Archive for Social Impact

A Test of Morality

Posted in Morality, Social Causes with tags , , , , , on August 29, 2010 by Jay Vollmond

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As a quick note, this post is not to “pat myself on the shoulder” or anything related. I simply find all too often that atheists/agnostics/freethinkers get an unfounded bad reputation in the marketplace of ideas regarding morality. In my experience, this stems from the falsities spread by those who do not take the time to get to know and understand atheists. Many people who learn later on after meeting me that I am an atheist are very surprised by this fact. “But, you’ve always been so nice” and other comments are typical, as if I somehow should have been expected to have “666” tattooed on my forehead and drink the blood of infants.

What tested me yesterday was a simple and probably otherwise uneventful situation in just another day of life. However, most people (from the reactions I received by all parties involved) would apparently not do the same. Here was the situation:

Upon exiting a retail store with my girlfriend, we were heading back to our vehicle when I passed a white sedan. I noticed near the driver’s door laying on the ground were a set of keys. On this set was an obvious car key, remote keyless entry fob, and an apparent house key. The first thought that ran through my mind was “Oh, shit! Someone dropped their keys getting out of their vehicle. If these stay on the ground, someone could come by and steal this vehicle without incident.”

The thought that came to mind was NOT whether I should steal the car, or rifle through the vehicle to see if there was anything I could steal. I had tested the remote and it was in fact for that vehicle. The problem that most troubled me was how to ensure that the owner and NO ONE else got the keys after we left.

The best route that I supposed was to take the keys to Customer Service in the store that the person was obviously parked in front of. I did so, despite the fact that it was extremely hot outside and we were not parked very close to the entrance of the store. As I reached the counter to Customer Service, I explained to the employee that I had found the keys. She looked at me with a puzzled look and stated “If it had been me, I would have taken it for a joyride and brought it back.”

I left her with the keys, the make/model of the car, and the license plate number (of which I took a photo on my iPhone to ensure I got the plate number correct). I asked the woman if she could please announce the return of the keys on the PA system in the store so that if the owner heard the announcement all would be taken care of. It still irked me a bit though to leave without having confirmed that the owner’s keys would be safely returned. When I got back to the car I asked my girlfriend if she had a pen, which at the time she unfortunately did not.

I noticed a woman parking her cart and getting ready to enter her vehicle. I asked politely if she had a pen that I could borrow. As I would expect (upon being approached by any stranger) she seemed hesitant. I advised her of the situation with the keys and that I wanted to leave a note on the owner’s vehicle informing them that their keys were with Customer Service inside the store. The woman happily lent me her pen, and as I finished writing my note, she proclaimed that what I was doing was very nice, and would hope that if she was in a similar situation of losing her keys, someone would take the time to do the same for her.

Luckily this extra time to find the pen resulted in perfect timing for me to return to the owner’s vehicle to see a man digging around in his pockets while looking confused. I approached the man and asked if the vehicle was his. He nodded, albeit with a confused look on his face. I explained the situation and advised him of where he could find his keys. He seemed a bit flabbergasted, but managed to shoot me a smile and a quiet “thank you.” He then unlocked his car with a spare “valet” key and placed his bags inside before heading back to the store to regain his keys.

As I mentioned, this is all too trivial, but the reactions I received from the Customer Service rep, woman who lent me the pen, and the owner of the vehicle indicate that it was anything BUT ordinary. I find this to be unsettling. Is it not important to take 5 minutes out of one’s ‘busy’ life to help a stranger?

What helps me make moral decisions is placing myself in the situation. How would I feel if I was the owner of the vehicle and lost my keys? Would my stomach not churn in anguish as I realized I had no idea where my car keys were? How am I going to get home? It’s over 100 degrees outside and to lay on the asphalt looking for keys would burn my skin!

I hope that my actions are not as rare as they seemed to be based on the reactions of the people I met yesterday.


This Life…Or The Afterlife?

Posted in Environment, Rant'n'Rave, Religion, Social Causes with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2010 by Jay Vollmond

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So which is more important? Personally, I don’t believe in an afterlife. There is no evidence worthy of any real pursuit of religious ideas of an afterlife. This is especially true with the monotheistic religions’ idea of Heaven and Hell, eternal life/suffering, and Paradise by way of martyrdom (and the killing of “infidels”).

Why? Because they are a pipe-dream. Can you truly imagine life that is ever-lasting? The human mind is not capable of grasping a concept like infinite life. We are alive for an average of 50-80 years. Some of us only make it to our teens or early 20’s, and some are stillborn and never even live outside of the womb.

We WILL die, and that will be the end of it. But knowing and understanding this makes life MORE beautiful. Those who cannot stand to live without their fictional god and afterlife see this eventuality as meaning that life would be worthless or useless without a god. I believe this is false. Life is precious. We are on the smallest speck of a planet in a solar system, within a random whirlpool galaxy amongst the vastness of the universe. This sounds pretty depressing, right? Except that we have evolved AND ARE HERE! We are more precious than any religion seems to note. Despite the overwhelming odds against life forming in the universe, we are alive and have the ability to ponder these ideas. But, you cannot actually believe that a deity created the ENTIRE universe just for some mammals on a small planet.

Personally, the thought of a life that never ends is quite frightening. By this I mean that because our lives are NOT everlasting, we are able to better cherish the time that we have with those that we love. We have ONE shot to be the best person we can be, to enjoy life, to make a positive impact on others, and to leave the world better than we found it.

If there is some sort of sequel-life that never ends, it would not be what we consider to be “life”. What do you do with an unlimited amount of time on your hands? How many times can you go to Disney-Heaven before you get sick of the rides and want to punch Mickey in the face? I know, I’m being facetious. But seriously, it’s the knowledge that life is NOT forever and that someday our loved ones (and ourselves) will be gone that makes us appreciate our lives.

Everlasting life has been a human dream since our origins in Africa. Civilizations everywhere throughout human history have different ideas of how we live beyond our deaths. Also, look at the massive interest in vampire culture, zombies, living dead, and the whole Jesus “resurrection” thing. These are physically impossible scenarios, but tickle the human aspiration to live eternally and to not have to face death. They are fiction, used to entertain our desire to live forever despite knowing that it is not true.

To believe that after we die there is some greater “paradise” awaiting us if we exalt the right deity, eat the right food, marry the right person, have a certain amount of children, or other superficial criteria, is just laughable. If the Catholics are right, then the priests who molested thousands of innocent children will go to paradise while non-religious upstanding people are to spend eternity in torture? Really? Come on…

To think of this incredible chance at life that we have as some sort of “training camp” or “final exam” takes away all of the beauty of this life. But, you might inject, we can still enjoy the beauty of this world while aiming towards an afterlife. True, many people do still work towards a better world while aiming for eternal after-life. But, is this additional step really necessary? Can we not do better than this if we all understand that we are here, and it is up to us to be responsible while we are alive? Religion does nothing in this area but make empty promises (that cannot be fulfilled) that keep humans from appreciating the real-world life that they have.

The Christian idea of the Rapture is a dangerous belief that keeps many from caring about the viability of our planet. It seems every generation of Christian (at least the fundamentalists and crazies) believes that Jesus will come back in their lifetime to oversee the Earth as some sort of “loving” dictator. Oh, and supposedly he’s going to fix any problems with our planet with the snap of his fingers (pollution, disease, hunger, etc.). Yeah, and as you wait with bated breath for some mythological savior, the rest of us are trying to work towards a realistic long-term goal of allowing future generations to flourish on a planet that is able to sustain them.

Here’s what we DO know. We are here. We see, smell, breathe, love, laugh, and feel all sorts of emotions. We enjoy time with friends, family, and our animals, while developing memories of these experiences. We are all part of a network of cultures, civilizations, and social beings on a small planet rich in life-preserving elements. Few of these necessary elements are renewable resources, so we must work to sustain the Earth and ultimately our own existence as a species.

We are a recent addition to the ecology of the Earth, and in evolutionary timeframe humans have been here but for only a few minutes (measured in hundreds of thousands of years, if anyone reading this is a young-earth creationist). But, in those few “minutes” humans have managed to over-populate, pollute, and otherwise bleed the Earth dry like a virus.

Let’s all take a moment to reflect. Then, reject religious ideas of the world being a temporary vessel to heaven, and then we can start working on repairing the damage to the Earth. Maybe if these dogmatic wishes for an afterlife get discarded, we can move forward and take care of our home.

– Jay