I’m an atheist. This is something I’ve discussed here in the past, and something I've always had to defend. You see, whenever it comes up that I’m an atheist, or whenever I remind my family that I don’t believe in God, a question always follows: what do I believe in, then? It’s a question that always carries with it an undertone that can be best described in another question: what gives your life meaning, then? In a world where over 80% of people ascribe to some kind of faith system this is an unsurprising question, and one that’s worth answering. So, what do I believe in? What gives my life meaning?
Before I tackle this question, though, I want to push back a bit against the idea that the two above questions are related. A life can have meaning even if it’s a life completely devoid of belief. If you’re interested in politics, the work of helping to sustain a thriving democracy can give your life incredible meaning. If you’re an artist you can find meaning in the way any person can be the centerpiece of a great work of art. Even if you’re looking to live on after death you need not find such meaning in religion when you could find it in the memories of those whose lives you impact. Religion is definitely something that can give a life meaning. But it’s not the only thing.
I guess, then, it’s safe to say that I don’t actually believe in anything. I don’t think that there’s a god, or some kind of universal Karma-like force, or some spiritual energy that permeates everything. Instead, I find meaning in the things I know to be true, the things I experience every day. I don’t believe in God, but empty space is made more magical for me with the knowledge that it’s permeated by the Higgs field. I don’t believe in Karma or some other spiritual energy, but I marvel at the miraculous interaction between gravity and nuclear fusion that keep stars burning for billions of years. I don’t believe in something I’ll never know, but rather the spiritual meaning of the things I do know.
So maybe saying that I don’t believe in anything isn’t quite true. Rather, I believe less in the existence of some great divine and more in the beauty and majesty of the world around me. I believe in that which I can see with my own eyes: I am part of something bigger than myself, bigger than anyone and anything, something that makes me wonder and keeps me always in awe. That something is just what we call the universe. My world is just as much a spiritual place as anyone else’s just as much a miracle as anyone else’s. It’s just a magic I know.