Awe & Wonder as nonbelievers can know them


The late Christopher Hitchens waxing poetic on the awe-inspiring wonders of the universe, and how nonbelievers in religion are most certainly and acutely aware of the fantastic, in the form of the very, very real discoveries in the sciences.

It’s something that puts the lie to the silly notion that the numinous sentiment is exclusive to the religious, somehow forbidden to those of us skeptical of religious claims.

For my part, I don’t believe that there is or needs to be a supernatural dimension to reality — consistently, as soon as we have understood any phenomenon we’ve ever looked into, it’s been shown quite nicely to belong to nature, not supernature.

Science itself may not apply to everything, but I think that similar methods of inquiry can and should be applied to all areas of human knowledge, not just our understanding of the universe and human behavior…

…and if it can’t?

We won’t know if it can’t unless we look, so until then I ask, “Why not?”

Let’s look and see before we give up trying.

Apostasy: Feelings of Loss & Liberation


For those of us among the newly deconverted, recognizing and accepting our unbeliefs can be painful at first. I found my own letting go of religion difficult, initially accompanied by a deep sense of loss, and I do not believe that I’m unique in this regard.

I think that for many of us without the benefit of secular intellectual and emotional support, there may be a residue of belief, or at least an initial sense of something ‘missing’ and a sense of being tossed about in a vast ocean no longer driven by meaning, purpose, or human centrality, much less our personal centrality.

No matter how it’s phrased, there’s a question that gets asked, “Without a god to help me, what do I do now?” More liberal theists describe hell, not in the crude, visceral, gut-wrenching horror of a fiery place of torture, but something more subtle, what I would think more frightening altogether; an eternal separation from the divine and those who walk with it, including all those whom they knew and loved in life — forever apart, forever isolated.

The ultimate solitary confinement.

To me, that sounds very much like what those of us who lose our religion go through initially. I envy those who were raised in secular families, who never had to experience the sense of emptiness when belief wanes and finally disappears altogether. Atheism in many ex-believers requires a certain tough-mindedness and committed integrity to sustain, and doesn’t always last, No True Scotsman arguments notwithstanding.

What made it disturbing was that I was simultaneously feeling as if relieved of a great weight, all while wondering what my still-devout relations would say if they knew.

I found myself saying, “Maybe I don’t really need anyone to watch me in wakefulness or sleep. Maybe I’m better off without a god, but let’s not tell too many people about it, not just yet. They don’t need to know.”

I’m personally ashamed of my lack of courage then, and I offer no excuse.

At the time, I had little in the way of a secular support network, or a broad reading of secular authors, indeed little acquaintance with atheism or skepticism even as they were then.

I felt adrift, alone, an atheist in a sea of potentially hostile theists, and for a time, I drifted from one religious or spiritual idea … reading up on them, though not practicing any, looking for a ‘new’ path that might possibly fit my needs, and little did I know that none of them would make the grade, none of them would prove suitable, none of them could in any way ‘fit.’

It was soon clear I had to look outside religious and spiritual traditions to find meaning, and it was afterward I discovered that the source I would discover lay outside parochial theological musings or New Age beliefs altogether, and within our species’ secular intellectual heritage — the arts, ethics, the sciences, history, philosophy, logic, rhetoric – things I had thought less of as a churchgoer, though I’ve always had a love of science as a child.

A powerful influence on me during the years of my waning faith was my exposure to secular writers, starting with Isaac Asimov’s SF and non-fiction books.

Without religion to impose purpose and meaning upon me, I was free to discover my own, indeed, I had no choice but to, since the religious ideas where no longer credible.

As a churchgoer, I passively allowed others to give me direction, but as an atheist and skeptic, I can find my own, and the seeming emptiness that religion once vacated has been replaced with the more robust heritage of and allegiance to my species as a whole, not the tribal bigotries of faith, doctrine, or dogma.

What I lost as a former theist has been recompensed many times over to something far better and richer by comparison, making a life of religion seem shallow, unsatisfactory and inauthentic to me now.

I don’t think I would have it any other way.