Saturday, November 24, 2007

Holiday musings

There is something about winter, the quality of its thin gray light, the depth of its long darkness, that turns the mind to the spirit. For me, every year around this time I look into my heart and my soul and ask questions and listen for some kind of answer.

This was a weighty year in the spiritual realm for me. I explored yogic teachings and read Christian thinkers like Thomas Moore. And some time in the summer--not a time I usually think about anything more serious than sunscreen--I came to a realization. I do not believe in God.

For years, I have said something different. Something along the lines of "Of course I believe in God! God is the perfect metaphor for the beauty and harmony of the universe!" (This is analogous to my feelings about Santa and fairies and forest spirits.) And then it hit me that believing in a metaphor isn't the same as believing in something. Metaphors are not things in themselves; they are the tools we use to describe these things.

So I believe in science. I believe in a beautiful harmony and order of the universe, bound by the activities and entities than we may not understand in their entirety, but do not undermine the truths we have fought to carve out. I think that makes me an atheist.

Some people feel like atheism is a selfish, shallow, hopeless state of being. I don't see it like that. When I look at the stars in their whirling patterns of light and heat, I am awed by the forces around me, and I can name them--gravity, inertia, entropy, electromagnetism. When I hear the whoosh of my own pulse inside my body, I am thrilled to know that the same forces are at work on all the tiny motes of own being. There is such beauty there, such power and majesty.

And I can have absolute faith in the universe and its rules. Gravity will never leave me, never stop affecting me even if I should choose not to believe in it. The laws of physics will not abandon me or reject me or send me to eternal suffering for not believing in them. And they are the same for every person, no matter what book is the rule of the land around them. Now that is beautiful. That is powerful. That is awesome.

I am proud to believe these things. I am proud to say that there is plenty to have faith in that is not God. I am proud to say that I believe morality and justice and order have a place in a world that is not religious. But in many places of this world, I would be killed for saying this. In my own country, I would never elected. Many communities would not allow me to teach their children; if I was found writing about atheism on my personal website, I would be encouraged to leave my job. Even among my own friends I feel nervous saying these things. Somehow it is easier to say "Hey, I'm a Muslim now!" than "Hey! I'm an atheist!" I could wear a cross on a necklace to work--even though the cross is a torture device that has also been used to harass and frighten people, primarily blacks, in this country--but if I wore a similar item that said "Atheist," I would be asked to remove it.

That's why I put the scarlet 'A' on my page. I wanted to show people that I am proud of what I believe, even if it's not normal in the United States. I wanted to show people that a nice smart woman like me can be an atheist. And then maybe they would feel okay with themselves.

Happy holidays, everybody. Peace be with you.


Erin said...

:) Crap! I'm such a has-been English major! I saw that A and went "Since when does Wendy have affairs??" but then I read your very brave blog post and went "ohhhh. A." I don't think there is anything wrong at all with believing in science and I love your reasons for having faith in it. :) And you can teach my kid any time, if you don't mind her four paws, fur and penchant for licking her bum when you try to tell her something serious. :)

Kidding aside, this was a very brave post and know that I will absotively posolutely always be your friend :)

Mike said...

I sent an e-mail saying I'd added your blog to the Out Campaign blogroll but it bounced back. Message said "...blocked by"

Just wanted you to know that your blog has been and that I thought that this was a great post.