Back when I was a Christian, I’d go to church and there would be those few people sitting near the front who’d find any excuse to raise their hands and sway to a hymn or howl a big “Hallelujah” with their eyes closed. Considering I was a Lutheran, people sitting near the front of the church was weird enough – I’ve only seen Southern Lutherans do that – but the public displays of inspiration made me wonder how exactly they were able to hear a deity through screaming the lyrics of a hymn. Being inspired by a deity was supposed to be a private affair. Certainly it wasn’t supposed to put on a show.
I also thought inspiration could only come from the divine.
Anything else, be it dramas or good books or seeing news of human triumphs over stuff, was just an evocation of positive feelings. So, although I could feel moved by Schindler’s List, I never thought of one man defying the Nazi holocaust program AND its war machine as inspirational. Additionally, such evocative feelings were like vulgar expressions of divine inspiration. They were supposed to pale in comparison to the allegedly real thing.
Fast forward in my life, and that notion has persisted despite more than four years of not believing in the Christian deity. I’ll read touching stories of people who survived church abuse or persisted against wrongdoing and remind myself that inspiration is supposed to be a religious thing. It’s like I punish myself for being content with people doing good things all on their own.
Like many things I believed, it was wrong.
Religion does not – and cannot – have a monopoly on the inspirational. Life exists mostly outside worship centers, with very few exceptions. Despite the reinforcement of countless people claiming otherwise, one doesn’t need a deity to feel better about anything.
But that’s the other problem. I get the occasional but consistent litany from Christians that my life is somehow diminished because I don’t share the same cosmic fandom they do. They go around telling people how awful their life must be in order to validate whatever beliefs they have.
Inspiration exists, despite the adversity.
As an atheist, I have to find more tangible sources of inspiration. What inspires joy might not help anyone else. The thing about all of this is that it’s terribly subjective. Some people might feel comforted by the fact that we’re all made of star-forged atoms. Others might feel comfort and joy at existing despite the odds against it.
Believing in magic doesn’t negate any of those things. Magic doesn’t make the fusion inside stars any less true, or change the capacity of organic chemicals to form an organism from a single cell. It doesn’t give people the ability to wish away facts.
Knowledge of some of these facts is what helps me cope. I don’t have to worry about whether or not my beliefs in an old book will change with new divine revelations. People can tell me what to believe, but their ideas have to pass muster with facts first. What inspires me is on a more permanent footing now.