A universe without God?

Discovering Humanism

I don’t believe in an all-powerful god sitting somewhere looking down on us and letting bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it. As an 11-year-old, I couldn’t figure out why, if god made everything,  did (he) make the devil. The scripture teacher smacked me on the bottom in front of the class for that question.

At the same time, I felt a strange sense of jealousy when my best friend, Annette, would go to church on Sunday. When she had something special to believe in, and I had nothing. When her family had elaborate rituals, and my family had nothing. The sense of community it gave her.

Later as an adult, I went on to describe myself as agnostic. I believed there must have been “something” to believe in, I just wasn’t sure what.  I couldn’t say for certain there was NO god. I couldn’t prove that god didn’t exist. But neither could I prove god does exist. That feeling of disquiet I felt as a kid remained. I wanted to believe in something; to give me “purpose” and focus.

When my daughter converted to Judaism and lived as an Orthodox Jew in Israel, I was in awe of her strength of passion, and again jealous of her sense of commitment and surety. I was jealous that she was so sure of what she believed that she was willing to turn her life upside down for it. That she had a way of ordering her life that made sense to her. I struggled. Why was I here? What was my purpose? What was the purpose of the Universe?

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I reflected on my jealousy and realised part of it stemmed from the fact that if there was no god and if I did not follow a religion, then everything was up to me, and I had to be responsible for all my own actions. That burden sometimes felt too heavy. I wanted someone to tell me how to live my life and how I should act.

I have changed my mind again and now I feel liberated and free. I have discovered there are people like me and we are called humanists. Why did it take nearly 60 years to find this out?

Humanists believe in science. They do not believe in God, gods or supernatural beings. They do not believe in an afterlife. They believe we live one life and we have a moral obligation to live that one life well. To not damage others or the universe. To exist in harmony and peace.

Notre Dame - God's grandest house?
Notre Dame

Humanists understand that life is uncertain and we can not know everything. We can, however, use rational thought, experimentation and our senses to learn about and then explain our universe and the amazing things in it.

That describes what I think and believe. There are people out there who feel the same way and hold conferences, have debates and write books I never knew existed. I have found my tribe! My lack of religion is not a calamity, it is not a shortfall in my character or upbringing. It is sensible, rational and true.

I came from nothing, I will become nothing. I have no memories of life before I was born because there was no consciousness. When I die, I will again have no capacity to feel or think and I will be nothing but a pile of saggy flesh and bones hopefully nourishing a tree.

I will be gone, and maybe I will be remembered kindly by those who knew me. That is up to me, and how well I live my one life.

 

 

House of God?

 

Recycling Humans?

Chemistry as it applies to the human population.

Recent bush fires in Australia have had me thinking down some very black roads.  Some related to politics, capitalism and how the world could have been better if we had taken advantage of different “sliding door” moments.

I have reflected on climate change, sustainability, the death of native animals, destruction of houses and communities. I thought about the moments in history which have led us here to this time and place.

…And then I got to thinking about thermodynamics. About available energy and matter.  The fact that there is a finite number of atoms on this Earth.

The big question in my mind then became “How many people could live on this planet without ruining it?”

As a chemist, I have studied closed system reactions. Our earth is essentially a closed system.  A closed system only has a certain number of atoms available so once you use them up the reactions have to stop. Rearranging atoms usually uses up energy. Energy is also limited.

These limited atoms are used to make up all the things on Earth including humans. There are an estimated 7,656 million people on the planet. Let’s say the average mass of a human is around 80kg. That’s 612,480 million kilograms of humans. (1 kilo = 2.2 lbs)

If we wind back the clock just 300 years to the 1700s, the estimated upper limit[1] of the human population was 680 million. That means there is an extra 558,080 million (558,080,000,000) kg of human flesh on the planet now compared to then.

Most of those extra kilograms have come from other living things in our closed system because we eat them.  There has to be a time when we simply run out of atoms and energy to keep making more humans. The majority of the energy we are using now has come from the stored energy of ancient living things – a.k.a fossil fuel.

While some of the atoms in current humans may have come from recycled humans (i.e. the return of nutrients to the soil through decomposition) most of the time we don’t generally “recycle” humans. We put them in sealed boxes in burial grounds off-limits to agriculture where the nutrients can not be returned to the system. Cremation adds to the carbon in the air.

We waste and misuse so many resources. As consumers, we salve our conscious with the catch-cry,  reduce-reuse-recycle, but that is unlikely to be enough to stop or reverse climate change.

Is it time to stop being humans who recycle to humans who are recycled?

Is it time to start thinking about burial practices so the nutrients in humans are available for other uses? I’m of course not the only one thinking about this sort of thing; burial trees pods have been mooted for a while.

It’s all sounding like Soylent Green may not be such a bad idea after all! By the way, that movie, where people were recycled to make food for other humans was set in 2022.

I also believe that those of us in developed economies, who use a lot of resources, have a moral imperative to reduce the number of children we have. We need to seriously consider limiting our population through natural attrition so that some of the atoms can be returned to make other things.

Instead of “one [child] for mum, one for dad and one for the country” how about just one for the planet?

[1] https://www.ecology.com/population-estimates-year-2050/

The burning of Notre Dame

The world is sad today. Sad for the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Such a travesty. I am not a religious person, so I  am not sad for the “church” itself, but for the rich history, it holds.

I am sad for the loss of workmanship which is unlikely to ever be replicated.

I am sad for the destruction of the vast historical treasures held in the halls and vaults.

Sad for the loss of beauty and sad for the people of France for their loss of an important cultural archive.

When you think of France, the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame are the first things that jump into your mind.

I visited Notre Dame in 2011 before I labelled myself a photographer. I wish I had done a better job back then capturing its beauty and majesty.

Farewell, beautiful lady. Will you rise like a phoenix? Will Paris rebuild you? Will those thousands and thousands of pieces of leadlight be carefully reconstructed into the glorious rosettes?

I hope so.

My thoughts are with you Paris.

 

(From more recent news reports it looks like the Cathedral has not been completely destroyed, but much of the structure is damaged.)

Team Earth

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Photo Credit: A nice man in the crowd took our photo

Last Saturday I was the one half of Wonder Woman and my younger sister, Tracy, the other half. We were each wearing one half of a Wonder Woman outfit for a Tough Mudder event.

Tough Mudder is not a race. The event is not timed. A full Mudder is a 16 – 20 km course with 20 obstacles. The Sydney Mudder in November 2017 was enhanced by heavy rain the night before so the course was even muddier than it was designed to be. We waded, walked and slurped our way through knee-deep mud that varied in viscosity from milk to partially melted ice cream. It sucked the shoes off many. It filled our orifices, both private and public.

The mud was a smelly, dank, black ooze with grassy inclusions. It was better not the think about the amount of horse shit that was mixed with the velvety clay. We threw ourselves over and into trenches filled with slime. We dragged ourselves up walls with knotted ropes. We stood on the shoulders of others to climb over obstacles and we cheered those who made it. We laughed and smiled as some fell face first into the muck and we wiped each other off.

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

Tracy and I made it through with a couple of bruises and scrapes, our pride boosted by the encounters with friendly and helpful people along the way. Our feeling of accomplishment heightened by the collective knowledge that you can’t complete a Tough Mudder on your own. To finish, you need help. You need to co-operate, either with your own team or enlist the help of strangers. You need someone to help you up and over the mud walls in the Mud Mile; you need people to haul you up the Everest obstacle. You just can’t do it on your own, no matter how fit and fabulous you are.

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Not so clean but enjoying a beer! Photo credit: another nice person from the crowd!

Why is it that at an event like this we can cast aside our differences and reserved natures and help with an open heart and a spirit of untapped, immeasurable generosity?  I finished because total strangers gave me a leg up, literally. If I met these people on the street on Monday, they probably wouldn’t even say hello.

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Let me give you a hand buddy! (Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page)

Why? Because on Saturday we had a common goal. Because we had all been banded into one team. The Tough Mudder Team. We had an initial idea that this would be fun. We paid our money and we joined the team – willingly. We signed a waiver that basically said – this is dangerous – you could die – but that’s your choice. On Saturday we arrived at the one place at the one time. We were corralled together for the warm up and listened to the playful banter of the “coach”.  We joined the chant.

“When I say tough YOU say Mudder”

“TOUGH”

“MUDDER”

“TOUGH”

“MUDDER”

The warm-up guy at the start line invoked the spirit of shared purpose even further when we all got down on one knee and pledged to think of others before we thought of ourselves. We learnt how to signal to indicate a fallen Mudder. We knew if we found someone hurt, we crossed our arms above our heads and first aid would arrive.

We bonded.  We were a family. We were TOUGH MUDDERS!

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

There was plenty of swearing going on that day but none of it was in anger. The f’ing and blinding was targeted at our common enemy – the mud. All the elements of team building were right there:  collective action to successfully  overcome a series of challenges that took us outside our comfort zone to achieve a common purpose.

By the 12 kilometre mark, our tired bodies were seeking distraction despite the fun, and as we jogged from one obstacle to the next, my sister commented

“Wouldn’t it be good if it was like this all the time. If we could be friendly and kind all the time.”

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

Indeed, it would!

In the real world, we divide ourselves into teams based on religion, ethnicity, colour and gender. We subdivide that into even smaller teams based on sexual preference, political affiliation and citizenship. We endlessly divide ourselves into smaller and smaller teams and privilege those who belong to the same team and cast the outsiders well away. We don’t trust the “others” and we choose not to share with them. We walk past the homeless. We demonise those whose faith is different to our own, even though the scriptures we follow all include love and peace as their central tenets.

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

With the black mud covering our bodies, it was almost impossible to tell who was who. The lumps and bumps that showed through the active wear defined gender, but that was all. The act of helping a fellow Mudder over the wall was offered to and by men and women equally, so gender became insignificant. You helped; regardless.

After all we were the same tribe! The Saturday Mudders!

Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page

Driving home, I turned on the news and discovered that the world had not become a loving festival of generosity. Those who hated others who were not in the same tribe still outnumbered the generous. I heard that our Parliament was considering the Same Sex Marriage Bill and might vote to permit active discrimination by allowing those who “felt uncomfortable” in baking a wedding cake etc. to refuse service to a gay couple seeking to formalise their love. I sighed – the bubble burst.

How can we join all the humans of the world into one big team? By expanding our horizons. After all, when you pull the focus back far enough it is easy to see we already do belong to only one team.

Team Earth.

Let’s hope it does not take until the arrival of the Aliens before we all sign up for membership to the team that seeks to maintain a habitable planet.

Today, as I nurse my aching muscles I feel like one tough grand-mudder! I urge you to  pay the membership to join Team Earth. Let’s play together! All 7.6 billion of us. That’s one awesome human pyramid we could build!

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Photo credit: Tough Mudder Australia Facebook page
(Unfortunately the GoPro I was wearing malfunctioned. The 100% waterproof cover was in fact 0% waterproof!! As a result I have no original pictures to post except the two with Tracy and I at the start and finish)