Two decades ago a friend asked me to write a description and analysis of my atheism, an “atheology.” I wrote an essay in response, and that “atheology” may still reside on some shelf or 3.5-inch floppy. Maybe sometime I’ll track it down and see what, if anything, has changed from the irreligious beliefs of a single Lake Herman twenty-something libertarian Republican fresh off his first round of grad school to the irreligious beliefs of a married Aberdeen dad and liberal Democratic blogger.
I am an atheist. I use the word simply and literally: a- means not, and theist means believing in God. I do not believe in God, gods, or any supernatural entity or force.
I’ll admit that I’m not 100% sure that nothing supernatural exists. Some people suggest that if I can’t take Pascal’s Wager (I think I’ll give that a post of its own), I might at least save myself some bad press and call myself an agnostic—a- for not again, gnostic for knowing… in this theological case, knowing whether God exists. Apparently lots of people find a Socratic shrug less scary or intolerable than outright rejection.
I choose not to ride the agnostic fence. As with questions of science, I recognize my beliefs may be wrong, and I stand ready to change those beliefs if presented with sufficient evidence to the contrary. But the bulk of evidence so far has led me to believe that the world is really just the natural world—chemicals, forces, atoms, photons, quantum probabilities that we interpret as matter and energy—and that the supernatural not only does not exist but is not necessary to explain our daily lives.
Many people with whom I’ve discussed these philosophical matters think that a world consisting of nothing but atoms must be a morally barren, pointless place. We’re random sheep with no shepherd (but be careful of that metaphor: shepherded sheep ultimately get fleeced and eaten). We live, we die, and nothing matters.
Yet while I’ve been able to recognize that possibility of pointlessness. I’ve also woken up every morning with a sense that some things do matter. People matter. Earth, our fragile and thus far unique home, matters. Art, literature, science, law, and all the human institutions that make humanity—not mere biological existence, but thoughtful, purposeful, moral life—possible matter. Promises matter… and foremost among those promises are the promises we make to protect each other and to protect the planetary home and the human institutions that make it possible for future humans to enjoy the life that we have enjoyed.
I do not yet know where that sense of purpose and moral commitment to humanity comes from. Breath of God, evolutionary advantage of social moralists over egotistical nihilists, moral algorithms coded into our brains by alien bio-engineers like Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics—there are many possibilities. But the origin of our moral impulses does not seem to affect the reality or validity of our moral impulses. We do the good because it is good, not because of who (natural or supernatural) said it is good or what reward we may get for doing that good.
God doesn’t exist. You and I do. The supernatural doesn’t matter, but humans and humanity do. That’s my atheology in a practical nutshell.