
I know what you are thinking: "Does it go to heaven??? Of course not!!!" It does not matter who you are -- religious or not. There are not many people in the United States who believe that bacteria go to heaven. The Bible does not talk about heaven being filled with all the disease, putrefaction and pestilence that bacteria cause. And what, exactly, would go to heaven? Do all of the bacterium's molecules get transported to heaven so that they can keep reacting? If that were happening, there would be thousands of tons of chemicals leaving earth every day. Obviously bacteria do not go to heaven.
Next let's look at a mosquito. A mosquito is much more complex than a bacterium cell. For one thing, a mosquito is a multi-cellular insect with some amazing (though annoying) capabilities. But if you look at each cell in a mosquito, it is very much like a bacterium in its basic functioning. A cell in a mosquito is a fascinating series of DNA-based chemical reactions -- nothing more. When those chemical reactions cease, the mosquito dies.
Mosquitoes obviously do not go to heaven. Think of how many mosquitoes have lived and died over the course of millions of years. No one imagines heaven being full of septillions of everlasting mosquitoes.
What about a mouse? Ditto. Mouse cells are little chemical factories churning away. They are fascinating, but they are soulless and inert. Mice do not go to heaven -- if they did, then heaven would be overrun with quadrillions of mice.
What about dogs? Lots of vets and pet owners would argue with you here, but dogs do not go to heaven either. When they die, they die.
What about chimps -- the closest living relatives to humans? Ditto.
So what about humans?
The human body is nothing but a set of chemical reactions. The chemical reactions powering a human life are no different from the reactions powering the life of a bacterium, a mosquito, a mouse, a dog or a chimp. When a human being dies, the chemical reactions stop. There is no "soul" mixed in with the chemicals, just like there is no soul in a bacterium, a mosquito, a mouse, a dog or a chimp. There is no afterlife, no heaven or hell, for the chemicals that make up a human body.
This concept -- this idea that a human being simply ceases to exist upon death -- drives many people absolutely nuts. They cannot imagine it. "Me? Die? I am going to totally cease to exist? All my thoughts, all my experiences, all my relationships, all of my ideas and memories... It all simply vanishes and I am gone? Impossible!!!"
Nonetheless, that is the reality of the situation.
You are a collection of chemical reactions. When these chemical reactions cease, you die. When you die, "you" cease to exist. Imagining eternal life and creating a fantasy called "heaven" does not change anything. When you die, you are dead.
Talking to Christians
If you talk to a Christian about the reality of death, you can clearly understand that the notion of heaven and everlasting life is imaginary. Each conversation will be different, but a typical conversation might go something like this:
- Christian: What you are saying is completely devoid of hope! Jesus transcends death and promises eternal life to all who believe in him! Lift up your heart to the Lord Jesus Christ and he will give you eternal life!Norm: OK, how will he do that?
Christian: Have you ever read the book called "Left Behind?"
Christian: You should! They have sold over 20 million copies of the book, because it is the truth! It describes exactly what will happen. One day the Lord Jesus calls his children home, and they are carried straight to heaven! Airplanes crash because their pilots have vanished. Cars run into phone poles. This is exactly what is described in the Bible.
Norm: The people completely vanish?
Christian: Yes. All that is left behind is their clothes, their jewelry and their hearing aids! The believers are transported directly to heaven!
Norm: Their naked bodies are transported to heaven?
Norm: There are six billion people on the planet. They each weigh about 150 pounds or so. Are you telling me that God lifts a trillion pounds of human flesh off the planet in an instant?
Christian: Absolutely not! Only the believers are transported!
Norm: OK, half a trillion pounds?
Norm: And where does this half a trillion pounds of flesh go?
Christian: To heaven!
Norm: To heaven... where is that?
Christian: It is in another dimension, of course! God lives in heaven!
Norm: How do all the bodies get to this "other dimension" called "heaven"? Do they float up into the sky and then travel through the vacuum of space?
Christian: No, silly! They are dematerialized and then rematerialize in heaven!
Norm: So you are saying that half a trillion pounds of naked human flesh are somehow "dematerialized" out of our universe, and then they "rematerialize" in "another dimension" called "heaven?" And the "dematerializing" process somehow distinguishes between natural human flesh and unnatural things like clothing and hearing aids?
Norm: So... what if the person has artificial heart valves, a couple of stents and two titanium hip joints? Are those ripped out of his body and left behind with his jewelry?
Norm: And what happens to that poor person, whose heart collapses and whose legs are now flopping around detached from his pelvis?
Christian: The book doesn't really talk about that... I imagine God would fix them up!
Norm: And what about all the people whose bodies are wracked with cancer and AIDS and emphysema?
Christian: God fixes them all up too!
Norm: And what about all the decrepit 80-year-old bodies?
Christian: God gives them new, young, beautiful bodies!
Norm: And what about all the people whose bodies have died and decomposed?
Christian: God gives them young, new, beautiful bodies too!
Norm: So why bother transporting the bodies of the believers to heaven? Why not just give everyone a new, young, beautiful body and leave their old bodies on earth?
Christian: The Bible says that your body is transported to heaven! It is right there in black and white in the "Left Behind" books! That is God's will!
Norm: OK, so heaven is full of people whose bodies or corpses or whatever have been "dematerialized" from earth, and then "rematerialized" in "heaven." And then the dematerialized/rematerialized bodies are discarded, and they are replaced with new, young, beautiful bodies?
Christian: Yes! Now you understand the power of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Norm: What happens next?
Christian: The believers all live in heaven in peace, harmony and joy for eternity!
Norm: What is heaven like?
Christian: We get to reunite with all of our dead friends and family members! We get to meet our ancestors for the first time!
Norm: What about people like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin?
Christian: Everyone is there! You can talk to anyone all through history! Plus you get to meet God and Jesus. I can't wait to meet Jesus!
Norm: That sounds like fun. What else?
Christian: Well, the streets are paved in gold! It says so in the Bible! And everyone has a big house! And you can eat whatever you want and not get fat! And really, you just do anything that makes you happy! Everyone is always happy!
Simply talk to Christians about heaven. Ask them to describe what heaven is like, and how they will get there. You will be able to feel the absurdity of this notion in two different ways:
- There is the direct absurdity as in the dialog above, where the creation of entirely new and completely imaginary "dimensions" and "materialization processes" tells you everything you need to know about how delusional things can get.
- There is also the absurdity that comes when you compare any two people's views of heaven. Everyone's fabrication of heaven is different. For some it involves harps and clouds and halos. For others it involves hot and cold running virgins. For some people, the actual body is transported magically to heaven as described in the "Left Behind" books. For others, your "soul" floats out of the body and makes it way to St. Peter. And so on. People make up anything they like, because heaven is a completely imaginary place.
We imagine that we have "souls," fabricate the concept of "eternal life" and then fantasize a place called "heaven," complete with streets of gold, calorie-free foods, frolicking virgins and whatever else we can come up with. Christians imagine it so vividly and repeat the fantasy so often that they actually believe it to be reality.
How bizarre can the fantasies get? Fly to Cairo and take a look at the Great Pyramid. There is the pyramid itself -- still one of the largest man-made objects on earth. In addition there is the whole mummification process, the disassembled boats, the sacred artwork and so on. All of this was designed to help the pharaoh reach the afterlife. We look at it now and we all know, with absolute certainty, that it was a complete and total waste of time. The Egyptian notion of the afterlife was a fantasy.
The Christian notion of the afterlife is a fantasy in exactly the same way.
The fact is that, at a biochemical level, we are no different from mosquitoes. The chemical substrate that supports human life is exactly the same as the chemical substrate that supports mosquito life. Neither humans nor mosquitoes go to heaven.
The big difference between a human and a mosquito is the fact that humans have the brainpower to imagine a place called heaven. The fact that we can imagine heaven, however, does not mean that it exists. If you think about whatever your fantasy world of heaven looks like in your brain, you will realize that it is just as strange and ridiculous as the version of heaven outlined in the dialog above. It is also as ridiculous as the Great Pyramid. None of these heavens exist.
The fact that death is an uncomfortable notion does not change its reality. If you don't like the idea of dying, you can create whatever fairy tales that you would like. People have been creating all sorts of fairy tales for thousands of years -- This is where religion comes from. But those fairy tales do not change the central reality that surrounds death.
When you die, you die. You do not live on in the "afterlife." Pouting over this fact, or getting depressed, or imagining places like heaven does not change the basic fact that you are big, walking chemical reaction. When the reaction stops, you are completely dead. There is no everlasting soul mixed in with the chemicals.
The Horror of Death
You can better understand how uncomfortable death is if you look at the reaction of a child. In my household, this discomfort first surfaced with the death of Hamsty. Let me tell you about Hamsty, because his story illustrates a central point about death.
Hamsty, as you might have guessed, was a hamster. I have four children, and at the time of Hamsty's death they were ages 7 (David), 4 (Irena) and 2 (John and Ian). Hamsty was their pet. He lived in a deluxe two-bedroom hamster condominium in the kids' playroom. The kids loved Hamsty -- they would feed him, change his water, watch him, take him out of his cage to play with him and so on.
Hamsty, being a small rodent, had a limited lifespan. One day he got sick. The next day we found him dead. He had died peacefully in his sleep in his upper penthouse sleeping quarters.
The twins were apoplectic once they realized what had happened. This truly surprised me. They ran around the house crying "Hamsty died!" over and over again. Every time they were reminded of it, the chorus would start anew. They fell asleep crying about Hamsty's death, but by the next day they had stabilized.
Far more interesting, however, was Irena's response. Irena loves pets and would have hundreds if we let her. She has a video called "Paws, claws, feathers and fins" that she has watched dozens of times. On this video, kids talk about their pets, show what is necessary to properly care for different kinds of pets, and so on.
PCFF happens to have a segment where a small pet dies. The kids in the video put him in a little box and bury him in the backyard. Irena had seen this segment so many times, and she wanted to bury Hamsty in a similar way.
Irena and I found a small jewelry box. We placed Hamsty gently in the box and put the lid on. She asked if she could pat him, and I took the lid off so she could pat him one last time, which she did very gently. And she seemed fine with it. We found a trowel, and we went out to the backyard and dug a hole. As I was about to put Hamsty in the hole she asked to pat him again. She patted him very gently, and again she seemed fine with it. I put Hamsty in the hole and asked Irena if she wanted to put the dirt back into the hole. She did not, so I did.
Keep in mind that Irena was four years old, and four-year-olds are famous for asking lots of questions. As I was burying Hamsty, she asked me a question: "Can I pat Hamsty tomorrow?"
- Me: Well, no, probably not.Irena: Why not?
Me: Well, usually, once you bury someone you don't dig them back up. We call it respecting the dead.
Me: Well, for one thing, a dead body turns back to dust, so there really isn't much to dig back up. Hamsty will turn to dust.
Irena: Why will he turn to dust?
Me: Everything living turns to dust when it dies. Worms will eat him, bacteria will eat him. He will decompose and turn to dust.
Irena: Will it hurt? Won't that hurt?
Me: Well, no, Hamsty is dead, so he won't feel anything.
- Irena: Is grandpa going to die?Me: Yes, he is. Everyone dies eventually.
Irena: Will worms eat him?
Me: Yes, Grandpa's body will turn to dust.
- Irena: Are you going to die?Me: Yes, I will die. But it won't be for a lot of years.
Irena: Will worms eat you?
Me: Yes, they will.
- Irena: Will I die?Me: Yes. Everyone dies.
Irena: And worms will eat me? I don't want to be eaten by worms! I don't want to be buried in the ground!
What you can see here is important. The thought of dying is a remarkably troubling concept. How can it be that a person like Grandpa, who has decades of memories, hundreds of close friends, a large, happy family and seven grandkids who love him dearly -- how can it be that in a moment, all of that is gone? One minute Grandpa is alive. The next minute he is gone, and everything stored in his brain is lost. We are never going to see him again.
That is troubling enough, but it is when Irena turned that logic on herself and realized her own mortality that it became truly uncomfortable for her. What went through her little head is simple. How can it be that I will die? How can it be thatmy body will turn to dust?
Even at age four she was able to put the pieces together, and she found that thought to be uncomfortable. For many people, the thought is so uncomfortable that it is impossible to imagine.
Many adults never outgrow their childhood fear of death. Because the thought of death is so distressing to some people, it is not surprising that they try to invent a way out. The fairy tale that Christians have invented is called heaven, and they have also formulated the concept of eternal life. And of course, if you are going to be transported to an eternal spa/resort in the sky, there needs to be someone to manage the place and keep the peace. That is where God comes in.
Think about it. Who wants to have eternal life if it is just like life here on earth? In no one's conception of heaven is there murder, rape, incest, burglary, muggings, political backstabbing, office politics, gossip, rumor, PMS, arguments, anger, discontent or disease. Heaven is free of bacterium and mosquitoes and rapists. Somehow, in heaven, everyone is beautiful and everyone is always happy. God is there to cast the bad apples into hell (another invention), and he is also there to keep the peace.
Christians fabricate all of this out of thin air. Their heaven and their hell and their God are completely imaginary. The Christian fabrications are, of course, entirely different from the heaven and God of all other religions, because all of them are imaginary. Egyptians believed something silly involving pyramids and sun gods and so on. Greeks believed in the river Styx and Hades and so on. Muslims believe in their 72 virgins and so on [ref]. It is all gibberish, but people believe in their fantasies quite passionately.
Even grown adults who should know better believe in these fantasies, and will go to incredible lengths to rationalize them. In his book "The Case for Faith," Lee Strobel interviews Norman Geisler, Ph.D. During the interview Dr. Geisler states the following:
- "In sum, everything that God created was good. What changed things was the Fall [Adam and Eve eating the apple]. When God was told, in effect, to shove off, he partially did. Romans 8 says all creation was affected -- that includes plant life, human beings, animals, everything. There were fundamental genetic changes; we see, for instance, how life spans rapidly decreased after the Fall. God's plan was not designed to be this way; it's only this way because of sin."
Why would an adult with a Ph.D. believe such a silly story? Why do Christians and Jews cling to this concept of original sin? Why don't people read the story of Adam and Eve and have a good chuckle, like we do when we read stories about Santa as adults?
It is because original sin tries to explain death, and many adults are incredibly afraid of death. Original sin is one of the Bible's explanations for the fact of life called death. So Christians -- even Christians with Ph.D.s -- cling to it like little children.
We do not die because of Adam and Eve and an apple. We die because we are big, walking chemical reactions. When the chemical reactions cease, we cease. There is no human "soul" mixed in with the chemicals, just like there is no mosquito "soul." When we die, we die.
From the story in the previous section you can see that the idea of death is disturbing to children. Many adults never outgrow it, so death can also be disturbing to adults -- even to adults with Ph.D.s. These adults, of course, are acting like children.
You are not a child. Imagining a place called "heaven" does not change the central fact about the chemical reactions that drive your cells. You simply need to grow up and face death like an adult, in the same way that you face other childhood traumas.
It is quite beneficial to see your mortality for what it is. A week or two from now, when you are thinking like an adult about death, the truth about death will begin to change your self-image and the way that you imagine the future. Religion and its concept of an afterlife skew your thinking by making you believe that you will live forever. You will not. You've got 70 or 80 years if you are lucky, and then you are gone forever.
At the simplest level, an understanding of your permanent mortality should help you to realize more clearly how precious your life is. If you live to be 82 years old, what you have is approximately 30,000 days of existence. You are not going to then commute to "heaven" to live for eternity. 30,000 days is all that you've got.
Here are some of the things in your thinking that will change once you understand and accept this simple fact:
- Your time on earth becomes much more precious to you.
- You begin to realize that everyone else's life is just as precious, and you start looking at them differently.
- You think more about what you are leaving behind when you die.
- You think more about the human species as a continuum, with yourself as a part of that continuum, and you start thinking about the future of our species and the planet.
When you die, what is your legacy? What do you leave behind?
- Whatever material objects you own, to be given to whomever you like in your will.
- Whatever contributions you have made to society as a whole. If you have done research into the cure for cancer, you leave that. If you have written books or made movies, you leave them. If you funded a building at your university, you leave that.
- Images of you in photographs and video, as well as any letters, writings or recordings.
- Your children and their memories of you.
- The memories you leave with your friends and family.
Chapter 28 - Goodness, Morality and the Ten Commandments
Throughout this book we have discussed the fact that God is imaginary. You have also seen that the Bible is a normal book written by normal people living thousands of years ago, and is therefore irrelevant to us today. It is an easy extrapolation of these two facts to realize the many implications. The most important implication is this: you have no soul, and there will be no "everlasting life" for you in heaven or hell. The typical human being living in the developed world has about 30,000 days to experience his or her existence, and that's it.
What do these simple truths actually mean for all of us as a society? How do we take advantage of this central reality and do something useful with it? These are important questions.
This may sound flippant to you initially, but here is one way to think about it -- what if we compare your 30,000 days here on earth to a trip to Disney World? It turns out that we can understand a great deal about life and our society as a whole by examining this analogy.
A trip to Disney World
Imagine that you were to plan a big family vacation to Disney World. You are going to take a week off of work, buy the plane tickets, reserve a hotel room and go. Most people would not travel all the way to Orlando, pay the price of admission into the Magic Kingdom and then fall asleep on a bench. Most people want to ride as many rides as possible. They want to see the entire park, watch the parade, eat the food, buy the souvenirs and get as much enjoyment as they can out of the experience. That is a completely valid way to look at Disney World, and it is also a completely valid way to look at your time here on earth. You want to get the most out of life.
Let's say that you did go to Disney World, paid your money to get in the gate, and then you discovered that there were gangs of teenagers running around robbing people, that there were people cutting into line at every ride, that many of the rides had been vandalized and did not work, and that there was litter everywhere. In other words, what if other people were totally ruining the place? You would be upset. You would complain to management. You would want your money back.
You realize several things as you think about your life in this way. For example, you can see why normal human beings do not want criminals running around in our society. During your 30,000 days on earth, you hear all sorts of stories in the news about:
- Gangs of teenagers robbing people and selling drugs
- Rapists attacking women and children
- Murderers killing people in cold blood
- Terrorists blowing up buildings and buses
- Drunk drivers destroying the lives of innocent people
- CEOs stealing millions of dollars from their businesses
Your time here on earth is very precious, and you only get one chance to experience it. That is why human beings create laws, police departments and courts to deter the people who are spoiling the experience for everyone else. The vast majority of people are good, and they have no desire for bad people to wreck their lives.
The value of life
Once you realize that your life is limited and precious, you then extrapolate that onto others and begin to understand the value of their lives as well. This is something that happened in a significant way just after September 11, 2001 -- people in America were nicer to each other, more patient and more caring because each one of us realized how ephemeral and precious life is.
Once you eliminate the illusion of eternal life, the "spirit of September 11" is that much stronger and more important. We all have an extremely limited amount of time on earth to experience our lives. And we are all in this together. We should help each other to make the most of it.
This kind of thinking is where the concepts of "goodness" and "morality" start. The notion that "we are all in this together" is the beginning of everything good about human beings.
Many religious people who read this book will try to use the following logic:
- God must exist. A man cannot decide without God what is good and what is evil.
Here is the simple reality: God is an imaginary being, just like Zeus, Allah, Vishnu and all the rest. The concept of Goodness, therefore, has nothing to do with God. Goodness comes from human beings. Goodness springs from the human intellect and common sense. By understanding this fact of life, we give Goodness even more power.
God may not exist, but the concept of God currently plays one very important role in our society. Right now, God is our proxy for Goodness. When we talk about God in many cases, we are talking about the idea of Goodness. We are affirming that Goodness and moral behavior are important parts of our society.
The problem with using a non-existent God as a proxy for Goodness is that it places Goodness somewhere "else" -- in an imaginary being called God -- when in fact Goodness is a human concept that emanates from human intelligence. Human beings create and implement Goodness, and we do it for good reason.
We need to understand the power and the value of human Goodness. Then, as a society, we need to eliminate evil, because evil has no place or value in any human civilization.
The source of Goodness
It is very easy to demonstrate to yourself where Goodness comes from, and why humans create it. We can start the demonstration with a question that everyone understands: Is murder good or evil? Forget about God and just answer the question using your own common sense. Murder: right or wrong?
Obviously murder is wrong. Everybody knows that. How do human beings all know that murder is wrong? We -- each one of us -- can look inside ourselves and ask, "Do I want to be murdered?" The answer is, "No." Of course not. It is obvious.
Ask 100 people, "Do you want to be murdered?" 100 people will all say, "No." A person cannot "exist" to answer the question unless he or she is "alive," so obviously he or she does not want to be "dead" because of a murderer. If everyone on the planet were running around murdering each other, humanity could not exist. It's as simple as that.
Occasionally, in perhaps one out of 1,000 people, you will find someone who says, "yes, I want to be murdered." That person is mentally ill and the other 999 of us can help him seek treatment. Life is the most precious thing that each of us possesses, and we understand that. Without life, we do not exist.
As you can see, each one of us understands that we do not want to be murdered. The next step is extrapolation. We extrapolate our personal understanding to everyone else. We realize that what we believe is universal. No one anywhere wants to be murdered. That is also obvious. It does not take a genius, or a god, to figure out that no normal human being wants to be murdered.
Through the extrapolation process, we realize something important: we are all in this together. By protecting your right to live your life free from the threat of murder, I protect myself as well. By working together to prevent murder for everyone, we each improve our own individual lives. So we can draw a conclusion that everyone can agree on. Murder is wrong. "Thou shalt not murder other human beings" is the commandment that we create to project this universal truth. We enforce this universal truth with the laws, police departments and courts that we have created to protect ourselves and each other.
It is interesting to note that "Thou shalt not murder other human beings" is not what the Bible says. The sixth commandment in the Bible is actually "Thou shalt not kill." If we were to take this as God's word, the commandment is much broader. When we eat meat, we are killing. When people sacrificed animals as God prescribed in the Old Testament, those animals were killed. Cutting down a tree for lumber kills the tree. In fact, spraying Lysol kills millions of germs on contact. God's actual commandment is nuts, and that is why no one follows it. Nonetheless, we all understand the universal truth that murder is evil.
As intelligent human beings, we can also understand that there are valid exceptions to the commandment. With our brains, we can see situations involving a "higher good" and reason it out. For example:
- If someone attacks you and tries to kill you, it is OK for you to kill that person in self defense if necessary. We understand that, on a personal level, we have the right to defend our own lives. We understand it at the societal level as well. As a society, this is where the whole notion of the Department of Defense comes from. Note that we do not call it the Department of Offense. Also note that we generally recognize the Department of Defense to be our last resort.
- If a person has been in a car wreck and is brain dead but still "alive", we can keep the person alive indefinitely with a ventilator and a feeding tube. Knowing that the person will never recover, however, we can decide that the higher good is to turn off the ventilator and donate the person's organs to other people who need them. Technically we have "murdered" the person and defied the Bible, but everyone understands that it is OK. Humans are smart enough to make distinctions like these.
What about stealing? It works exactly the same way. You don't need an imaginary god to know that stealing is wrong. You simply ask yourself, "Do I want to have my stuff stolen from me?" No, obviously not. Therefore, by extrapolation, you cannot steal from other people because they don't want to be stolen from either. So stealing is wrong. "Thou shalt not steal."
Even when the Bible tells us something is OK, our brains can tell us objectively, and with moral authority, that it is wrong. For example, the Bible says that slavery is great. We discussed this problem extensively in chapter 13. The Bible clearly and unambiguously says things like this:
- Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. [Leviticus 25:44]
We do not need an imaginary God to act as a moral authority. It is very simple for intelligent human beings to figure out right and wrong. We do it all the time. That is where our legal system comes from.
Creating our own commandments
You should now be able to see the power of what is happening here. Having proven that God is an imaginary being and that the Bible was written by primitive men, we are now free to discard the Bible. With it we discard the original Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments have performed a useful function in our society. They have acted as concise summary of our legal system. They have done that not because they were divinely ordained, but because most of them are common sense.
Now we are in the position to create our own commandments, designed to promote the general welfare and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. We should do that as a nation. We should work to establish a set of new commandments that we all agree to live by. What we are creating is a set of the big-picture commandments that act as the concise summary of our legal system.
We should not abdicate something as important as the foundation of our legal system to a 2,000 year-old book written by a bunch of primitive goat herders. We should control the commandments ourselves as intelligent human beings. We should arrive at our commandments through a normal political process (public debate, voting, etc.). Doing this ourselves is an extremely powerful idea because we can all take part in the process, and we will actually get a much better set of commandments.
As intelligent human beings, what commandments might we create? Here is a starting point for the new commandments:
- Do not murder or harm other human beings.
- Do not enslave.
- Do not steal.
- Do not destroy another's property.
- Do not lie or cheat.
- Do not discriminate against groups of people on the basis of arbitrary characteristics. (We could add a list of specific group characteristics like sex, age, race, etc., but there is no need to. It is impossible to list all the groups.)
- Do not waste the time of another, for our limited time on earth is all that we have.
- Do not pollute the planet, for we all share it.
- Obey the laws and ordinances of the community. If you do not agree with them, work to change them rather than disobeying them.
- And so on...
Why are these concepts important? Because they allow good people to live their lives in peace and happiness. When evil people who kill, enslave, steal, destroy, lie, cheat, etc. move into a society, they ruin it for everyone else. Therefore evil people should be eliminated so the rest of us can enjoy our precious time on this planet. The way we handle evil people today is with jails, prison and rehabilitation.
These common sense concepts already are the foundation of our legal system. For example, the common sense statement, "Do not murder or harm other human beings" is one foundation concept. From that foundation we derive thousands of specific legal concepts -- first degree murder, second degree murder, vehicular homicide, armed robbery, medical malpractice, product safety laws and so on. The broad statement "Do not murder" comes from common sense, and so do all of the specific laws we create. We are also smart enough to make exceptions for things like self-defense and brain-dead organ transplants.
We should establish the fundamental rules of conduct that we expect of everyone living in our society. We might have 20 broad "commandments" like those shown above. We should post our code of conduct in our courthouses, malls, schools, etc.
This process of creating the "20 rules of conduct" is not based on "religion" or "God." It is based on common sense. "Do not murder" is simple and obvious, and it is essential if we want to live in a functional society. We post these rules prominently to remind ourselves of our standards and our goals as a society.
We each have approximately 30,000 days that we get to spend on this earth. That's it. There is no reason why we should tolerate the 1% of people violate the rules of our society and who make things miserable for the other 99%. Every human being with common sense can agree on that, even though there is no god.
Chapter 29 - In God We Trust
In American society we have a number of things that we connect to God. For example, all of our money says, "In God We Trust" on it. In the Pledge of Allegiance we say, "One nation, under God." We sing "God Bless America." And so on.
This is rather amazing when you consider the fact that God does not exist.
It is also amazing when you consider who "the God of the Bible" claims to be. Just look at the dozens of things that you have discovered about God in the course of reading this book. If God were to exist, then why in the world would we trust this appalling monster?
- God is an admitted torturer
- God is far more heinous and demented than Hitler, having annihilated billions of animals and people in Noah's flood.
- God is a pervert who demands genital mutilation.
- God is a huge proponent of slavery.
- God hates women.
- God has happily killed millions of children and brags about it.
- God demands animal and human sacrifice.
- And so on... (see section 2 for details)
Now that we have proven to ourselves that God does not exist, we should stop using a proxy and start being straightforward in what we say. There is no reason to abdicate an idea as important as Goodness to an imaginary being. When we delegate a concept as important as Goodness to a non-existent, imaginary being, Goodness loses much of its power.
When we say, "One nation, under God," what we mean is "One nation, devoted to Goodness." That is what America is all about. America is a nation of good people, honest people, friendly people, helpful people. We want to help others have what we have. We should state it as clearly as that -- we, as a nation, are people who are dedicated to Goodness.
We should then make a clear statement that contains our definition of goodness. The commandments listed in the previous chapter are a good way to do that. They act as the concise summary of our legal system. We can call them commandments, or we can call them our "code of conduct" or our "national statement of Goodness" or whatever term we decide to use. What we are stating is that we have a definition of Goodness, in the form of the commandments that we have settled on as a nation. We are willing to uphold those standards in our country and help other countries to achieve them.
Instead of "In God We Trust," our money should say, "In Goodness We Trust" or "We are Dedicated to Goodness." We should then clearly state and uphold our self-evident standard of Goodness. Print the statement of Goodness, in the form of our commandments, right on the bills. "Do not murder" is a good thing for people to see every day.
In taking this step -- in actually defining and controlling the commandments ourselves rather than abdicating them to an irrelevant book or an imaginary being -- it is important to recognize something. The dictionary defines morality in this way:
- The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.
America is built on a foundation of Goodness and moral character. These concepts are important because a strong society depends on honesty, integrity and trust as its foundation. Accepting that God does not exist does not change those values -- they are essential to any functioning society. It simply changes the focus of those ideas. The focus moves from an imaginary being onto us, where it belongs.
If you have ever been fortunate enough to live in a well-connected neighborhood, then you know how beneficial the human notion of community can be. A good neighborhood works because it brings hundreds of people into an environment pre-disposed to helpfulness and sharing. The combination of "good people" and "helping and sharing" can be extremely powerful. When good people get together in groups and decide to help one another to achieve common goals, it is the most powerful force on the planet. We need to understand the power of the community and take advantage of it as much as possible.
If you've had a baby, then you know how difficult those first few weeks can be. Let's say that couple gives birth to a new baby in a well-connected neighborhood. Within that community, neighbors recognize the need and they help out. Perhaps they help by preparing dinners for the family for several weeks. This is incredibly helpful to the family, and it makes everyone in the neighborhood feel good to help.
In the same way, if someone in the neighborhood is in the hospital, people from the neighborhood visit and help the person out. They cook meals. They help take care of the kids. They pick up the mail. They keep the lawn mowed. The neighborhood is a strong network of people willing to help each other, and willing to receive help from the group. People share rides, they take care of each others' kids, they work on projects together, they have pot-luck parties, they help each other find jobs... It is an extremely powerful concept built on ideals like trust, love, understanding and giving.
Why does this happen? It has nothing to do with "God" or "religion." It happens because of human intelligence and a basic desire to be kind and helpful. We all realize that we need help on occasion, and we all like to receive kindness. We then extrapolate that notion to others. If I sometimes need help from others, then it is true that sometimes others will need help from me. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure this out. Therefore, we help others. We are kind to each other. We share. What goes around comes around -- we all know that.
There is no reason to gum up this simple notion with the belief in a non-existent being or religious ritual. You shouldn't help your neighbors because of "God" or "going to heaven" in the "afterlife." You help your neighbors because you care about your neighbors, and because you will appreciate it when someone helps you in the same way. It is that simple, and that human.
It is extremely valuable to live in a community of people where the community members genuinely care about one another. A loving community has immense value to everyone involved. What it is all about is creating a close, caring group of people who help one another, share with one another and enjoy each other's company while we are here together on earth.
What about Churches
This brings up an interesting point. Having recognized that God is imaginary, what happens to churches? I don't think anything "happens" to them. They continue to exist because they perform a useful function.
What is a church? It is a community of people who agree to get together regularly, help one another and share in each other's company. A church also helps people to focus on the general concept of goodness once a week -- that is generally what the sermon tries to accomplish. In addition, many churches have an outreach component. When there is a disaster, either in the community or somewhere else in the world, the church members often will band together to help in some way. The church might collect and send money or relief supplies. Large, advanced churches may even mount their own disaster teams. We saw quite a bit of this type of activity in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, both by churches and by secular groups.
Once you remove the imaginary being -- who, remember, was never there to begin with -- along with the book written by primitive men that advocates murder and hatred -- do churches suddenly vanish? I don't think that is necessarily the case. In fact, it probably makes things better. Removing delusion is a good thing, not a bad thing.
A thriving church community can be an amazing thing. But it is the people who make that happen, not any imaginary being. Once the imaginary being is gone, churches continue to exist as communities of people who enjoy each others' company, who help one another in times of need, and who focus on goodness and good deeds for the benefit of society as a whole. What's not to like about that? By removing the imaginary being, church attendance may actually go up, because a strong church has a lot to offer.
Billions of people throughout the ages have asked themselves the question, "What is the meaning of life?" Many people answer that question by turning to religion.
The problem with the religious perspective is that it squanders the meaning of your time on earth. Many religious people believe that this is the "meaning" of their lives right now:
- "If I am good while on earth, then when I die I will go to heaven where the streets are paved with gold and I will live with God in the lap of luxury and have absolutely anything I want or need for eternity! My time here on earth is a mere nanosecond compared to eternity. I just have to tough it out here for a nanosecond to get my infinite reward."
- Example #1 - This sort of thinking can be seen in the actions of Islamic suicide bombers. They believe that, by blowing themselves (and others) up, they will be given as their reward a place in heaven with 72 virgins to satisfy their every whim.
- Example #2 - The power of religion to completely warp the human mind can also be seen in a cult known as "Heaven's Gate." In 1997, 39 members of this cult all committed suicide together. Why? Because their religion taught them that by dying they would be transported to a space ship traveling near the Hale-Bopp comet. [ref] The meaning of their lives was wrapped up in this ridiculous fairy tale, to the extent that they would voluntarily and peacefully commit suicide.
It is a fact that God is imaginary. You have proven that to yourself beyond a shadow of any doubt. What, then, is the meaning of life?
The meaning of life is simple and comes in three interlocking pieces:
- You have been granted one human life. With your life you have been given approximately 30,000 days on planet earth.
- You may choose to do with your life anything that you like. You, and only you, get to choose what you want to do with the life that has been given to you.
- You give your life its meaning by choosing what you want to do with it.
It does not matter what it is that you choose to do -- do whatever is important to you:
- If it is your kids, then figure out an equation that lets you do what you want to do with your kids and go do it.
- If it is saving the environment, then go do that.
- If it is bass fishing, then go do that.
- If it is cancer research, go do that.
- If it is making a film about something that you feel strongly, go do that.
- If it is entertaining people to brighten their lives, go do that.
- If it is making lots of money so that you can buy more and more stuff, go do that.
- And so on...
Having said that, there one caveat that you should keep in mind: You can do whatever you want with your life, as long as you stay within the boundaries of what your fellow human beings will allow. It's got to be legal. For example, if you decide that the goal of your life is to murder as many people as possible, then the rest of us will do our best to stop you. The reason for that is simple -- your goal terminates the existence of other human beings. As in any game, there are rules that make it possible for the other players to play. The game of life has rules as well, established by your fellow human beings to keep things fair. See this chapter for details.
The power of working together
You might also keep this in mind: As discussed in chapter 30, it is a fact that people often get more accomplished when they work together. Let me give you an example to help you understand how that works.
A hospital puts human life into clear perspective. My son David has seen more than his fair share of hospitals and with him I have met sick kids of every possible description -- retarded kids, paralyzed kids, kids with amputations, kids in wheel chairs breathing from tubes, kids with cancer getting chemotherapy.
The kids with cancer are bald. They often vomit as the drugs are administered because the drugs are so toxic. There are babies, toddlers, kindergartners, teens. For some, their IV lines snake up their shirts to permanent sites in the chest because they are hooked to IVs so much.
A hospital shows us something important about human beings. A hospital is a facility designed to help other people. In a modern hospital there is a remarkable array of technology, and medical science understands more and more every day. All of that technology is designed to help people. We've built all that by agreeing it is important, and by working together to attack the problems that diseases create. When we put our minds and our resources to it, we can build amazing things.
The thing is, we see that same kind of cooperation throughout America. Let me give you a few examples to help you see what I am talking about.
I have food, clothing and shelter. At this moment I am warm at 72 degrees despite the outdoor temperature of 40 degrees F. I am able to drive less than two miles to three different shopping centers and over two dozen restaurants, including three all-you-can-eat buffets that cost less than $8 per person. I can shop in several grocery stores stocked with thousands of food products -- the most variety ever seen by humanity.
A huge array of products are available that make life easier and better:
- I can watch 80 channels on cable with my TV
- I can surf the Internet or play a game with my computer
- I can call people on the cordless phone or my cell phone
- I can wash my clothes in the washer and dry them in the dryer
- I can play a DVD that I can rent for $3
- I can take a warm shower
- I can flip on any of the dozens of light switches when it is dark
Who created all of this? Did God? Certainly not. People have created all of this by agreeing to work together. We have come together to create an orderly society that gets better and better through cooperation.
Think about the allies coming together World War II to fight evil. Or the space program in the 1960s and 1970s, where thousands of people came together to accomplish the impossible and go to the moon. Or any big political campaign that wins against the odds. Or a business that has a fantastic mission and vision. Or any charitable organization focused on accomplishing something good and worthwhile. When people are involved in projects like these, their lives are richer and fuller because they are working toward a common purpose with a group of fellow human beings. In those experiences we can find a powerful message about the meaning of life.
The meaning of your individual life is bounded by the accomplishments of our species. Although each of our lives is fleeting, our species as a whole is a chain stretching back thousands of years and stretching forward for an unknown distance. You are one link in that chain. Each of us contributes to the world. Our children inherit the world that we create.
What is the meaning of life? It is about loving and being loved. It is about helping and being helped. It is about giving and receiving, asking and accepting. It is about working with other people and allowing them to work with you. Life is about dreaming of something better, and then making it happen. For all of us now. For our children in the future. Life's meaning is about what we do today and tomorrow with the time we have available. It comes in thinking about that time -- that precious moment that is your life -- and making the most of it in a way that is unique to you.
The next time you are sitting at a traffic light, look over at the person next to you. Smile. That person is a fellow human being. You and he and six billion others mold this planet and create the future for our children. Together we create the path of our species.
In this book you have gained a key insight: There is no God. You have proven this to yourself in many different ways. See Chapter 26 for details.
From that insight you can derive a great many others. The most important of them is this: You are a mortal being. There is no heaven, and there is no hell. You are on earth for 80 years or so, and then you vanish forever. See Chapter 27 for details.
A common philosophical question is, "Why do we exist?" Given these two insights, we can now answer the question definitively: There is no "reason" for our existence. The fact is that we do exist. Through an evolutionary process, nature has created rational creatures called human beings.
The question that we should be asking ourselves is the more profound one: "Given that we do exist, what are we going to accomplish with our existence?" Right now, we are largely squandering our existence because we never ask ourselves this question as a species.
What is our situation? We find that we are a race of approximately six billion people. We inhabit a chunk of iron, rock and water that is floating though the vacuum of space. The universe we exist within has a volume of perhaps 3,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic light years. To our knowledge there are no other intelligent, conscious beings in this universe. Even if there are, they may be millions or billions of light years away, making them completely unreachable for the time being.
The question that we should be asking ourselves is simple: What is our goal as a species? We are, potentially, the only intelligent species in the entire universe. What are we going to do with our existence?
Have you ever considered it? Have you ever thought about the goals of the human race?
Heaven on earth
I would like to make a suggestion. Here is one thing that I believe we should be doing with our existence: we should create Heaven on EarthTM for every human being on the planet.
That's right: Heaven on EarthTM. Since God is imaginary, there is no "afterlife" and no "heaven" in the religious sense. Therefore, we should begin to build Heaven on Earth.
Why is this important? Because right now, for a majority of people on this planet, what we have created is Hell on Earth. As discussed in Chapter 22:
- Even in the United States -- one of the wealthiest nations on earth -- poverty is a major problem. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, more than 26 million children in the United States participate in the National School Lunch Program, which provides low-cost or free lunches to children at or near the poverty level. [ref] 26 million children represents about half of all the children in the United States.One thing that you quickly realize, if you allow yourself to think about it, is that the number of people living in abject poverty on this planet is staggering. A "fifth of the world’s people" is more than a billion people. You also realize that $1 a day means that these people are living in hopeless, wretched conditions. Think about how little food you can buy for $1. Now consider the fact that the $1 is spent on that little bit of food, so there is no money left for housing, clean water, restroom facilities, clothing, shoes, health care, education, infrastructure, etc. etc. Disease runs rampant. Starvation is common. This level of poverty is nearly unimaginable to most people in the United States, yet more than a billion people live this way today.
Now consider the fact that, if you raise the bar to $3 a day -- still an extremely meager amount -- half of the people on the planet are living at that level of poverty. More than three billion people. As discussed in Chapter 5, 10 million children die every year as a result of abject poverty.
- No one in the imaginary heaven would get sick. In the same way, in our real Heaven on EarthTM, medical technology will cure all diseases, reverse the effects of aging, etc.
- No one in the imaginary heaven would be an amputee. In the same way, in our real Heaven on EarthTM, we should find a way using stem cells, limb cloning, nanotech or prosthetics to recreate the limbs of amputees at a level equal to or exceeding their natural limbs.
- In the imaginary heaven, everyone has eternal life. In the same way, in our real Heaven on EarthTM, people will not die. Or they will live far, far longer than we do today, without the debilitating effects of aging.
- In the imaginary heaven, no one would be poor. Starvation, malnutrition, etc. would not exist. Everyone in the imaginary heaven would have identical "wealth" -- the same access to everything good about heaven. In the same way, in our real Heaven on EarthTM, we would find solutions to global poverty and the concentration of wealth. Everyone on the planet would have equal access to the world's wealth and the same standard of living.
- In the imaginary heaven, no one would have to work. Each person would have true economic freedom. In the same way, in our real Heaven on EarthTM, we should eliminate work and allow everyone to go on perpetual vacation.
- In the imaginary heaven there would be no pollution, extinction, habitat loss, Global Warming, etc. In the same way, in our real Heaven on EarthTM, we would solve all of these problems.
- In the imaginary heaven there would be no crime, and "bad" people would be cast into hell. In the same way, in our real Heaven on EarthTM, we would eliminate crime with a much swifter and stronger criminal justice system.
- And so on...
- The United States is one of the most capitalistic countries in the world. Yet, as noted above, half the kids in the United States can't afford lunch.
- It is also the case that capitalism, in its modern form, has been in place for over a century. Yet, as noted above, there are still three billion people on the planet -- half the world's population -- living in startling poverty. Capitalism does not seem to be very quick in getting the job done either.
- China is rapidly taking on capitalistic tendencies. Yet we know that many Chinese workers work in conditions that in America could be compared to slavery. The number of hours worked and the meager amount earned gives anyone in America with a conscience a reason to pause and question what is going on.
But that will happen only if we make the conscious decision to do it, and then we follow through.
It is time for the human race to grow up and embrace reality. It is time for us to discard our imaginary gods and move to the next level of our intellectual evolution. It is time to understand our place in the universe and take control of our destiny. It is time to create Heaven on Earth for everyone. There is no God, and there are so many good things that we can accomplish as a species. Let's make the most of the opportunity that the universe has given us.