A breeder puts one flat-nosed, bug-eyed Persian cat in the same room with an equally flat-nosed, bug-eyed Persianette; their offspring have no noses and their eyes are popping out of their head. The offspring of freely breeding humans, my cousins and I are all taller and wider than our grandparents (on average. My grandpa is 6′ 4″, my oldest male cousin is 6′ 5″). I’ve seen dinosaur skeletons that I’m pretty sure no one’s found mention of yet in the Bible. The scientific method has increased our lifespan and quality of those lives; the scientific method has also increased our doubts about this paradigm referred to as Christianity.
The Western world, once governed by the church, is full of folks who can’t reconcile their parents’ faith with their own perception of the world. These folks struggle with the moral implications of living without faith in a god, afterlife, or set of rules defined by the creator of all things.
If no one created this world, and that creator never defined a path for us follow straight to heaven, and we are bound for the grave only, why are we here? Do we indulge every whim, slaughtering puppies, shagging five in a bed, smoking hallucinegenic drugs for breakfast? Do we owe anything to ourselves and each other if there is no reward, no consequence except death, which is inevitable anyway?
Society answered these questions with Mick Jagger. Yet even the world of rock, in which stoned men parade across stages with their balls bouncing in shiny leggings, comments on politics, love and civil liberty, raises money for the world’s starving, and spares a thought for the rag taggy people. Free from commandments or promise of an afterlife, society’s most liberal, “free-thinking,” and “wild” living still help old ladies cross the street and ask larger questions than where their next shot is coming from.
Today’s Easter. I’m an atheist. My mom stopped making easter baskets when I was about eight years old and I hate ham as a main course. This holiday’s only meaning to me is as a source of discounted chocolate in the coming week. But this Sunday in Suckallo is also a gorgeous one, crisp and breezy like a good French chardonnay, and my brother is moving back to the Northwest, so my head was full of the post-Christian question when I walked to the gas station to fetch empty beer boxes for Ian to pack his Mongolian statues and framed retro cheesecake prints. As the city meandered out of church this afternoon, I reflected on the sense of joy that I do feel and have felt, excepting a few years of bleakest depression, my entire life. I feel reverent and faithful all the time, and yet do not live in the eyes of a god or believe I am bound for a better place. I feel reverence and faith in something most religions do not pay enough attention to.
I believe in this life.
I share this for those of you who wonder how atheists get up in the morning, and those of you fellow “nonbelievers” who sometimes wonder what the hell is going on.
We cannot scientifically prove the existence of a god, but we can scientifically prove that men and women have performed selfless deeds, created works of sacred art, and otherwise manifested our concept of godliness. Whether you believe the “Hallelujah Chorus” was inspired by a deity or an incredible night with an English wench, the idea was put to paper by human thought and hand and is sung by human voices. We are capable of understanding, appreciating and arguably conceptualizing holiness. Physically, in this life, we sing songs of joy, paint images of unearthly beauty, write stories of heroism. We are moved by sacred art from cultures we don’t otherwise understand. We cannot prove the existence of a god, but we can prove the existence of our own understanding of what godliness is. For ourselves, in this life, now, we know exactly what good and evil, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, precious and useless, is. Those definitions expand and contract with time, but a man cheating on his wife does not need a holy book to tell him he’s making a mistake.
We have taken fear of God out of our debates about murder, theft, rape, and war, and yet we have still decided they are wrong. No longer afraid of being punished by hellfire, we still treat each other kindly. We do this for ourselves, because if we do not, this life, in this world, is not worth living.
I believe in our capacity to act on morals developed internally rather than those imposed externally by others. I grew up with boys and girls who believed in rules their parents had taught them they would burn in hell for breaking; I could write a series of blogs on the ways in which they have since broken those rules as adults. Leaning unquestioningly on someone else’s ethics rarely supports one for long, and when it does, I can’t see the value of actions lured by the reward of heaven.
I do not believe we can blame our mistakes on an invisible creature called the Devil, or thank an invisible creature called God for the blessings other human beings give us.
I believe help has merit, and harm deserves punishment, regardless of the philosophy of its perpetrator. Repentance does not erase consequence. And anyone, of any religion, is capable of both helping and harming at any time.
I believe wholeheartedly that “if it harm none, do what ye will.” I assume that anyone who doesn’t subscribe to that simple philosophy is either terrified of making a mistake, or desirous of obtaining power over those too weak to define morality for themselves.
We each have the power and freedom to hurt or help other living beings, and any single act can reverberate around the world and for generations to come.
Because I exist, and because my actions could help another person, I choose to exist as helpfully as possible. I commit myself, not to a god or religious group, but to my own ability to become kinder, wiser and more tolerant in the future than I am today. I commit myself to others I meet along the way who try to not only live up to their own standards, but to improve their standards as time passes.
I know any human being on this planet may write the next “Hallelujah Chorus,” any human being may be the one to sing it first, and any human being may put down his gun because of the joy and affirmation that he hears in that song. When anyone can live and die by whatever rules they like, and that there is often no practical reward for kindness, I believe kindness is a miracle. I get up in the morning, not to witness miracles committed by God, but by myself, and by you.
I believe, not in a higher being, but in my highest being, and in yours.
I believe in you and me.