Most Western atheists are good people, and most are respectful in a “live and let live” kind of way. Most are intelligent, compassionate, and many atheists still profess a certain general spirituality or love and reverence for the natural world that is distilled enough from Western neopaganism and modern new age spirituality as to not feel like “religion.” Most atheists are turned off by organized religion and its influence on the world as a whole, and many have been abused by so-called men of god in ways that would ensure a distaste for and distrust of faith in general.
There is a certain flavor of atheist that I’ve met several times throughout my life, however, that truly defines mortal hubris to me. Perhaps you’ve met them too, because if you have, there’s a good chance they made sure to take every opportunity to tell you all about what they don’t believe…
… including blurting it out in the middle of the priest’s eulogy at your friend’s funeral… (True story)
These folks are the zealot evangelicals of atheism — ruining every party, can’t keep their beliefs to themselves, and constantly up in your business telling you about how stupid you are unless you agree with and think exactly like them. Most of this particular variety of asshole are simply anti-Christians, rather than true atheists, and an understandable reactionary result of conservative evangelism. Most have delved a bit into various Abrahamic religions, maybe even swiped right on Buddhism, but eventually decided it was “all the same hogwash” and at a certain point, stopped searching.
The true irony in how most atheists have defined what would be necessary to prove the existence of god is that their definitions are so deeply Christian that they exclude the simplest and most basic proofs already found everywhere in various faiths around the world.
But Phoenix, you say, no one has been able to prove the existence of any version of god!
Nonsense. Do you mean to tell me that you think Death is not real?
Is Death not all-consuming, all-powerful, and inevitable? Is it not something that comes for every living creature, planets, stars, galaxies? Do you think that believing that my god doesn’t exist makes you immune to Him?
How about the Sun? Do we not have real, tangible proof that the sun exists, is the source of every atom in our bodies, and gives us life-sustaining energy, warmth, and light every single day? Were millions of Ra/Mithras/Apollo/Sol Invictus/Lugh-worshippers really so silly and stupid, or did they understand a fundamental aspect to their existence and pay homage to that in whatever way seemed fitting?
The Moon, Love, Oceans, Spring, Thunder, Fire, War… are any of these not real and provable? Are they not powerful beyond measure?
But Phoenix, you say, you’re just talking about things and concepts that exist! That doesn’t mean that there’s an actual god of the sun riding across the sky in a chariot and if you pray to him, he’ll make your crops grow…
Before we understood the process of how electrical charges build up in a storm cloud to produce lightning, we understood that it was Thor’s hammer striking an enemy during battle. Throughout history humans have told stories in order to explain the absolutely bonkers phenomena of our world, and while those stories may change as our understanding of our world deepens, our awe and respect for these forces has remained. The first story describes the physical process occurring on an atomic scale, the second describes the way that a thunderstorm feels emotionally to the humans experiencing it, and neither is the whole truth of it.
In my faith, we have our stories as well, and they are just as real, imagined, true, made-up, complete, and wholly inadequate to describe what we devote ourselves to.
But Phoenix, you say, no one should be subjugating and oppressing other humans, waging wars, and making laws just because they think their particular version of Sun/Sky Daddy told them to do all those things!
Now, my friend, we are getting somewhere, and religious authoritarianism is a fantastic topic for another post… but yes, we are in agreement. However, tyrants claiming to be the voice of god is a tale as old as time, and just because we might collectively agree that churches should not write our laws doesn’t mean that god doesn’t exist. We can reject the idea of a parental overlord as creator without rejecting the concept of creation as a whole. There is, in fact, a very healthy proverbial baby in all of that bath water, take care you do not throw it out!
But Phoenix, you say, that’s all well and good, but when we die we don’t go to heaven or hell because those places don’t exist, our bodies just decompose. We live, we die, that’s it. Nothing else.
My beloved friend, the Change you so casually refer to as “nothing else” is the most sacred and profound process one can experience. When we die, we decompose, and that means that we become everything, just as we have been becoming everything every day while we are alive, shedding tiny pieces of ourselves and tumbling back towards the earth that gave us these shells to hold consciousness in. When we die, we get to feed that which fed us. We get to take on new forms. While alive, we breathe in the ashes of our ancestors and feast on the bountiful fruits and creatures sprung from their corpses. We nurse our children’s children’s children on milk strained from our blood and bones, and when the last of us finally returns to formlessness, we will rejoin that great never-ending dance as something entirely new. We get this moment, this frail little blip of a lifetime to bear witness to it all, and that we are one of the myriad means by which the cosmos experiences itself is proof enough that Death is not a stopping point, and that there is something far greater than us beyond our fleeting bodies.
There are those who, despite scientific evidence to support what I’m saying, would still insist that everything I do and believe spiritually is a lie, and they’re allowed to think that. Not everyone wants to see the bigger picture, not everyone can, and not everyone understands it even if they see it. Just because I’m taking a good long look at it doesn’t mean I see all of it either, I’m a student here too.
I understand and respect being anti-organized religion, especially being anti-conservative and oppressive organized religion. I also know that the majority of atheists don’t fall into the militant and abrasively dogmatic asshole category. It is my hope, however, that more atheists would take opportunities to broaden their knowledge of, experiences with, and understanding of spirituality, religion, and philosophy. Respect and compassion for all humans starts with respect and compassion for what fills their hearts, and spirituality is a major component of that. If you hold nothing but disdain or disgust for someone’s faith, then you are incapable of treating them as an equal.
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