I had one of those interesting email exchanges tonight with a reader of this blog. He wanted to know exactly what I believed if I didn't believe in god. After the obligatory explanation that according to the gospel of me, there's nothing for me to either believe or not believe in, we moved on to what I consider a legitimate question.
Of course I believe in something. I believe in a lot of somethings. I believe first of all that we are personally accountable for everything we do and think, because outside of ourselves, there's nothing to lay the blame on.
Yes, events shape us, but that's the extent of it. How we respond to that shaping defines who we are as human beings, and god has always seemed a too convenient place to dump personal responsibility. Not having that excuse, I'm left with only my sense of honor and integrity to believe in and guide me.
One of the issues that disturb some of those I discuss my Atheism with is the notion of punishment and reward. As one believer wrote me "But without God there is no punishment for bad people who aren't criminals, and no reward for people who are good and deserve to be eternally blessed for it."
My response to her was that of course there was punishment and reward, but it was punishment and reward that left third party smiters out of the equation. If a person is bad, there's nothing anyone really has to do but wait patiently. The badness doesn't go away; it just finds a bigger audience who eventually puts it all together and says: this is a bad person. Then they adjust their relationship and interaction with that person based on their individual needs and tolerances.
It has nothing to do with vengeance but a whole lot to do with awareness that all relationships are between two people, and anything else is interfering in the natural process of human interaction.
I believe in peace because I think war destroys our humanity. Each death, no matter how small, be it fly or elephant, takes something from us to accomplish. Think of the first time you killed a fly. There was an uneasiness about it, a sort of gnawing sense that it was wrong. Your first swat was probably gentle, tentative, and filled with the total awareness of what you were about to do.
It became easier after that and with each one it became easier because there was less humanity to stand in the way. Eventually it became commonplace and it meant nothing to kill dozens of flies mindlessly each day. This is how war operates on a larger scale because each battle is a fly and each war is the death of human dignity pieces we will never regain.
I believe in being nice to people because it is one of those seeds that gets spread around and keeps growing. Compassion is like a smile. It spreads easily, even if only briefly. I believe those moments grow into larger ones and are an important part of the stitching together of a better world.
I believe in taking care of one another because as corny and trite as it sounds, we really are the world. If we all picked one person to give to, to make sure they had something extra in their lives they might not have if it weren't for us, we would have that better world a lot quicker than the pace it is moving now.
I believe in love because it's the only thing I've seen that can change people. The trick to love is learning how to channel it positively so it doesn't consume you and those around you. It's a fire that can do a lot of good if it is used to burn only for good things, ideas, passions, and dreams.
I believe in the power of music to change the world. As long as we have access to each other's music, we have something to share that doesn't require language to communicate. In fact, not understanding the words is what may eventually save us because it strips the politics, the biases, the blame, the whining, the desperation from it and leaves the pure musical message that enters our hearts and minds as it was meant to do.
I profoundly believe in the awesome healing power of nature. I have yet to meet a person, a drug, a healer, or anything written, described, drawn, painted, defined that even comes close to what happens inside of us when we let the majesty of an ocean sunset, a refreshing pine-scented breeze, a perfectly blue sky, a field of flowers touch our hearts and say hello to pieces of self we didn't even know we had.
So you see, I do believe. I could go on and on because there's a whole lot more I believe, but as you can already see, my lack of belief in what you believe doesn't make me empty. I feel pretty full and satisfied with my existence. And I don't have to give it away to anyone--real or imaginary.