Your Neighbourhood Atheist

Impression, sunrise. Monet

Your Neighbourhood Atheist
By Klasie Kraalogies

It appears that a lot of people have no idea what it means to be an atheist. Here is the secret – there is no such thing as a typical atheist. But here are some brief windows into the life, loves, and musings of this atheist.

Here I am
I get creakingly up, and stumble into some exercise wear (weekdays only). After an hour or so of sweating, I take a shower, dress, and start breakfast. I like variation with breakfast – sometimes it is just toast and coffee, other times an omelette with fiddleheads or chanterelles fresh from the boreal forest (when they are in season) – once again with coffee. Or crumbly porridge, which is like a dry, crumbly grits, served with butter, sugar and milk, the breakfast of my forefathers. Surprisingly, with coffee. Basically, breakfast is coffee with food. My morning coffee is always a homemade Americano – 2 shots of espresso from freshly ground beans. During the summer I take it outside, my aging dog accompanying me, and we enjoy the morning.

“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” (Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

• • •

Morality
Two and a half years ago I published a series of posts on this website, detailing my journey to atheism. I have no need to rehash that – and I have no desire to be proselytizing for unbelief. Attacks on religion is, by and large, quite boring, and often motivated by the same insipid lifestyle choices that make people attack others for their political beliefs or choice of sports team. If one is truly confident, as I am, that there is no deity or transcendent entities of any sort, then religion becomes a way that humanity as expressed itself over time, and therefore rather interesting. It is a way of expressing world views and beliefs about morality. It has often been pointed out even here, those beliefs have changed and will continue to change. No one takes everything in say Scripture literally, because (1) they won’t be able to, and (2), there are multitudes of literal readings. What is real is a shared, by and large, understanding of morality. And that understanding is shared across boundaries. Only extremists shout that one can kill left, right, and centre – most of humanity do not agree. Morals have evolved and continue to evolve. So, in my day to day life, rational thinking about moral questions is de rigueur.

For example – do I enter this business deal or not?

First the easy ones:

  • Is it legal?
  • Can I perform my part?
  • Can I trust the other party?

Then the ones that require more thinking:

  • Will this harm anyone?
  • Will this harm the environment?
  • What are the long term affects?

These questions require deeper thinking because they are not simple and require nuance.

I often find that some religious people assume that once you are an atheist, you do what you want irrespective of morality etc. That is balderdash – because morality is evolved behaviour (with some humans a bit behind), and, rationally considered, harm to others harms me too, as everything is interconnected. The chickens will come home to roost.

• • •

Joyful existence
I love both gardening and cooking, and nature in general. Being able to harvest something, albeit even something as simple as some thyme and rosemary from the garden, and use it immediately in a dish, is wonderful. In addition, exploring recipes and ingredients, flavours and more from all over the world, and recombining them in interesting ways, is a delight for the soul.

slightly amended recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem – a cookbook co-authored by a Jewish and a Palestinian chef. Roasted sweet potato with green onions, chevre and pomegranates, and a balsamic reduction
Potjiekos – a traditional South African stew cooked in a potjie (three-legged cast iron pot) over coals. This one was a pork belly and shrimp potjie.
Cooking Biryani over an open fire.

Food is glorious. I love sharing it with those I love. Wine and beer and scotch, when I can afford it, a delight for the palate and a blessing for the soul. But so is the beauty of gardens, of flowers and bees and vegetables and birds.

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

• Orson Welles

The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why, and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question ‘How can we eat?’ the second by the question ‘Why do we eat?’ and the third by the question ‘Where shall we have lunch?

• Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

• • •

The joy of Asiatic lilies and the first Black Prince tomato of the season

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more

• Byron

• • •

Meaning
What is the meaning of life? There are many religious answers to this, though I am not dealing with those in this post.

Let us look at some of what helps me get to the answer. The Stoics said that the goal in life is living in agreement with nature. Humans, unlike all other animals, are constituted by nature to develop reason as adults, which transforms their understanding of themselves and their own true good. Good so far. By nature, of course they don’t mean the modern wild and untamed wilderness, but the nature of things, the material world. But they do go on to say:

…that virtue is the only real good and so is both necessary and, contrary to Aristotle, sufficient for happiness; it in no way depends on luck. The virtuous life is free of all passions, which are intrinsically disturbing and harmful to the soul, but includes appropriate emotive responses conditioned by rational understanding and the fulfillment of all one’s personal, social, professional, and civic responsibilities. The Stoics believed that the person who has achieved perfect consistency in the operation of his rational faculties, the “wise man,” is extremely rare, yet serves as a prescriptive ideal for all. The Stoics believed that progress toward this noble goal is both possible and vitally urgent.

A bit of an overstatement, maybe?

Epicurus on the other hand promoted a life free of fear and anxiety:

He regarded the unacknowledged fear of death and punishment as the primary cause of anxiety among human beings, and anxiety in turn as the source of extreme and irrational desires. The elimination of the fears and corresponding desires would leave people free to pursue the pleasures, both physical and mental, to which they are naturally drawn, and to enjoy the peace of mind that is consequent upon their regularly expected and achieved satisfaction.

The Stoics tended to be somewhat religious, the Epicureans promoted atheism. In my view, both got hold of some corner of the truth, but missed out in other ways.

Spinoza placed happiness in the realm of understanding God, but Spinoza, being something of a panentheist, defines God in a way that makes him synonymous with nature, with the Cosmos.

On the other hand you have Max Tegmark who states:

… when people ask about the meaning of life as if it were the job of our cosmos to give meaning to our existence, they’re getting it backward: It’s not our Universe giving meaning to conscious beings, but conscious beings giving meaning to our Universe.

Max gets close to the real thing here, but we need to abandon what the Stoics, Epicureans, Spinoza and other said. Assembling partial insights into coherent bigger insights is the luxury of us who came later in human history. Shoulders of giants and all that.

We give meaning, but our given meaning is so much better when we understand more of the cosmos – and ourselves. Then, placing ourselves within that realm, we find how to live. True pleasure demands virtue, as I highlighted in my marriage post recently. The pleasure of deep connection and companionship cannot be bidden just from desire. Similarly, producing a good meal requires time to select plants, the bountiful yield of this earth, the knowledge of experienced cooks, the testing of the palate, the patience of bringing the meal to fruition. And as everything is interconnected, making that pleasure, that joy, sustainable, requires spreading the knowledge, the care for others and the good earth, the lifting up of society, etc. Pleasure demands virtue, virtue demands empathy, and the understanding of an evolved yet intelligent, analyzed morality. Empathy requires the understanding that we humans have different tastes and gifts. One is the cook, the other the artist, yet the other the farmer.

• • •

The dying
Life is most often difficult. Yet most of its difficulties are the things we do to each other, mostly because of fear and ignorance. Understanding drives out fear. Grasping what is in your control, and what is not, can go a long way to bringing peace.

I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.

• Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

And then we die.

If the ages that came before we were born do not bring us fear, why should the ages that pass after we expire install us with dread? If one looks up at the night sky, and see the wonderous cosmos, remember that we came from the stars. We are made from “star stuff”. And eventually we will return to being star stuff.

The sparkling centerpiece of this fireworks show is a giant cluster of thousands of stars called Westerlund 2. The cluster resides in a raucous stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Carina. Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 pierced through the dusty veil shrouding the stellar nursery in near-infrared light, giving astronomers a clear view of the nebula and the dense concentration of stars in the central cluster. The cluster measures between six light-years and 13 light-years across. [Image Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI) and the Westerlund 2 Science Team]
So we live
Atheism is not a solution to everything. You still have the same problems as you have had before. The same struggles with love and loss, with finances and your own weaknesses. It does not make you better or worse as any other human. In preparing this post I did a bit of googling and man, the demonization out there of those who do not believe is frightening. But like most of these things, it is all nonsense. Humans are humans are humans. Hate will make us all less human, less than the joyous, intrigued, virtuous creatures we can be.

We already know that the language of the cosmos is mathematics. If we are but one universe in a multiverse, mathematics would be not only the lingua franca, but also the source code. As such, each of us are a set of equations, living in a in a world of infinite sets. Living in harmony with each other and the cosmos (and the multiverse?) – now there is a goal worth striving for. Be a giant on whose shoulders other giants can place their feet.

There have been times, lately, when I dearly wished that I could change the past. Well, I can’t, but I can change the present, so that when it becomes the past it will turn out to be a past worth having.

• Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

• • •

And the greatest of these
I found myself late in life, well past the age of 40. It transpired that I had to wait till my mid forties before unconditional love presented itself. Regret at the lost years does not arise though. Loving someone for who they are, and being loved for who I am.

The soft bonds of love are indifferent to life and death. They hold through time so that yesterday’s love is part of today’s and the confidence in tomorrow’s love is also part of today’s. And when one dies, the memory lives in the other, and is warm and breathing. And when both die — I almost believe, rationalist though I am — that somewhere it remains, indestructible and eternal, enriching all of the universe by the mere fact that once it existed.

• Isaac Asimov, It’s been a good life

But the last words can go to the Immortal Bard, Sonnet 116:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

Kylemore, Galway, Ireland. Taken on one of the most memorable and meaningful days of my life

80 thoughts on “Your Neighbourhood Atheist

  1. “Dutch spelled as if the Devil himself had written it”, according to Harry Turtledove’s time travel/alternate history SF novel Guns of the South.

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  2. “Your Neighborhood Atheist” sounds a lot like the Sixties Marvel Comics tag line’ “Your Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman”:

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  3. “All Hail Dobbs!”

    You mean the guy smoking the pipe and looking somewhat like Ward Cleaver? Well that is a blast from the past, are the disciples of Slack still around? 🙂

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  4. Klasie, I very much enjoyed reading your piece. Thank you for being so open and ARTICULATE!

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  5. Thank you for this post. It is beautiful and shows a deeply thought out position and way of life. It is also full of love and compassion and appreciation for life and for others.

    I don’t think I could adopt atheism as a belief, but you have shown a deeper understanding of love and morality than many christians in America seem capable of these days.

    For example, on Sunday John MacArthur’s church of thousands met indoors with few masks and almost no physical distancing, in open defiance of two court orders. MacArthur said from the pulpit the good news was that people were there and not distancing and not wearing masks.
    And this extreme foolishness is lauded by more than a few evangelicals.

    You may be an atheist, but your post reflects more of what the love of Jesus Christ should produce than can be seen in many churches.

    It was refreshing to read your post in my continuing wilderness journey.

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  6. Wow. Patrick Stewart has been reading a Shakespeare Sonnet a day through the pandemic – and he did 116 today.

    Here is the link:

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  7. Ah, that was an awesome series of strips.

    ….(Linus) “I have decided that I should be more than just a fanatic”.
    “I’m going to be a wild-eyed fanatic!”

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  8. And I would say *everything* ultimately arises ex nihilo, and from same source, which is where we differ. Fundamentally, though, it comes down to “God is love” – if you don’t, as I do, think love is God, it is no matter, because you can seek out love just the same, and that’s the most important thing.

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  9. how much better to be beguiled by what is of nature and of beauty than to bow down to trumpism with all of its hatred and fearfulness

    But they have made their choice.

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  10. Fundamentalism is a state of mind that can attach itself to any belief or belief system.

    In the words of the prophet Charles “Sparky” Schulz:
    CHARLIE BROWN: What do you want to be when you grow up, Linus?
    LINUS: A Fanatic.
    CHARLIE BROWN: Uhhh… Have you decided what you’re going to be fanatical about?
    LINUS: No… I think I’ll just be a wishy-washy fanatic.

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  11. Excellent post, Klasie. I feel like one of the Athenians listening to the apostle Paul at the Areopagus. “We will have to hear you again on this.”

    Challenging enough to my own faith but not threatening, and I can see God’s grace in some of your ideas. According to Dante, “It’s love [grace] that moves the sun and the other stars.” –even though the sun and stars are not aware of that.

    Keep writing. Incidentally, is English your first language? Somehow I think it’s Afrikaans. Great style.

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  12. It’s odd now tastes, like one’s Christianity, can change.

    There was a time when I would’ve hated that Monet. Or at least, not appreciated it.

    It’s lovely.

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  13. Ruth, you said”It may say something that should give Christians pause that I am more welcome on an atheist message board than I am on the equivalent large Christian message board. Somehow I can’t help but think that Jesus would feel the same way I do about that..”

    I never have understand the ways that most churches exclude others or run them off–When I became a Christian at the age of 16, my hair was slightly long as compared to the length it would become-half way down my back. A person told me one night after the Wednesday night service if I did not get a haircut I would go to H E L -. Let’s see in some churches if you are gay-a woman-etc. you are often made to feel not wanted or just there for appearance purposes.

    Bur lots of churches will have signs that say everyone is welcome. I think it is still a sin to lie.

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  14. I’m a fan of labels.

    On cans, bottles, packages and containers of all kinds — but not so much on people.

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  15. I am definitely a freak and at least a semi-loser. But I will not change me to fit in where I still have a choice.

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  16. I do my best to not be judgmental. I think I could have deeper conversations with an atheist than i ever could with most evangelicals today.

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  17. My lack of gratitude is a problem, and I don’t know how to make myself grateful. I still practice thanksgiving as part of nightly Compline prayers, but it hasn’t changed the way I feel. When I take note of the beauty of the world, gratitude doesn’t come into it. I see the beauty, and the feeling that accompanies that is ……. loss, grief, with maybe a touch of fear. I can’t explain it, but that’s it.

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  18. > Humanism is these days it’s associated with hardcore Atheism

    Is it? I dunno. I suspect that association is subcultural.

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  19. “””practically evangelical in trying to convert me into “seeing the light””””

    There is something about the fierce desire to bring others into one’s camp that perhaps points to other things.

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  20. Nobody ever really tangles with him.
    Those of us who have bear the scars.

    He’s also one of the few who have evolved morally past the level of three grade-school kids arguing about how to divide a Snickers bar on the playground.

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  21. I say go all in and become a member of the Church of the SubGenius.

    “All Hail Dobbs!”

    “Nothing shall prevent us from attaining a perfect state of Slack.”

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  22. –> “But I am not a fan of labels per se.”

    Ah, so you’re one of those “non-labelists”!!! I knew I had you pegged as such!!

    😉

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  23. Funny thing about Humanism is these days it’s associated with hardcore Atheism, but it started in the Late Medieval/Early Renaissance times as a Christian movement — a counter to the over-spiritual otherwordly Docetism that was in vogue at the time.

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  24. Thank you for writing, Klasie. The beauty you evoke with your words and ideas, along with the beautiful images, says to me that you are leaning into God. I don’t think this is the same god you rejected; you seem not to want to entertain this possibility, and that’s fine. Along with Rick, I too believe that you’ll be okay because the source of all love and life has done what he has done, and because you are capable of showing love and expressing gratitude.

    I’ve done some cooking over coals with cast iron. Can’t beat it!

    Dana

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  25. And meanwhile, we have evangelical types fleeing…

    Shaking our dust off their feet in all Righteousness.

    Did that Rabbi from Nazareth hang out with the Righteous God Squadders or with freaks and losers like the rest of us?

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  26. Well, I have an atheist friend who has gone totally religious on conspiracy theory nonsense.

    Sounds like he has joined a church:
    The Church of Q-Anon.

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  27. Tom, many evangelicals are beguiled by trumpism, but ‘this too shall pass’ and they will be left to sort out the void trumpism carved out of ‘who they were as followers of Christ’;

    so pity them, as this will be a painful journey for many

    Adam and Eve were ‘beguiled’ so it seems that is the fate of many of their offspring down through the millenia . . .

    how much better to be beguiled by what is of nature and of beauty than to bow down to trumpism with all of its hatred and fearfulness

    Tom, there is a wider Church that Christian people belong to and also some who are ‘of good will’ who do not know the Holy Name, and this Church INCLUDES rather than excludes, it invites and feeds and nurtures the broken and the wounded, it has room for doubt and for ‘the lost’ even, as did Our Lord when He lived here among us and had compassion rather than condemnation for those who were ‘without a shepherd’

    The Church as the Body of Christ has the power to connect people who can support one another in times of need.
    What comes to mind is a hospital for the wounded of this Earth, where some who are able, offer to support the weaker ones whose burdens have grown too heavy for a while, and in doing so, the ones who are helping are also ‘healed’ in the process. ‘In giving, we receive; in pardoning, we are pardoned . . .”

    “God descends to the humble as waters flow down from the hills into the valleys.”
    ( St. John of Kronstadt )

    “For nothing is so acceptable to God as to number one’s self with the last.
    For he that is humbled, and bruised in heart,
    will not be vainglorious,
    will not be wrathful,
    will not envy his neighbor”

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  28. Iain, goodness and value are acquired or emergent characteristics, and do not arise ex nihilo, I would say. Thus

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  29. No worries Eeyore. As I stated, I am not wishing to persuade anyone.

    Your comment is interesting though, and maybe worth a discussion on a different occasion.

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  30. My Facebook profile, for what it is worth, says Humanist. I might call myself a rationalist, or even materialist. But I am not a fan of labels per se. So much baggage or preconceived ideas. Hence my writing this post in fact.

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  31. Oh definitely. There are some weird people out there.

    Thing is, atheism not being something one can “join”, but an expression about the absence of a belief in a divine being/s or transcendence etc., means that there is no single atheism out there. Thus you find all the ills one finds in the rest of society. As well as all the good things.

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  32. I used to be absolutely sure about some “religious” things and now I am not sure. I am a follower of Christ-do not attend church any more-why because it stresses me out that these churches are so overtly political.
    Too little talk about Jesus and or preaching out of the Gospels.

    I guess I am in time out and have been now for two years. No help or understanding from the evangelicals
    After 44 years, I am a done.

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  33. Klasie,

    How we describe ourselves depends, of course, on the conversation. If the conversation is specifically about the nature/existence of God, then theist/deist/atheist are natural enough categories. That said, if you had to pick an overall descriptor for yourself at this point, would you opt for humanist or free thinker or non religious or something else instead of atheist? Do you find any particular label actually helpful?

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  34. I find that ironic also. I have more questions now than ever, but some have it all figured out and will not even listen to others.

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  35. Thank you, Klasie, for explaining so much of what I feel–about the Universe, the meaning of life, and (perhaps) the non-existence of god(s)–I’m still an agnostic, much of the time. Thank you for some beautiful photographs, quotes to live by, and the revelation of so much of yourself.

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  36. Lovely post, Klasie. I enjoyed your writing; it is very evocative and brings life to the smallest things.

    And yes, atheists are just as widely spread on the spectrum as believers. You can no more assign atheists to a particular worldview than you can Christians. I speak from personal experience here.

    I am a long time member of an atheist message board. Its current incarnation is as Talk Freethought; I had been a member since its Internet Infidel days, long ago. Over the years I have developed relationships with some of the members that cannot be described as anything other than friendship. There are many wonderful, caring people there. And just like a faith community there are also those people who are rigid, self righteous, and determined to prove they are the only people who know the truth about everything.

    I have made no secret of the fact that I am a Christian on that board. Very few of the participants take offense to that. We have some really good discussions, plus most of us can enjoy poking fun at each other on occasion for our beliefs.

    It may say something that should give Christians pause that I am more welcome on an atheist message board than I am on the equivalent large Christian message board. Somehow I can’t help but think that Jesus would feel the same way I do about that.

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  37. –> “…I tried to keep an open mind…”

    From my knothole, you DID keep an open mind, it’s just that you weren’t swayed by the arguments. I see nothing wrong with that. If we have to agree with everything everyone tells us to be “open-minded,” the system has failed.

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  38. And a testament to the legacy of Michael Spencer, where all voices of good will were allowed to express themselves and people came to understand and to share with one another from many different viewpoints..

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  39. This is a good, simply stated point.

    Several of us had a Zoom “Prayer, Praise and Encouragement” meeting the other day and during it the idea of contentment and the peace of God came to the forefront. After discussion, we felt these four things were ultimately tied together…

    -Trust
    -The Peace of God
    -Contentment
    -Gratitude

    We felt if one of those was lacking, the others could be “achieved” but perhaps not to the fullest extent, or on wobbly legs and ready for collapse.

    Gratitude is massively important in a healthy approach to life, living, illness, and dying.

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  40. –> “One of the things I appreciate about atheists is their rationalism.”

    –> “When I talk to an atheist friend we can have a real conversation.”

    Well, I have an atheist friend who has gone totally religious on conspiracy theory nonsense. He’s practically evangelical in trying to convert me into “seeing the light” on “what’s really happening” in the good ol’ US of A.

    The other day, I told him THREE TIMES, “We’ll have to agree to disagree on that.” He kept trying, kept trying, kept trying. I’ve decided the next time we talk to evangelize to him about God and Christ, then compare it to his attempts to convert me. We’ll see how that goes…LOL.

    So, no… not all atheists are rational. Not all are capable of real conversation. Some are now as nutty as some of our evangelical friends.

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  41. My born again experience was in the mid-80s and my spiritual desert journey was only 5-7 years long, but other than that everything you said is close to my own feeling/experience.

    What I boil my “new” simple faith down to is this:

    Jesus saves. Period. End of story.

    Spout all the theology you want, dive into the text all you want, give me the original Greek meaning and talk history/reality vs. “symbolic”/myth all you want… I don’t care anymore.

    Jesus saves. Period. End of story.

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  42. WAIT A SECOND!!!! THIS PLACE CALLS ITSELF A “CHRISTIAN” SITE YET GIVES VOICE TO AN ATHEIST!?!?!?!?! HOW CAN THAT BE??????!!!!! NOOOOOOOO…..!!!!

    Kidding aside,

    If there is a God…
    AND He sent Jesus to save us…
    THEN you’ll be okay, Klasie.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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  43. As a complete asides, doesn’t the food pictured look really good and tasty?

    Klasie:
    For the Potjiekos, is it required to use the 3 legged pot on coals or can one use a big stew pot on low heat on the stovetop? As an aside, do you have a recipe link or the recipe itself for the pork belly and shrimp stew?

    For those of us who followed the Babylon 5 TV show, I am reminded of this:

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  44. When I was “born again“ in the mid-70s I experienced a revelation of God. It was substantial and, shall I say, revealing. From there my faith grew but became more and more complicated, mired in my own sin, tortured by the antics of those around me and generally under assault. After going into the spiritual desert for about 25 years my faith returned but in a much different way. It is now much simpler and what a gigantic relief that is to me. You might say it’s childlike. I don’t think about it that much anymore. You could accuse me of being uninformed and frankly it seems like I’ve been on a journey to become just that. I can’t convince anyone about God and really have lost the desire to do so. I feel fortunate to have faith but I’m not an evangelist any more. I don’t really mean to be creating a counterpoint to the post, it’s just that as I read it I felt appreciation for the fact that I have faith but can’t tell you precisely why.

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  45. One of the things I appreciate about atheists is their rationalism. They use their minds to the greatest of benefit. We seem to live in an era of irrationality. We use terms like “rights” and “freedom” to excuse our lack of love for neighbor. And we do so without any understanding of either term. Sentimentalism, slogans, the myth of some “greatness” in our past endavors, and extreme selfishness disgused as piety. I could go on and on. But every day in 2020 I’ve been surprised by the cancer of irrationality that seems to be metastasizing into a stranglehold that only results in death.

    When I talk to an atheist friend we can have a real conversation. There are not signs which say “stay away” from this or that. We can open up with each other, laugh, cry, and simply enjoy.

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  46. This is probably one of the least appreciated difficulties in moving away from traditional faith, in my experience. Cultivate a sense of gratitude, yes, but to what/whom? I can thank many people for the good things they do in life to make my own better, but no human being is responsible for the sunrise or a gentle summer rain. The Ground of All Gratitude is perhaps the term I’m reaching for.

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  47. I’m sorry.

    I read this. I tried to keep an open mind, Klasie. But I just can’t go here.

    If there is no God, no immortality, then ultimately all that humanity has accomplished – science, culture, law, art, imagination, love – will crumble to dust and be forgotten in an empty void in the heat death of the universe. And knowing that everyone else is in the same boat is of zero comfort emotionally.

    All the unconditional love we have shared – and the hatred we’ve inflicted – will ultimately be meaningless. Because there will be nothing and no one to remember it – or us.

    Given a choice between that, and the (G)od of fundamentalism… Fundamentalism would be only marginally better. But at least there would be some meaning to life.

    And life without transcendent meaning is… IMHO, f###### pointless.

    Is this a rational, logical argument? Of course not. But this is something beyond logic.

    And something I can never make peace with. Even if it is true.

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  48. There’s two basic ways that human beings approach morality. One is by coming up with an agreed-upon collection of rules of what we should or shouldn’t do. The other is by coming up with an agreed-upon set of tools for moral reasoning and applying them to particular situations to decide what we should do. In practice we really need some mix of the two – a set of basic moral “guard rails” combined with a flexible system for evaluating our own moral choices.

    Based on the structure of the Bible and the history of the Abrahamic religions, I’m quite convinced that Christianity is supposed to be about inculcating wisdom in us to make moral decisions and not just about giving us a list of rules. And yet many people turn to Christianity specifically because they want a list of rules instead of the responsibility of reasoning through their own decisions. In that sense, Klasie, I have less in common with them than with you.

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  49. > atheism falls down is in its inability to account for or explain the existence of
    > goodness and value in the universe

    Yet, doesn’t this failing rise from the definition you imposed?

    I am confident my atheist friends would counter with something like the quote (above) from Tegmark: “It’s not our Universe giving meaning to conscious beings, but conscious beings giving meaning to our Universe.”

    Human morality is found in humans, not the Universe; hence the emphasis on Empathy. Understanding faces outward.

    > Religious people often tend to start with a notion of God and tack on morality to it as an afterthought

    First there is a Sovereign, and thus there is Law. It tracks as a Religious way to go about it. And isn’t this the – notably first – commandment: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3).

    > it fails to account for the objective existence of anything at all

    I am confident my atheist friends would have two responses [having heard this conversation]:
    1.) Religion does not account for “objective existence”, it at best hypothesizes about it.
    2.) Accounting for objective existence isn’t my job, objective existence is not concerned with my Accounting.

    Personally, I find #2 to be refreshingly honest.

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  50. I wrote another appreciative comment that disappeared into cyberspace, but I want to repeat my thanks for this great post, Klasie.

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  51. Everything in Klasie’s post resonates for me, but when we get to his final words about unconditional love, it doesn’t add up for me that there could be unconditional love without and unconditioned reality that is also love. Perhaps that unconditioned reality does not need to be called God, and is not God in any theistic sense, but it does not square with philosophical materialism. I’m often half atheist myself, but even if I were to end in a place where I embraced atheism fully, I don’t think I would be a materialist. The unconditioned is the place where all the meaning in things, in myself and other people, will always seem to me to reside. Still, as you say, much of this is not profitable to argue over.

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  52. Thank you so much for this post, Klasie, for sharing a snapshot of your life and way of thinking. The whole of it is imbued with the beauty and depth of nature, including human nature. And that is one startlingly beautiful photo you’ve included at the end — there is Zen, insight, in it. Insight is one of the singular capacities of humanity.

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  53. To my mind, what is required for morality is to correctly identify what is good, valuable and true, or the qualities that makes things so, and rate this above one’s own personal selfish interests. Religion, then, can be in a sense an impediment to morality because it can substitute goodness as the aim of morality with God instead (or rather its particular understanding of God) and with the religion’s rules, practices and beliefs. Morality becomes doing whatever the particular religion or its religious leaders say God wants, however horrible, selfish or evil this might actually be.
    The objection is always raised as to how atheists, without God to tell them, can know what qualities are good and valuable and true. My answer, as a theist, is that if God is the source of all goodness and the creator of the universe, then all that is good and valuable in creation must come from God and (since we say God is love) all that is good and valuable in creation is in fact God’s action and character manifest in creation. If, therefore, God is real, the quality of “goodness” must also be a real, identifiable and observable quality within creation, and an atheist is just as capable of observing and identifying it as anyone else. (Indeed in many respects more capable, since they are not required to observe it filtered through any religious preconceptions of what the good ought to be.)
    Where I would say atheism falls down is in its inability to account for or explain the existence of goodness and value in the universe (how one derives an “ought” from an “is”, to use a philosophical shorthand). This, however, often only makes atheists more moral, since they can believe first and a priori and with certainty that there is such a thing as goodness and morality, and only then try to account for it. Religious people often tend to start with a notion of God and tack on morality to it as an afterthought.
    (This what I consider a weakness in atheism is only in any event a subset of its principle weakness, in that it fails to account for the objective existence of anything at all, not just specifically the objectively good and moral. The whole “Does God exist” thing isn’t something it is likely to be profitable to argue over, however.)

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