I am an atheist. It's not an important part of my identity or anything, and I have no interest in reading about atheism or joining atheist gangs or whatever. I'm an atheist because I was raised without religion, and my life's experience hasn't caused me to change my mind or feel the need for or the presence of a deity. Au contraire, in fact. Recently an old friend died, too young, of esophageal cancer. He was an artist, a painter, who dedicated his life to his art. Really, I don't say this lightly, but he was a kind of angel: he inspired everyone he met by his love of and single-minded devotion to light and color and paint. He gave me so many gifts. He was a sweetheart. But now he's dead of an incredibly cruel and painful disease, and certain other evil bastards still walk the earth. If there is a god, he has some explaining to do.
And of course, that's just the latest. The Holocaust is, for me, the biggie. I can't reconcile that and God. Also, famine, genocide, children with cancer, etc., etc. I have heard a lot of arguments on the part of the religious, but the explanation there is no God is still the most convincing one to me.
Anyway, I'm not interested in arguing theology here. I keep my opinions to myself for the most part. I have religious friends and I respect the fact that they have grappled with the exact same questions and come to a different conclusion.
Because there have been a number of books for and against atheism published lately I've found myself thinking about it more, and justifying my position to myself. I was reading Wendy Lesser's essay about her friendship with Leonard Michaels ("Difficult Friends") in her book Room for Doubt, and I came across this bit:
It's strange that I can feel so intensely about Annunciations without having any feeling for God at all. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that if I have any feeling about God, it is utterly negative. I don't believe he exists but I dislike him anyway. Nothing in my life justifies this attitude: unlike Job, I don't have a particularly valid gripe against God. But I have managed, in my typical fashion, to convert a rational sense of disbelief into a more personal emotion. Raised as an agnostic, I have instead turned into a full-blown atheist, with an intense reaction against almost any form of religious observance. My rational agnostic side is what makes a philosopher like David Hume so attractive to me, but my faith-based atheism makes me much more like Lenny, who was eminently capable of holding two logically conflicting positions at once. Like Lenny, I am personally offended at God's demonstrably bad administrative performance; and like Lenny, I have chosen to replace God with art.
Then just yesterday Terri Gross on Fresh Air was replaying an interview with Philip Roth in honor of his 75th birthday. She ended the interview with a question about faith or spirituality, but he was having nothing to do with it. "I'm not interested in deluding myself," he said. Another atheist!
It's possible that writers actually aren't more likely to be atheists than the population at large, and it just seems that way because they're the ones writing about it. But I don't know. I feel that if I were religious, I wouldn't have the urge to write. I feel like my urge to write is very much tied to my need to find meaning in the world, and that if I believed in God, I would find meaning there, instead.
There are religious writers, of course, Flannery O'Connor not the least of them. But I really do think that for many of us, reading and writing literature serves the same function as a religion. It provides a structure for the consideration of moral questions. It's about why the world is the way it is. It's about beauty and ugliness. It offers glimpses of the possibility of immortality.
If we had a Bible, what would it be? Strunk and White?
Our first Communion -- a library card?