As I mentioned in my last post, some of my friends wonder why a non-believer would care about religion, about other people, about right and wrong, or about anything at all.
I sympathize with the question. As an evangelical for about 40 years, everything I cared about most was tied to my faith. I tried to love others because of Jesus’ example and out of gratitude for my salvation; I started my career at an insurance company because of Galatians 6:2 (“sharing one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ”); my romantic life took its meaning from God’s purposes for man and woman as I understood them; even hobbies were to be conducted “for the glory of God.”
Without my faith, I thought, I would have no reason to love others; no meaning in my work; a hedonistic, selfish relationship with the other sex; and leisure that was nothing more than marking time until my death.
It was a genuine surprise when I found I still cared about life even after I shed my faith. In fact, now that I don’t count on anything beyond this life, I find I care even more.
To the believer who wonders how that’s possible, I offer the most direct answer I can, and in case that’s not good enough I’ll fall back to asking a question of my own.
The Direct Answer
Imagine two men. The first does not care about anything. He is indifferent to other people, amoral in his actions, and unmotivated about both work and pleasure. He’s a total dud.
The second is the opposite. He cares deeply about others, has integrity, is motivated to provide for his family, and has a zest for life. He’s a Great Guy.
Which man will be more attractive to women?
The answer is obvious, and if you read my series on The Selfish Gene, you will smile in recognition. Caring, like altruism, is an evolutionary adaptation. Our genes motivate us to care about life and people as part of their own selfish program to increase their odds of reproduction. (I speak anthropomorphically, but of course our genes are totally unaware of this or anything else.) How wondrous that the unconscious play of our genes fashions us into beings that are not only conscious but caring!
So if you want the direct answer to “Why do you care?” it’s that we are all evolved to care. It comes with the package of being human.
If you have a Golden Retriever, he cares about human affection and fetching sticks. It’s how we have bred (evolved) him. It doesn’t bother you that he cares about these things even though he’s an atheist. Why should we call “Hypocrisy!” and “Inconsistency!” when a human atheist cares about things?
Now I have a question for my friends who still insist that if it weren’t for their faith, they would cease to care. My question is:
Can you really not thing of anything you care about apart from faith?
When you pat your dog, do you always pray, “Thank you, God, for this dog. I am patting him because you commanded me to be kind”? Could it be that once in a while you give love and receive some in return, with no theology attached?
When your dinner is burned, do you really not care at all, since it matters not at all in light of eternity?
Go ahead and admit it. 😉 You’re human like the rest of us, in spite of years or even decades of trying to be 100% heavenly-minded. To some extent, you love your dog in the same way I do, and you get irritated in the same ways I do.
I also care for the same reasons you do.
Next time: Why care about right and wrong?