Monday, June 30, 2014

What Do We Have in Common?

Awhile back, one of my friends who reads this blog asked if I could do an article on what atheists and theists might have in common. It’s been a bit – I hope she doesn’t think I’d forgotten or chosen to ignore the suggestion. It’s just one of those posts that I get started on, then hit a bit of a wall, and in the meantime a topic on which I’m able to get a complete thought written out will kind of bump it to the back burner for a bit. But I have still been working on it from time to time.

The problem I run into is that there’s almost no position or outlook I can think of that I would share with every possible religious perspective. And even if I were to try to come up with a list of such commonalities, it would most likely involve having to speculate on the thoughts and beliefs of people about whom I might be entirely ignorant (or just ignorant enough to get something offensively wrong). For that matter, I can’t even claim to know every possible atheist position.

So maybe I need to look at things on a more basic level than that. Perhaps I need to not look at positions and outlooks at all.

So, at the base level, I can say with some certainty that we share at least the following thing in common: we’re human.

Now, that’s pretty darn basic. To the point that it might seem like that doesn’t give us much in common at all. But if you think about, just being human encompasses quite a lot. It means we share more than 99% of our DNA, just for starters. The genetic difference between myself (a middle class white guy living in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States) and any other person on the planet is almost negligible. The difference between you and me is just a blip. At some level, you and I are related. We are family, you and I.

That’s actually quite a lot to have in common. That’s quite a lot for me to think about, in terms of ho we relate to one another.

So we’re all human, and all related. We share similar perceptions, similar emotions, and our outlooks are rooted in a certain commonality as a result. I think it would be hard to deny that there’s a certain bond of emotional kinship we are able to feel for our fellow human beings as a result. As an atheist I may attribute this to evolutionary reasons based on community as a survival mechanism, whereas a religious person might believe it’s because God put that feeling in our hearts. But the feeling, for most of us, is there on an instinctual level. We all have the ability to love each other, and conversely to hate each other. I think most of us would rather do more of the former than the latter.

I believe, as well, that we share a desire to do good for each other. I think that the disagreement between an atheist like myself and a religious person is largely a disagreement about what actually is best for people. Our different outlooks lead us to different conclusions, but they’re rooted in the same basic desire to do good for ourselves and for others.

I don’t know… maybe I’m being overly simplistic, or overly optimistic in this appraisal. Odds are pretty good that I am; I don’t claim that I have any special insight into human nature. But I do think it’s sometimes good to cast an eye on the basics, even if they might be too basic to represent an entire worldview. It can be a good thing to look at the simplest terms and start reasoning again towards the bigger complexities of real life.

So let’s not forget that, at the most basic, we’re all human beings together, trying to find our way through our lives as best we can. That reality binds us. And it gives me hope that we can find ways to understand each other a little better.

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