At such moments I don’t think about all the misery, but about the beauty that still remains. This is where Mother and I differ greatly. Her advice in the face of melancholy is: “Think about all the suffering in the world and be thankful you’re not part of it.” My advice is: “Go outside, to the country, enjoy the sun and all nature has to offer. Go outside and try to recapture the happiness within yourself; think of all the beauty in yourself and in everything around you and be happy.”
I don’t think Mother’s advice can be right, because what are you supposed to do if you become part of the suffering? You’d be completely lost. On the contrary, beauty remains, even in misfortune. If you just look for it, you discover more and more happiness and regain your balance. A person who’s happy will make others happy.
— Anne Frank
I’ve been wondering what atheism means to me these days, in the midst of a series of disturbing scandals.
I think many of us atheists got too caught up in numbers. In leaders. In bringing people in, regardless of what we had to do. In hallowing the leaders, even if it meant devaluing ourselves.
Maybe it’s time to forget about the numbers.
Maybe it’s time to come back to ourselves.
These days, my atheism consists of everyday realities, like sitting beside a lake with a beautiful woman, looking out over the water, and realizing that the beauty right there is simple, uncomplicated, and enough. Beauty that we create together in that moment, with our own eyes taking in light, with our ears taking in sounds, our skin sensing touch, our hearts beating together, in an intimate cocoon of reality we largely create ourselves. It’s just us, and we’re creating every moment, and every moment matters because we believe that it does.
It’s really that simple to me, some days. And in those days, I think…you can have your drama, your sexual assaulters, your jockeying for power in a movement that you think is The Answer. I’m not saying that’s not important. It is. But this time, these moments — they’re important to me. More than any of that. And that’s fine.
I did not know that these moments would exist after I left a future as an apologist and was honest enough to leap into what seemed to be the dark. I did not know there was color beyond this black-and-white. I did not realize I could be this happy again, or that I would feel this full again, because I was lied to for so long it just didn’t seem possible.
I think, sometimes, that the greatest activism any atheist can do is to live happy in the midst of a Christian nation, to feel truly free, to embrace who we are without having to feel alienated from fellow human beings.
Why do I need to join a movement? Why must I hold a creed? Why can’t I embrace the parts of the universe that are beautiful to me, and live and die in the happiness of that embrace?
Why can’t I look at the entire universe without feeling overwhelmed, but more like I am a man stroking his chin, picking and choosing what gives him joy in the one life he has? Why can’t I simply choose the corner of the universe I wish to put my heart in?
Other people have a right to judge, and judge they do. But this is my life. This is my happiness. This is my atheism. This is my humanism.
And it’s beautiful to me. And me and the beautiful woman I’m with are beautiful to each other.
And when that’s the reality…I honestly don’t feel I have to worry my life away, as much. I’m still an activist, in some respects, but it’s more to protect the little slice of heaven on earth I have, and less to change the world.
If I’m hesitant about changing the world, it’s because I’ve had to admit, lately, that that I’m not sure what the best way to change the world is. I tried to change it by making everyone Christian once, and found that this was unhealthy. Then I tried to make everyone atheist, and that was unhealthy. Then I tried to embrace a movement to make everyone social justice advocates, but I’m finding that there are powerful forces preventing that and extremes in the movement that don’t resonate with me, so I may not be completely in the right pushing things there either.
I’m finding, increasingly, that what makes me happy is what makes ME happy, and that’s OK. As long as I’m not unjustly hurting people, I can do what makes me happy, with the understanding that others will do what makes them happy, and the biggest difficulty might just be trying to find the harmony in all that. But that search for harmony isn’t desperate, and my life does not depend on making sure it becomes a reality. It’s a negotiation to keep my little plot of happiness open, as long as I’m here.
To be fair, I may go out in the fray. I might fight battles again. But right now I’m tired of fighting and, overall, happy.
Maybe this seems self-indulgent. If so…then I’m encouraging you to be self-indulgent, too. Do what makes you happy in the one life you have. Meet people who make you happy. Feel free to take advantage of happiness wherever you find it. Don’t get so lost in trying to make the world a better place that you defeat the purpose by making it hell for yourself. Don’t focus so much on what’s good for “atheism” that you forget that you’re an atheist and it’s important to do what’s good for yourself.
And I think embracing what makes you happy, regardless of color, gender, or class level is really what the movement ultimately should be trying to get you to experience anyway. If you can experience those moments while you’re here, in some ways you’re embodying thoroughly the fundamental definition of “atheisting.” At least in my book.
Thanks for reading.