I wrote a column last week about watching the new “Cosmos.” It’s sort of wishy-washy, or at least unfinished, in the way most everything I write these days is. Unfinished. Not saying exactly what I mean, because I’m not sure what that is.
I wrote that I thought “Cosmos” was attacking what it sees as a religious war on science, and attacking it pretty unsubtlely. I don’t blame the show’s creators at all; I just noted it, and noted that the show looked pretty good, quality stuff, so far, but that’s really not what I wanted to say. Because I am unfinished, you see.
I don’t think it damages the average adult to believe in fairy tales, in ancient allegories and fables. To believe in a flood and Noah’s ark; I’ve told the story myself, in church, with enthusiasm and funny voices. Even to children, who can be damaged by fairy tales. “The rainbow is God’s assurance that He will never again end the world through flood,” I say, and at that age it’s not a bad story about rainbows. Why are there are so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side? And so on.
Children, of course, are harmed by fairy tales that God made the world in a certain way, in a certain number of days, a certain number of years ago. Because it conveniently ignores truth, and trivializes God. It makes God into Dumbledore. It chills exploration and innovation and learning, if the basic blocks of science are undermined by Hebrew metaphors and fireside stories.
But this is old news. I mostly wanted to write to those people, many old and dear friends, who scoff and conflate and ignore scholarship and truth. “I am an atheist,” they state, over and over again, and they complain of their victimhood as nonbelievers as they post stories about ridiculous Christians who believe dinosaurs were on the ark.
These are people who, by the way, would be horrified if the stories they posted were about Muslims, or Jews, or Buddhists. They are good people, who believe in the honor of ancient traditions and the freedom to practice. They just see the majority religion in this country as filled with kooks and deniers, and so they don’t mind being bigots. It’s a weird thing.
Understandable, a lot of the time. Just weird.
I don’t think they’re harmed by their atheism, either. Mostly.
But they are remarkably uninteresting to me, and that should have been my point. Intelligent, kind, friendly, industrious, competent people who are a pleasure to be with, and their politics and outrage at abuses of some religious people has made them into scolds, completely uninteresting to me, and, sometimes, appearing completely without wonder.
When wonder is so easy to grasp, regardless of your philosophy, and why we have always looked up and out, as a species. Wonder doesn’t mean understanding. It means wonder. You can find it in the cosmos. You can find it in science. You can look out a window, and be an interesting person, because you don’t know and you want to. You certainly don’t have to believe in God. But you might be better off if you gave God the benefit of the doubt occasionally, because trust me on this: It can make the cosmos sing.