**Well, I don’t know if it’s technically a manifesto or not. I just always wanted to say that!
I’m posting in great debates because realistically I think that, despite my sincere intentions otherwise, I am probably going to offend some people; and, this being the SDMB, there will inevitably be those who will take issue with it in one way or another as well.
Please keep in mind that I am in no way trying or intending to convert anybody. I am hoping to possibly fill in a gap that is evident to me, one which may in fact be far more prevalent here in the SF Bay Area than elsewhere. I just don’t like the implication that to be agnostic or atheist means that you don’t believe in anything. (I personally am an animist in the traditional sense of the word, but that’s not important here.)
The general idea is a sort of a collective banner under which people of varying beliefs and uncertainty could gather together for the purpose of good works, or just awesome barbecues and a sense of community.
But it’s only a germ of an idea really. < flinch > Don’t be cruel.**
The world has changed so much in a pretty short time. Rotary phones to touchtone phones to cordless phones to cellphones to, any day now, video phones. We are daily getting closer to living in the world of “The Jetsons.” (still waiting for my robot, though.) (and my aircar, dang it.)
Many of the things that made sense in the very recent past don’t seem to make as much sense now. Some of those things are pivotal features of life, long-held customs, or well-established institutions. I think in many of these cases, it’s not that the thing didn’t serve a purpose that mattered, that had value to us and our lives – it’s just that the functional interface has changed, sometimes radically. Take my example of phones: since the advent of telecommunications, the ability to communicate realtime at a distance has been a critical, universally acknowledged part of our lives. We would be much distressed without it. Even before the telephone, there were drum beats, smoke signals, semaphore, telegraph. (Not to mention the Pony Express – but I’m talking realtime, here.)
Think about the difference in interface and application between a distant-drum communication, and a smartphone that can access the internet, do your banking, capture and transmit media, and a zillion other useful things – and you’ll understand that simple human needs can be served by systems that can evolve radically over time.
In this way, social institutions can also evolve, while the human need they serve remains essentially unchanged. Mating and marriage customs spring immediately to mind, as do medicine and gender-bonding. I believe that maybe it’s time to reexamine spirituality and see if we can’t re-tool it, to make it make more sense. See, I believe that the desires to do the right thing, to help others, to have reverence for something larger than yourself, are a fundamental part of human nature regardless of the dogma and minutiae of individual religion. I also have observed that religion in its current form has ceased to make sense for a growing number of us in the twenty-first century. Technological advances have shined a metaphorical spotlight into the far reaches of what used to constitute mystery for human society; the result has been that it is harder and harder to suspend disbelief for anything that’s any kind of a stretch.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t still have a sense of the Ineffible or the numinous, and it doesn’t mean that we have no faith. To be godless is not necessarily to live in a joyless nihilist wasteland, devoid of anything divine. It just means, at least to me, that we need a new paradigm.
Therefore, allow me to introduce Animism.
“Animism” is derived from a word which means “life.” The word animist has long been used to describe indigenous religious beliefs, highly localized and particular to the needs of the population. I chose this word as a title because I am particularly interested in elevating and magnifying life. Quality of life, sanctity of life, affirming of life. Life is a good and beautiful thing, in spite of the tragedy, hardship, privation and suffering that it contains.
One of my main ideas is that the notion of a “Saint” is a human institution that exists almost universally and serves a very real and valuable purpose in our lives. Saints I think are meant to represent role models, good examples of the application of positive behavior to our lives. They are meant to inspire us to strive to be what we can be, our highest selves; to give us strength and hope in adversity, and to perhaps serve as special intercessors with whatever forces of good are out there somewhere. The only problem is that most of our Saints lived a long time ago, and the general public does not remember them as people, or identify with them as someone who could possibly have had a life much like our own. They have pretty much ceased to function for us in any real way.
So, I propose the creation of new Saints to provide meaningful focus in our modern lives, no miracles or religious dispensation required – just qualities or achievements we can all get behind. I have a short list, just to give you the idea:
Yuri Gagarin, first man in space
Valentina Tereshkova, first woman in space
Giordano Bruno, “The First Martyr to Science”
Charles Godfrey Leland
There is another young man whom I won’t mention out of respect for his family, and the fact that he was killed only recently. And many more we haven’t thought of yet. --But I think “Saint Jimi” and “Saint Grace” sound really cool.
What’s more important, their names are symbols of their lives, lives which are cherished by and meaningful to us. They achieved things or became figures that lead the way for us and show us what is possible; they are tangible icons of hope and aspiration.
And here’s the deal: you can believe what you want to believe. You can be of any faith. Anyone who believes in something good, in a universal benevolence of some kind, anyone who believes in trying to be kind if only because you sleep better at night – all are welcome. You can call the Ineffible whatever you want.
There are only two tenets:
Try to be good; and
Don’t be an asshole.
If you think about it, most of what we consider “sin” consists mainly in being an asshole of one kind or another. Murder, neighbor’s-wife-coveting, bearing false witness a.k.a. lying through your teeth, being uncool to your parents, it’s all just being an asshole. So don’t.
(I should mention here that some peoples’ parents are uncool to them, and that is also being an asshole. Howcome there was never any mention of “honor thy son and daughter?”)
And that’s it, in a nutshell. Animism. I don’t want your money. I don’t want a flock of sheep. I just want a medal of Saint Leland!