I recently had a conversation (okay, an "interview") with a friend, who is a devout Christian, about my beliefs...which she did not know in full. Since I do not believe in God, I was admittedly anxious about responding. But luckily, she is also open-minded and intelligent. She wanted to understand how I can connect with and find value in the world despite living in a state of "godlessness." It ended up being a rewarding experience for both of us, so I thought I would share her questions and my answers. Long live the wonder of the world!
1. How do you connect with the world around you?
I am a nature junkie. I connect with the world around me in profound ways, at every level and in every moment. You see, I can appreciate the beauty, magic, and unexplainable wonder of the universe around me on its own terms, without any reference to, dependence on, or "explanation" through a conscious Designer. My love of the world takes the world for what it is, however it got that way, as it is in my experience; I do not have to seek some higher meaning or purpose at another level, a level I cannot experience directly. It is sort of like being a gift that you cannot enjoy and be grateful for unless you always refer it to the person who gave it to you. The value and meaning of it to you may still be very powerful, but it always requires another, separate element that, if lost, could diminish the gift's value.
In addition, I can respond to the frequent comment that a world without God is a cold, lonely place. Personally, and I know I speak for many other "heathens" like me, I actually feel so much warmth and connection and "love" in the universe that I am a part of—for however long I am a part of it, and however I happened to get here...which, in my view, can be fully and well explained in biological/scientific and sociological terms. I constantly wonder over how the universe works, how life popped up and continues to pop up and bloom before us. But I am even more amazed at the thought that it all happens without any intentional, "intelligent" design behind it all; it just happens because of fully natural laws, patterns that exist because that is how things just work. When I see a beautiful sunrise or stand at the top of a mountain, I honestly would feel sad if I knew it was arranged by God; it would feel too easy, too simple, too convenient. I can take heart and feel connected with all the other living and non-living things in this universe because we are all, in fact, connected...we are all stardust, in the end, for just about every element in our body came from the stars. I do not need to have faith in God to feel at one with the universe around me; I am at one with all things on a very physical, visceral level, right here and right now.
2. How do you focus or give direction to your spirituality?
At my core, I believe that the only meaning of life is the meaning(s) we give it, in the course of living it, being fully present and in it along with my fellow beings. So in my personal practice, I try my best to bring myself into the present moment, accept it as it is (pleasant or painful or neither), and then appreciate it in all its fleetingness. I try to be in the moment fully—a terribly hard task, but an important one nonetheless. On another level, I try to practice compassion and kindness as much possible, as well as tolerance. I wish for all beings to live free from suffering, as well as to be as knowledgeable as they can about the many sources of "enlightenment" available. I want them all to have as much understanding about various (important) issues so that they can make informed, rational decisions in their lives, not to fall victim to blindness and blinkered ignorance (often self-imposed...often going under the name of "faith"). At the same time, I am a terribly rational creature, and I love to study just about everything, so I am always reading about many topics—from philosophy to literature to science—in order to learn more about the world, about life, about us as humans, about myself, and about how I can live fully. Plus I just love to have things to think about—big questions to ask, even if I know (and revel in the fact) that I can never truly find the answer to most of them.
I suppose that for me, what it all boils down to, whether or not you believe in God, is the persistence of wonder. Just as with life, wonder can and will and should spring up wherever conditions allow it to. The greatest threat to life, fulfillment, and happiness is indifference. Ignorance is a pretty close second; in fact, they may be two sides of the same coin, two interdependent conditions. Either way, there is so much to wonder over in this life of ours. Why miss any of it?