Letter to the seventh billionth personDear little seventh billionth,
As newest member of a so far short-lived species you have embarked upon a great, long and arduous voyage. To the rest of us 6.999.999.999 your ‘coming to light’ is a great source of wonder, a source of hope and feelings of joy. Yet, unfortunately, we are in severe disagreement with each other on why we feel this way. Welcome dear little seventh-billionth, to an imperfect world!
We are a species that invested much in the transfer of knowledge in order to survive. However depending on the exact, randomly determined location of your birth, perhaps even depending on your gender, the magnitude and the contents of the knowledge you will be given, will differ greatly. In any case I predict that in ten to twelve years from now, like us, you will come to ask the bigger questions. By then you will come to face the apparent fact that neither you nor your pet, should you be so fortunate to own one, in fact have eternal life. Though you will be privately convinced and comforted that Death is still an immensely long time away; as you make inroads on your voyage you will come to realize that this is neither completely true and for the part that it is true you will find it increasingly relative.
As you come to realize that not all things are eternal perhaps you will come to ponder why ‘things’ exist to begin with. This is, if not the oldest, perhaps then still the hardest philosophical question ever contemplated, ‘Why is there something and not nothing?’. Again, unfortunately my dear seventh billionth, we are in even more violent disagreement with each other on why this is the case. Again, depending on the exact location of your birth or your gender, you might just be told to keep quiet and stop asking so many questions. If so, this probably only means you are asking questions that are either too hard or too disconcerting for adults to answer.
As Salman Rushdie wrote to your six-billionth predecessor it will almost certainly be suggested to you that the answer to such questions requires you to believe in the existence of still another being, mysterious and ‘up there’, as a cause to everything and a solution to all your questions. This magical entity is different from you or your dog as such that you have to be told about it to know about it and that you are supposed to agree that neither your intelligence, nor your senses are sufficient to fathom such a perfect concept. Depending on where you are born, this being (or beings) you are told of will be radically differently depicted, act different and demand different things of you.
While in your life you will be asked to substantiate almost all of that which you claim to be true, this believe will be required of you without any substance what so ever. ‘Faith’ as this is called, is held to the highest esteem and those of us, that share this faith with you, will forgive most of anything you do in its name. Indeed, as you might expect given the lack of substance to these concepts, we violently disagree on which is the true ‘Faith’ or whether this is an adequate hypothesis all together.
Depending on where you are born you will profit more, both mentally as physically, from the power of substantiated truths, more then did your six-billionth predecessor. Such is the case that as a species we must invest ever more in knowledge and technology or suffer the consequences of both an ever changing environment and the drawbacks of our previous technological advances. The gathering and substantiation of knowledge is a process we have come to define as ‘science’. Depending on where you are born you might grow so accustomed to exploring the consequences of proven truths that the mere notion of ‘accepting things on faith’ will feel alien to you. Despite Mr. Rushdie’s claim that it is plainly clear all the religious genesis stories are simply wrong, there is still not a place in the world today where you, the seventh billionth, will be able to agree with him openly without being alienated or threatened. You, if not an immediate believer yourself, will not escape at some point in your life the obligation to feint, either faith itself or at least a ‘believe in believe’. Such are the social constrictions you will be confined to. ‘The jail’ as Mr. Rushdie would put it. As you can imagine, again, the origin of these rules and social values is just another thing we violently disagree about.
As you learn to read, it won’t be long before you come to discover that the past was a different country, that we did things differently ‘there’. Merely reading the school text-books that were handed to your fifth-billionth ancestor will violate your sense of right and wrong. The various religious texts, when dealing with such issues, will have this effect in an order of magnitude greater still. Regardless you will be invited to retrace your acts of kindness to your faith and ignore or reinterpret all the immoral things it demands of you. Perhaps even, at times, you will find yourself so exempt or so encouraged, by your divine being, to do things that only the ‘true Faith’ can justify. What you do at these times will most probably be greatly immoral and serve as an example in a future letter to the ninth-billionth person.
As the seventh-billionth simultaneously living person you of all people will know what it means to have so many of us alive at the same time. While a great part of the population growth in the last centuries can be attributed to hygiene and medical advances it is long overdue to adjust our reproductive behaviour to these otherwise very desirable evolutions. As you become a teenager you will also come to discover that what is biologically programmed into you to do is very much frowned upon by the three dominant Middle Eastern religions. As such they have only condoned sexual acts when they lead to reproduction and then still only because reproduction itself supports their need for more and more followers. As such they have vehemently fought the use of any check on that reproduction, placed females into economical serfdom and have pressured their constituency into mass-reproducing itself. If there is a miracle to your birth dear seventh-billionth, it must be that it happened so late. Still, you come into a depleted world where the insufficient resources (water, food, shelter, clean air, energy, knowledge & education) are in turn ever more unevenly distributed. Unfortunately it is you that will suffer from this the most.
My dear seventh billionth, not to long ago people have fought two World Wars to, as they believed ‘end all wars’. Some time before that they believed to have fought the last ‘Holy War’ between opposing faiths. As you enter this imperfect world neither of these convictions is intact today. Increasingly more people believe ‘War’ is as much a part of our future as it is of our past. Depending where you are born today you may already know what war is. If it is not the case, you will have to learn about it at first hand anyway as war is one of those things that has never changed yet never remained the same either. It can only adequately be described by poets, whom rarely do. War, as you will discover my dear seventh billionth, is terrible. Increasingly more people assume religions will play an important part in future wars. As the seventh-billionth member you may come to realize best of all, to the contrary, how all wars are actually really about resources and arbitrary divisions between people. But then again, so are religions. Likewise you may experience first hand that it doesn’t take a ‘Holy War’ or even opposing religions, for religion to play its own detrimental role in war, justifying things only a ‘true Faith’ could allow. However you may in your life even be so unfortunate to actually witness the rise and expanse of a new, more contemporary, religion. In such conditions you may actually get to see wars where the only actual arbitrary division is religion and find them to be more heinous then any war us 6.999.999.999 have ever encountered before.
Still Mr. Rushdie was correct when he wrote that the real religious wars are fought within any society and, as such, are primarily fought against you, our youngest. It will, for instance, not suffice for you to simply pay lip service to the divinity your parents adhered to. You will, at times, be asked to subscribe to dogma’s of which no symbolic interpretation will be able to mitigate for you their manifest out-dated-ness. Your adherence to God may not suffice to excuse a refusal to literally believe in contradictory scripture or a refusal to participate in hollow ceremony, stripped from all its meaning by time and religious hybridization. Additionally you will be, more forcefully even, assumed to subscribe to derived policies, with real life consequences. These may range from having to withhold food for a time to having to abstain from some foods altogether, regardless of your needs or suffered shortages. Your sensitive genitalia may be permanently disfigured just to make a stance against the biological and material reality, in favor of an assumed spiritual level. You may be forced to perform acts of sexual unison with person(s) not of your choosing, or even of the wrong gender and you may be refrained from performing them with people you actually do choose. When physically forced to have sex, it may result in you having to bring a biological semi-copy of your assailant to life or even be put to a gruesome death for such an act of ‘adultery’. Once conceived, the life of your child may be considered to valuable to destroy, even before the onset of its consciousness takes place, yet simultaneously it may be considered to worthless to spare any suffering and a gruesome death, once born. You may be indoctrinated to refuse simple life-saving medical treatment or made so cruel to refuse this aid to others. Depending on the age and the morals your religion was founded in, as well as its claimed universality, such inconveniences may prove more or less of a nuisance.
Ultimately Faith, like misery and alcohol, likes company, your company! While recruitment is almost seductive when a religion is still in an embryonic stage, the tables turn once a religion spans nations and entire continents. Your active participation will automatically be more acutely required when your faith is faced with crisis, increased competition or a protracted attack on one of its dogma’s. Still as seventh-billionth you are born in a window where perhaps you have a greater chance then ever before, to make up your own mind and to not take your parents’ religion ‘on faith’ alone. Perhaps you will come to understand ‘Life’ sufficiently not to fear ‘Death’ more than the undefined ‘nothingness’ that, as no one seems to contest, preceded life. Once freed from the semi random assumptions, claiming both to bring meaning to your life as a way to obtain an eternal succession to it, you may find yourself freer to explore truly novel ideas. For as man’s survival has always depended on our furthering the innovation and finding new ways to fulfill structural needs; while we are still sifting through the debris which the Large Hadron Collider left us, in a desperate attempt to find eluding particles; as we are pushing Moore’s law to the applicative limits of antiquated electron-based computing; as we are stuck on merely proving mathematical coherence in aging and yet still unverified ‘physics theories of unification’; we desperately need all truly new ideas you can provide us with, dear seventh-billionth!
For only if you can obtain real freedom of thinking, for moral reasoning and for dealing face-on with your emotions, only then can we expect you to rise above what we, your 6.999.999.999 predecessors, could not. Only then can we redirect all global talent towards survival and remain here, as a species, until our inevitable extinction is actually. Truly. Inevitable! Only when we can think, freed of a celestial dictatorship, can we become true witnesses to the universal symphony we should all have been so honored to have been made a part of. If only you can do this, perhaps then our wars will be less long and less vindictive; perhaps then will our divisions be more rationally defined. Definitely then will simplistic coping-mechanisms and false dreams of Utopia evaporate and leave us to our, still imperfect, but preciously substantial Kingdom of Reality. Finally then shall we be able redirect the notions of “love” and “hate”, “indifference” and “compassion”, “vengeance” and “mercy” to their true source: the people whom they actually belonged to all along. Then finally will we be able to claim a humble, temporary place beneath the stars and assure ourselves for the first time that a government of man, for humanity and only for humanity, shall not perish, from the earth.
Thus my dear seventh-billionth, should you choose to take it, immortality is yours!
The Silent Atheist