The word embodies a certain, and not small amount of, hostility, don’t you think? It can inadvertently be hissed when spoken, resembling an act of mild aggression. It’s a title certainly, almost an epithet. I, the atheist. Yet to be an atheist is not really to be a something or a someone, and I do not mean that to be demeaning. To be an atheist by definition it is to be a not something. It is a negation. If theists are defined as people of God, or believers, atheists are not the antithesis unbelievers. Atheists are virtually people of not-god.
I don’t like that. There is more to absolutely everyone than merely what they are not. Atheists are more than what they are not. Do atheists believe in the human spirit? They surely cannot be people of not-spirit. Are atheists not-spirit too?
I believe in such a thing as a human spirit, but then, I would. I am a theist, and a Christian. However, I don’t believe the human spirit is inextricably linked to my Christian God. I think it can be extricated and attached to whatever a person chooses, or to nothing at all. I think it would be a great shame if an atheist went all out and denied that spirituality existed as well as god, because spirit could turn out to be something we – the people of-God, and the people of not-god – all have in common.
And if we all need anything, it’s certainly not more evidence for the existence or non-existence of God. The last thing human beings need is one more reason to be different or to disagree. What we need is something in common.
What I dislike about the word atheist is not that it implies the non-existence of God. It’s the felt hostility, the implied difference and the inferred opposition. I personally couldn’t care less about whether other people believe God exists or not. I know how I came to the conclusion He does. I’ve given it a lot of thought. It was not something anyone trained me to do, talked me into or taught me from a book. (My past churchgoing and history of religious practice is another story.) When it comes to God not actually existing, atheists could be right for all I know – but the evidence for the non-existence of God doesn’t change things for me one bit. I believe. Because it suits me.
My spirituality is not based on evidence, facts or the physical reality of God or not-god. I don’t believe in God because I need answers – I believe in God because I like questions. I crave mystery. I want not to know. Whilst I seek security and knowledge and stability, I still long to be confounded and overwhelmed. I want there to be something bigger than me, an unknowable, an inconceivable. I like it.
Whilst study, learning, reading and science is what my brain does for fun, myth, mystery, prayer, worship and meditation is what my spirit does for fun. I can do all this concurrently and it’s never a problem. My love for mystery and situation in reality don’t fight for my attention.
In case it matters, as someone who believes in God, I stopped worrying about heaven and hell a while ago. I found it distracting. I believe in living in the moment. This day has the best of me. These people I am with now have the best of me. I don’t agree with being indifferent and unkind to people now in the hopes of getting into someplace more restful and more exclusive away from them all later. You can’t really live that way. It makes you crazy.
While there is more to life than worrying about getting to be somewhere restful when you die, it troubles me when atheists dismiss outright as idiots and fools those who sometimes – or all the time – permit their spiritual desire for mystery and myth overwhelm their intellectual desire for facts and evidence. Many believers don’t believe simply as a fallback for not being able to understand facts and evidence. Theism is not a catch-all for stupid people. We believe because believing is sometimes – inexplicably – better for us and far more satisfying than knowing is.
And this is why truth is subjective. For some, truth is the evidence, the reality, the tangible and the provable. For others, truth is the unknowable, the intangible, the unreal and the mysterious. I can’t reconcile science and faith, because I don’t try to. Both leave me in awe, both leave me mystified, both make me fall back in wonder. The unknowable things in God and science keeps things in perspective for me. I like to be overwhelmed. It keeps me busy.
I don’t object to the right of the atheist to live with not-god. They may live in the world of facts and evidence, if that’s what makes them happy. Unfortunately, I have observed a great many atheists don’t seem to be happy. A great many are, but I frequently seem to encounter ones who are not. I can tell the ones who are not. They have trouble being succinct. A lot of big words can make a person very tired.
I really, really hope not all atheists deny the existence of spirit as well as the existence of god. I really, really want there to be something we all have in common, something we can actually talk about other than what we don’t agree on. Sadly, just being human isn’t enough to make us all get along.
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