Why I am Not an Atheist: An Essay Where I More or Less Say Nothing
"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." —Walt Whitman
I woke up this morning before dawn. Tousled hair, bad breath, a shirt more than a few days old. And I made my way down to the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Parking is great there before 6 am (It’s actually the only time I ever recommend driving into the city, traffic here is rough).
I like cities just as they are yawning awake.
(the ocean breeze of grey fog)
chefs hastily smoking cigarettes
women in moon boots
delicately placing peaches
On green fruit Carts.
I blurry eyed my way through all the unopened stores,
(the first Starbucks, etc.)
And found a table overlooking
And here I sit.
Cold handed, typing.
writing in verse.
But I like that. So I am going to go with it.
It actually fits what I am now trying to say.
As I walked through the streets this morning, occasionally being surprised by the smell of fresh baked bread, watching all of these people living out the life of a coffee commercial, I found myself smiling what our boy Kerouac would call a “beatific smile.”
And I think this is what God is.
Now I am not (entirely) going all Joan Osborne on you here, saying that God was that stranger on the bus (just trying to make his way home. No one calling on the phone. Except the Pope maybe in Rome.)
What I am saying is that the pleasure derived from sensory and physical sensation seems, at least to me, to be strong evidence for the divine.
And the fact that I have the ability to reason to myself about this and ponder the question of my existence seems to be further evidence.
I know there are some objections to this.
I have considered at least some of the evolutionary explanations for both pleasure and consciousness. And I found them to be fairly intellectually satisfying. We can discuss them at a later point if any of you are interested. This isn’t what I was planning on writing about today, so I wasn’t quite prepared. But they can be more or less oversimplified by saying that these things are beneficial for our reproductive success and survival.
But I don’t think we necessarily need to talk about those theories anyway.
Because, at least for me, I did not find any of them to be what us epistemology nerds would call outright defeaters of my belief that our pleasure and awareness emanates from some sort of divine spark.
Or in other words, the God I am coming to believe in could totally have used evolutionary biology as a tool over the course of millions of years. Or in even other words, I don't believe a god is necessary to explain these things, but these things still have the smell of God on them.
I will pause here to note that after writing that last sentence, my mind went into a spiral that lasted at least ten minutes about all the objections that I myself have to that sentence. I have a lot of reasons to not believe in any sort of theism, let alone some fancy loving designer god.
(who I now imagine to still be bearded, yes, but in that cool groomed way. And he wears vests and Warby Parkers. Designer God.)
I still have a lot of trouble writing the words “The God I am coming to believe in” without a certain amount of cringing or fearing for my mental health. And I think the word “believe” might actually still be too strong of a descriptor. But that might be splitting hairs. I think I could split hairs on this forever. I am Chidi from The Good Place. This blog will still be mostly me voicing my questions and concerns about whatever it is that God is and exploring all the ramifications if whatever God is actually isn’t.
I do think God is though. Whatever it is that God is, there is at least an is there.
I should also note here that I—at least as of now—don’t think that God is represented in any of the institutionalized religions I have studied so far.
At least not exclusively or completely. I suspect they each deserve at least partial credit, but none have the total picture.
I agree with the Apostle Paul that we are looking through a glass darkly. I agree with the writer of Isaiah that the ways of God are higher and more mysterious than our own understanding. I believe that I am an evolved, highly emotional animal with limits on my perception and reason. I know that I can’t really, fully, truly know.
Which is to say that I believe that we are all of us sensing in the dark for some answers.
And no doubt in that sensing we have created some beautiful things.
(Religious and cultural traditions, music, art, poetry, roller derby.)
But we have also created some horrible things.
(nuclear war, paper cuts, genocide, traffic).
I think some (if not most or all) of those beautiful things (both “sacred” and “secular”) have captured some aspects of the thing that I, for a lack of a better word, call God.
(but that’s just my suspicion. You are entitled to your own).
And I think that there must be some reckoning of God with all the ugly things too.
I am not presently convinced that God has any sort of personality type or agenda, and if she does if that makes her in anyway benevolent or worthy of my love and devotion. I’ll confess that the God of the Bible feels like a monster to me more often than not. But I have been told that I have misunderstood him. And maybe that’s true. I remain open to everything, convinced by nothing. But as of now, I don’t know about that God.
But I do think that God, in some shape or form, simply is.
I think God is the feeling of my ice cold hands warming when, in just a few moments, I will walk to the coffee shop around the corner.
I think God is the taste of coffee,
the feeling of it spreading warmth and energy through my veins.
I think God is the delight of rolling words around in your mouth.
I think God is the longed for kiss,
the bow on the violin string
I think God is whatever else happens today. Good or bad.
I think God is my constant questioning, my joyous and heartbreaking existence, my resilience, the love that I give and receive, and the joy that I find in it all.
That’s what I think God is. I can neither defend nor explain my position.
And even if my pleasure and awareness and gratitude of that pleasure turns out to only be the result of a few nerves, synapses, and chemicals. I am okay with that. These experiences, this joy, this beautiful machine of the mind still remains sacred.
I will just start saying grace and give thanks to dopamine after every meal.
Interesting post. Not necessarily anything that hasn't been expressed by others but that doesn't mean it isn't important for each person to go through in their own minds. Two little nuggets for you to ponder:ReplyDelete
1. One of the difficulties I have is: if there is a God and that God can be ascribed all of the eternal, omniscient, omnipotent power that people ascribe to him/her, shouldn't we all be taking that God a little more seriously than we do? And certainly much more seriously than our enjoyment of a cup of coffee.
2. Go back to your post and replace every instance of "God" with "brightly colored pot holder". I am at the point where I wonder why we have to ascribe all of these things to another entity at all. If it is a nice day (to me) why can't it just be a nice day? Why do I have to ascribe the day's niceness to something/someone...be it God or a brightly colored pot holder?
Both good nuggets to consider (sorry that I didn't see your reply until just now). As to the first, I am not quite ready to ascribe omniscience or omnipotence, and especially not omnibenevolence to whatever it is that I am calling God right now. Deism or Pantheism is probably where I am right now. Even those terms might be too strong, I don't know. I am mostly just trying to describe what it is that I am feeling. So far, words seem insufficient for that task.Delete
And as such, I don't disagree at all with nugget number 2. We don't have to ascribe these things to a deity at all. A nice day could just be a nice day. But the experience of things like joy and awe, and our ability to contemplate the source of those things, is a tremendous sensation. And as far as I can tell at this point, my options for explaining those sensations is either saying that these things are 1. merely a spandrel, some byproduct of our evolutionary development, or 2. are in some way divine.
Of course, the existence of 1. does not necessarily disprove 2. They could both be true. And I will concede that 2. does not seem necessary. I am with Douglas Adams when he says that we should be able to appreciate the beauty of a garden without having to imagine that there are also faeries there. However, there is something inside of me (possibly just my brain chemistry) that still suspects that some sort of thing like some sort of God exists. I am not (yet) inviting anyone to believe that along with me. I am still unsure if even I want to go along with this.
And I can also assure you that I will never say anything that hasn't been said before. To seek otherwise seems like a herculean task, as the fields of philosophy and theology seem pretty well tread at this point. What I am seeking is not originality but authenticity. Which, as you have seen, is mostly just making a mess of caveats and doubts all over the place. But, as you said, these things are important to go through in our own minds. It is my goal that my wrestling in such a public way will inspire others to hit the mats for themselves.
Thanks for sharing this useful article. I have learnt a lot of things.ReplyDelete
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