The “Nones” on Nuns

Question from Monika:
What do atheists think about the lives of monks, nuns and priests? Do you think their lives are wasted, a tragedy, because their religion is a lie or it is more important that they are happy this way?

I am an atheist and do not know what to think about it. I do not wanna judge them because I do not know their background but I can not understand them at all (but I do know that the church provides food, clothing, quite a good standard of living and some social benefits so it might be a good way out of misery for poor people, in fact some years ago I thought it would be much easier for me just to become a hypocrite priest, no hard work and you have a feeling of security in your little religious community, not caring about money because the church gives you everything you need although the religion is bullshit).

Answer by SmartLX:
Have you ever heard of Eugene Ionesco’s play The Chairs? An elderly man and woman arrange chairs for a number of guests coming to hear a great orator deliver the old man’s incredible discovery. Once everything is ready they throw themselves from a high window because their life’s work is achieved. Trouble is, there are no real guests (the two actors mime their interactions with an invisible congregation) and the orator is literally dumb, unable to communicate anything meaningful.

It’s the kind of play that stimulates long discussions about its meaning, but all I want to point out is that the old couple die happily despite the fact that they have not achieved anything real, and we can understand how they feel that way. Their lives are wasted from anyone else’s perspective, but if they’ve worked hard and died satisfied and happy, and haven’t hurt anyone else, can it really be called a tragedy? I lean towards no.

So it goes with monks, nuns, hermits and others who dedicate their entire lives to religions based on false premises, like the existence of non-existent gods. While shunning materialistic excess they often lead peaceful, comfortable lives, and in many cases manage to help others along the way. The fact that they may well be praying to nobody makes little difference in the end. It’s the practical effects of someone’s lifestyle by which I judge it, and monks and nuns who tuck themselves away in their faith and withdraw from the world do far less harm than preachers and zealots who try to impose religion on others.

2 thoughts on “The “Nones” on Nuns”

  1. Their lives are not a tragedy or a waste … at-least not of those among them who try to help the community. To my mind what matters is the individual’s productivity/ contribution (direct or indirect) towards the greater common good. Nuns, priests, etc. – the ones among them who actively participate in community endeavors are more productive in a sense than those who only pray. The ones who pray are probably indirectly productive in the sense that if they were not doing the praying, then the ones engaged in community service might have been tempted to engage more in prayer (to honor god or something) and that would have taken away from their productivity. But the indirect productivity of praying monks can’t compete with the direct productivity of those who engage with the community. So if the praying monks are the types who try to actively spread crazy beliefs, then they are in a sense negatively productive and so I’d say their lives are a waste in the sense of being productive.

    By the same measure, an atheist with an endowment who lives of the proceeds of that endowment is not directly productive either. He/ she would have an indirect productivity however (maybe his endowment is invested somewhere and that invested money helps some bank make loans to a business that makes stuff that people want/ purchase). One can imagine a negative productivity for an idle atheist – he may actively cause harm to people around him by virtue of being a psycho or something. But in that case his negative productivity is born out of a mental disease and is not really out of choice. The negative productivity of a praying and preaching monk is born out of choice. That’s not to say that atheists can’t have willful negative productivity though.

    I guess what I’m saying is that as long as an individual does not have an active negative productivity (by choice or not by choice), their lives are not a waste (in my opinion).
    They’re, well … just not very productive lives.

    As a student, I was partially helped out of a major crisis of thought and belief by a christian priest (my family is Hindu), And he was very objective. He never tried to impose the christian way of thinking on me, always talked very objectively. I don’t think his life (or that of others like him) is a waste. His is a very productive life by any measure.

  2. I used to cry as a tween about religious folk. How can they waste their lives living a lie? How can they dedicate their everything to something that doesn’t exist? I still find it sad, though I don’t cry about it any more.

    To me, the harsh truth is almost always better than the comfortable lie. Power to them for living with nature, or being peaceful, or giving to others, or living simple and below their means or cultural upbringing. I think that’s great, if it makes them happy. But I can’t feel good about them doing it because of an imaginary friend. I just can’t. It’s too freakin sad to me. Not just because it isn’t real, but because of the strong feelings often attached to the non existant characters in religion. Like the love for god. I This is the ultimate emotional connection. And people are feeling it for a being that they heard stories about and decided it exists. It’s like watching a husband love his wife who is cheating on him in secret to me. A love based on a lie is sad. Should the husband live the rest of his life thinking his wife is faithful, when she sleeps with the neighbor everyday when he is at work? Is it OK, as long as he is happy? Even if his view would (likely) completely change if he knew the truth?

    To me, it’s not OK. So as much as I love all the good things these religious people can do, and how happy they can be in their lives. I cannot appreciate, or even like, that they are basing their actions on a lie. It churns my stomach just thinking about it.

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