The Great Chain

The Great Chain

Saturday, August 21, 2010


My name is Jeffrey Alan Myers.

And I am an Atheist.

Atheism may well be the least understood 'ism' in the English language. Sadly, Atheism is often directly conflated with Nihilism, the belief that life and everything in it is meaningless.  As such, Atheists are often considered not only godless, but amoral, worthy of derision and disapprobation.  Shocking as it may be, however, Atheists do not possess horns, cloven hooves, or forked tongues, though based on the reaction I often receive those things are to be expected.

Part of the reason for this disdain is that Atheists themselves cannot seem to sort out what exactly Athiesm is or means.  As a result, Atheists are often defined by those who view them as a threat and an abomination.  Given the fact that Meaning Without God is intended to be a resource for non-believers, one of the most important goals is to redefine what Atheism means and what it does not.

Atheism is not solely about rejecting a belief in God.  Nor is Atheism about denigrating religion or those who practice it.  Indeed, rejecting a belief in God is simply one of the conclusions that Atheists reach in attempting to understand the Universe.  At it's core, Atheism is a philosophy of love and appreciation through understanding.  The fact that Atheists do not believe in God is simply one facet of the way in which we understand the Universe, not the entirety of our creed.

Humans, at our most basic, primal, level, are beings who crave understanding.  It is in that vein that Atheism seeks to elevate the human condition.  Understanding is our most powerful evolutionary adaptation.  Understanding it is what allowed us to tame fire, to hunt, to anticipate the seasons, to grow crops, to form societies, to form tribes and nations.  Understanding and knowledge are what drive technology, what enables expansion and it is understanding that drives our most basic emotional desires.  Understanding is the ultimate human achievement.  It is what humans aspire to in all things whether we recognize it or not.  From the first moments of human consciousness, it is the quest for understanding that has propelled us forward as both individuals and as a species.

Understanding is so powerful because it is through understanding and through attempting to understand that we appreciate the beauty, utility and power of the world and people around us.  It is understanding that undergirds our emotional response to the amazing and often mystifying world around us.  Through understanding that we can grow to love this world and one another.  Understanding breeds excitement, it breeds joy, it breeds excitement, appreciation, and contentment.  If you ever doubt this proposition, simply watch a child, or new lovers.  Witness the way in which both are suffused with the joy and excitement of a multitude of new understandings and are filled with life because of it.  For what is love other than our feeble, flawed and often unsuccessful attempts to understand the mind and heart of another?  What is hate other than our failure or inability to understand the minds and hearts of others or our disappointment that what we thought we understood was an illusion?

The Religions that suffuse recorded history have always known this.  Indeed, at the most basic level Religions are methodological technologies.  Systems specifically designed to provide a means and methodology for understanding ourselves, our place in society and our place in the Universe.  Like all technologies, however, Religions become obsolete, outmoded and abandoned over time.  This obsolescence occurs not because any specific Religion is inherently wrong, or inherently evil or stupid.  It is a natural result of progress.  As our cultural knowledge and knowledge of the natural world expands, the answers proffered by Religion are outgrown by our empirical knowledge and naturally offer less in the way of meaningful understanding.

No one in the modern world worships Apollo, or Demeter, or Zeus or Posideon.  This is not because those deities were evil or corrupt or wicked or wrong, or because their worshippers were fools or charlatans.  As our knowledge grew, however, we came to understand the physical properties and principles that actually underlie the phenomena over which those deities were sovereign.  Our cultural need to anthropomorphize physical phenomena therefore subsided in favor of a new and deeper understandings.

In the same way, the great monotheistic religions of the modern world will eventually face the same fate as that suffered by the phenomenological Gods of the ancient world.  Our understanding of the world, of the origins of the Universe, and the origins of life are exponentially expanding.  It is inevitable that eventually our need for anthropomorphized human centered Gods and Demons who possess human emotions, desires and goals will subside in favor of a new, more useful, and more powerful understanding.

That is why I am an Atheist.  I am an Atheist not because I reject God, but because I seek to see and feel and experience the joy and beauty and wonder in all things not through the prism of bronze age fairy tales and ancient superstitions, but through understanding, and through reason.  I am an Atheist becuse I place the importance of understanding above all else.  Because in understanding the true origins of the Universe, in understanding the origins of life, in understanding myself, and in attempting to understand others, I have found joy and peace and love and light that far outstrips anything I have ever experienced attempting to understand the world as an artifact of some divine will.

Atheism is not about rejecting God - rejecting God is simply a likely outcome for those who seek to truly understand the beauty and wonder of the cosmos.  A natural response for those who seek to understand themselves and seek the understanding necessary to propel the human species forward.  Atheism is not about staring into a empty void of meaninglessness, it is about finding the beauty and meaning and power and grace in all of the amazing things and people that surround us every day through a deeper understanding of the world around us.  Atheism is about reveling in the wonder that is life, seeking to understand its mysteries, delving into the deepest recesses of ourselves.  Atheism is about learning to understand and appreciate our chaotic and often conflicting drives to find peace in who and what we are, smiling in the face of our small and insignificant place in the cosmos and working to transcend our existence on this small isolated blue sphere spinning in the endless void.

Atheism is a philosophy of truth and love through understanding.  The fact that our understanding usually leads us into non-belief is simply one facet of our highest calling - to look unflinchingly at the world around us and to strive for understanding in all things.

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