I really appreciate that everyone who comments here, regardless of what she or he believes, is so supportive and respectful of each other. I know we don’t always agree, and that’s a good thing, but in a forum like this where you could hide and say some awful sh*t, people have been so gentle with each other. (That includes you, too, Joe K.) Thank you for giving me faith in my fellow man over and over again.
If you’ve sent me an idea to write about, I really appreciate all your suggestions and will address your questions or issues as soon as possible (if you’ve asked me to do so publicly). I think that it makes for much more interesting discussions when topics and questions—and answers– come from readers.
Molly, who is Catholic and is a regular here, asked about the atheist perspective on tragedies. The deaths of the firefighters in Arizona were a terrible loss of life, and Molly wonders this:
“…How [do] atheists deal with this type of sacrifice or death? Now, I am not claiming that atheists can’t be sacrificial or selfless or don’t “do the right thing”… but I mean in an extreme instance where someone has given their life for someone else or died for a worthy cause… how is that person’s life (and death) “rewarded”? (I don’t like the word “rewarded” here but I couldn’t think of an alternative…)
Giving your life for another is the ultimate human sacrifice. Both believers and non-believers can probably agree on that. But if the end result for these men is the same as another guy who, lets say, committed suicide after a life of crime, abuse, murder, rape, and addiction…. then how is there any “justice” in that? What’s the point? (Again, don’t love the word “justice” but couldn’t think of an alternative…)”
If you don’t believe in God, what is the point in giving your life for another person or higher cause? If you’ve lived your life in service to others, yet you suffer and die the same as a serial killer, what’s the point?
I once read this short story—years ago when I was a teenager—about a man who was riding on a train, eager to get to his destination. Along the way, he passed so many beautiful things: bucolic scenery, charming towns, children playing, couples kissing. Yet he was so engrossed in his destination that he missed all of the life between his journey’s beginning and end.
For us who don’t believe in God or an afterlife, the reward is here, now. Doing nice things for others is rewarding, and it can be contagious, too. We won’t receive any sort of prize in return, but the act itself feeds our idea of who we are (yes, LT, I see that’s ego there). It makes us feel good–well, most of us–so “doing good” is, in a way, both a beneficial act for society and a selfish act for ourselves.
But there is no ultimate justice. Some times life is just not fair. That’s a fact. There is no one Judge to right all wrongs at the end of our lives. As much and as often as we can, we have to make sure justice is served for each other. We will always fall short.
I think that people who do dangerous jobs, such as firefighting, do so because they like the fact that it is risky (there is an adrenaline rush there) and because they like the social rewards these jobs bring. Our communities look at firefighters as heroes. That’s a reward in and of itself. Little boys (and sometimes girls) dream of one day being a firefighter. They play dress up and wear fire hats and clothes during Halloween.
It was an awful loss to society in losing these men, but they didn’t suffer long. Their survivors are the ones who will suffer for a long time. Although the firefighters are dead and have reached the same end as a rapist or murderer—they chose the life they wanted, and they knew how it could possibly end. Their destination came sooner than expected, but I suspect—and hope–that they were enjoying their journey.
The reward was their life–to live it as they wanted. There is no point to life. Nature’s goal for us is simply to propagate the species. We’re free to design our own lives and define our own meaning. We can choose to do good deeds. Or bad. The universe is indifferent—only man cares.
What about you guys? What are your thoughts? What’s the point in doing good deeds if your life ends in the same way that a criminal’s does?
Thanks, again, Molly, for the interesting question.
I hope everyone has a safe and fun 4th of July.