Imagine No Religion? A Case Study Into My Own Atheism.
I am an atheist. A godless heathen. A bland, joyless individual who sees no hope in the universe or existence other than utter destruction. A cynical nihilist, whose myopic insistence on only seeing the wood for the trees, has blunted me to the wonders of nature and the unique miracle that is my life... or so I am told!
My own path to non belief meandered like the undulations of the serpent's trail through the Garden of Eden, slithering from one profession of untruth to the other, although I sunk my teeth into the apple instead. And much like it struck Newton on the head, so too was I struck with the vision of... what lies ahead of me and all around me.
Raised culturally C of E (Anglican). Religion or God was an aspect in life I never questioned, although was never an overpowering presence in my life either. It was just an element that was there, like oxygen, filling your lungs and your soul with life and afterlife. A blip in belief entered my consciousness when my parents informed me Santa Claus was not real, I recall thinking after this bombshell: "what makes God real, then?" My childlike mind swept away this horrific reality with a flood of distraction... and on to adolescence.
An obsession with The Lord of the Rings led the curious mind of a bookworm, with a penchant for the fantastical, to delve into the study of witchcraft. Over the years I read up on Wicca and identified with it's affinity with nature and the desire of the Witch to yoke into the universe we were all a constituent part of. It was a beautiful philosophy which promised rituals that could effect reality through harnessing the natural order through which you had melded your soul with. Though such inner harmony came at a price... not the kind of price that goes hand-in-hand with deep spiritual journeys, self-reflection and the ascetic mountainous trek to enlightenment that we all must venture down alone. Closer to the revelation I made was a nice consumerist sideline masquerading in nice New Age trinkets!
Aside from needing a degree in metalwork and the like (forging one's own ceremonial daggers), spending weeks bonding with a tree before you sever one of it's limbs for a staff. There comes the purchasing of a litany of herbs and leaves. Natural extracts for ritual meant half one's wages needs to be sacrificed at the altar of magic, then magic will alter the universe for you, with the mind as a conduit. It's about the thought process. If one has the will, the way will come to you. However, fiscal restraint equals a mental block, apparently!
An ethic I took up and ran with in my late teens and into early adulthood, was "if there's a will, there's a way." Gaining a degree, despite the misdemeanours of youth, frittering away qualifications at school. My new thirst for knowledge, writing and reading, forced me to gaze upwards. The firmament, solid in my fascination since childhood, hastily beamed it's radiance upon me. The works of Brian Cox and his study of the universe has helped a Renaissance in scientific interest flourish, including my own. My amateur studies on the cosmos led to Hawking and my growing agnosticism (beginning as a natural dissatisfaction with the spiritual realm) and a mind's evolution "Naturally Selected" a route that led to humanist thinkers... and whilst reading The Grand Design by Hawking and Mlodinow. M Theory and String Theory made me realise a universe could sprout from essentially nothing. Bye bye divinity, so long supernatural! I became an atheist. Because of my standpoint come from realising my identity before (my sexuality), I swiftly became an outspoken advocate for this standpoint.
Life Under The Auspices Of Everlasting Death!
So for the past several years, I have been a non-believer... at the ice cream parlour of life, I'll stick with vanilla, is the first impression of most. The world is becoming largely secular. Those who describe themselves as having "No Religion" or "Irreligious" is now third, behind Christianity and Islam. However, in place of the once indefatigable edict of the church (mosque slowly following suit), a fey, all-pervasive energy or awareness permeates the thought-belief of most, a kind of duality existing between inner and outer space that kick starts the motion of reality and leaves to the whole mess at the behest of our beatific and beastly spectrum of our natures.
This is the Deist position behind the theory of our origins. The divine chess player that moves the pawn on the cosmic chess board and then leaves the rest to an automated program. A faulty argument that leaves all sorts of questions unanswered. Would the divinity, all powerful or knowing, choose to not intervene on anguish and suffering in the full knowledge that the universe could be altered at a whim? Or once the universe is ignited, is this prime mover powerless to alter that which is set in motion without altering the entire fabric irrevocably, as Newtonian Laws would have it? Without the complications that any creator intelligence would bring to reality's table, there is the issue of belief itself. Some allay their fears on just the intangible (for now) notion that God does exist, that they have noting to lose in thinking this... Pascal's Wager.
It's a flimsy argument that shows the skewed thinking in cognitive thought interacting with existence itself. It's a cognitive dissonance that could only function with the conflict of thought clashing with everything one knows and all there is left for us to discover. Nikola Tesla once said: "if you wish to understand the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration." If these elements were all that was needed to create existence, why was intelligence required? Moreover, intelligence is a consequence of energy, frequency and vibration binding our flesh and bones together for the short intermission of lucid union.
To extricate oneself from belief utterly is viewed with confusion by some and open hostility from others. I have actually had to bear more negativity about my atheism than I have about being gay (a blessing for latter, a curse for the former). But why the hostility in (quite rationally) thinking that nothing that cannot be seen or has no direct influence in the world is unreal? Fear of death reaps (pardon the pun) most of the reason behind an adherence to wishing something lay beyond our final sleep, but something does.
We are all constituents of the universe. We come from it's beginning, we will be there to witness it's end and even beyond. Just not as you or I. That's the beauty, not the hopelessness, of atheism. We are the start and the cease terminus, the ultimate that can gaze at the stars and then return to them. We are accountable only to ourselves. The undeniable Lord and master of our destiny, we have only ourselves and those dearest to us to adore. We remain ourselves, as well as countless others all through the faultless grace of our ancestry and our particles. There are many fates we get to experience, all the while having a unique chance to be ourselves, to be at peace after and remain in sole unison with everything. It's a rare and ubiquitous privilege and should be something to be cherished.
Consider the poet, the singer, the artist. Consider the beauty of how the interaction with sound waves beating off their ears, or the light reflecting into their eyes, has converged through the hub of the brain to produce wonders. Consider how the heart swells at their numinous work. Consider the interplay between the creator's body and mind to bring that artwork to your attention and consider all undertaken by design, attention, mind and sinew to be expunged and slake endeavour's thirst on your satisfaction. Consider the true magic of science. How it marches forward on an inflationary model of discovery, beauty and edification for all of our kind? And how wonderful such a journey is compared to a divine flash! There cannot be much more that surmounts this, surely in all that's holy?
"Be humble, for you are made of earth. Be noble, for you are made of stars!" - Serbian Proverb.
© Brad James, 2014.