April 2, 2020

Reconnecting with Humanism During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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The world is often not as we would like it to be. While many take pride in their attempts to face the world as it is, few manage to do so consistently or to the degree they might like. This includes atheists, as well as religious believers. We are all afflicted with cognitive biases that make this challenging. We must also contend with the experience of emotions that are not always conducive to reason. This helps explain why so many people seem blind to the costs of political tribalism, panic buying, or the sort of nonsense many religious leaders feed to their followers.

For atheists, it is usually easy to find fault with religious belief. Most of us are pretty good at doing so. Of course, it helps considerably that many prominent religious individuals make public pronouncements that should be a source of embarrassment but somehow aren't. It might be funny if this sort of thing didn't carry the sort of costs for the rest of us it often does. It is much harder to shine the spotlight on ourselves and detect the many ways in which we are not nearly as rational as we'd like to believe. Most of us can probably think of examples of our shortcomings, but we generally prefer to keep them to ourselves.

I think we our doing ourselves a disservice by not more regularly examining our behavior, identifying our own biases and the times when we've allowed them to get the best of us, and expending some effort on self-improvement. But more than that, doing this in a more deliberate and mindful way would likely benefit other people (some do still value that) and even our political process. If nothing else, we should not squander the opportunity to model what the application of reason looks like in a world where it often seems to be absent. It is helpful for others to see what it looks like in real life and even on social media. There's no question that none of this is easy, but we can get better at it.

The thought with which I'd like to leave you is a simple one. In these trying times, it is easy to succumb to fear, anger, hopelessness, and/or apathy. If we are honest with ourselves, I suspect that most of us have experienced this temptation. I certainly have. In fact, I still do pretty much every day. Most of us manage to push past it and keep going (which doesn't mean that we can't use help from time-to-time), but we have days when doing so takes a lot out of us. One of the things that has helped keep me grounded has been my determination to be the kind of person I wish there were more of. I know that's cliche, but I have found it helpful in countering some of my worst impulses. I suppose you could say it is one of the things I find most helpful in reconnecting with my inner humanist.