A Forest Within
Some of the best finds are incidental as in this case where we were leaving one location only to spot another. While our visit was short we were both amused by the forest of catalpas and other softwoods that had sprung up within the shell of this former church. Leaving aside the contemplations others may have regarding the common negative stereotype of an atheist in America, I do take some small joy in witnessing the demise of the church, both figurative and literal.
I believe our world would be a better place without religion and faith while at the same time I recognize that people will always be individuals and irrationality will never cease being a part of who we are. I just hope that we, as a society, can grow up and leave behind the toys of our childhood and create a society based in critical thought and rationalism. It would not be an easy thing to do, nor would it provide us a utopia. But any increase in the happiness and health of a society is something we should all strive for and religions only give us the tools to inspire conformity, tribalism, apathy and wishful thinking. One does not need faith to be a decent person, to find meaning in life, relieve suffering or to improve the world. I disagree with Tabula Rasa that faith is a necessary part of humanity; I think it only a necessary part of childhood and part of growing up is letting go of the binky that keeps the monster under the bed away.
I’ve never discussed my atheism in any detail here because in general it was not relevant, but as Tabula Rasa tends to prod me into action I could not leave his last post unanswered. While we are both godless we don’t always agree on matters pertaining to atheism since he doesn’t follow the movement while I do. Perhaps it is because I used to be so fervently religious, perhaps it is because I came to lose faith later in life.
I confess that I dream of the day when most churches have been returned to nature, or repurposed for community service even while I know that day will not be in my life time. In the meantime I will work towards encouraging people to let go of the binky of faith and embrace the wonder of a natural, complex world in which we are the only ones who have the power to imbue our lives with meaning.
As Tabula Rasa is so fond of saying, a large part of what makes us who we are as humans is our irrationality; I happen to think that critically reviewing and recognizing our irrational thoughts, emotions and impulses will allow us to turn them to positive and productive forces. Despite the fact that Sir Isaac Newton was not only a Christian and alchemist he is also one of the greatest minds in our recorded history and most of us recognize this (despite how the media portrays the atheist movement) . There is a very real reason that Newton’s scientific works survived in history and cultural memory while his alchemical ones did not. The science works.
Just as on the other hand the broad slate of avowed atheism allows for a wide range of characters to claim the title, from PZ Myers, to Dave Silverman, and even the Raelians to Stalin. But atheism is only a tool, the blank slate to write upon, while some may use it for creating a cult of personality or to brutalize others, others use it to further science education and to improve society for everyone. Just as faith does. My argument is that atheism is a better tool and that while we will always have both overtly good and overwhelmingly bad people using both religion and atheism for divergent purposes the tools of rationality and critical though may help us filter out those who would abuse others.
Yet here we are, contemplating the beauty of a fallen place of worship, one which now harbors a small forest within it complete with squirrels and sparrows. We are all individuals, even as we are are all part of a greater whole. In the end many of us find some sense of beauty and wonder when confronted with a place like this even as others may not, though I suspect those in the latter category are not readers of this blog. No matter if you hold a strong faith or stand godless so long as I have managed to impart at least a small portion of the elation, wonder and sorrow I feel in this place then I have achieved what I set out to do and gave some measure of happiness to one person, even if it is perhaps a little bittersweet.