By Don Ardell
Philosophers, poets and many others, whether erudite and celebrated or ordinary in the sense of blending in with the general population, long have pondered life’s persistent questions. This is how humans guide our way through life. Doing so, of course, is something of a luxury, a privilege primarily for those fortunate enough to have secured basic needs, such as ample food, shelter, education, safety and a good measure of leisure. Even under favorable circumstances, however, sorting out the mysteries and possibilities and reaching satisfactory and effective decisions about existential questions is among the hardest of challenges humans struggle to master.
In our time, an awareness of and commitment to REAL wellness lifestyles (Reason, Exuberance, Athleticism and Liberty) is likely to bring such matters to the forefront of priorities. In the course of thinking and acting upon ways to boost mental and physical well-being, it’s only natural to contemplate destiny-shaping questions.
Here are a few examples:
• What qualities do I most value, and find attractive in others?
• What exercise and diet patterns should I adopt, master and integrate into daily practice for lifetime fitness?
• Who and what do I love most, and how can I experience more of it?
• Why am I here?
• What shall I choose for my passions and purposes?
So much of what we believe was shaped by our cultures during childhood and the early years, mostly through observations, lessons, rules and other well-intended indoctrinations. But, as adults living in a society different in important ways from our early years, it’s possible, even likely, that a few unconscious biases, prejudices, customs and/or traditions don’t quite align as well as earlier in life.
Exploring REAL wellness dimensions can be an efficient and well-organized way to put long held views through a valuable review process.
A good start, one that affects reason, exuberance and liberty — and that probably looms as a most fertile ground for reassessments — is religion.
Religions provide answers to existential questions, usually long before those born into religions are old enough to have existential questions, let alone answers for such. Later in life, when doubts arise and questions are posed, common replies too often take the form of non-answers in extremis, such as, “God works in mysterious ways” or “We must believe, have faith and pray for guidance.”
Anyone who takes the reason dimension of REAL wellness seriously will find this kind of explanation unsatisfactory, basically because it’s no explanation whatsoever. In the deep past and especially modern times, many, if not most, religious officials, as well as cult leaders, charlatans and con artists of manifold stripes, seek to protect the faith, the dogma and the rituals that control followers. Too often, what is represented as the way, the truth and the light, as revealed in ancient holy books, is but blither, blather and babble.
Of course, there are exceptions: Martin Luther King, William Sloan Coffin, Barry W. Lynn and, in the latter half of the 19th century, Henry Ward Beecher and Caroline Bartlett Crane. The last, less known today than the others, was the 38-year-old pastor of the People’s Church of Kalamazoo when Robert Ingersoll visited and declared that, if such a church existed in my community, he would have become a member if they would have him.
An ultimate question
James Haught, emeritus editor at the Charleston Gazette and a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, recently wrote a piece titled, “The Ultimate Question for Us.” Haught’s essay posits that there is one question that everyone should ask, one that overrides all others in consequence.
Do you believe that your answer could dictate your entire approach to life if answered in the affirmative, as Haught suggests? Here’s the question:
“Is there a supernatural god who may burn you forever in fire after you die? If the answer is yes, it’s the most crucial fact of human life. But if no such god exists, religions have committed millennia of fraud and deception.”
Haught is not the first to make this observation. British historian Paul Johnson and the multitalented American entertainer Steve Allen also weighed in with the same point of view.
“The existence or nonexistence of God is the most important question we humans are ever asked to answer. If God does exist, and if in consequence we are called to another life when this one ends, a momentous set of consequences follows, which should affect every day, every moment almost, of our earthly existence. Our life then becomes a mere preparation for eternity and must be conducted throughout with our future in view.” — Paul Johnson, A History Of Christianity
“I do not understand those who take little or no interest in the subject of religion. If religion embodies a truth, it is certainly the most important truth of human existence. If it is largely error, then it is one of monumentally tragic proportions — and should be vigorously opposed.” — Steve Allen, Dumbth
If you believe in a supernatural, all-powerful deity who knows everything, who, if you fail to please him sufficiently before you die, will hold you over a flaming pit of fire like a marshmallow and toast you forever and ever, with no bloody end to the torture, then it seems clear what your purpose should be. Your purpose must be to praise him, convince yourself you love him, and prostrate yourself to him, even if he’s invisible and seems rather vindictive, brutal, implacable and unrelenting if you incur his wrath by not measuring up. After all, he loves you, you’re told, so it would be wise to love him back every available waking moment of your entire life, the better to avoid a gruesome situation in the afterlife. Your best bet will be to devote your existence to praise thoughts and bowing behaviors.
An alternate approach
To guide reassessments, you might want to develop, or just fine-tune, a few REAL wellness skills, such as skepticism, doubt and critical thinking as part of using reason, while safeguarding personal liberties. Be alert to the hazards of alternative facts, superstitions and conspiracy theories. Do an inventory of childhood indoctrinations and cull the crapola.
Recognize this indisputable fact: Nobody on this good Earth has any know-ledge whatsoever about any form of life after death. There may be a hell, a heaven or something else, but nobody has a scintilla of evidence of that, or an inkling of what a promised land might look like.
I’d like to think there is such a place. It would be a place where all my needs would be met, but, even more important, where all my fantasies would come to pass. But, in sober moments, I know that after a few hours there my jejune and shifting earthly fantasies would soon be boring, then annoying and, after a few days, let alone weeks, years, centuries and millennia of engaging in these fantasies, I’d be begging and pleading to be toasted like a marshmallow over a pit of fire.
As Haught observed: “Beliefs are baffling. Nobody knows what causes some people to want to believe supernatural claims — or causes heathens . . . to doubt them. Our personalities are formed by subtle factors still not fully understood. But this much is clear: If the answer to the God question — the deepest human question — is no, then religions have been lying since before written history began.”
In case there’s any doubt what I think, be advised that I’m with Ingersoll: “Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here and the way to be happy is to make others so.”
Lifetime Member FFRF Member Don Ardell is a triathlete, author and wellness advocate from Madison, Wis. This article and other blog posts can be found at donardell.com.