I turned on the radio yesterday, and caught just the tail end of “Speaking Of Faith” on public radio. The host, Krista Tippett, was asking for listeners’ stories, specifically regarding the recent Wall Street turmoil—“the moral and spiritual aspects of an economic downturn”. The show has produced a series called “Repossessing Virtue”, in which “voices of wisdom and insight” have commented on various aspects of the economic crisis. I was a bit shocked to see, for instance, a piece reporting on homeowners choosing to foreclose on their mortgages rather than give up tithing. Other reports ask of the effects of the market on moral character, or explore the poetry of depression (both economic and psychological).
I suppose it is too much to ask for a regular atheist voice on the program; there are more religious views than can be accommodated on a weekly show already, and sufficient diversity among non-believers that no one voice could possibly speak for us all (but I would love to be one of those voices). For instance, the very notion that there would be a moral or spiritual aspect to the downturn was taken as a given, whereas it really threw me for a loop—at least, initially. But it does make sense. If you believe there is, in this universe, not just order but divine guidance, if you believe that there is a benevolent and just hand at the helm, then you have to wonder, when things go horribly wrong, what you did to deserve it.
An uncaring universe does not promise good things to good people and bad things to bad people. A world that is blind to our beliefs, responsive only to our actions, requires us not to have faith, but to act. Blind faith, whether in god or in Bernie Madoff, leaves us vulnerable to exploitation, and is no virtue. There is no higher morality to be found in clinging to a belief system that actively harms.
If god is great, and god is good, and god is kind and just
As theologians everywhere believe that they have shown,
The losses of my family’s jobs and of our house, then, must
Be well-deserved, appropriate, and yes, our fault alone.
We’ll put some money in the plate, with less and less to give;
We’ll say our prayers, and sing our hymns, with praises to his name,
Each week we find it harder, but that’s just the life we live;
It’s all our fault—the one thing god won’t ever take is blame.
It’s a crisis of morality, a spiritual malaise,
It’s time to kneel and bow our heads and double up on prayer!
I’ll never doubt that god deserves our everlasting praise;
The alternative’s unthinkable—that god just doesn’t care.
So… to answer the questions on the contact site:
» Are you experiencing this economic moment as a moral or spiritual crisis as well?
No. My morality does not depend on being blessed, or cursed, by god or fate or karma. Good times are not a moral reward, nor bad times a punishment. As for “spiritual”, the word is the remnant of a vocabulary of ignorance; this economic crisis is here in the real world.
» Do concepts of trust, of living in community, of what sustains you have relevance in new tangible ways as you face changed economic realities?
I have always lived within a human community. We are all we have, and have always been this. I rely on my fellow creatures, and try always to act such that they may rely on me. This has always been important; perhaps if more people were living for this world instead of passing time through this one while waiting for another, we would not have so many people in such dire need.
» What qualities of human nature do you want to cultivate in yourself or your children?
Skepticism and reliance on evidence. Helping one another is in our best interest; science has been our most powerful tool in all of human history. We are at a point when we need our most powerful tool applied to our common social interest. Religious solutions have divided us and put us at war with one another; if religion has had good effects, it has been only for the winners.
» Who will we be for each other?
Everything. We are all we have. If, as the saying goes, two hands working do more than a thousand clasped in prayer, just imagine the increased potential for good in the world if we actually did realize that we are all we have.