Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Accept and enjoy life for what it is

I AM grateful to the editor for accepting this occasional Thought for the Week contribution from a humanist viewpoint. 

For too long the “Thoughts” have been the sole preserve of a roundabout of diverse Christian writers, an unreasonable imbalance in the light of the fact that only six per cent of British adults are “practising Christians” (British Social Attitudes Survey, 2016).

There is no doubt that for a minority of people the belief that a loving God has a personal relationship with them in this life and guarantees a blissful eternity in the next is a deep, personal need, which covers a wide range of religious groups, past and present. 

The non-religious would be unkind to try to dispel this faith, provided believers refrain from declaring or implying that unbelievers are offensive to God and are justly destined for eternal hell of some kind.

For the humanist, the chance of being born is truly remarkable in itself. Each of us came into being through uncountable millions of previous chance happenings. In my case, for example, I would not be here if a different horse had won the 1903 Derby.

Existence is an opportunity to be self-aware, to use our evolved capacity to wonder at life and to enjoy so many aspects of existence.  We have also developed the ability to be richly creative and to make a wide, positive contribution to life.  We do not merely exist: we actively live.

We all know that there are situations in life which are far from positive, caused by disastrous natural events, disease or by the uncontrolled primeval traits that remain in our evolved human make-up.

However, even when we suffer under these circumstances, the urge to continue living overwhelmingly prevails. The death wish is rare. 

We should not be surprised that our human make-up contains significant negative aspects. The hominids from which Homo sapiens evolved were fairly brutal and nasty in our terms, but arguably these were necessary survival traits at that far distant time. 

The wonder is that we have very significantly reduced the impact of these inherited traits by developing a moral sense, albeit culturally conditioned, and a conscience.

Evolution has given Homo sapiens the wonderful capacity to empathise and the will and the ability to help others, traits also found in embryo form in parts of the animal world — dolphins, elephants, great apes, for example. We are thus able to reduce suffering.

For the non-religious, life is a remarkable chance “gift” from fate, albeit short-lasting. 

When we die we return to the state that was the case before we were conceived, a non-existence that obviously did not involve any distress and will not be distressful when we return to it.

In the meantime, we have had the remarkable good luck to be consciously alive. We should happily accept and enjoy it, whenever we can, on its own terms.

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