I know many people who demur around religion. They say, I am spiritual, but don’t really belong to a church. Maybe they say I’m a christian, but I don’t attend. More likely they claim agnosticism. I called myself a practicing non-believing Buddhist for the longest time. You know the type, free range pescatarian agnostic meditating wearing a tshirt with something obscure and responding “ok cool” to most about everything.
One spring day I’m driving the 280 up to San Francisco. Usually I take the 101, as it’s significantly shorter. The 101 is a blight on humanity; long lines of billboards, warehouses, office parks and sound walls. 280 is Disney’s own freeway; green rolling hills dotted with oak trees, daffodils and cows. The traffic report had warned something nasty was occurring on 101, so I’d switched over and was being pleasantly surprised by all the nature. I was also listening to NPR, as I always do. And on NPR there was an author talking about a book that sounded just terrific. If I could have managed buying it on my ipad while driving 95, I would have (I’m ashamed to say I considered it).
And I thought to myself, because I had been pulling numbers a lot lately at work and my mind was on percentages, I bet someone is writing a book right now that is going to be my new favorite book. Think about bookstores. They are full of books. And ten or twenty are a pretty good read. And one or two are awesome. In fact I bet every single bookstore has one book that will keep you up at night turning pages and make you cry when you hit that last page and change how you love or run or cook or something. And there are a bunch of bookstores all over the place! There are even bookstores in your phone; in your pocket waits something full of treasure!
And record stores, same thing! The song I can’t get out of my head is waiting for me. Maybe I’d even hear it if I changed the station from NPR once in a while! And what about galleries; I love to go to a museum and wander about until I see one painting I can’t leave and stay with it staring until my eyes water. Every museum has that one work that makes you feel sloshy inside, and makes you want to fall in love or at least draw when you get home.
If you know sturgeon’s law, he says 90% of all art is crap. But the real math is that 99.9% of everything is crap, because there are editors and publishers and curators culling down the crap to a reasonable level of garbage, and then word-of-mouth and critics help you find the percent left that might be ok. But that is STILL awesome is there are so many humans making so much art that 10% or even 1% is a whole lot of heartbreaking wonder and joyful gloriousness.
“The world as a work of art that gives birth to itself” said the world’s first famous atheist.
Stop. Close your eyes. Right now someone is saying something wise and someone is humming a new tune and someone sketched an artichoke and it came out pretty good. And you, lucky dog, live in the middle of it. Even better, you live in a time where technology is getting much much better at getting you and this work of art in the same place. The Gospel of Google is “you can find it.” The Testimony of Facebook is your friends will set you free. Or give you cute kittens. All good.
I don’t need a god when I have such riches. The sky opened up and the angels sang for me, only it was more like the sunroof opened up and terry gross sang to me “you are blessed. the world is a miracle machine. go be in it.”
And the crown of my head grew warm from the sun, and the daffodils waved, and I gave thanks, deep in your stomach thanks that my short time flying through the world would be through such a world with such riches.
And I converted to atheism. Until then, atheism had been a religion of negativity: there is no god. It’s hard to get behind a “no.” But when I embraced a world that was so beautiful in its mechanics, so wondrous in its reason, so full of mystery already that adding god into it was like adding msg to a home cooked meal. Why? We’ve got quantum mechanics and Dave Brubeck! Why get greedy?
For me, atheism is the religion of enough. Yes, good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people, but I don’t have to wait around for some magic force to fix things. I can act! it is enough I can help make the world into the world we want to live in. I cannot change the past, but it is enough I can change the future.
And when I need to worship, I can go to the back yard and watch for hummingbirds. Or read a funny book on punctuation. Or eat spring’s first cherries. Or listen to all things considered. And it’s enough.