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Gratitude toward an uncaring, unconscious universe?

November 2, 2011

Jonathan Blake has an article at Humanistic Paganism asking whether we owe gratitude to the universe. This is highly relevant to me, especially since my atheism->agnosticism thing (which, interestingly, has settled back into a comfortable, familiar apatheism).

Ultimately, I can’t help but agree with one point Jonathan makes in this article:

So I feel grateful for the universe, but I don’t give any gratitude to the universe.

But I think it goes a little bit further than that.

I think the difference between feeling lucky, feeling grateful, and giving gratitude is a sense of direction, and I wonder if that sense of direction can’t be helpful elsewhere. If I feel lucky, then what reason do I have to cultivate some sort of humility. Even if I feel grateful for something, if that something is indifferent, uncaring, or unconscious, then it doesn’t seem that I have any personal sense of responsibility to that something.

But if I feel gratitude to something, then maybe that is the start of a relationship…even if that something doesn’t answer my calls.

One thing I’m increasingly looking at is the way one’s outlook can change and reshape his personality. In this sense, believing in something is really more about you rather than the external world. Reading and “following” one narrative or another helps you to make sense of the external world, yes…but it also (and more importantly) helps you make sense of your place therein, your responsibilities, and obligations, or your goals and aspirations.

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7 Comments
  1. Seth R. permalink

    Gratitude that motivates no change in thought or life action, that requires no change in us, and causes no sense of obligation isn’t gratitude.

    It’s just meaningless observation.

    “Thanks Jill. I experienced pleasure last night during our one-night stand. Don’t call me though.”

    Jonathan’s observation here seems like largely a waste of time, as far as I can tell.

    So he’s happy with the universe?

    Well, whoop-dee-freaking-doo.

    News-flash – no one cares if you or I are internally happy/self-satisfied or not. All that matters is what we are contributing to the rest of us. And any observations Jonathan makes about the universe that don’t contribute to that couldn’t matter less to society.

  2. Seth,

    News-flash – no one cares if you or I are internally happy/self-satisfied or not.

    I’ll challenge this statement. There is one very important person who cares very much if you are internally happy — and that is yourself. This person may in fact be the most important person it he world, because he’s the only person whose internal states you can access. He’s the only person whose internal states you live and cannot escape from, no matter what.

    All that matters is what we are contributing to the rest of us. And any observations Jonathan makes about the universe that don’t contribute to that couldn’t matter less to society.

    This is telling. At first, you say, “all that matters” as if it’s an objective mattering. But at the end, you restate, “that couldn’t matter less to society.” So perhaps ‘all that matters (to society)’ is what we are contributing to the rest of us.

    But there won’t be a whole lot to contribute to the rest of us if we aren’t contributing to us ourselves.

  3. Seth R. permalink

    Yes, but what is the point of me being satisfied with myself if I’m not good for anything either?

    I just don’t think that internal happiness works as the aim of the “highest good.”

  4. the entire point is that “good for anything” is something only you determine.

    So if you don’t consider yourself “good for anything,” then that will already factor into your self-satisfaction (negatively).

    I think that trying to determine a “highest good” without any reference to one’s internal state doesn’t work out. Maybe it’s to the “highest good” for a person to be miserable? Well, in that case, I can’t really blame a person for rebelling against that “good”

  5. Seth R. permalink

    Well, that’s not a hypothetical.

    Often it has been the “highest good” for people to be miserable. History and literature is rife with stories of people suffering for noble causes.

    And I don’t really buy into the notion that “right is something only you can decide.” It seems far to convenient and self-serving a standard to me.

  6. A self-serving standard? That’s the point. You’re the only one you have access to. That’s what subjectivity is all about.

    Even if you think you’re suffering for a noble cause, you have to think the cause is noble. If YOU don’t think the cause is noble, if YOU think you’re just suffering “just because,” then it won’t be worth it to you, even if everyone around you thinks it’s worth it.

    EVERYTHING drills down to your reaction or perception to it.

  7. Seth R. permalink

    Yes, but I’ve always seen the point of human endeavor as getting beyond that.

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