Happy Yule, my darlings! Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, the Solstice, or whatever other midwinter festival, I hope you’re having a blast.
And here, courtesy of Ricky Gervais, is a nice bit of ammunition for all of those relations who might be giving you guff for being an atheist at this time o’ year (h/t):
Wow. No God. If mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa? Yes, of course, but who cares? The gifts kept coming. And so did the gifts of my new found atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. I learned of evolution – a theory so simple that only England’s greatest genius could have come up with it. Evolution of plants, animals and us – with imagination, free will, love, humor. I no longer needed a reason for my existence, just a reason to live. And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer and pizza are all good enough reasons for living.
Haven’t lacked in the reasons for living department myself. If I want transcendence, I can wander off into the mountains and soak some right up. A nice waterfall’s quite enough cathedral for me. Communing with the universe via Hubble isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon, either. Crack open a book on science, and I have all of the wonder I need to sustain my soul for a good long while.
And I do believe that’s where all of those friends and relatives who give us atheists the old pitying stare and the firm lecture have an abject failure of imagination: they can’t imagine how a universe without god can possibly be enough. I say the universe doesn’t need a god. Gods are surplus to requirements. It’s already got an embarrassment of riches. Gods just get in the way. The stories about them are fun, true, and I do enjoy a good myth, but as an explanation for how the universe really works, myths are poor substitutes for the real truth. I’ve never yet come across a myth that astonishes me half so much as what physics has revealed. The natural wonders around me don’t need a god to make them wonderful: geology, chemistry, physics and biology have done a good enough job of that – far better, in fact. The stuff we humans make up isn’t a patch on the breadth, depth, and astonishing underlying simplicity of reality.
As a bonus, science doesn’t require me to go sit in a church on Sunday mornings and condemn the unbelievers to hell.
For some people, I suppose, the world is not enough. Something in their wiring requires a deity to make them feel like their life has meaning. Sometimes, I wish I understood why. I used to, until I gave up on the god thing and realized how very unnecessary that had been. I suppose I used to have the same fear of falling that so many others do – felt if I didn’t have a god there whipping me, I might stray from the straight and narrow. But morality hasn’t been a problem. The opposite, in fact. Morality’s easier when it just comes down to us. We’ve got to treat each other well, help each other out, because we’re all we’ve got. There’s no one coming down from Calvary to save us. We’ve got to do it ourselves. So unfold the hands, roll up the sleeves, and get to work.
We haven’t got dominion over the Earth. We’re residents, and if we tear the place up, well, we haven’t got anywhere else to go, so best take care of it. That includes our fellow creatures, who support our lives here in ways we’re only just beginning to understand. Ecology is a crazily interconnected thing. If you think that story about a missing horseshoe nail causing a war to be lost is a good proverb about the importance of the small details, well, you might want to have a look at what happens when something so seemingly inconsequential as an insect is removed from the food web. Even bacteria matter far more than we might have cared to admit.
Thing is, I can see those things, now that I’m not worried about the afterlife and all. Far from contracting, my worldview has expanded since getting rid of gods. Anyone else experienced the same thing? Anyone else found a universe of possibility opening up before them once they’d taken the god-goggles off? Wonderful, isn’t it?
And like Ricky said, I no longer need a reason for my existence. I know, roughly, why I’m here: there’s a whole story of evolution and reproductive biology behind that, a history of contingency and coincidence and one damned thing after another that led to the person typing this. I don’t need any more reason than that. It doesn’t concern me. It’s an inane question, really, asking why I exist and not some other combination of genetic material, what reason I was put on this earth – I’ve come to find out that not everything needs the kind of reason religious people mean. I’m here. The important question is, what am I going to do now I’m here? And that I get to decide for myself. There’s no one set path I must follow. I can explore, let my imagination lead me around by the nose, let curiosity drag me from one adventure to the next, without ever worrying whether it’s the right thing to do. “An it harm none, do what ye will.” I have filched that from Wicca and live by it daily, happily.
Do I feel like I’m missing something? Yes, all the time. I’m missing those years I wasted chasing after religion when I could have been chasing after science instead. Aside from that, no. There are no gaping holes left in my life, no god-shaped gap demanding to be filled. I can’t even imagine wanting a god to worship anymore. I’m filled to overflowing with the wonders of the universe: there’s no more I desire. Well, that’s not strictly true. A bank account full enough to live off of for the rest of my life wouldn’t go amiss. More time to explore the universe, then, you see! But that’s just a fancy, nothing more.
So sorry to disappoint those fundies who love to dream and tell tall stories about those sad, crying, empty atheists who sit around miserable and alone at Christmas. The reality’s quite different. Oh, chances are, I am alone – but that’s not because I’m an atheist, it’s because I’m a writer whose family lives out of state, and hence I can plead inability to get time off work and money for travel in order to squeeze out a little extra time with ye olde scribbling. Blissful, that. So yes, fundies, there’s one consolation for you: I’m alone. But sad, crying and empty, I am not. How can I be? There’s too much wonder in the world for me to ever be miserable for long.
My darlings, atheists and believers and all in between, I do hope you’re putting this holiday to great good use. There’s food, family, friends, fun and loot to be had. Whatever your reason for the season, just pause for a moment to reflect on how many reasons we have for living. There are so many, great and small, that we’d be here well into the new year before I got done listing them all.
Here’s to you, and here’s to life, and here’s to another shopping season successfully survived!