Awe, wonder, and schmalziness, are human universals, entirely compatible with atheism “And that is beautiful”
Inspired by a conversation with Theo Warner.
Is there any value in spirituality? As an atheist you may expect me to say no; but if I’m being honest, I’d have to consider myself a spiritual person. Of course I’m not talking about some ghostly ethereal soul that lives inside my body. There’s no reason to think there’s anything like that. I’m talking about the essence of human. There aren’t many words in our language that capture what that is. at least for me. And so I use the word spirit, in the same way I use the phrase bless you. For rhetoric’s sake. I can only describe it as the action or ability to see beauty. to feel wonder. and to be in awe.
Religion and all groups faith of course serve only to prostitute the awe, and the mystery we all feel as humans. they bottle our essence and try putting lid on the wonder we naturally feel. They fail of course. Religion points to the man behind the curtain in an attempt answer the mystery. when in reality, there is no man. the mystery is just that. a mystery.
But even though I don’t believe in the supernatural, I try to be as honest as I can to myself, about my spirituality.
On my trip out west just a couple months ago I remember a moment standing in a field that looked up at the grand tetons. the tetons in wyoming are these massive glacier capped mountains that just cut into the sky. I remember thinking to myself. Something much greater than me must have caused this. I know it.
I also remember sleeping out underneath a cool and clear sky next to the dunes in white sands national park. Looking up all I could see was just a pile of stars. More than I’d ever understood to exist. Looking at them all, still and perfect, and vast beyond my ability to comprehend, I felt uncommonly humble. And grateful just to be alive.
There are moments when I’m with good friends, where it just feels good to breath. The taste of chilled apple butter on a warm buttermilk biscuit is often more than delicious, to me it feels enlightening. And a soft kiss to me can honestly stop time and space.
At times I can be so overwhelmed by the sensation of being alive, that I cry. or I laugh. or I scream. or I just breath deeply.
And no, I never once imagine that to be supernatural. I understand, that the thing that is so much greater than me, to have caused the Tetons has a name. and it’s called plate tectonics.
That being humble is simply the feeling of recognizing the reality of ones small significance to a universe so massive. And being grateful to be alive doesn’t require a person to be grateful toward.
I recognize that being happy in a comfortable social setting is a evolutionary trait of my species. That my body naturally craves specific foods for nutritional or maybe even psychological reasons. And that the intoxication of romance is most likely driven by the need to procreate.
But I am one with the universe. Not metaphysically, but physically. I am as much the universe as a supernova. made of the same particles, governed by the same forces. I am Genes that mutated randomly, then were selected naturally based on their success at survival.
And I love applebutter on a biscuit. I collapse in awe at the magnificence of this place. I crave romance. and I breath appreciation for it all..
I have to, with all my essence. with all my spirit. because imagine, in all the universe, we may be the only things that can, and that’s beautiful.
Music: Brooks was here
By: Thomas Newman