Sunday, June 30, 2013


Recently an association of atheists put up a monument to atheism, with quotes from Thomas Jefferson and Madalyn Murray O'Hair in front of a local courthouse that also has a monument listing the Ten Commandments.  I believe in the First Amendment and the free marketplace of ideas, so I support their right to establish such monuments.  Still, why, in my secret self, do I wish atheists would keep quiet about their convictions?  I think it's because most atheists I know embrace a philosophy that sucks the wonder, mystery, and hope out of life.    Life is difficult - a road and a landscape that, for all it's beauty, is blighted with pain and all manner of tragedies and all kinds of questions that have no answers.   To me, their philosophy adds up to the lines from Shakespeare:  "Life is tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

I am also troubled by the extreme dogmatism of many atheists.  It is possible to debate spiritual questions - Is there a God?  Is their life after death?  Are prayers answered? - with agnostics, with Episcopalians, with Lutherans and Presbyterians and Jesuits... and probably with some atheists.  But Those I have known either get angry - they think I am trying to convert them (I'm not) - or let me know that the subject is boring or too silly to be worth their time. 

In reality, it is not possible to prove, in  a scientific sense, that there is a God or that there is not a God.  Rigid theism and rigid atheism are both based in belief in things unseen and unprovable.  There is empirical evidence for the reality of reincarnation, but most spiritual beliefs and disbeliefs cannot be empirically validated.

In my opinion, the rigid beliefs of fundamentalists are often based in fear.  In such a vast and often terrifying universe it is comforting to think that one has all the answers and a sure-fire map to Heaven.  Fundamentalists tend to get aggressive when their beliefs are challenged.  That is the response of fear and secret doubts that must be drowned out at all costs.  A reality-based belief doesn't need to be defended.  Water does run downhill and if someone chooses to believe that it doesn't, I can live with that.  I have no need to defend truth.  Truth is its own defense.  The beliefs I must defend are those that I suspect may not be true.

So what are atheists - not all atheists but the kind I privately think of as 'fundamentalist atheists" afraid of?  Are they afraid to hope?  Are they afraid of the part of their mind that would embrace irrationality?  I have said in my poems, a time or two, that life belongs to poets, lunatics and saints.  Are my atheist brethren afraid of finding themselves among that number?  Afraid that they will no longer pay their bills, mow their lawns, go to work - but will be walking down fourth avenue in white robes, chanting the ten thousand names of God?

Fear not, atheist friends, it takes a long time, probably many lifetimes, to reach the stage where you will feel impelled to grab your begging bowl and head for 4th Avenue.  Being open to knowing that one does not know, being open to the infinite possibilities of this vast and mysterious universe,  being open to receiving wise counsel from the deepest parts of the self, where the still small voice of Spirit lives, has no downside.