The World, brought to you by: Atheism
“The love, the life of their bodies, meaning and being,”
Curious here behold my resurrection after slumber,
The revolving cycles in their wide sweep having brought me again,
Amorous, mature, all beautiful to me, all wondrous,
My limbs and the quivering fire that ever plays through them, for
reasons, most wondrous,”
-From “To The Garden” by Walt Whitman
I learned when I was young that I share a birthday (just the day, not the year) with Walt Whitman. I learned this from a customized children’s book my Aunt gave me. You could select one of the book company’s titles and send them the name of the child and some details about the child (birthday, address, pets, friend’s names, etc.) along with the specified fee and the company would print and send you that book with those details inserted. It was a thoughtful gift from a thoughtful person and I’ve appreciated it and Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” ever since.
Our shared birthday makes Walt and I Geminis, which means absolutely nothing by the way.
You may’ve noticed the sensuality of the above piece. It’s full of references to the body,to the senses,to others and to their bodies. Meaning and being intertwined and coursing through the poet and through others. The world surrounds the person and the subject experiences others, resonating with the environment.
Walt’s poetry was labelled obscene and offensive by the usual culprits; how could it not be? Then as now faith marketers sowed fear and disgust of humanity, of the senses and of the world. They feared and despised the body and certainly feared sexuality and anything associated with it. Then, as now, they held an extra special hatred of any deviation from what they deemed “the normal” (which is rarer than we are led to believe, even for them) and they reserved a special place in their hells for those who didn’t fit their norms.
Christianities have always been the big players in the American faith racket. Many Christianities hold that Christians are to be “IN the world but not OF the World” (many Christianities also hold that Christians can be wherever they like as long as their checks clear). “The World” in Christian mythology is fallen and corrupt, oh and by the way it’s your fault (or it’s the original couple’s fault but you’re going to pay anyway). There are Protestant imaginations and Catholic imaginations of the world which are supposed to differ on what the world is and just how horrible and fallen it is. At the end of the day they are still imaginations and still pretty tough on our home.
The mythologies offer substitutes, escapes from the fallen World. With the help of a licensed representative or a self anointed entrepreneur you can purchase hellish heavens and monstrous hells, all sorts of astonishing miracles and altered states of being full of things like graces (vague notions of extreme generosity which differ by creed and neighborhood) and devoid of sins (whatever the particular faith salesperson disapproves of).
So what does Atheism offer in place of these corrupt, fallen Worlds of the Christianities? Atheism offers the actual world. The material physical natural world that you and I and all of us inhabit. Imagination is essential (I love to daydream, sometimes at night) but the imagination, Protestant, Catholic, Fox News, or other is not a substitute for reality. We can use our imagination to help us look at our world and decide how we want it to be and how to go about effecting change. We are not to declare our imagination reality and immediately start ruining lives around it. That way madness lies.
Things get pretty nasty now and again and nobody gets out alive. But labeling our existence as essentially corrupted, declaring all of humanity guilty, asserting that most human desires are evil, and relocating to fantasylands populated with phantasms and zombies is not the cool thing to do.
Our friend Walt Whitman was not an atheist, he was vaguely deistic (redundant I know). He stood in the transcendentalist movement popular in mid 19th century America. He used secular and religious imagery,keen ears and eyes,and senses of awe and timing to celebrate real people and the real world. He stole the fire from the supernatural and gave it to the world. Atheism declares that we are not only IN but OF the world (of what else could we be?) and while by no means perfect we must start from where and who we are.