Friday, April 10, 2009

An Atheist's Easter

Among the religious paths one may travel, that of the atheist can be unique. Our biggest pitfall lies in defining ourselves by our nonbelief, rather than our beliefs. When combined with anger, with shame and guilt, and with the ever freshly-laid macadam of betrayal, we may find ourselves wandering in our own wilderness. Once the first surge of courage subsides, comfort lies in the sure knowledge that one has rejected that to which so many others adhere.

Easter can present particular challenge for the atheist. Even the marginally religious find their way to church leaving the atheist to taste once again the bile of discarded myth and the oppression of social paradigm. We might get edgy and may be a little shorter of patience at this time of year. We love the crocus, the daffodil, and even the dandelion, but we resist the unbridled joy of springtime metaphors in favor of a balanced appreciation of all seasons.

The lesson for me came when I realized that atheism is not an end, but a freeing and glorious beginning. Released from the constructs of sacred and supernatural, the atheist plunges into the wonder and mystery of the cosmos as an equal partner with all existence. Freed of the tyranny of science and sentience, the atheist examines the unknowable fields and forces surrounding us

The atheist can know epiphany without a risen Christ and can appreciate the man Jesus and his message. The atheist can know the triumphal redemption of Passover beyond the temple rules and the bound of any one folklore. Easter and Passover represent the celebration of renewal, a feeling we all can marvel in and share.

This Easter, I will sit in my congregation’s worship service. I might actually listen to the words being spoken. But, mostly, I will be present with others, stretching out beyond this identifying shell to commune with the minds and souls around me. I will feast on the quick energy of chocolate, the sustaining strength of my fellow humans, and the raw power of the universe.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Gun Deaths in Pittsburgh

I may be living in New York City now, but I am a long-time Pittsburgher. Today, I can only think of the heartache being felt in my City after the senseless deaths of three police officers at the hands of yet another disturbed gun owner.

When will this ever end?

I've heard all of the arguments before. Tell them to five girls who have lost their fathers, and two wives and a fiance now left widowed. Please, tell them to their faces why these men needed to die to protect your right to own firearms.

How about a silly example. Let's say that I loved bowling more than anything in my life. I bowled every day and owned 16 different balls for different lane conditions. But, every year, thousands of people were being murdered and injured by people with bowling balls. Yes, I can argue that I have a constitutional right to pursue happiness. Yes, owning a warehouse of bowling balls is legal. And yet, I would not for one second think twice about giving my passion up completely if there was any hope that getting rid of bowling balls (or at least making it marginally difficult to obtain them) would save innocent lives. I place the value of human life above a legalistic fanaticism to maintaining my rights and to the pursuit of a unique form of pleasure.

Pick your study. Gun-related deaths per capita in the United States dwarf those of other developed nations. In some instances, our rate of gun violence is 10 or even 20 times that of other developed nations. Quibble away with the statistics, but this is simply unacceptable.

A long-time friend said that the shooter was opposed to 'Zionist propaganda' and was fearful that his right to own weapons would be taken away. "He always said that if someone tried to take his weapons away he would do what his forefathers told him to do and defend himself." Is this the right the gun lobbyists in this country really want to defend? I say that the right of the police, as well as hundreds of millions of innocent citizens, to live their lives free of fear and violence trumps paranoid delusions and reactionary propaganda about what the founders of this country really intended.

This madness will not end until enough citizens petition their legislators to enact sane gun control laws. We cannot hope to address this issue until the voices calling for reason and responsibility outnumber the dollars of the gun lobbyists.