Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Of Guts and Ethics

After a long couple of years going without, I started to miss the three Escape Artists podcasts I used to listen to regularly. So, I've been catching up - listening to new stories each week, and working my way backward through their archives.

On my commute this morning I was listening to Episode 414 - a story from September called Knowing, a post-apocalyptic religious adventure that features Templars, an infantile pope, and a foul-mouthed demon. Afterward, I was floored when the host, Alasdair Stuart, had this to say (starting around the 31:40 mark - emphases mine):
     "Religion and war, in the end, are both fundamentally about the same thing...Approached right, that can be a tremendously positive force in the world. After all, when you break them down to their component parts, most schools of thought in both those areas come down to 'to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield'. Three of those are admirable, and three of them (the striving, the seeking, and the not yielding) that's the Hero's Journey, right there. That's an ethical ladder that's open to everyone on the planet...
     "We like to search, we like to work, and we don't even pretend to know when to give up. The problem is finding, because that's also an ending, and there is nothing more final. You're definitively not the person you set out as, changed by your experiences, and now something infinitely richer and stranger the moment you find; the moment you discover. The moment you stop.
     "There are other stories, of course; there always, always are. But discovery always marks the end of that first story, and when that first story is one that means nothing and everything? When it's one that hundreds of thousands of people have waged war against each other for, for countless centuries? That has repercussions.
     "...The simple, almost mathematical destruction that the truth causes the moment you see it. The moment where the door slams shut, and all your pretty little lies, and you... know.  And all there is is you in the room with what you know. That process is never without destruction, however short term, and never without fear.
     "And it's not just religious folks, either. Atheism - TRUE atheism, as I understand it - is nothing but self-awareness - nothing but knowing as you build your ethical framework on your terms. Atheists are some of the gutsiest and frequently most ethical people on the planet as a result. But in the end, that doesn't matter.
     "Faith doesn't matter. Lack of faith doesn't matter. Nothing matters other than 'what you do, when you know'. Those moments define and unite us all, regardless of faith, intellectual system, gender, sexuality, body shape, or chosen sport ball team.
     "When the storm comes - and the storm always comes, believe me - what will you do?"
This struck me as the most resonant encapsulation of what atheism is, for me. 

I don't really know what Alasdair's beliefs are, but it really struck a chord for someone who I don't already recognize as a non-believer to get what I'm about. It's rare enough that I hear anyone besides other atheists say anything remotely complimentary about our morals. Usually comments run more along the lines of what a shame it is that I'm not the Christian I was raised to be, or how atheists just don't want believe because we "want to sin without consequences." (There are always consequences - even if you believe that the sins have been magicked away.)

Of course, I am of the opinion that it does, in fact, matter what you choose to put your faith in. I think that your faith (or lack) shapes you, whether you think a great deal about it or not. And it seems to me that you can't really trust your ethical framework - or any ethical framework - if you haven't built it yourself. That means either taking what someone else gave you, tearing it down, and rebuilding it like an old Volkswagon, or starting with nothing and forging the metal yourself... so when that storm comes, what you do will be a natural extension of everything you've prepared.

I always enjoy Alasdair's post-story essays, but this one really went above and beyond for me. I generally like the stories, but getting a few minutes of intellectual depth at the end? It's just one more thing I love about Escape Artists in general, and Alasdair in particular.

Whatsoever your beliefs may be, if you think you'd enjoy some short audio fiction, look for the free feeds  (Escape Pod for science fiction, Podcastle for fantasy, and Pseudopod for horror) and make sure their latest stories are getting to your podcatcher of choice.

Who knows? Maybe you'll end up deciding to subscribe with real money! Which is what I'm about to go do, because they give me way more than I can afford to give to them!

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