Monday, August 26, 2013

new essay in Aeon Magazine

A new essay in Aeon Magazine on being a Quaker and an atheist who really believes in magical stories. It's complicated. I originally titled it "In Praise of Gods That Do Not Exist," but I'm OK with the title they assigned to it: "I contradict myself."

As always, comments welcome, here or on the article itself. Enjoy!


George said...

Thank you for the Aeon article. I enjoyed it very much. I appreciate the reference to Tim Minchin whom I have never heard of.

Anonymous said...

Ha, I've come here to make a comment also referencing the Tim Minchin mention. "Tim Minchin says in his rant-poem ‘Storm’ (2008): ‘Isn’t this enough? Just this world? Just this beautiful, complex, wonderfully unfathomable world?’"

This and similiar statements bother me, and I haven't completely put my finger on why. Did you read the recent article by the tech woman coming out as a 'creationist'? Lots of aggression towards her from people unaffected by her views - and she wasn't proselytising, nor was she thoughtless in her beliefs.
In some ways this feels almost like some sort of machismo contest. The universe is cold, cold, cold, cruel etc. We are alone. And if you can't find some solace in that (ha, ha ha) from that then you're a wimp.
And it's like, what? Really?
Who gets to tell others where and how to perceive meaning? Who decides what is and isn't enough? And if they put themselves in the position of decider, how are they not setting themselves up as godlike, somehow?
(for the record, I am raised by fairly hardcore atheists and identify as agnostic because I DON'T KNOW).

Jonathan said...

Hi Nat. That was an excellent essay! You clearly expressed sentiments that are very difficult to put into words at all.

I've come to a much similar place in my own life, except from the theist direction. I mean, I can see the atheist perspective and I often think God's an atheist (I mean, it's not like God's got anyone up the ladder to pray to) but the "living presence" you write about was always just a matter of undeniable observation to me, made manifest by the works of believers. Maybe God's just a personality we've collectively invented, a complex and often conflicting package of our aspirations and ideals, but that's still a mighty powerful thing, in and of itself, actually existing in reality.

You put it so well, I hesitate to add anything else. I just wanted to say thank you. I might be theist and you might be atheist, but what you wrote resonated with the heart of my experience of religion, and I'm glad you put it out there.


bon tres bon said...

Nat , thankyou . Your piece resonated hugely with me too . I completely am in tune with the storytelling and power of the Imagination Muse... I walk with my feet on the ground and my head in stories looking to make sense of them in all I meet and see.
I am waxing and waning about not belonging , that I want to but dont want to , that I want to be part of a community .... I have in the past ... Social action where I was in touch with Philadelphian group and non violent training, . Rudolf Steiner and Waldorf schools ( I began a Kindergareten in the 80.s) brushed closely with Quakers ... My son went to Sibford School in the UK..... I still wish to be part of these wonderful communities with their liberal spirituality but cant seem to commit .... I find solace and questions and answers , wonderment daily but dont have any sense of wanting to commit to any one group gathering... Very push me pull me ... HOWEVER your relationship with GOD/god touches me ...I dont want to be a phoney and belong amongst those good people as mentioned because I dont believe in G-o-D and atheist sounds so harsh.... So circling back I get more joy out of Greek Myths and Legends and Paganism .... OH dear I might seem like a messy minded 65 year old .... I just have to say your piece got me happliy untangling my threads .
And drat I cant seem to be able to move my page back to read what Ive written ... Thats an ipad for you ..

natcase said...

Thank you all, I'm glad it resonated with you. It was a bear to write.

George: Tim Minchin is wonderful.

Jonathan: I read your 2005 sermon and very much enjoyed it too. Neil Gaiman is I think a really important undercover religious figure in our times. I like the cut of your spiritual jib.

bon tres ami: I am glad this helps untangle threads. That kind of clarity is my favorite result from spirit-led work. Love it when that happens.

Unknown said...

Nat –

Thank you for writing your essay. It resonates deeply with me because like you, I have been a voracious reader since childhood and like you, I feel powerfully the pull of the intangible yet indispensable nourishment of the spiritual imagination. It’s difficult for me to pin down this pull to any one specific book, or even an author (maybe E. Nesbit? C.S. Lewis? H. Rider Haggard? Jules Verne?)—but even though I’ve never read The Summer Birds I understand very well the pang you felt when finishing it. Right now, that same delight spilling over from childhood is a large part of what motivates me in my studies as an undergraduate Literature major.

But I wonder if perhaps the distinction between fact and imagination isn’t as firm as you think it is. Like you said, we need more than physicality to be whole—something beyond mere matter must tell us who we are. But what if we could find spiritual fulfillment that’s true not only internally but also externally? Not only in imagination but also in reality? Not only in the drawing on the page but also in the glorious landscape outside the window?

I ask because unlike you, I am a Christian, and I believe that the currents of internal and external fulfillment, imagination and reality, both spring from the same fountain: Jesus Christ. Jesus unites the external reality—the God who formed, sustains, judges, and redeems the universe (and, I might add, makes it beautiful without deceit)—with the internal reality: God has become man, with hands and feet and a face for talking to. I like the way that C.S. Lewis described this: he called it the “myth become fact.” And actually, his memoir, Surprised by Joy, is all about how he, as an atheist, pursued the internal fulfillment of myth (he calls this fulfillment “joy”) until he found it culminating in external fact. I highly recommend his book—even if you disagree with him, you would probably find it interesting as a record of one man’s wrestling with the same insatiable desire that it sounds like all three of us share.

Again, thanks for your insightful and poignant article. And sorry about the uber-long comment.