1: A cosmic appreciation for life
Think about this. Everything that exists in the universe is made of atoms, which are made of energy vibrations, which have been rearranging themselves according to brilliant mathematical equations for about 14 billion years. This energy is inanimate, and yet it possesses the instructions and power to assemble itself into living, breathing, reproducing, feeling, supercomputers that are supported by a growing, healing frame that’s wrapped in layers of pulleys and levers that work in tandem to create an acrobatic range of motion. Human beings are cosmic mysteries, 14 billion years in the making.
Reality is amazing. If you’re not impressed by life or the universe, then you’re not paying attention. To anyone who is paying attention, it’s blatantly obvious that life is infinitely valuable. You don’t need a prophet to tell you that it’s wrong to hurt or kill people. You just need to open your eyes and appreciate life.
2: We’re all we’ve got.
Healthy babies will die in their cribs if they’re never touched. Solitary confinement is considered cruel and unusual punishment even for violent criminals.Nobody wants to spend the rest of their life alone, and everyone’s best memories are of times they spent with the people they loved. We need each other to survive, and we’re all we’ve got.
Sam Harris may have said it best when he said, “Consider it: every person you have ever met, every person will suffer the loss of his friends and family. All are going to lose everything they love in this world. Why would one want to be anything but kind to them in the meantime?”
If you’re looking for a reason to care about people, just go look someone in the eyes, and watch them looking back at you, affirming your existence. If you ever get lonely, you can go talk to that person, and they’ll share a whole universe of ideas and stories with you. They’ll make you laugh, cry, shout, relax, orgasm and all around live. They’re a reflection of yourself and a portal to another world. As cruel as people can be, we all know from personal experience that people are worth living for and protecting.
Countless soldiers have died horrific, selfless deaths protecting your ancestors. Countless civilians have dedicated their entire lives to studying the universe, solving problems and improving the world those soldiers died protecting. Everyone who has ever held a job is a cog in the machine that turned the savage wilderness into cities with electricity and plumbing. Granted, there have been a lot of horrible, selfish people who left the world a worse place than they found it, but that just means we owe even more of a debt of gratitude to the people who carried the slackers’ share of the burden.
Even if our actions don’t have any consequences in the afterlife, it’s still logical to be grateful when someone does something nice for you. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and we owe a lifetime of gratitude to every one of our ancestors who fought, worked and died so we could have a better life than they did. The best way we can show our gratitude to them is to continue their legacy and improve the world for future generations. The very least we can do is not be mean and tear down the world we were given.
4: Fulfilling humanity’s potential
It’s not a burden of responsibility to strive to make the world better by doing things as small as being kind to strangers or as big as devoting your life to curing cancer. It’s an opportunity to be a part of something amazing and meaningful. Look at how far humans have come in 10,000 years. We went from living in caves to flying to the moon. Humanity’s knowledge and skills have been increasing at an exponential rate, and we’re very close to reaching a tipping point in technology that will revolutionize civilization more than the invention of the steam engine or the internet. That’s worth being a part of just because it’ll be fun, and it’s not like we have anything better to do. Why not play a part in fulfilling humanity’s potential?
Sure, we might not personally reap all the benefits, but at least we can enter eternal sleep with a clear conscience, and we can rest well knowing our descendants will have a better life than we did. And if you’re having trouble finding meaning in life outside of religion, or you’re still a little worried about your actions being judged after death, you can find relief in making the world a better place. If it turns out that life really is meaningless, and nothing matters, at least you’ll have spent your life feeling good about your actions.
5: A spiritual but not religious appreciation for the divine
Agnostics and people who are “spiritual but not religious” are willing to concede that there may be some force somewhere in the universe that fits some definition of the word, “God.” If there is a God, it would be nice to know it’s true name, but we play the hand we’re dealt, and agnostics are comfortable with appreciating The Artist’s work without knowing The Artist’s name. That simple, general sense of gratitude and respect for a vaguely defined, theoretical God still tends to inspire half-believers to treat God’s creations with respect and reverence.
Many half-believers also speculate that God is everywhere and that humans are a reflection of God. Without outright believing in those two statements, the mere possibility of them being true still motivates some nonreligious people to respect life as much (if not more) than anyone who believes in ancient mythology.
6: Pascal’s Wager (modified)
Blaise Pascal posed the question (and I’m paraphrasing), “Isn’t it safer to believe in Jesus and be wrong, than to not believe in Jesus and be wrong?” This question is illogical for at least two reasons. First, Christianity is easily falsifiable. It’s blatantly mythology. Being a Christian doesn’t require faith in the absence of evidence. It requires active denial of reality in the face of overwhelming evidence. Secondly, believing in Christian mythology is no more logical than believing in Buddhist or Hindu mythology. So there’s no advantage to picking Christianity over any other random mythology.
Still, the question raises an interesting point. Anything could have happened before the universe came into existence, and anything could happen after we die. We don’t know for sure that our actions will have any repercussions in the afterlife, but why not play it safe and try to behave while we’re here on Earth, just in case?
Of course, that raises the question, how do you know what’s immoral if you don’t have an instruction book written by a prophet? The answer is to think and talk about ethics using the brain and mouth you were given. There are logic-based moral codes out there that are far more humane and productive than mythology-based moral codes.
Atheists may laugh at agnostics for trying to guess what their vaguely defined, theoretical, laissez-faire God wants them to do. I’m not saying atheists are wrong, but they’re faulting people for hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. Hope doesn’t cost anything, but hopelessness can literally kill you. And if fear of the unknown motivates people to do what they were supposed to be doing anyway then… that’s convenient.
7: Immediate karma
Our actions may not determine our quality of afterlife, but they do determine the quality of our experiences in the immediate present. If we spend all day being mean to people, we’ll experience an angry, ugly day. If we spend all day being nice to people, we’ll experience a full day of pleasantness. If we’re mean for 20,000 days straight, we’ll have a lifetime of painful memories to look back on. If we’re nice for 20,000 days straight, we’ll have a lovely life to look back on. Being nice will keep us in better relationships, which is the most important factor in happiness and long life.
8: Karmic cause-and-effect
There may not be a supernatural incentive program at work that magically causes good deeds to come back to good people and bad deeds to haunt bad people. However, we do live in the world we create. If you piss off everyone in town, you’re going to live in an unfriendly town. If you’re nice to everyone in town, you’ll inspire everyone to be nice to each other, and everyone will keep “paying it forward,” creating a self-perpetuating cycle of kindness. If we keep being nice to each other, eventually we won’t have to lock our doors at night or carry weapons for self-defense. So, without even getting philosophical, kindness is just practical.
Religions tend to divide mankind into “the chosen” and “the unworthy,” “the good” and “the evil,” “the saved” and “the damned.” Scientific thinkers don’t have any reason to divide humanity into any such categories. From a scientific point of view, everyone comes from the same place. Everyone had their ass wiped when they were children, and everyone’s shit stinks. Everyone’s body breaks down, and in the end, we all die. You can’t level up into a more transcendental being. No matter what we do or believe, we’ll always just be walking, talking puddles of dirty water.
At the same time, we’re also cosmic miracles. We’re biological robots with supercomputers in our heads that are smart and strong enough to reshape the universe itself. A lot of care and effort went into designing us. The evidence points to the conclusion that we’re all equally, infinitely valuable…. puddles of dirty water.
As smart and powerful as we are though, we were born existentially blind. We don’t and can’t know the final answers to life’s mysteries. We’re just stranded in this cold, lonely universe to stand or fall on our own. Since we don’t and can’t know what the point of life is, it doesn’t make sense to punish the hell out of people during life or after death for getting the point wrong. We’re all equally beautiful, and we’re also equally big screw ups. At the end of the day, we’re all family too. The only logical conclusion to come to in life is that we should celebrate, forgive and help each other.