I hate the word Atheist SO MUCH. And the lovely Oprah Winfrey – who I like on many levels – demonstrated why I hate it in her interview with Diane Nyad and her apparent inability to believe and atheist feel awe and wonder.
It’s very hard for people to reconcile atheism and spirituality. At least that’s been my experience. It’s very common for Christians – especially fundamentalist Christians – to view atheists as cold pragmatists who see no wonder in the world. There may be other religions who think the same way about atheists, but my community is predominantly fundamentalist Christians so that’s the perspective I’ll address here.
They seem to assume we’re all lab-coat wearing scientist who think nothing is miraculous. I see it in prayers and photos and remarks posted on Facebook every day. It’s a common sentiment that the beauty of a sunset can not be appreciated if you don’t believe in a God behind it. I often see comments that people who don’t believe in God can not truly be in awe of the miracle of their own children. I see memes about how a Christian feels sorry for someone who doesn’t believe in God because they can not be amazed at the stars in the sky.
So, you know, I wanted to set the record straight.
It’s hard to define what I am. I’m most definitely a humanist and I’m most definitely an atheist. However, I am NOT a GNOSTIC ATHEIST. A gnostic atheist would claim to know for sure that no deity exists. And I would not claim that. I often think Christians assume all atheists are gnostic, but you’d be surprised to find out that many of us fall more into the category of AGNOSTIC atheists. I don’t believe in a deity of any sort, but I’m not going to pretend I am capable of understanding everything in the universe, so I would never claim to be certain of the lack of one.
NOW! Humanist! Agnostic Atheist! That’s me.
But let me tell you – there may not be a religious person in the world who is MORE in awe with nature than I am. I photograph every sunrise or sunset I see with even the slightest shade of pink. Fog in the valley when I’m up on the mountain sends shivers down my spine. I drink coffee some mornings with the stars just for the hope to see one shooting across the sky. I am very capable of wonder and awe and very much able to be inspired by the beauty and miracle of nature.
But I subscribe those miracles to the simple amazement of this planet and how it works. I think my children are miracles like I think all humans are miracles. Miracles of science and evolution. But no less miraculous than if I believe they were from God.
The stars make me sad because I’m overwhelmed by the vastness of what I don’t know or understand. I look into the sky and I’m burdened by how much is out there that I can not explain. But that doesn’t mean I have to believe in God, and that doesn’t mean that my lack of a belief in God means I’m less inspired by it all than you are.
I see an ant carrying a bread crumb twice the size of it’s body and I marvel at the evolution that allowed him to develop the body to do that. I watch a butterfly escapee predation by scaring those who would eat him with his beauty and I bow down to the science behind those characteristics. I find the pragmatic explanations to the universe just as awe-inspiring as a religious person would find their own biblical explanations.
Spirituality is not only felt through religion or a belief in deities. If you believe I am less capable of spirituality because I don’t have a God to have faith in, then you simply do not understand my beliefs. And that’s okay! But just know that people like me are just as amazed by the twinkle of the stars and the laughter of their children as you are. Don’t feel sorry for us. You don’t have to understand us, that’s what makes the world beautiful – our differences – but don’t assume that we’re cold-hearted and unable to cry at a sunset.
Of course, all of this is coming from the girl who always cries at the OnStar radio spots, so maybe I’m just a weirdo.
18 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Atheism!”
I have a TON of friends who are agnostic. There’s such a large community of people who feel like you do.
But, I just wanted to chime in and say that just because someone is a white lab coat wearing, evolution believing scientist, ie me, it doesn’t mean that one can’t be religious as well. They aren’t mutually exclusive. I find that my understanding of science (I’m a molecular biologist) just makes me feel even more sure that there is something bigger out there than me. It makes me a happier Catholic as I feel there will always be more things to discover that were designed on a miraculous level.
You have a wonderful way with words, very well written and I total agree. I have my own beliefs which differ from pretty much everyone around me and my family all feel the need to worry about my soul because I don’t believe in what they do. Although I welcome the prayers, I don’t believe that they will change my views. This planet, the universe and all that is in it is truly amazing and every single creature in it can enjoy its beauty and mystery.
I love you for writing about atheism. Parenting blogs are so overwhelmingly Christian that it is really refreshing to hear from another nonbeliever from time to time.
Thanks for writing this!! You’ve pretty much described my own beliefs and spirituality, especially the part about gnosticism and how amazing this universe is. Beautifully written.
I think you are so brave to write about atheism. I have spent most of my adult life ‘passing’ as mainstream in my religious beliefs. I am spiritual, but living here in the buckle of the Bible Belt, that isn’t something I have been able to differentiate to my fundamentalist acquaintances. My friends know me for who I am, but even on my blog, I don’t feel comfortable being completely open about that part of my life. Keep up the good work! 🙂
Yes, thank you for catching that. I agree with Zoot here – I’m not sure what my religious beliefs are* but have no problem finding beauty in the world. However, I have to join the chorus on the white lab coat characterization. The best scientists (and the happiest ones) are those of us who can find wonder in the simplest of their observations. A rational or logical viewpoint does not need to preclude a sense of wonder!
*this has nothing to do with my scientific background and everything to do with how the church of my upbringing treats many social issues, for what it’s worth
Yes, yes, yes to all of that! Also, I thought you might like this quote from Matt Berninger, lead singer of The National:
“It’s so clear that our afterlife is how we are to the people around us: how we raise our children, how we are to our loved ones and friends. How we treat each other is how we affect life beyond our personal and specific and very small existence. The idea that it’s just us, it’s just us, and that’s all there is, is true — that one we know is true. The rest is hypothetical maybes. Why don’t we act accordingly? How we affect each other is the real religion.”
Um, also, this quote from David Foster Wallace’s famous “This is Water” commencement speech.
“If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who or what is really important…if you want to operate on your default settings, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will actually be in your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow consumer hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred. On fire with the same force that made the stars. Love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.”
This is so beautifully written and exactly how I feel about my Atheism. I hope you don’t mind that I share it on my Facebook wall, as I’ve seen posts on my wall deriding Atheists lately and I want to show them the real face of it….I hope they give it a read. Thanks, Kim.
This post is wonderful and Amber is also bringing it with her two great quotes and just YES.
I’m not agnostic or atheist, but lovely post. I believe in a god that believes in you, even if you don’t believe in him/her. I am certainly not a fundamentalist. Probably a marginal Christian also, since I don’t think a god who loves everyone would exclude (buddhists, shintos, etc) from “heaven” just because they didn’t believe a certain way.
Yes, this! Love how you worded this. I feel so many of these same things.
Thank you. This is exactly how I feel and have not been able to put into words.
Yes to this! It is a really hard thing to be open about, living in Kansas. (Or, I suspect, in most of the U.S.)
So, so, SO well said! I am sending this to my mom who will still never understand my question of her faith but maybe she will feel less sad about my beliefs!
You describe what I believe in the most perfect way possible. Thank you! If you don’t mind, I would like to share this on my facebook 🙂