Martin LeFevre: Questioning Atheism
The pristinely clear and cold stream flows by at my feet, its brown and reddish stones burnished by the fresh current and glistening in the sunlight. A woodland hawk soars through the bare branches of the oaks and sycamores, and alights on a limb near the bank on the other side.
Though the park is merely a quarter mile wide strip cutting through the middle of this rapidly growing college town, the wind through the bare trees is almost the only sound I hear, other than the current gurgling by.
Three laborers—young men in florescent jackets and hooded sweatshirts—pull up across the creek in a truck and trailer loaded with gear. They grab their lunches and walk the 30 meters into the picnic site. The roughest looking one, with sunglasses on and hood up, looks across at the man sitting incongruously in the sun on the opposite bank. He stares for a few seconds, and then waves in a surprisingly friendly manner.
A meditative state ignites, and a strong feeling of affinity for all things surges through me. Indeed, it seems to flow through and pour out of one at the same time. There is only one word for it, love, though I’m reluctant to use it.
Someone wrote me recently and matter of factly stated she was an atheist. Since I most often meet up with believers who think I’m a heretic or apostate, I wondered what she meant by atheism. To my mind, belief in God, or non-belief in God, are two sides of the same coin; neither has anything to do with discovering the truth of the matter.
Christians believe God started the whole shebang, and is letting things play out in a mechanistic universe, with humans having “free will,” and God directly intervening from time to time. Does atheism mean not believing in such a separate ‘Creator,’ a ‘Supreme Being?’ If so, I understand and am in accord with this kind of ‘a-theism,’ since there is no such Deity.
Or is atheism the belief that the universe is simply a random, mechanistic, and deterministic interaction of particles and waves, which for humans means there is nothing beyond the ‘mind of man’? To my mind, that, as much as any belief (for indeed it is a belief) is a projection of thought, maintaining ‘man’ and self at the center of the universe.
Doubt is the most important quality for a genuinely spiritual person, the capacity for continually questioning oneself and the challenges of life. However, few people, whether secular or so-called religious, can sustain such doubt. The human mind has a need for certainty, which very often comes at the expense of truth, leading to a fixed set of beliefs and ideas, one way or another.
Even the mindset that “it’s all relative” (that is, personally subjective) is a belief system that closes out enquiry, insight, and growth. But can a minority of people live that way—questioning everything, settling on nothing?
Of course doubt can go too far and paralyze the mind. Having regularly experienced something beyond thought since my late teens, I’m sure there is an infinite intelligence that is inseparable from nature (and only separable from humans because we live in the habitual separativeness of thought). My doubt has been whether that intelligence is utterly indifferent to humanity.
I feel that sentient creatures such as us, creatures in whom the power of ‘higher thought’ has evolved, pose a riddle not just for us, but also for the universe itself. How can the universe evolve a creature at odds with its basic nature?
The universe is an incomprehensibly vast and many-layered movement in wholeness, in which ‘disorder’ and randomness play a part. But humans, who evolved along with all other life, represent a deep contradiction, since we are generating a new kind of disorder, and destroying this beautiful planet.
Does humanity's ultimate fate matter to the universe? If there is something beyond thought, and the human brain has the capacity to perceive it, then it stands to reason that the answer is yes, up to a point.
Ordinary human beings can and must awaken intelligence within us, and resolve this existential contradiction.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.