Balanced and Based in Reality

Friday, September 22nd is the fall equinox — the “equal night.” If anything in nature is to teach us balance, it should be the equinox: Things get dark. Things freeze. Things get light. Things thaw out. And around and around it goes. This is the teaching of our natural world. Many religions over time have observed nature and drawn conclusions from observervable reality. This way of thinking is most likely the oldest form of human religion. Many of us still follow it. We ignore it at our peril.

As I’ve mentioned before in this space, the September issue of the The Atlantic magazine includes an article by Kurt Anderson titled “How America Lost Its Mind.”

In the article Anderson tells of what he calls the American “promiscuous devotion to the untrue,” and he surmises that “maybe a third” of Americans are “solidly reality-based.” His surmise is based on polling that says two-thirds of Americans believe in angels and demons. Half believe in a personal god who is active in the universe — classic monotheism. And half believe in the existence of a geographic place called heaven.

Anderson writes,

. . . being American means we can believe anything we want; that our beliefs are equal or superior to anyone else’s, experts be damned.

“Reality-based” people.

First and foremost, Humanists and Religious Naturalists are those people. We work first to discover the truth, and only later do we decide how we feel about it. We embrace the view that meaning and purpose are human constructs. Neither the universe nor the gods provide or construct meaning or purpose. Meaning and purpose are human creations; therefore, it’s our job to construct them from what we feel and what we observe.

A naturalistic worldview requires several shifts in perspective. A major one is

that in our reality-based world there’s a difference between hope and realistic hope. Justice and equity may not be entirely achievable in human governments and human economic systems. It may be we can only get as close as we can . . .

As reality-based people, we must learn balance and the way the universe works — however unfair we feel it all is. Then we must work for human values and the flourishing of the earth that sustains us within the perimeters of the real.

No savior is coming to save us from ourselves. Life is brutal. Still, reality is as it is, not as we wish: there are no gods who will intervene in the outcome of a football game; or an election; or a war; or a fatal illness.

It isn’t any surprise to reality-based people that no god has actually “shed his grace” on the United States. From a reality-based viewpoint, American exceptionalism is merely absurd. Empires rise and empires fall. That’s no surprise — the sun we circle has seen many, none more blessed than any of the others.

Anderson says, “being American means we can believe anything we want.” In this context, it is the duty of reality-based people such as Humanists and Religious Naturalists to join with other reality-based people to be the adults in the room. There aren’t many of us, but the list includes many unaffiliated secular people, and in addition, liberal Christians, and Jews, and Muslims who do not believe in the literal truth of their scriptures.

We are on our own, and we only have each other. Sure, it would be nice if there were more. But it doesn’t matter what we wish or feel. What we have is enough.

That is the call of ancient religions; it is the call of non-Western religions; it is the call of Humanism and Religious Naturalism: what we have is enough.

Nothing is out there to save us, so let’s get together and get to work.