Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Holiday Doubt in the Pedro Sun

Christmas Eve in San Pedro -- the day awash with that energizing California sun streaming in through the bedroom drapes, getting in my husband's eyes as we roll over and click on the morning talk shows. Out here, Stephanopoulos and Russert start at 8 a.m. and I love lolling on the bed, what's left of the beleaguered LA Times splayed around me on the comforter. I can alternately watch Meet the Press, read the paper, stare out at the harbor and sip coffee reheated from last night's dinner party in big red Christmas mugs. What languid and lovely multitasking!

In the "Current" section, my husband finds something he wants to read out loud, an article about the myths of atheism, while that bountiful Christian communitarian, Rev. Rick Warren, robust and at ease in his tie-less pinstriped shirt allows as how he can be pro-life evangelical and an AIDs activist; "being sick is not a sin," an inserted box quoting his wife Kay reassuringly reminds us.

"I'm starting to like this guy," I say. He's easier to watch than Joel Osteen, that glazed-looking evangelical cyborg whose Christian smile looks botoxed and demented. We debate whether Rick Warren or Mitch Albom is richer, and I figure it'd be a close call, what with Albom's adorably heaven-heavy oeuvre. We reflect on Barbara Walters's special on heaven and how it seems to us people believe in heaven because they hope they'll get to see a lost loved one again. We both find that poignant, if delusional.

So my husband picks up the LA Times again and reads, "Given that we know that atheists are often among the most intelligent and scientifically literate people in any society, it seems important to deflate the myths that prevent them from playing a larger role in our national discourse," Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason contends. Under Myth #2 -- "Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history" -- he argues, "There is no society in history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable."

Oh, music to my Christmas Eve ears. I come from Quaker forebears, folks who got run out of England and then Nantucket and then South Carolina because of their religion, and I grew up in a passionately fervant Christian home, so appreciation of freedom of religion is deep in my bones. This history is also part of my own passionate suspicion of the mischief religion propagates on nonbelievers; I'm one of them. As an adult I am much more comfortable with reverent doubt and not-knowing. I agree with Harris's view, under "Atheists are arrogant," "When considering questions about the nature of the cosmos and our place within it, atheists tend to draw their opinions from science. This isn't arrogance, it is intellectual honesty."

Well, I'm happy in my nonbelief. This time of year I like to play one of my personal Christmas carols, Randy Newman's "God's Song." I can't resist quoting it here:

"Lord, if you won't take care of us
Won't you please please let us be?"

to which God replies:

"You must all be crazy to put your faith in me
That's why i love mankind
You really need me
That's why i love mankind."

Anyway, eventually my husband and I clambered out of bed and clicked off the tube and went out for a walk in Pt. Fermin Park and breakfast overlooking the marina at 22nd Street Landing, The sheer beauty of our surroundings seemed to still our impulse to cogitate. As Harris asserts, "from the atheist point of view, the world's religions utterly trivialize the real beauty and immensity of the universe. One doesn't have to accept anything on insufficient evidence to make such an observation." Indeed. Evidence of this still gorgeous, if troubled, earth is all around me this day before Christmas, and it is sufficient.

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