In the early 70’s I decided I needed to feel out what a worldview without God would be like. Maybe, in an odd kind of way, I was taking John Lennon up on his imagine challenge.
At the time, a massive wave of fundamental evangelism was sweeping America and I felt that one thing was sure — if what they believed in was “God” — I must be an atheist.
After a while, I began to tell people when they asked that I considered myself “spiritual” but that most people would think of me an atheist.
In a way I think I was also trying to synchronize my intellectual notion of God — which reflected the deist philosophies I grew up with — with my emotional sense of God, which was highly paternalized and, I’ll admit it, in some aspects had the cartoonish sentimentality of the popular culture notion of God.
If I was ever to grow up spiritually, it seemed clear to me that I had to stop thinking of The Unknowable as a kindly older man with everybody’s best interest at heart.
I felt like I wanted to really understand what the universe would feel like as a place without that God. And I explored that on an intellectual, emotional, and to the extent that I could, mystical or spiritual level. The interesting thing is that, for me, the universe never felt empty or scary or purposeless. Life might occasionally scare me… but that big, ’empty’ universe didn’t.
Without the magisterial God of my juvenile imagination and the dualistic notion of an independent soul, I was suddenly struck by what a, you should pardon the expression, miracle human consciousness is. Sure, we can carefully analyze the processes and patterns of human consciousness, mapping and measuring our abilities and limitations, tracing our emotional lives through the complex interaction of brain chemicals and neural messaging — all that is understandable, measurable.
But consciousness — that’s something else, again. Complex, interdependent processes… kid’s play. But experiencing them. Wow.
All of a sudden that “empty” universe seemed very magical. If the raw materials of consciousness — let’s get megalomaniacal here: my consciousness — are part of the universe, then the universe is, as far as I’m concerned, a pretty magical place.
Bold and Rational Men
Come now y’ bold and rational men
and march y’ straight ahead
y’ fear not the fire of the dragon
nor the carious teeth of death
And come now, lad
fear not the gods
you’ve often said we’re all alone
d’n’cha see your where your path must lie
straight into the unknowable
good speed now
you’re on your own
But wait now put your hand on the earth
and see where your life flows from
this good dark earth
is the mother of us all
y’know you are her son
and come and gaze into the sky
see how dark and deep
you are the prodigal lost in time
lost in a dream kept sleep
(C)1973, TK Major