"I'm Not a Total Killjoy"
You were beginning to worry. Maybe this week would be only about The New York City Fringe Festival, and my appearance in As Far As We Know? Maybe the 'blog had ceased its delightfully random nature of random subjects at random times? Maybe the honeymoon is over, and you should just be buying cotton panties from here on out (they're comfortable, economical and support our nations economy)? Well, just when you were worried, I bring you freshness in the form of . . .
(How many of you got a flash of The Wonder Twins owing to that phrasing? "Form of vicious tiger!" "Form of slightly rusty bucket of water!")
Friend Mark posed me a couple of interesting questions a little (far too) long ago, and as I answered them via email (it's what I did before I 'blogged) I thought I'd really like some others' opinions on the matter(s). So, here you have the email, minus the friendly jousting of introduction:
What compels an atheist to commit acts of charitableness? I have to go a little Ayn Rand on this one: It works. It simply works. The world works through exchange and reaction, and we can not help but learn to make our exchanges profitable to our environment. The only thing limiting that degree of profitability is our personal degree of foresight. To put it another way, the most basic survival instinct says, "Yeesh, I'm hungry. Oog is fat and slow. I'll catch and kill him, and not be hungry any more." However, the longer the view our hypothetical cro-mag has, the happier (more profited) he'll be. "Hey, if I can get Oog to let me use him as bait, he'll be a renewable resource and I'll be hungry less often. Of course, I'll have to share some of the lion with him, but in the long run that'll make him more likely to let me mate with his sister. Oo! That rock looks pointy! I wonder if I can make it more pointy and use it to . . . "
Etc. Just to be clear, I'm not saying capitalism is my new philosophy. I'm pretty much sticking with Taoism, actually. It's just that in seven years and seven months, what I've come to learn about the Way is that it usually involves others, and in a reciprocal capacity. Even an atheist can understand the basic value in creating better circumstances for his/her fellow man/woman.
Now, as to what unifies Unitarian Universalists, I'm tempted to quip, "vocabulary." I'm also tempted to say, "Hey man, I didn't found the 'religion,' I was just reared by one of its ministers!" But I still feel allegiance to that faith, and do count it as a goodly one, and so will attempt to answer.
It's ironic, but in a way what unifies us U.U.s is one thing I strive to avoid in my personal philosophy: identification through discrimination. To put it another way, "WE are WE because WE'RE not YOU." U.U.s are united by--to some degree--their common belief that the other folks are wrong . . . to tell anyone that they're wrong. We phrase this delicately, that we are a non-denominational community committed to accepting the personal beliefs of all, but that's a bit of a paradox. Particularly when it comes to folks like malevolent Satanists or abortion-clinic bombers. So we hedge in the fence a bit with shared beliefs about the value of human life and avoiding a missionary mentality, things of that sort. But essentially, we all hang together because we can (nay, deem it valuable to) lower our standards of specificity for the sake of creating community.
Kind of like my answer to your first question.