Wednesday, June 29, 2011

irreligious practice

I realize that "irreligious" is a broad and loose description so I can't speak with comprehensive authority. Regardless, I offer some personal opinions on commendable irreligious practice.
  • Ritual. First, disregard suggestions to indulge in ironic, satiric, or parodic versions of religious rituals; the mere negativity of scornful attacks is a sadly hollow method to assert self-identity. Instead, consider the two truths that humans are entirely corporeal and all activity ceases at death. They shall encounter an inevitable end. In response, it's prudent for humans to nurture their long-term health. One precaution that's almost universally recommended is regular moderate exercise, which is achievable without onerous costs of time or pain. It's a ritual, observed on most days of the week for a minimum of a half-hour (depending on intensity/ability), to the central importance of preserving the body to forestall its eventual decay. Unlike many religious rituals, the participant can choose how to do it. A second irreligious ritual is any action that's unreservedly approved by conscience but happens to be forbidden by a religion. Detestable and/or stupid actions don't qualify. The point isn't to celebrate anarchic freedom from behavioral restrictions by acting like a villain. The point is to ignore unnecessary religious prohibitions and thereby improve the lives of self and others. Show that there's a better way. Truth be told, this ritual isn't strictly irreligious. Religious adherents themselves often dump all the parts of their nominal religion that they sense to be unconscionable. Or just perplexing.
  • Study. My advice to the irreligious is to cultivate wide-ranging curiosity. We have finite opportunities to learn, explore, and experience. There aren't any additional "realms". There isn't a preferred path of narrow study that produces god-pleasing mental states and therefore unlocks a superior afterlife. All we can have is what's in front of us. Experimental, expansive learning is more mathematically probable to find the pleasing and the good (and greater insight into the displeasing and the evil). Of course, "study" could be secondhand, as in reading worthy books, or firsthand, as in developing a skill. And religion is an interesting and varied object of study for the irreligious, who aren't concerned about the "danger" of exposure to competing knowledge.
  • Activism/Values. I'm not convinced that rapid elimination of religions is possible. Nor do I suppose that a sudden absence of religion would guarantee a widespread, uniformly-positive change in well-being. Bitter assault on the religious, through techniques of shock and disrespect, is counterproductive. However, I'm in favor of lawful democratic efforts to equalize the rights and privileges of the irreligious with the religious. Depending on the case, the best approach could be removing discrimination based on personal beliefs altogether. Or gaining peer recognition of "irreligiosity" as an included category (no matter the name). Generally, in public forums of all kinds, counterbalancing irreligious perspectives should be stated when appropriate, and the form of expression should amount to much more than indignant insults or aggressive attempts to de-convert. It should go without saying that some quixotic fights are a waste of time and so is taking offense at minuscule unintentional oversights. Irreligious practice is at its least persuasive when it's characterized by irrational hatred directed at a nonexistent god. Rather the route to mutual tolerance should consist of demonstrations that irreligiosity isn't synonymous with amorality. I like the Christmas (look, I didn't type "x-mas"!) slogan "be good for goodness' sake". It's simplistic almost to the degree of tautology, but it does communicate the basic idea that ethical concepts and sentiments and decisions aren't contingent on thunderbolts or hellfire. When the irreligious promote values and causes that fit their ideals of less oppressive suffering in human existence, perhaps cooperating with the religious on selected projects, prejudice appears unfounded. Charitable contributions and volunteerism contradict the pernicious presumption that humans without otherworldly judges are purely selfish. Actually, I suspect that many of the religious outwit themselves, morally-speaking: they're either so confident about their acceptability before god, or so obsessed with perfection of irrelevant private minutiae, they don't bother to be a constructive influence.

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