Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Human Condition - Objectively Speaking!

If we look objectively at a human life, there are certain brute facts about existence that seem to apply to everyone:


1.   You were born into this life with no control over where you were born, to whom you were born, or in what social and economic conditions you were born.  You couldn’t decide to stay in the womb rather than being thrust out into the world naked and screaming, and once you were born, you pretty much were handed a dealt deck in terms of your genetic make-up and your environment.   If you were very lucky, you weren’t born in a war zone or to abusive parents or with a life-threatening disability or mentally incapacitated.

2.   For approximately 18-25 years of your life, you grew physically and developed, to a greater or lesser degree, the intellectual, psychological, and social skills needed to navigate your way through life and find your place within human society.  

3.   For much of the rest of your life, you put the skills you learned to use working in some kind of job—in all likelihood, one that you didn’t enjoy very much or that didn’t pay you the kind of salary that you thought you deserved.  The money that you earned from working, however, enabled you eventually to leave your parent’s home and pay for those items necessary for survival (food, clothing, housing) and those that contribute to human felicity (cars, Iphones, designer handbags, etc,).

4.   Like all animals, you have a built-in desire to procreate and to spread your gene pool as widely as possible to ensure the survival of the species.  If conditions were right, you may have found a suitable partner with whom to produce offspring.  You then spent the most productive years of your mid-life providing for those offspring, attempting to ensure their survival into adulthood, and training them—with greater or lesser success—to become autonomous individuals in their own right.

5.   If you were lucky, you didn’t die accidentally, perish from a disease, or be killed, and made it into old age.  At that point your body began to break down, you got sick, you suffered physically (and perhaps emotionally as well) and eventually died.  Within moments after your death, your body began to decompose, and within a few years, almost nothing was left of you at all.

6.   Within one or two generations of your death, you were forgotten by every other human being on the planet (unless you were one of the ridiculously small percentage of human beings who were skillful or lucky enough to make an impact on human history, in which case, you might be remembered a bit longer).  Your grandchildren will probably only have fleeting memories of you and their children will only know who you were through dusty, old photographs that have been left behind (if they haven’t already been tossed away by a careless descendant, that is).

7.   With a relatively short amount of time—planetarily speaking—humanity itself will be destroyed through some kind of global cataclysm or pandemic and nothing will remain of our species.  At some point in time a new species may evolve from the bugs that have managed to survive, but this species will probably have little or nothing in common with our own.  Eventually, the planet, and even the universe itself, will simply cease to exist, and all that will remain will be the infinite void. 

If there’s anything important that I’m leaving out of this narrative, or if you think that what I’ve written about the human condition is not universally applicable, please feel free to set me straight.

 How does it make you feel as you read this story—which is actually YOUR story?


  1. A discussion with a colleague yesterday. There was speculation that many people turn to religious faith because the objective facts about the human condition are too unpleasant to deal with. God becomes the supremely loving father figure who gives meaning to all the pain and suffering we must inevitably endure in life and who promises us eternal bliss with him in celestial paradise if just don't abandon faith. As Marx put's it: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

    So how does an atheist (or non-theist) deal with these brute facts? And what is there to keep him or her getting up day after day, dealing with the banalities and miseries of the human condition, when the end result is suffering, death, and nothingness. And the atheist has to do all this without the kind of "opium" that the religious person has that enables him or her to create meaning out of what is essentially a meaningless life.

    1. Here are a few FACTS about the human condition that your atheist friend has forgotten:

      Fact #1: The world was created by God who is all perfect, all loving, and all knowing. This fact has been established by all the great religions of the world and the greatest thinkers throughout the centuries.

      Fact #2: We have been created for a purpose: to know, love, and serve God. To the extent that we do this, our lives are not meaningless or absurd. They have a very clear and definite purpose.

      Fact #3: Death is certainly not the end of life. Those who have been saved have the promise of eternal life with the Father in heaven. We are merely passing through this world on our way to the next, like travelers to a more beautiful distant land. We may have trials and tribulations in this life, but they are nothing compared to the treasures that await us in the next life.

      Fact #4: Those who deny the Father or his Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, will be subject to His judgment and will not experience the heavenly bliss promised to those who have been saved. This has clearly been established in Scripture: "“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the Eternal Fire (HELL) prepared for the Devil and His Demons." (Matt 25:41)and "That is the way it will be at the End of the World. The Angels will come and separate the Wicked people from the Righteous, throwing the Wicked into the FIERY FURNACE, where there will be WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH." (Matt 13:49-50)

      These are THE FACTS that all true believers know, but which atheists in their arrogance and self-absorption have forgotten.

    2. This above comments are the logical theistic alternative to the narrative laid out in the post. The true theist must hold to at least these four basic "facts": (1) There is a God who has created us,(2)He has some plan for us, (3) There is an eternal reward for following this plan, and (4) there is an eternal penalty for not following this plan. This would be true for all Christians, Muslims, Mormons, and (many) Jews.

      The last "fact" may make even believers uncomfortable, but, just as the theist argues that there must be a reward for following God's law, there must also be some kind of penality for not doing so. The Catholic Church has replaced the fires of hell with mere "separation from God for all eternity," but that is precisely what hell is in the Christian tradition (minus the nasty fires and pitchforks, of course).

      I don't see any other alternatives to these two basic narratives--theistic and non-theistic--and each of us has to decide for ourselves which one makes the most sense.

    3. First and foremost, no where in the existential facts laid out above does it provide room to talk about anything religious it is a fact of this life. You were not asked to be born, and you were very fortunate to have grown up with the ability to converse about this topic and make arguments Religiously based, without being killed or having other pressing matters (free time I call this). I am in fact a practicing Roman Catholic and although I believe in what my religion teaches me: 1. That there is a God, 2. That through His grace people are saved, 3. That Jesus Christ was God incarnate, who came down from heaven, died, resurected and opened the gates to the Kingdom, and that we have a purpose to live, love, and serve as Jesus Christ. Although I hold this in my heart to be true, based on my faith and my beliefs. Rationally speaking, these are not facts that are absolute for other people to hold. It is not my place to tell people what they should and should not believe, and these are fundamental beliefs in the area of faith.

      The conditions laid out by the athiest above are not against nore have anything to do with religion and although we may want to argue against them, and proport them to say something that they are not, we create a straw man that we put our religious beliefs to the test. When you take a deeper look at what is going on you actually detract away from the message a wonderful religion may have for people. Again I am a practicing Roman Catholic and believe what my religion teaches (not to the extent at quoting scriptures like you, for the scriptures are allagories, myths, and stories told by Jesus, Prophets and others we believe to have been illuminated with the Holy Spirit. They are not to be taken literally as you proport to in you fact entitled #4). If every major religion in this world is right, (that if you don't follow their religion you are going to hell) then we are all going to hell 5 times over. Instead what we should be doing is looking for the fundamental truths and commonalities, WHILE still maintaining our personal beliefs. To say others will not benefit from what God has made or done if they do not believe in Jesus Christ or the Trinity is preposterous. This is because if any human is walking this earth, then they are in fact taking part in God's blessing of actually giving existence and life in Himself. To what degree is another that we can not and should not make a judgement on. This is pure pride driven by a straw man to preach about religion. The above facts can be held by an atheist and a theist alike, I hold them for instance (because I do). Just because an atheist says something doesn't mean it has no truth to it. The question was whether these facts listed above have truth and they do, they just do not have to be held with the same beliefs of any religion. Religion is based on Faith, and to say it is true i can simply say prove it is true, and then you can respond with prove it isn't. To say they are fact in a logical argument greatly detracts from the profound message that it can offer for the massses.

  2. As an atheist, I find the answer relatively simplistic. As a biological machine, I will eventually cease to function. On one level, this is no different than a computer not working when deprived of it’s power entirely, on a permanent basis. For the religious, this problem is by-passed, in essence, believing that despite the complete failure of the machine, a “spirit” or “soul” survives anyway, and goes to varying situations and rewards, depending on what you faith you believe in.
    Now in addition to being an atheist, I subscribe to the fundamental ethic of a scientist. I follow the evidence. Note, I didn’t say “belief”-- I said evidence. A true scientist doesn’t say God exists or not. A scientist doesn’t care entirely on that aspect. He/She follows what can be substantiated through many rigourous experiments which can provide the proof of it’s existence. Science is self-correcting. As something becomes “known”, it gets added to the overall knowledge attained. In this way, what we learn at any given time, is the best us humans can do. Is it perfect? Of course not. But it’s the best we have, because it’s based on empirical evidence. It provides us with the parameters of what we describe reality as. Faith in the end is no better than subscribing to a “wishing list” or a fantasy. It flies in the face of logic and takes advantage of things we don’t yet know. But what if it turns out there is a divine being out there, and it can be proved? Simple: I’ll follow where the facts go. But a need to believe in a father figure is a deeply-ingrained aspect of the mammalian brain. We have that survival-related need to be taken care of-- the mentality of someone in charge, watching over us, has been wired into us, before we even left the trees. In the earliest of days, when we needed to explain the moon, the sun, the lightening, the fire-- gods were created. We learned, and began to understand the world. So it is with our universe. Given time, we will unlock the secrets. Maybe not all. Look how far we’ve come already. This is not arrogance. This is simply a statement. We’ve already learned long ago that we are not the center of the universe either, merely a small planet out in the ’burbs of our galaxy, which in itself is nothing out of the ordinary. It is part of the “great demotions”. There was a time when man believed he was all things to the universe. However, when there are billions of something-- galaxies, stars, etc., we can see the folly of our past limitations. If we survive long enough, our future descendents will look back in pity with how little we know now.
    End of Part 1:

  3. (Continued)
    All of this leads me to the answer to the question asked above: I deal with the “brute facts” in an intelligent and comforting way. Since I don’t believe in an afterlife, I am not stressed with any thought about what happens the moment of my death. The cessation of my machine, brings an end to everything. I won’t be around to ponder anything. So why worry? In fact, it has the opposite effect: I treasure my life. Every day alive is an opportunity to enjoy my brief time on this world. I strive to be a good person, to help when I can, and to appreciate that life is precious, and precarious at the same time. I can only answer for me, but I feel life is to be enjoyed, to be experienced. If there is an eternal part waiting around the corner, even without a shred of credible evidence, then I will deal with that situation when it happens. I know that every religion has God performing within a set of defined rules, but if he is truly a being of such power and unknowable magnitude, then logic dictates that our definition of him would fall woefully short anyway. And if he did subscribe to a set of simple rules, wouldn’t that negate a “creator” of everything? (Unless he was some cosmic idiot savant.) I am not troubled by what comes after me. I live for the “now”. I love my family and friends. I do my art. I learn all that I can. I enjoy my life. When that’s over, so is my troubles. I find this more comforting than any reward of eternity from flawed and dubious authorities. The meaning of life is derived from the living of life, and the joy and ´elan that results from doing both as well as one can. It is something all of us must figure out. Thanks Prof. Russo for that great question!

    1. "The cessation of [your] machine"? What are you a Vulcan or something? I tend to think that the realities of suffering and death are frightening enough to make most human beings turn to religion as a balm for their fears. In fact, I think most people would choose to cling to their beliefs, even if it could be "proven" that God does not exist, just because the reality of non-being is too horrific for them even to contemplate.

      But the non-believer doesn't have this psychological benefit. That's why I think existentialists have it right when they argue that true self-conscious awareness must inevitably lead to anxiety and despair.

      Thanks for the interesting comments, my friend!

    2. I believe both of these to be true. The first seven statements of fact deal primarily with the physical sense of the circle of life. You are born where you are born and thus begins your life. No religious statements argue this fact. Throughout your life you learn to comply with the rules of society in regards to getting a job, contributing to the world, and complying with the basic laws of humanity (not murdering, stealing, harming others intentionally). The rest of the first seven statements follow the basic circle of life in that once you grow up, most people find a spouse, start a family, have kids, and help raise those kids as your parents raised you. Yes some time after this, you will die and your children will be left with the knowledge you raised them with. This does not contradict any arguments that God does not exist and that he isn't responsible for life. As towards whether or not the people on Earth that are left behind after your death will remember you for generations to come, that does not pertain to the existence of God. The only contradictory argument I can see is whether or not death is the end of life, for which there are no facts or proven records to prove either way. It is a belief.

  4. Although I agree with many of your claims, my personal theory is that there is NO FORMULA TO LIFE! If this were true, we'd all live a cookie-cutter lifestyle and everyone would be the same. The essence of the world we live in is the exact antithesis of that! There would be no such this as success and failure, and there would be no sense of self-image. Sure, these steps are a common guideline for the way we live our lives, but by no means are they regimented as you suggested!

  5. I agree with Mike. It sounds harsh but every point that he made is true. It happens to everyone, we do it even to our great grandparents and family members that are older than them. We forget who they are and continue on with our life without even thinking about them.

  6. I feel that life happens and life ends no matter what you believe in and what science says. If you are going to die then you will and if your not well... than your not. Thats how i feel no science or faith needed.

  7. I agree with your last post, Mike. I think religious people are too fearful to even think about the possibility of God not existing. It's almost a sin in itself. I am not very religious, but I do believe in God, and I worry that God's opinion of me will change for the worse if I suddenly stop praying or deny His existence, internally or externally.

  8. What you do behind your own doors is your business. if you accept the lord as your god that is your decision. If your atheist go ahead and have fun being miserable. you have nothing to look forward to except that you are going to rot in the ground for the rest of your life after your body has cease to live.

  9. I agree with Mike that these facts of life are true. I as a Christian believe that there is more to life though. Memories, laughs, tears and moments spent in this world can never be measured but will always be remembered in your life. We are not here to impress the rest of the world. We are hear to live our life and have an impact on the ones around us and matter most to us. I believe in life after death, so even though the world may not remember us, that doesn't mean our journey in life continues into the afterlife. Live for you and the ones you love. Don't live to be a show for the rest of the world.

  10. I agree with RZ3, except that I do not believe that I survive death. Death is not lived through. As for George, I think the analogy with human life and that of a breaking-down computer is inadequate. No computer to date has passed the Turing Test. Computers can win Jeopardy but no one has yet claimed that they are conscious. There is nothing in my world view that would make it impossible to make a computer with consciousness, just that is it hard to reproduce the output of a brain with one hundred billion neurons, each with about 10 to 12 thousand connections. And consciousness, unfortunately, makes us aware of our own impending deaths. If you have been raised to believe that you will live eternally, it comes as a great shock and with awesome agony to lose faith in that and subsequently to come to accept personal annihilation at death. However the believer and the unbeliever are living in exactly the same lifeworld; except, however (and its a big exception) that they interpret their experiences differently.
    Now I believe that both believers and unbelievers turn to dust at death and that no trace of their respective egos is left. However, I completely disagree with the way "the objective facts" of existence have been presented from the very beginning of this thread. There is nothing strictly "objective" about it. Subjectivity has been running through the description from the beginning. Nothing of the majesty of nature is presented. Nothing of the profound joys, happiness, promise, loves, reforms, improvements, contributions of life are portrayed. Only grim, snarky, hopeless, morally bankrupt descriptions designed to make a rational, evidence-based, courageous and humanistic perspective look horrific, life-dessicating and evil. Nice way to depict the 14 % of the world's population that is non-religious and the large number of Buddhists.
    There are plenty of non-religious people who can no longer delude themselves about life. However they have no ax to grind with the religious; except (and it's another big exception) when they are attacked as evil, cruel, heartless, depressed, cynical and/or dangerous. That's unjust. Life is as beautiful, meaningful, hopeful and happy as we make it.

  11. I must respond to your comment Michael! I was giving you my professional answer, which I admit, seemed vulcan-like. I stand by what I said, but here is a more emotional angle for you: My ending fascinates me because it is inevitable. But I don't fear it, anymore than I fear falling asleep each night (when that happens). I truly believe, that I will either go fast (and never know what hit me) or chemicals will be released throughout my body as my brain prepares for it's end, and by all accounts, it seems peaceful. Of course disease will also dictate any level of pain or discomfit, but let's assume it's a natural end at this point. None of this worries me or causes me to seek a religious solution. Knowing I am finite does not cause me anxiety. (Perhaps that will change if I live to be very old, or have acquired a great deal of wealth. LOL) I am more concerned with how I live my life than my death, although if I had a say in the matter, I would love to go out saving somebody if a long life were to be denied to me. I have a few more points... to be continued:

  12. Atheists in general are usually stereotyped as angry or bitter. In my opinion this is not true-- but I will tell you why it exists: Since the majority of the world is "religious" in one form or another, the atheist is constantly bombarded with views, media, opinions, attitudes, and multitudes that can be considered offensive-- or aggressive by default at the very least. Imagine the opposite: Your are very religious in a world full of atheists. How would you feel (or come across) given an opportunity to express yourself? I find it interesting that religious people find comfort from the sheer number of people who "believe" in God or some form of deity, and yet historically, the majority are often in the wrong. An immediate example: The discoveries of Galileo! The church went out of it's way to stop him for fear that it would hurt them and the masses and their beliefs. History is replete with such examples. The ability to pick and choose what the bible says, attests to the oldest of man's tricks: The ability to adapt with the times to defend something that is outdated in both it's science and morality. The "good book" is full of concepts that are not very civilized-- slavery, stoning, mass killing come to mind immediately. The point being, if you really knew your bible, or the God represented in it, you are looking forward to spending eternity with the ultimate bully. Love me and my rules or else! And some people defend it by saying we have "free will". Hardly. I wouldn't care who believed what if it makes them happy-- but the world is lining up for disaster as diverse religions are impacting the health of our future. Stem cell research, condoms, common sense, many examples of the narrow mindedness of the religious. And then there are the religious terrorists looking for massive destruction and death. This has been our history and it looks like our future. I am a moral, happy person, but I would argue that people would appreciate their lives even more if they never were introduced to religion in any way, and accepted that this life is all we have. The value of our lives goes up immeasurably!

  13. I completely agree with you saying that we turn to God, or a god figure when we are at our most troubled times. However, there are some that turn to Him daily, happy or sad, in trouble or safe. Some aren't "using" Him in hard times. Some turn to Him at their happiest moments because they thank Him. Others pray just to say, "Thanks," for what He's given to us. I believe we are all here, all religions and non, for a reason. We all have a task that we have to uphold in our lives and when that is over, we keep living. That's a typical Roman-Catholic belief. It isn't wrong, and may not be right. I believe we are all infinite, others may not. We can't fear the end, however that happens. My views may change over my life time but for right now, I am HAPPY thinking that I am infinite and will continue life after death. I find happiness turning to God, isn't that what this course is all about...finding happiness? I find it through Him, others may not which is completely respectable. As I read "My Story," I realized that most of those events have and probably will happen. One day, I will probably be forgotten by family members to come, but that doesn't mean I'm done. Maybe we need to pass and watch over those who need us- maybe that's why we were put on Earth in the first place. We don't know and probably will never. No matter what we believe about what happens after life here on Earth, we shouldn't fear how it will happen but trust and find peace in knowing we had a purpose here in the first place.

  14. Objectively speaking, this account is accurate, and should be accepted by anyone who has a basic understanding of the human condition. I accept this list because there is no room for relativists/subjectivists to object with their "it depends..." clauses. Where there is room for interpretation, however, is in the impact which one leaves on this world. Is it a matter of choice whether or not one is remembered? Or is it a predetermined prescription that one is, like birth, thrust into without input? I personally believe that our lives are comprised of a series of choices and it is up to us whether or not we want to do something worth remembering. Whether or not it matters once the life is over is a different story. Although I personally do believe that life completely ends after death (which is another commentary in itself), it will not stop me from taking responsibility for each and every action I take. Our lives are doomed by finitude and humans as a species are but finite as well, and accepting this is the first step towards a life of happiness. It is only the person who can make clear, positive choices while being aware of this imminent demise who can find happiness in his/her life.

    Alexa Sussman

  15. Maria MALLICK
    I agree with ou that most people turn to religion or God when they are faced with illness or some devastation sitution in thier life. In my opion we human live our life on the virtue of hope. We eat because we hope that we will to be alive next day . We buy houses ,car, phone and clothes etc in life stream with hope of bearing all those items.Turning to God or Religion is exactly like turning to hope .God is some one who has the divine power to provide us of what we want. Man survival will be impossible, if idea of hope is taken away from them. We wont eat if we wont hope of staying alive next day .Therefore we all find happiness by turning to God who keeps us alive and provides us courage during those stressful situation.

  16. In response to your 7 points, in the respective order they were written.

    1. Agreed on all counts regarding an individual have no control over his demographical situation, though some may disagree based upon their particular beliefs on the topic of reincarnation or karma. Personally, I do believe we are just energy housed in this body and when we die the energy is transferred to this whole system of life, whether as an animal, human, plant, insect, maybe even just the soil, and etc.

    2. Agreed once again, all though this process isn't equal for all. Some come to realizations about life earlier on that force them into a more critical train of though thus letting them achieve enlightenment and happiness much earlier in life.

    3. I disagree with the common notion that most people fall into the forty year plan of 9-5 and hate their lives etc.. There are a lot of innovative and creative individuals out there who have either created their own job (Entrepreneurs) or works at a great company (Not an oxymoron) and truly enjoy what they do for a living.

    4. Not all have the built in desire to procreate, I believe we are different from other animals in that regard. Due to the human condition, we have the ability to live in a comfortable, materialistic world that fortunately gives us the comfort where we don't have to resort to our "animal instincts." Those instincts include reproduction, which inherently, and relative to today's societal structure, is not necessary.

    5. If it's your time to go, it's your time to go. I don't have time to stress about that.

    6. Disagreed, I believe the perspective on this idea should be switched. I have no idea and will never know what will be said about me when I'm dead. According to my goals and values, I'm going to do whatever it takes to ensure that people will still reference my works and my creations. The ones who find purpose and passion in inspiring and leading find success in staying relevant after death.

    7. Definitely true in my opinion. Not a matter of concern for the coming dozen or so generations though. Population increase is going to catch up with us sooner or later ;)

    Michael Russo (The Student)

  17. Marlin

    After reading your statement about the human conditions I concluded that I agree with some of these facts. I believe that we should try to do better everyday and to see the negative aspects of life as a learning experienced. It is also true that we all gone day one day, but as a positive human being we should always keep this question in mind "What is the secrete behind death?" In addition, I believe that we can try to overcome anything in life and if we are born into a negative environment or society, there are many always ways to fix that.

  18. When you first read this, it may come across as fairly depressing and negative. If you look at it from a different perspective though, it really isn’t. I agree with some of Mike says and some of it not so much. I agree with number 1. Ok, so we have no say in the social or economic situations we are born into. It is what it is. I do believe we have the ability to change adverse circumstances and make the best of what we are dealt with enough personal determination.

    Number 3, I do not agree with completely. Yes, do some people get up every day and go to work dreading the day ahead of them? Absolutely, but not all of us. I for one feel fortunate I am able to get up and go to work everyday in a career path of my own choosing. A career path I have always wanted to follow and am grateful for. I’m a nurse. Is it hard work, yes? Its a career both emotionally and physically grueling at times. Thats the downside. The upside is that I get to go to work every day and know that I was able to make a difference in the life of a fellow human being. How many other jobs, careers/professions would I be able to go home at the end of the day and say “I was able to make a positive difference in the life of another human being when they were at their most vulnerable”. That to me is a very rewarding feeling and greatly outweighs the sore feet and tired back after a 12 hour shift.

    As for number 6, well ok. So we may not all win Nobel Prizes or have monuments erected in remembrance of us after we pass from this life. In the grand scheme of things does that really matter? As long as I was able to make a positive difference, if even on a small scale while I was here thats what matters to me.