Humanism in a shitstorm

How do you deal with all of life’s vicissitudes if you don’t have an invisible means of pretend support in a deity? Greta Christina shares her story over at The Humanist.

Here’s the short version of what happened to me: This past October I got hit with a serious one-two punch. My father died and less than two weeks later I was diagnosed with uterine cancer.

The cancer is treatable, and in fact has already been treated. I got lucky there (if any kind of cancer can be “lucky”): it was slow-growing, caught early, and entirely treated with hysterectomy, with no chemo or radiation needed. But it was still terrifying. Recovery from the surgery has been slow, often painful, almost always difficult and exhausting. And it was much more traumatic coming so soon after my father’s death. I was just barely beginning to recover from that shock and wrestle with my grief when the news about my cancer came. Plus there was a nasty feedback effect: each of these traumas left me weakened, and less able to cope with the other.
[…]

If there was ever a time when suffering, grief, and a stark reminder of my own mortality could make me turn to religion, this was it. I didn’t seriously think I would turn to religious belief—I know the arguments against it too thoroughly—but I kept waiting for the moment when I’d wish I believed. I kept waiting for the moment when I’d think to myself, “Goddammit, this atheism stuff sucks. If only I believed in God or an afterlife, this would be so much easier.” I kept waiting for that shoe to drop… and it kept not happening. The opposite happened. The thought of religion made me queasy—and my humanism proved a profound comfort.

Honestly? If I believed in a god who made this shit happen on purpose, I wouldn’t be comforted. I’d be wanting to find the biggest ladder I could, climb to heaven, and punch the guy’s lights out.

Read the remainder. It’s worth it, trust me.

Narcissism has higher health costs for men

A fascinating but not entirely surprising result from a study about narcissism suggests that men incur a higher cost health-wise for trying to appear manly, or otherwise in conformity with stereotypical gender roles.

For the new study, Konrath and colleagues David Reinhard of the University of Virginia, and William Lopez and Heather Cameron of the University of Michigan examined the role of narcissism and sex on cortisol levels in a sample of 106 undergraduate students. Cortisol, which can be measured through saliva samples, is a widely used marker of physiological stress.

The researchers measured cortisol levels at two points in time in order to assess baseline levels of the hormone, which signals the level of activation of the body’s key stress response system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Participants were not asked to complete any tasks that would elevate their stress. Elevated levels of cortisol in a relatively stress-free situation would indicate chronic HPA activation, which has significant health implications, increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems.

[Read more…]