I’m a fan of Matthew Inman’s comics and his hilarious website The Oatmeal.
And I enjoyed almost all of his recent long cartoon titled “How to suck at your religion.”
It’s funny. It’s also thoughtful, provocatively irreverent and wise. Until near the end, where it stumbles badly.
Here’s the bit that goes wobbly:
Does your religion inspire you to help people? Does it make you happier? Does it help you cope with the fact that you are a bag of meat sitting on a rock in outer space and that someday you will die and you are completely powerless, helpless, and insignificant in the wake of this beautiful cosmic shitstorm we call existence? Does it help with that? Yes? Excellent! Carry on …
The problem is that third question — the long one, which makes three assertions. The first two are fine. The last one is partly fine, but contains one word which is really, really, really not at all fine.
That word is “insignificant.” And that’s just utterly wrong.
You are not “completely insignificant.” You are, in fact, precisely the opposite of that.
Now you may suspect that I’m objecting to this because I’m a Christian and thus subscribe to a sectarian belief-system that holds that you — each of you — is immeasurably valuable and immensely significant. And I certainly am a Christian and this certainly is, in fact, something that we Christians believe. It is a Christian belief — a thing that Christians believe.
But it is not only a Christian belief. It’s something my sect happens to believe, but not because it’s a sectarian idea. Everybody else believes this too.
Everybody. Not for sectarian reasons, but because it’s true. People are significant. People matter. All of them. All of us. You are significant. You matter.
That’s not just a sectarian belief I learned from Christianity. It’s also something I learned from Carl Sagan. And from Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
The most astounding fact is the knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on Earth the atoms that make up the human body are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core under extreme temperatures and pressures. These stars, the high mass ones among them went unstable in their later years they collapsed and then exploded scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. These ingredients become part of gas cloud that condense, collapse, form the next generation of solar systems stars with orbiting planets, and those planets now have the ingredients for life itself. So that when I look up at the night sky and I know that yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up – many people feel small because they’re small and the Universe is big – but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life, you want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant you want to feel like a participant in the goings on of activities and events around you That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive.
You are completely significant. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
(But don’t let it go to your head, either. Everybody else you’ll ever meet is completely significant too.)