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PESSIMISM - The Dark at the End of the Tunnel. The GM Humanist 9. June 1995

Never give out while there is hope; but hope not beyond reason, for that shows more desire than reason William Penn Some fruits of solitude, 1693.

If your silver lining has a great big grey cloud in the middle of it, you're a pessimist. Must Humanists be optimists? I hope not, for my sake. Ours is clearly a hope-inspiring perspective on life that argues that human beings can live and share a worthwhile and morally respectable existence, and have a rewarding quality of experience without recourse to religious faith. We've proved our ability to do this marry times. Pessimism is the feeling we may occasionally or constantly get that we might be flogging a dead horse in pursuing such noble ideals.

Far from quashing our pessimism, we should exploit it: we should accept it and blend it into our general outlook. There are many things that Humanists will never achieve. All humans will die, individually and as a race. One day our sun will go out, and then it's really Goodnight Vienna. Religionists avoid this gloomy if obvious fact of life through faith in an afterlife, in a ghostly reunion with loved ones, in utopian expectations of a heaven which is often seen as a rose-tinted continuation of all that is good in this life. It's a nice dream - I wouldn't take it away from anyone. In some ways, I can admire those who believe it. As a Humanist, I can't say that I particularly look forward to my death. I'm not worried about finding God, or heaven, etc. Death worries me exclusively because of my intense dislike of pain. The idea of non-existence holds no fears for me at all. On the whole, it seems preferable to the notion of demons roasting me for all eternity on skewers - vivid image that I had drilled into me in my Catholic youth.

Pessimism for me lies in this life, not the next one. I am more comforted by the thought that there isn't a next one.

It has been said that in the whole history of humankind there have been about three hours of world peace amidst the warfare. It seems we don't learn from our mistakes. The news is invariably bad news. After the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the countries involved are a hotbed of nationalistic and religious confusion - Islam and Christianity are growing forces there. It is difficult to see how our little pocket of sanity called Humanism can help to calm these volatile transitional phases.

The Chinese have a curse: "May you live in interesting times." Superficially it sounds like a blessing - who wants boredom? But interesting means challenging, conflicting, unpredictable, dangerous. Imagine life if we had solved all the problems of poverty and crime. No more risk, no tension. Nothing. Humanism itself survives largely by its conflict with dangerous elements fanatical religionists, anti-abortionists, etc. My Humanistic awakenings began in the realisation that religion's promises were as false as Father Christmas' beard. For me, that realisation was harsh, intense, sad, and depressing.

Only fear of painful death prevented me from contemplating suicide. I really admire suicides. Itís incredibly brave to take such a step. 1 could never do it. Ultimately I do enjoy life; I find a great deal of self identification in going against the grain of what was taught and expected by the conformists and religionists who educated me. I live life in an air of Promethean defiance, enjoying it and making the best I can of it while I can, despite my doubts, reservations and knowledge of its ultimate outcome for a11 of us.

Absurdist Albert Camus wrote that the Greek Sisyphus, condemned to spend eternity pushing a giant rock up a hill, could still find scraps of happiness with which to squeeze pleasure out of life. I do that too, but a dark part of me knows that I'm still shoving rocks, so if I seem a little morose and serious once in a while, you know why. Still, mustn't grumble.

Arthur Chappell

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