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A Short Essay: Naturalism & Atheism

(note: It does seem a strange time of the year to be writing on this topic but a request for input came from my Unitarian/Universalist Fellowship and the following is the result)

For some time I have labeled myself as a naturalist, using the term in a bit larger sense than some have in the past. I believe all, from the largest to the smallest, is a natural process — from the unfolding of the universe, or universes, to the organization of sub atomic particles and waves and everything in between. Nothing is SUPERnatural. Human beings, as a small but interesting piece of this vast natural cosmos, are limited creatures. We are limited physically, mentally, and yes, even creatively we are limited. There is no way we can expect to have anywhere near a complete understanding of this system of which we are a part. It is a noble undertaking to try to expand our understanding, and I revel in my small endeavors and greatly admire those who have added so much in the past several centuries.  But I do believe that what we can understand can only be done so within our natural limitations.

It is a very common wish of human beings to want to fill this very uncomfortable gap in our understanding. God or gods have performed this task ably since consciousness evolved in our species. Theism can be used to fill in all unknowns and justify any social and moral structure desired by those in power.

In my view of naturalism I see great beauty, inspiration, creation, destruction, and unending change. It would be very easy to deify this process, but I feel it would be just one more comforting illusion. I can live with the understanding that there is much that I do not know and I cannot know. I have come to accept that my form of naturalism is atheistic. I do not believe in any form of god. But I do believe in this glorious unfolding process of which I get to play my role — so tiny, but oh so important to me.

Belief in a deity can offer many kinds of support to an individual and a society. For those who wish to follow a theistic understanding of life, I can only hope they do not wish to force their way on others. Theism in all its many forms has imposed many blessings and sufferings on the people of this little planet. I hope that in the future we see more of the blessings.

whitman 18-lr

Whitman #18, acrylic on 300lb paper, 8″ X 8″, 2011, Mark W. McGinnis

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