And your new oxymoron for the day is…

Spiritual Atheist.

Because I think that’s what I am.

Five years ago today, we laid my grandmother to rest, the first grandparent I lost. She was buried, coincidentally, on what would have been the 66th birthday of her son, my late uncle, who died of complications from HIV a month after I came out.

I always had a real touch for timing.

Anyway, this is not about how I still feel her presence or anything like that. In any real, tangible sense, Grandma is gone and I’ll never see her again except in my memory–and besides, though I loved my grandma, she was not what I would call a role model or guiding light. She was an alcoholic, and a hypochondriac. Comparing notes later, my mom, my sister and I have come to the conclusion that she probably also suffered panic attacks which certainly contributed to the alcoholism and hypochondria, because the three of us get them periodically, and that couldn’t have helped things either.

Grandma wasn’t a saint. But neither am I. I loved her for being my grandma, and for the things I saw in her when she wasn’t drinking and when she wasn’t “on vacation” in a hospital bed.

I am continually amazed and irritated by people–unfortunately including my mom, to an extent–who seem to think that because I am an Atheist, that I have no use for such things as love, that I am selfish and cold, that I never look beyond surface details.

I am an Atheist specifically because I look beyond surface details. I was raised Roman Catholic, I converted to Paganism, then to a sort of Unitarianism, before finally settling on Atheism. Because I asked myself, setting aside sociology, what changes if you take a divine entity out of the picture?

And the answer is: nothing. The Universe still comes into being. Man still evolves up from a lower life form. The stars continue to shine, and a sparrow falls whether watched or not. The only thing that changes is how people interact with the universe, internally. A desire to glorify a god has been behind much of the greatest art and music in history … but art and music are creations of man and would exist anyway.

And I think you find less war, not more. Not that wars were started for religious reasons per se, but religious reasons were given for wars of aggression and conquest. What basis do you use to sell the populace on for the Crusades, the Thirty Years’ War… or even the current “War on Terrorism” which is being run and sold as a war on Islam? What excuse, without religion, do you have for the persecution of the Christians by the Romans, the persecution of “heretics”, “witches” and “heathens” by the Christians, the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis? Without religion, what happens to the struggle between Irish Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, between Israelis and Palestinians, between Hindus and Muslims in India?

I did a meme once on LiveJournal, asking (among other questions) what one thing in the history of mankind I would do away with. My answer was not religion, but fundamentalism: the inner assuredness that one is right and everyone else is wrong and it’s therefor one’s duty to make sure everyone else believes the same thing whether they want to or not. Because religion serves a sociological purpose, providing for a sense of unity and belonging. I trust in future days mankind will outgrow such things, but so far mankind has not, because now religion stands in the way of unity and inclusiveness. In its baser expressions, it tells people that it’s okay to look down on others because they don’t believe the same. It tells people it’s okay not to think too deeply about things. At worst, it tells fundamentalist “Christians” that it’s okay to blow up women’s health clinics and kill doctors. It tells fundamentalist “Muslims” that blowing themselves and as many innocent bystanders up as possible is a good thing. It tells fundamentalist “Jews” that treating Palestinians in lesser but similar ways the Nazis treated them is all right.

I also know that this is not the way of all religious people. Belief is not mutually exclusive to intellect and reason. Unfortunately, I also know how much society values intellect and reason: not much.

As for myself: I believe not only in the here and now, but in the there and then. I believe it is our responsibility to leave a better planet for my nieces because they’re going to have to live in it. I believe that mankind has the potential to do wondrous things in our little corner of the galaxy.

I believe that the unpleasant things that have happened to me in my life that are not the result of my own bad choices are due to chance, not some unknown and unknowable plan–and I feel better that way, rather than wondering what it might be that God has it in for me, because I’ve been through some pretty horrible things.

If there was another Job-like wager with the devil, then God loses this one.

I reject the inherent contradiction in terms that is belief in an all-powerful deity who does nothing to stem the crimes and cruelty done in his name. I believe that an all-powerful being who allows evil to be committed in his/her/its name becomes complicit in that act and that evil.

Metaphysically, I am a Missourian: show me.

And I have seen some things for which I do not have a ready explanation, things for which I do not rule out a metaphysical explanation. But I need to exhaust all other explanations before I settle on that one.

I leave the question open, instead. Because the non-believing fundamentalism of James Randi is just as bad as the believing fundamentalism of any religious extremist.

In reality, I’m probably more a hard Agnostic. I admit to the possibility that I am wrong … but so far, there is no contradictory, reproducible, objective data. If there is an afterlife, I will be annoyed about being wrong … and then I expect to set off on a glorious tour of the Universe.

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