Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Spiritual Journey of an Atheist

A little more about that night. That night. That awful, empty night not too long ago. Beyond politics, rhetoric, ego and religion there is a place we all find ourselves. By definition, we get to this place alone. Totally and absolutely and completely alone. It's an ongoing discussion we have with ourselves, and it exists on a primal level.

Look. At the sky, at the pavement, at the streetlight, at the people pouring out of the subway station, at the piece of public art, at your own hands, at photographs of old friends and lovers, at the expression of an exhausted clerk at the package store, at leaves changing and drenched in sunlight. Look at those and countless other things.

And listen. Listen to yourself talking, to the wind, to friends laughing and crying in your memory, to the cars outside your window racing by, to the couple fighting in the flat next door, to the misplaced silence of a public intersection at 3am, to the mother chastising her child in the courtyard, to the person who loves you telling you how she feels about this or that. Listen to those, and so very many other things.

And feel. The scruff on your chin, the hard bench in the park, the soft sand in the playground, the tomatoes ripening in a little urban garden, the cool breeze that finally arrives after days of stifling heat, to cool water on hot hands or warm water on cold hands. Feel it all. Feel everything else.

And think about it. Think about it when you don't want to think about it, when something offends your natural inclination towards empathy and compassion, when you take pleasure in the pain of someone you dislike, when you consider the same question 1000 times in different moods and in different places. Think, think, think until you beg for a modicum of peace, for an empty head.

Look and listen and feel and think about it.

And after all that, grab an extension cord, write a suicide note, and strike out into the night in search of a place to quietly, and with a minimum of physical pain, kill yourself. We all have a story, and that is part of the story of me. The night I did that, I ended up in a baseball field in the middle of the night, faced the sky while lying on my back, and looked really hard. Totally alone. Suicide as a solution, not a cry for help. Totally detached from others. Willing to end every relationship, to leave every story prematurely, to decide to never listen to music again, or read a poem, or laugh...ever again. And do this to end the pain and loneliness that every single one of us feels. Do this as emotional chemotherapy and spiritual chemotherapy. End the self to end the pain. Cut through the healthy tissue to kill the tumor.

As Nancy says, "4 in the morning knows all your secrets." Damn right.

Some of us get to this point and decide that they cannot endure life without the comfort that a belief in god brings. And make no mistake, believing in a god, any god, is preferable to the crushing loneliness of knowing, absolutely knowing, that there is no god. That's what I decided. It's what I decide every time I reach the end of myself. There is no god. Existential nihilism. Good times.

Some of my friends, my best friends, are extremely religious. We have something in common that makes us comrades despite our feelings about god. What we have in common is that we spend a lot of time thinking about the big questions.

A lot of time. A lot.

I've been told, "There is nothing easy about believing in God. God makes demands of you." But it's just not true. The people who love us make demands of us. So if god makes demands of you, he or she or it must love you and care about you. At the very least, you are not alone. If you think it's hard to do what god wants from you, imagine knowing (not feeling, knowing), that nothing matters.

It's the difference between living alone and living with someone you love. Don't tell me that it is harder to endure the demands of someone who loves you and thinks about you and wants something from you and wants to be with you, than to think that nobody and nothing cares, or even knows you exist.

Don't tell me that, because it's just not true.

That night, I put that cord around my neck and simply had to kneel to end it all. My reasons for not doing that have nothing to do with god. Nothing at all. And you know why? Because in that moment of total and absolute despair, as I searched myself and the sky and everything else, god didn't show up. Not a peep. Not a glimpse. And I really wanted god to show up that night, and so many other nights like it. I'm open to the hope and possibility that perhaps there will be a revelation. There has never been a revelation. An epiphany? Never. Why?

Because there is no god. My reasons for taking the cord from around my neck, tucking it into my pocket, and trudging home are my own. My own. Mine. They are my own because they have to be my own. My life didn't end that night because of the love I feel for certain other people, for people I can name. People with Social Security numbers. People I can touch.

Love is an incredible thing. It's even more incredible when it exists without the help of a supernatural force. An accident in the middle of nothing. Nothing in the middle of an accident. Love has to get you through life. The love you feel for others. Certainly not the love that god feels for you. Because if you look closely. Really closely, with an open heart and mind, god is not there.

There is no god.

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