By Candace Drimmer
Photo: Drimmer reads to her grandson, Ethan Drimmer-Kline.
Courtesy CANDACE DRIMMER
How does a humanist, who doesn’t believe in a magic deity (or deities), navigate the rocky road of life without a guidebook?
For the mainstream religions, life’s questions can be simple. It’s all in their book according to their leaders. The Christians reference the Bible; the Muslims the Qur’an, the Jews the Torah, and even the Mormons have golden tablets (and special knickers). Have a conundrum? Look it up—the book tells you what to do.
How easy that must be and, yes, comforting—no issues of personal responsibility or middle of the night wrestling with complicated questions of what to do. Just follow the book that some man (and it is clear they were written by men) wrote a gazillion years ago and wham—you’re good to go. Don’t bother with thinking, just follow the program.
For the atheist, the humanist, and other non-believers, life’s path is not so simple. We’re on our own, akin to skydiving without a parachute or driving without a road map, thrilling in the moment but also challenging to survive.
Having considered this question since I came out as an atheist, I came to a realization that this was my ‘Wizard of Oz’ moment. In the iconic film there is a point the end of the film when the Good Witch tells Dorothy that she’s always had the power to go home. Likewise for the non-believers we’ve always had within us the power to solve life’s questions using that most wonderful organ, the human brain. Whether it is called a conscience or consciousness, when we think for ourselves we are the true purveyors of personal responsibility for our actions. It’s an awesome responsibility and an empowering one, to think for yourself.
The robot doesn’t have that luxury. Give a robot one of the religious books listed above, program it to believe in god and you have the mind of the religious—programmed and directed by external factors. The difference between the robot and the human can be free choice, but the human has to make the choice to live without the programming of others as to how life should be led. Though some humans may be programmed to believe in god, with a little help even they can be deprogrammed.
So as to how a humanist goes through life without a guidebook, I’d say, very well, thank you very much—especially if we think about how to answer all of life’s little questions like whether to give up a seat on the bus to the lady with the sleeping child in her arms or the larger question of what happens after we die.
As to the latter question, my four-year-old grandson gave me the most elemental answer: “You’re here, you die—that’s all.” So wise for someone so young.
Candace Drimmer is a former expatriate who lived two decades throughout the Americas. Her evolution as a humanist spun from these experiences, as well as her life as journalist, editor, writer, and educator–and most importantly parent.