17 July 2012

Agnostic Seeking

"The important thing is not to stop questioning."
- Albert Einstein

For awhile now I have called myself an atheist.  I’m probably more of an agnostic, because I still look for something outside myself and something that could be called a “spirituality” (yet, paradoxically without spirits or other super-natural beings).  That being said,  I still believe there are no gods, goddesses, divine beings, spirits, ghosts, demons….  There is no way to be absolutely certain, one way or the other, I know, but from my experience (which is no more than most religious believers use to argue their points for those things), the evidence is stacked against their existence.  So, on my agnostic scale, I lean more toward atheist than theist (in all its many forms). 

Understand, I don't scorn religions, belief systems or faith; and I especially have nothing against believers.  I simply seek; I delve into questions on morality, on good and evil (and what those ideas may or may not mean), on whether there is life after death (e.g. eternal life, reincarnation, metempsychosis), and on why very bad things sometimes happen to seemingly very good (or innocent) people. 

I seek answers to these questions in science, literature (sacred and profane), art, current and past world events, conversations with friends and family, and in movies.  Some questions are unanswerable in our existing state of knowledge and awareness, others are trivial and/or unconvincing. All the same, I still ask the questions.

09 July 2012

The Responsibility of Freedom

I tend to lean toward Existentialism in my philosophy of life.  So, when I came across this site: Freedom, Responsibility, and Agency, earlier, I had to let others know about this.  This is not the first time I have felt compelled to remind myself and others of the responsibility that comes with freedom.  As a matter of fact, I wrote a blog post about it, which can be read here. 

It was nice to find others that think the way I do in regards to this.  When I read the opening paragraph, I immediately felt as if someone had reached into my mind and pulled the thoughts out and put them into words:
Freedom, from an existential perspective, cannot be separated from responsibility. With freedom comes responsibility. Yet, it is common for many people to seek freedom while trying to avoid responsibility. While, at times, it appears that people may be able to succeed at this, there remains a psychological consequence. This consequence is often not very noticeable, but may find expression through guilt, anxiety, depression, or even anger.
The website makes a distinction between existential freedom and political freedom, such as the freedom of speech.  However, I think they are closely connected, though many people think of American political freedoms as god-given rights which should not be subject to responsibility in any way.  In my post I discussed comments (which I see as a form and example of the freedom of expression, but also as a violation of this existential idea of responsibility), but, of course, responsibility goes beyond that.  However, from reading comments, one can often get a good idea of the way in which people are shirking their responsibility, while exercising their freedom of expression.  

Closely related to this idea is the misconception that has been prevalent in recent years concerning the word “responsibility.”  Somehow, it has obtained the meaning of “the ability to respond.”  Well, it might mean that, but in its truer sense it has a meaning closer to “duty.”  And many people despise that word and that idea.  It sounds too much like work, or worse, slavery. 

Well, all it takes when it comes to our freedoms and the responsibility that goes with them, is a few seconds to ensure that what we say and do does not negatively affect others.  Can you do or say something that will hurt others?  Yes.  But, even if there are not legal consequences, even if they don’t retaliate in some way, you still have consequences.  And as the site mentioned above states, these are often mental or emotional problems. 

I have seen this happen.  I have experienced it in my own life.  I know people who think it is fine (they even brag about it) to just say whatever is on their minds, even if it is hurtful to someone else.  And, yes, they experience anxiety, depression and anger, and even though I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist I am able to tell that they struggle with guilt.  It’s in their speech.  It’s in their behavior.  It’s eating them alive. 

Here is the link to the website again: Freedom, Responsibility, and Agency Please take the time to at least skim it.  It is very informative and useful.

02 July 2012

Freedom, Faith and Responsibility - Part 2

To glorify democracy and to silence the people is a farce.

— Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

With this democracy, which I began to look at last time, comes the right to say whatever one wants (within certain bounds, of course). The problem comes from two directions. The first is being faced in the very act of allowing these people to comment and to speak and to flaunt their ignorance and to spread their worthless stupidity all over the place. But, who is to judge what is ignorant or stupid or worthless? Good question? So, those who allow this sort of commenting to continue are trying to show a basic trust in other humans. We should trust each other to do what is right. According to Paulo Freire, without that trust there will never be true democracy.

Now, I want to go back to the American Revolution. They were writing pamphlets and others were writing pamphlets to counter the first pamphlets and there was a serious dialogue happening. The entire process actually helped shape the ideals of the early America. Not that those ideals were complete and perfect, but they were the beginning of democracy in the world and the freedoms that those pamphleteers enjoyed were then written into law so that future generations could blabber away on the internet.

It seems that most people, today, think of the American revolutionaries as quaint old guys and a bunch of windbags that were only interested in not paying taxes. But, they established the very right which allows me to publish this essay on this blog. I have freedom of speech.

There is a cliché that says, “Freedom is never free.” And I believe that, and I’m sure you believe it, too. So, in taking the liberty, not only to write this essay, but to post it for all the world to read, I take that saying into consideration. I do not want to betray your trust and at the same time I have the faith that we as human beings can make democracy the powerful political and social ideal that it has the potential to be. That requires something else, which Paulo Freire mentions: “true words.”

Freire says that true words embody both action and reflection. If action is missing, then we see what we see today on the internet—what Freire calls “verbalism.” Without reflection we get mere “activism.” To truly change things we need both. We need “praxis.” Freire writes, “Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world.”1 So, we have freedom, especially in this country, and every voice should be heard.

Ultimately, it comes down to how we choose to use our voices. We can use them to spread hatred and tension, we can use them to merely throw empty words into empty space where their lack of authenticity will change nothing. Or, we can choose to follow Freire's words of wisdom and we can speak "true words" that engender both action and reflection and thus have power to change our world.

Happy 4th of July! Remember the First Amendment and The Golden Rule!

1.     Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th Anniversary Ed. (New York: Continuum, 2000). 87