I heard your interview with Diana Nyad, a self-proclaimed atheist, the other day. As someone who has respected and admired you for all the accomplishments you’ve achieved in your life, I was saddened and disappointed by your inaccurate characterization of atheists. After Ms. Nyad told you she was an “atheist with awe”, you said this:
“Well, I don’t call you an atheist then. I think if you believe in the awe and the wonder and the mystery, then that is what God is.”
Of course, the implication here is that atheists are incapable of experiencing feelings of wonder and awe.
This could not be more false.
Do you really think atheists never watch sunsets or admire a desert sky at night? Do you honestly believe atheists are incapable of feeling the amazement of life as they witness, for example, the birth of their child? Or marvel at the ever-present contradictions between beauty and suffering in Nature? All of these things and more elicit a sense of wonder and awe that is not the exclusive right of those who claim to be spiritual and/or religious.
It only takes being human.
Not all of us humans buy into the whole god thing. But so what? How a person treats themselves and others is far more important than whether they believe in supernatural beings. I get the feeling you think that a person who does not believe in a god is missing something from their life. Let me assure you that we are not. If one of us is indeed missing something out of life, it most likely has more to do with ourselves. Not whether we believe in a god. Seeking truth instead of relying on faith has its own beauty and rewards. Astronomer and atheist Carl Sagan once said,
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
Does this sound like the musings of a person who does not experience the wonderment of life? He puts it more eloquently than I ever could.
I think back to the early morning hours when my son was born. The feelings associated with seeing him for the first time, holding him during his first moments of life- those emotions were exploding with the awe and wonder! No belief in a god was necessary to experience that. Perhaps you would say, as you did to Ms. Nyad, “well, then I don’t consider you an atheist.” My response to this would be, “why do you get to create your own personal definition of what atheism is?” Atheism is defined as lacking a belief in a god or gods. It’s really that simple. Why must you mold Ms. Nyad’s atheism into something more palatable for you to digest? Perhaps you need to get to know more atheists. I think you would find that we are not all that different from you. We love, we cry, we feel deeply, we fear, we get angry, we admire, we stand out looking at the world and, yes, we do feel the wonder and awe of it all.