Atheists recently converged on Washington to show the world how nice they are and to let the religious know they are ready to be accepted by them. How nice. No, really! That is sooo nice!
When christians took over the Roman Empire, they weren’t so nice. They made holy war on the pagans. All that stuff about huddling in the catacombs in terror of being thrown to the lions is, like most propaganda, only part of the story.* The pagans had a word for christians and – I am not making this up – the word was “atheist” because, to polytheistic pagans, the idea of one, single, solitary god was so shocking it seemed downright godless. Christianity was a revolution. It changed how people saw themselves and their role in society and the universe.
Since then, the world and the universe have changed so much that christianity can no longer cope with the stupefying realities of astrophysics and molecular biology, to name only two. Yes, there are physicists who claim to believe in some very special version of god, but we only lock up the nuts who pee on the sidewalk. As a courtesy. Now, humanity is once again being remade, reinvented, this time not in the ironically anthropomorphic image of its artisanal “creator”, but in the mind’s-eye image of the universe becoming aware of itself. That turns my spiritual crank so much sweeter than the blood o’ the lamb. We are living through another revolution, and “atheism” is as inadequate a label as “spiritual”, though elements of both seem relevant. Atheism really is nothing to believe in, it’s only a temporary, convenient label to distinguish us from true believers. Atheism is not an identity. “I am stardust” – now there’s an identity!
We are, humanity is, undergoing a spiritual transformation. And this is what I mean by “spiritual”: Once, while gazing up at a clear, black, brilliant New Mexico sky, I got that telescoping, stretchy feeling, like my mind was the surface of a balloon expanding beyond the farthest limits of human reckoning, when suddenly, the words of Lieh Tze appeared, not as words, but as a transfiguring revelation, “the universe is but a pear seed…” and the vastness, and my mind with it, collapsed into a nothingness more vast than the vastness itself. And the feeling I had at that moment, I submit, is spiritual. Good thing I don’t pee on the sidewalk… seriously, it was purely spiritual, without the corruption of thought, spirit or god. God is, simply, unnecessary. Superfluous. Dead. Get used to it. (Be honest: you are used to it). Beyond the physical, but also within it (which is itself a spiritual contemplation), beyond the emotional, the mental, we walk in beauty, one with all that we know, we are. And how could it be otherwise? One and a half billion years of evolution, and the DNA of the first, humblest creature that ever there was, is in us. A creature so old, so primordial that it is ancestral even to the organisms that made the air that remade the planet and that we still breathe, organisms that made the rocks we call “the roof of the world”, rocks we ingest today to strengthen our bones, those creatures developed the DNA that allows our cells to function. What shall we call this awareness? We – evolved and adapted to this parent universe that is becoming conscious within us, how could we not have deep and sublime feelings that defy our understanding? Spiritual feelings.
So – call me an atheist. For now, I will wear the label, however inappropriate, humbly, and nicely. Because, as the song goes, “I just want to start – a flame in your heart.” I just want to be accepted. So be nice, christians. For once, do as you say, not as you do. Be nice, and accept us, don’t reject us like you did all your christian brothers and sisters that had to go and start other sects and whatnots. Better still, accept that the world as we find it is more spiritual than ghosts, gods and whatnots and you’ll forget all about atheists anyway.
*Chuvin, “The Last Pagans”