16 November, 2008

Progress Report: Sweetness and Light and All That Rot


I admit it. I skipped. I wasn't in the mood for listing off all those silly things Christians do to try to put one over on atheists, so I'm moving ahead to another new chapter: Reaching Each Other. It was in part inspired by the concert tonight, and in part by my best friend.

It's basic premise comes from what my friend said last night: that after reading my excerpts, he'd thought to himself, "I can never talk to Dana about Christianity again!" He told me he hadn't realized just how different our beliefs are until now - then caught himself, and we both had a good laugh over the fact that that's true, since I don't believe at all, but definition. This chapter is meant to show that since we're humans, yes, we do share common experiences. It's just that Christians interpret those experiences as coming from God while we don't.

I'll spare you some of the detail, since I already gushed about the spiritual feelings I have at Peacemakers concerts, and just give you this bit:

That long anecdote is to show you that yes, atheists have deeply spiritual experiences. Things can be sacred and still be secular, strangely enough.

The feeling of awe, almost euphoria, that you might experience witnessing a particularly gorgeous sunset: we feel it, too. We just don't see anything supernatural.

The absence of any supernatural explanation doesn't make the world any less wonderful for us. If anything, it's more wonderful. I'm amazed by physics and cosmology. I'm humbled by our tiny place in this enormous universe. I'm grateful that I live in an age that knows just how vast it all is, how complex, and yet has a remarkable understanding of it. The thrill you feel at the words, "Let there be light," I feel when I see the equation e=mc2.

These feelings of awe, wonder, and ecstasy aren't limited to the religious alone. All humans can experience them. And that means yes, I can understand you when you tell me about your spiritual feelings. The only thing difficult for me to comprehend is why you can't feel them without God. That part, I just have to take your word for.

Since I once shared your faith, I do try to remember what it was like when I saw God all around me, but those memories are fading, and that feeling was never so pervasive as the delight I take in science and humanism. We'll just have to be satisfied with the fact that we can both have spiritual experiences, which means we can stand side-by-side at sunset reduced to awe-stricken grins.
This may all sound pollyannaish, but considering I'll have just spent upwards of three chapters being rather merciless about God, religion, the irritating things Christians do, and why it would be best if they just gave the whole proselytizing thing a miss, we're ready at this point for Pollyanna. I'm hoping to bring them to a point where they can accept that our lack of belief in the supernatural doesn't make us impoverished Vulcans who don't have a single human thing in common with them. And I'd really like to take away the monopoly religion has on all things numinous.

I don't know about you, but it's really irritating for me to have to explain, ad nauseum, that I can feel all that awe and wonder and no it still doesn't make me believe in one single supernatural thing.

I think we'll hit on that old chestnut of "but explaining it takes away the mystery!" too. Anyone else here think things are just as amazing even when we know exactly how they work? Think Dawkins's "Unweaving the Rainbow."

And with that, time for me to collapse. Sunday Science is coming up....


Woozle said...

Well, yeah... they're kind of more amazing, I should think... and didn't Carl Sagan have something to say about that? I seem to recall a video clip of him lamenting that not one religion looks at science and says "wow, this is so much more amazing than I thought -- it makes God so much bigger than I realized!", and instead keeps trying to put God into a box of humanly-comprehensible size.

One point you might make, somewhere along the line -- something like: "How do you know you're not just taking every deeply meaningful spiritual experience you have and calling it 'God'? If you were to have such an experience and God wasn't part of it, how would you know? How do you know that whatever element it is which makes you believe God is part of the experience is somehow also related to that scary authoritarian guy in the Bible?"

I explored some of these issues in an essay I wrote last year, Reasons to believe in God; feel free to mine it for ideas. (I hereby release it under a special Dana Hunter license for use towards the betterment of all humanity including commercial porpoises, immortal or otherwise. Staid lion and minah birds sold separately.)

Cujo359 said...

The absence of any supernatural explanation doesn't make the world any less wonderful for us.

The human species is generally recognized to be 250,000 or so years old. Taking that as a given, if some of the first true homo sapiens had embarked on a spaceship to the other end of the galaxy and back at the speed of light, they'd just be getting back about now. That's the entire age of our species, just to get to the other end of our little corner of the universe. Of course, we still have no practical idea of how to travel that fast, and may not for millenia.

You don't need to believe in deities to feel wonder or feel humility. All you need is a little knowledge and the inclination.