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|First published 31 December 2006 at
Daily Kos and at
We Create the MeaningI had lunch the other day with an old friend and fellow atheist. It's ironic that we really only get to see one another during the Christmas period, when he is in town to visit family.
In the course of the wide-ranging conversation (we share many opinions, and differ just enough on some others to keep things lively), he mentioned that he thought that what my wife and I were doing in caring for her mom was praiseworthy.
I thanked him, and explained something I usually don't tell people. I told him that some time back, when my wife and I were discussing such plans with her mom (back when she could do so, understanding the relevant issues), she indicated that she didn't want to go to a nursing home, but wanted to stay in her home of 50+ years until she died. Nothing unusual in that - it is a common enough desire. But I felt that since she, herself, had cared for a child born with a significant disability (cerebral palsy) for over 40 years, she deserved to have her wish honored, insofar as we were able to do so.
My friend nodded. "Without having recourse to a heaven for our rewards, we have to create the 'meaning' of our life here, now, ourselves, and do the same for others when we can."
I think that this is something that theists just do not understand about us atheists. Or perhaps the implications of it just scares the living daylights out of them. Without a sky-daddy, or tribunal, or Karmic Wheel, or Big Magic JuJu Guy (thanks, Hank!) to sit in judgment of our lives and hand out punishments and rewards, the responsibility for making this life have meaning is ours and ours alone. We don't get to pass the buck upstairs, or just shrug and say that it is in God's hands. We, and only we, can work to make things better. With all of the resources available to us, with the powers created by human ingenuity, we could make this world, this life, a paradise, if we so choose. That we haven't, that much of the world still lives in poverty and fear, that much of our energy is turned to hate and destruction, is one hell of an indictment.
May we all work to have a better year than this one has been. Best wishes.
all work © James T. Downey, 1993-2006
photos © Martha K. John, 1994-2006
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