Sometimes we have to be reminded of the simplest things.
This post has been rolling around my brain for days. In all of my passion to explain WHY I believe what I believe, I have neglected to express how it feels to believe what I believe.
In the skeptic movement, we are cautious about using “feelings” as a guide for believing things; our feelings, while wonderful and life-enhancing, are not reliable as a source of confirmation or evidence. Sometimes the concept of a premise is so appealing, gives us comfort, “feels” good to think about, we embrace it in spite of its unrealistic nature. The result of this falls on the scale somewhere between Harmless (believing in fairies) and Dangerous (believing in prayer over medicine or treatment). Therefore, we skeptics tend to underemphasize feelings when we discuss our rational belief system. This filter serves us well in examining and deciding what is reasonable, what is rational. But it doesn’t tell the rest, and best, of the story.
With that security feature in place, with the recognition that our emotions are integral to our humanity, but not as a source of reality confirmation, one can then plunge in to our deep, rich, abundant emotional frosting with abandon. And that brings me to the subject of today’s post.
Often atheists are accused of being sad because Life Has No Meaning. We’re told we are Don’t Have Any Reason To Live. It’s been said we are Angry All Of The Time. Admittedly, we may have said something to add to that perception, but more often than not, those are just old, recirculated dogma that won’t go away. I hang out with atheists. I read volumes by atheists. I AM an atheist. The atheists I know, and I, myself, are none of those things. We, as a group, an awfully diverse, fiercely independent group, live lives of reflection, and thoughtfulness, and intention, and joy. And as a nod to the “fiercely independent” descriptor, I’m now going to transition away from atheists as a group to atheist as me.
My life is similar to everyone else’s: I’ve got family drama, health issues, financial challenges, obstacles to my goals and dreams – the usual shopping list. I am humbled by the knowledge that I am more fortunate than 99% of the people who have ever been ON the planet, having been born an American, in the 20th century, into a middle-class family. I know how incredibly fortunate I am. That knowledge alone is cause for a feeling of thankfulness that I’m reminded of several times a day.
When you add to that the joy I experience every new day, through relationships with friends and family, through taking care of and enjoying my body, through learning and reading and discovering, through physical sensations of sounds, and tastes, and sights, through challenges and achievements, through a sense of community with humanity, through helping others and others helping me, I am often overwhelmed by feelings of happiness, and of joy, and of meaning.
While I cannot always be in control of external circumstances, I have an underlying, overall constant sensation of peace and joyfulness, a sensation which is counterintuitive to a world view that admits that life is chaotic and random and, inherently, meaningless.
I was recently asked whether I had a peace that passed all understanding, a reference to Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. My answer is No. I have a peace that I DO understand. There is tremendous peace in knowing and understanding how the universe functions. There is joy and peace in the predictability of the laws of physics and science, of the constants on which we depend, and a recognition that that stability is not hindered by an ever-changing body of data, but enhanced by it.
And if I and others in the atheist community don’t allow this to show, shame on us. Deeply imbedded in our embrace of ration and reason as a world view, is an awe and respect and wonder of the nature of our environment, our species, and our world.
“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.” Richard Dawkins
Wow. There’s that joy again.
Thanks for reading.