So I’m hanging out in a Starbucks in the well-to-do Boston suburb of Brookline, and in walks a dog with one ear dyed purple. That prompts me to ask my readers: When you encounter a person with purple hair, what do you see?
Do you see an in-your-face attempt to shock you by defying convention?
Do you see a manifestation of self-hatred — a woman’s desperate bid to distract you from the body she loathes?
Do you see an advocate for a hippie lifestyle of illicit sex and drugs?
At one time, those might have been my interpretations. Perhaps that’s because if I were to dye my hair purple, there would definitely be strange motives at work. Purple hair is just not how I roll. In the last few years, however, I’ve come to realize that someone else’s motives for doing X are not necessarily the same as mine would be.
I learned this by getting to know a few people who wore pentagrams, yet were not Satanists; or who wore skull earrings, yet did not glorify death. I met a young man who plays drums in a “death metal” band, yet is also thoughtful, intelligent and well-mannered. In fact, I met him at a church.
People are more surprising than we give them credit for. One pentagram-tattoo-sporting person I know does believe in magic, but only casts spells for good. Some kids wear skulls just to fit into the one group that will accept them. The death metal drummer I know finds sophisticated structure in music that most of us don’t understand. And maybe he just loves to bang on his drums.
Which brings me to the most important point for those of us who tend to be a little uptight. Some people wear purple hair just for fun.
If you’re just joining me, I’ve been responding to my Christian friends who ask, “Why would someone who doesn’t believe in God care?” I have suggested why I would care about anything at all and about right and wrong. This time, I’ll explore the reasons a non-believer has for caring about other people.
The prior posts actually apply to this question as well. First, humans are social animals, so caring for others is literally in our DNA. Second, even an unbeliever can observe that what goes around comes around.
I have only one thing to add, and once again the Bible provides a germane quotation: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The Message translation renders it, “You’re far happier giving than getting.” And it’s true. We feel good when we help others. We feel bad when we’re selfish.
Atheists may be without God, but they are not stupid. Even an atheist is smart enough to do what feels good.
This has been a short post, so let me jump right to the next subject: Why Do Atheists Care About Religion?
Beautiful and Spectacular (sawdevcin / Flickr)
I walked for over 2 hours today, mostly with my head pointed to the sky. I couldn’t take my eyes off the leaves.
It has actually been a dull autumn here in Massachusetts. Most of the leaves are going directly from green to brown, and the flaming red colors are almost absent. We are left with the more subdued hues.
Beautiful and Subtle (Nat Nunn / Flickr)
Yet, I was amazed at how beautiful they all are when taken on their own terms. I would look at some leaves against the sky and if I initially thought the colors were dull I would look a little longer until I entered into the spirit of that particular color combination. When I saw it for what it was rather than wanting it to be something else, it was gorgeous.
Better yet, it offered a mood I had not been seeking. I came across a large, fallen branch whose leathery leaves had turned a dark, reddish brown. The branch itself was a dark grey. It was dead. Boring, right? So I thought … until I had looked at it long enough to realize that the colors were right out of Edgar Allan Poe. When I received them as they were, they were just as exciting as the yellows and reds you see on New England postcards.
I was feeling good about my aesthetic appreciation when I realized: Why don’t I feel this way about people?
What’s to keep me from appreciating each person on his or her own terms, rather than expecting them to be someone else? If someone has a personality quirk that could be irritating, why not appreciate that little tile in the fascinating human mosaic for what it is? Why not marvel at the miracle of sentient, human life in all its forms?
I’ll be working on that….