A good idea, which is to say, an idea that makes your daily activities easier / better / more intelligible, usually finds its twelve apostles. These evangelists, not satisfied with having been improved by that good idea, perceive some sense of duty in promulgating the idea to others, so that more lives may be enriched in the manner of their own. So runs the argument from altruism.
In my workaday labours as a software inventor at Inventive Labs, one such good idea is Ruby, which is a programming language. I have been a professional programmer both without and with Ruby, and I inordinately prefer the latter.
An aside: this isn't a post about a programming language. Even if you are not a programmer, stick around. None of us, least of all me, knows where this is going – but at least you can see how long the scrollbar is.
Ruby, as anyone in this field will surely tell you, has its fair share of evangelists. I can't give you an exact number, but it is probably somewhere between twelve and 27,900. I don't think all of them are altruists. Many preach Ruby from their bloggerly pulpits because they find relief in the sensation of being participants; because if they are doing it, they'd rather not do it alone. Actually I wonder if it's a species of benign schadenfreude, that would be real schadenfreude if not for their belief that the good idea was, in fact, good. It's kind of hard to explain. This link may be relevant.
People attempt to convert other people to ideas they believe 'good' not so much for a private beatitude, or to receive gratitude, as for intellectual creature comfort. It's not unreasonable to extend an evolutionary argument from this. There is also a matter of pride, and obviously 'being among the first' becomes statistically more assertable as the corpus of converts grows larger.
It is within this context that I would like to affix the much-observed and somewhat sudden phenomenon of atheist literature. There's a useful summary of it here. A loose band of heretics, often scientists railing against intelligent design, but sometimes politicos hoping to wet-blanket the so-called clash of civilisations, are arguing against the existence of any knowable higher power. I must admit that I am curious to read them. But peevishly I haven't; their enterprise bothers me. It seems like they want to convert the religiousi.
I have been an atheist since shortly after I realised I was not the Second Coming. Laugh, because that's amusing and only mildly true. Actually, though I descend from a line of devout Catholics, disbelief is something that came relatively easily to me. The agonism of atheism largely befell my parents' generation, and though I bear some grievances against the Baby Boomers, I have to respect them for this. The worst my atheism has had to endure is this perpetual recidivism into superstition; the challenge not to hope for something beyond, not to believe in something inexplicable that explains a lot of things, to reject a prophesied good that subsumes the weighty problems of my everyday. I strongly believe it is important too, as one of those lucky enough not to have suffered any great injustice, that I do not blow up these little things that get me down, that – and this really is the crux of it – that I choose to operate in a certain, certainly problematic this world rather than an uncertain, retributive promise of the next.
In short, atheism is, for me, a good idea. By forsaking any next world, my agency in this world is greater. I act now, because even less than oblivion confronts me. I will be good, at least as good as I can be, because to be good makes me feel like a better person, and that somewhat assuages my existential doubts. Only I determine what is good, ultimately, and it doesn't trouble me that the only real measure of my life will accompany me to my grave. A generous obit wouldn't go astray, don't get me wrong. But in fact, another aspect of my atheism that I am still learning is that it needn't be morbid.
There's a lot more I could say about my belieflessness, and if you buy me a beer I will, but other than to strongly deny that my life is meaningless, I won't go any further right now. And this is the point: I'm not trying to convert you. If you believe in one or many deities, I am fascinated by you and would love to compare notes. I don't scorn you, you are my equal, and what's more, strange to me. Perhaps there's something you know, or suspect, that I don't. Understand that I'm going to argue with you vigourously, but if you're converted, I'll be immensely disappointed.
Here is where the good idea gets skewed; the evangelists deny this position. They seem to try to prevent our conversation, for their own craven desire to be not alone. Ah, may they rot in hell.
Joseph | 23 Apr 2007