Friday, August 26, 2011

I wish

Part of acting as a mature adult in a complicated human society is to express statements that are half-true at most. Sincerity isn't a prerequisite. To avoid offense and thereby smooth social interaction, signaling an effort to be considerate is more important than unconditional agreement with the other's ideas on a divisive topic.

Nevertheless, I bristle at one kind of diplomacy that irreligious believers offer: "I wish." The words vary, but the constant is an empathetic disconnect in which emotional preferences are for religious rather than natural notions. "I wish your god existed." "I wish human souls lived forever." "I wish the universe were simple."

My irritation comes from a personal distaste for these sweet wishes. Yes, it may be true that I wish either that reality were more congenial to me or that I could more easily manipulate it to be so. The first is utopia and the second is magic. Of course these wishes are pleasing to compute; that's the whole rationale for a wish. How reassuring is it for the irreligious to admit the obvious, that they too would like human existence to not be so difficult?

A further problem is that courageous advocacy for fictional paradises will fall apart under follow-up questions. What if the hypothetical god acted like _____? What if living forever included harsh judgment for _____?  What if a simple universe implied the impossibility of ______? Fully outlined proposals of alternatives might not be as enticing as the one-paragraph summary...

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