Me and the Atheist

A few weeks ago I found myself trying to describe to an atheist what I feel about God.  The atheist is a very, very smart man.  An exceedingly talented writer, director and performer.  He is also an absoluteist, in my estimation.  He is fun to talk to, but sometimes can get so loud and smart and certain that I begin to feel like he's not really in it for the exchange but for the delivering.  The conversation went to many places, including my feeling that atheists can be zealots on the same level as evangelical religious types. Atheists don't like it when I say that I feel atheism has become its own religion, that you can not merely point to the absence of A god, and the lie of THE god and sit back and say, "See, I've cured the human need for spiritual fufillment".  I'm not here to tell you about that part of the conversation, though I'll expound on it if asked.  The end of our discussion was when the atheist pointed to the dictionary definition of God when I suggested that I had formed my own meaning, my own relationship.  He said because of the dictionary, (the atheist bible!!), (I am gonna get myself yelled at, I can tell), there is no room for discussion about the meaning of God.  I have been thinking about this for weeks, I felt unfinished with him, and wanted to think more clearly about what I meant. Then tonight I wrote the entry before this, about love and hunger and sadness, and then  had to write him an email, because I felt I had clarified something for myself.   I have excerpted the email here, because I want to keep talking about this and finding my own way. It is as follows:

"I have been thinking constantly since you and I spoke at the party, since I attempted to describe to you what I feel in my heart and soul is my connection to God, and what it means to me. I wanted to say to you that I have been bothered by your assertion that the dictionary definition of God means that I can not develop my own idea of what God is, my own feelings, because once the definition is set, there is no longer room for growth.  I can not accept this, as I can not accept that there is no room for evolution and interpretation when it comes to language and the poetics of the soul.  I do not subscribe to the Bible as truth, nor do I feel that the organizations of specific religions are doing the world anything but harm, unless you are a fat rich white man, then organized religion is totally your friend! I do, however, feel a strong connection to the divine, to a powerful force that is created by the collective energies of humans and nature. It is, on a very large scale, much like the entity that is created when two humans fall in love. The nurturing of that tender and fragile relationship allows a third thing to be born, something alive because of the two people loving each other, but also separate from those two people, and available for them to draw strength from, but also able to turn dark when not properly negotiated and tended to. I hesitate to suggest symbiosis, because that isn't quite it, but certainly the love can not exist without the humans, and the humans can not rise up without the love.

I feel there are so many more words for love that we have not even invented, because there are so many kinds of love, and the same is true for God. We have defined it narrowly, but it encompasses so much more than Oxford or Merriam-Webster can describe. I will continue to use the word to find common ground with other humans, to be a beginning of a life long conversation and exploration. I do not think there is a single being that rules us all and decides our fates and eternal dwelling place, but I think that all humanity continually creates something together, a temperamental and divine, humming consciousness that both gives and takes, can be unpredictable though comforting, and which you can not always find, even if you are looking, because it can also be petulant. Just like love.

I have not written this in a draft after draft fashion, I'm just thinking and talking. I believe language to be malleable, and love and God to be ever searching for their own place in the lexicon."

That is what I wrote to him, but it just scratches the surface of what I mean, and leaves out the details of a lifetime of divine experiences and the reception of both destructive and inspiring energies from beyond myself.  It is, perhaps, the continuing search that keeps me alive and breathing.




Canadian Content said...

The dictionary evolves constantly so any claim that something it says is the be all and end all is nonsense. Saying that being an atheist is the same as having a religion is just baiting them though. God, no God, it's fine as long as there's kindness. We're all fighting against the dark in our own ways and as long as things don't get too extreme every path is fine.

Infidelia said...

Ah, the old 'bait the atheist' game. Classic! I say that because many atheists I know will not accept that kindness is the most important thing, and write off those who ascribe to a given religion instead of engaging in a meaningful dialogue or getting to know a person. This is where zealotry comes into it, for both the religious and non. I do not mean to bait the atheist, but to point out certain hypocrisies and self righteousness that bears a striking resemblance to that of the religious person, and which the atheist rails against when coming from the god fearing end of the spectrum of belief.

Ruben said...

Well, I was a jerk of a young athiest.

Fortunately, as I have aged, I have learned a thing or two that makes less of an ass, both in love and as an atheist.

That is that there is multiple truths. So each person in love has their own experience about who said what and therefore started the fight. And each person has their own experience about the divine.

Amusingly, though he doesn't want you to redefine God, he probably redefines spiritual experience, so that he can give a rational name to what he feels when he is rock climbing, or looking at stars, or whatever it is he loves to do.

I so often see people who I believe are having a spiritual experience. I don't believe there is a bearded dude in the sky, but that does not negate the spiritual experience.

If he doesn't want to believe in multiple truths, he needs to study more quantum physics.

Raphael Burdman said...

Lovely, Riel. I think the word you're searching for, and so am I here, is DIVINE.

Raphael Burdman said...

Lovely, Riel. I think the synonym you may be searching for, as I am here, is DIVINE.

soko said...


Lucia Frangione said...

humming consciousness...so beautiful...what you describe as God is completely in line with what I got going on in my soul too. And I have found atheists generally belligerent, absolutists who refuse mystery and profess to know the entire truth. How awful when your core beliefs are something you "do not" believe. Who chooses that? I don't know. But it's brave in some ways too, which I admire, it's blind faith. It's blind faith to not believe in any sort of definition of God. Thank you for writing, Riel. You're a beautiful witty and articulate artist.

Anonymous said...

Your insight is very captivating and easy to relate to. Thank you.