Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Some of my days in Vancouver since moving from Spokane are as enthralling and uplifting as any evangelical church service with its rolling eyes, trembling limbs and non-sense babbling! But an atheist’s uplift is totally sensible and as understandable psychologically as religious ecstasy would be if ecstasidysiasts (sic—I invented the term just now, using ecdysiast or stripper) understood that religious rapture is only a psychological mechanism, not an actual contact with the spiritual world. Atheists don’t need to explain our ecstasies as being a contact with a god. We understand our ecstasies as resulting from our being in a heightened touch with the natural world and with our fellow beings from which the human species as a whole and we as individuals emerged. Please, readers, come along with me, follow my morning for a few minutes. I’ll explain.

This morning, I awoke to a rather chilly and overcast dawn. But, after seeing my wife off to work, I threw on my togs and set off to one of my most favorite espresso joints, the Mon Ami, owned and operated by a couple of young women named Juliana and Claire. There I ordered my 12 ounce non-fat, sugar free hazelnut latte and dropped into my chair to continue reading my Yukio Mishima novel, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. While reading, I stopped to make some entries in my journal and wrote a couple of senryu:

Mishima —
wild horses can't drag me
from his novels.

That senryu paradoxically refers to Mishima’s novel, Runaway Horses.

Purple hazed mountains —
they linger in the distance
till darkness claims them.

Sun peeping between
tree leaves over well-mown lawn —
Mizoguchi’s nightmare.

Those senryu come directly from a couple of lines in the Mishima novel I’m currently reading. Mizoguchi is its main character.

But I did not read nor dawdle over haiku poetry for long because I was joined by a young man who I had talked to a month or so ago. Nathan came from the back of the coffee shop and sat on a couch, facing the comfortable chair where I was seated, and we nodded to each other, then picked up our conversation from where he remembered we’d ended it.

An ex-Mormon now atheist, and me, an atheist, atheism was central to our discussion—with such questions as what about “free will” and where do “ethics” come from if we can’t shove them off onto a god. It was fun. I asked him if he felt lonely, being an atheist. He said “no” and told me that most of his friends were atheists, all young like himself. He felt that the numbers of young people who are atheists were growing. He quoted the same sorts of numbers that are based on the most recent census surveys that we know of—16% or so who claim no allegiance to gods. I shared how my own long struggle was fraught with emotional turmoil and loneliness until I finally affirmed my suspicions about gods and goddesses and popped out from that tangled hierarchical and authoritarian nightmare that is Christendom and drew my first really free, fully American and human breath. Many of our founding fathers would understand clearly what I’ve just said.

We discussed the human animal’s situation in the ecosphere, housed in his stick and adobe nests alongside the human game trails that lead to work and play niches where male and female human couples earned their meat, nested and nurtured and gamboled with their children. This forced me to mention I’m still a carnivore while he mentioned that he was a vegetarian, not a vegan. I admitted I was "not there yet" and told him how dizzy I get in the mornings if I don’t get my protein. We discussed sources of protein, named toast and peanut butter breakfasts, oatmeal with raisins and nuts, eggs, yogurt—but Nathan said he didn't like the taste of yogurt.

Most interestingly, I asked him how he came to atheism, and he said “by employing a rigorous skepticism”, questioning one thing after another until he arrived at atheism. Of course, there were those moments when he realized how different his thinking was from those of his Mormon family. Yes, I can imagine. Nathan will soon be off to Seattle University to study Math and (?—I forget, Nathan, the second interest).

When Nathan left to take a philosophy exam on Heidegger, we acknowledged that we’d probably meet at the Mon Ami from time to time and talk some more. It was great fun and mentally stimulating to have that discussion. Then I decided to take off for my morning walk along the Columbia. As soon as I arrived at the river, I was amazed how swollen the river was by spring runoff. In fact, I decided to go on to Marine Park and walk there. I wanted to see the wetlands.

The sky was still overcast as I set off along the concrete trail, eating my Luna Bar lunch, through the manicured Marine Park. Finally, I thought, the piss stations are open. How often did I wish during my winter walks that their doors were open. Once or twice in the cold, I had to scramble down off the trail and take a piss. The woods below the path to my right were inundated with water now. Where last year, people could walk down off the trail into those woods, this spring, the woods are filled with water, and the water surface is full of driftwood and dead plant matter, not to mention the occasional pop jug and paper cup. But there weren’t too many of those so the scene was wildly delightful to the eye. No scrambling down there today to mingle my water with the river’s.

Swallows darted and dove, eating their fills of insects. Robins hopped about beside me, and one stood atop a fallen trunk of a small tree close by the trail to watch me. He swiveled his head to track me as I passed. “Hello there,” I was thinking. I know—anthropomorphous—that’s nonsense and I know it, but it was fun. In the middle of one woodland water clearing, a duck paddled along, and, then, at a distance, crossing the clearing, the head of a swimming creature appeared from the tree trunks. I watched the animal swim for some time until it dove under a floating mass of plants and branches on the other side of the watery clearing and entered the shadow of trees. I guessed it must be a beaver, but asked myself, “don’t they need streams to damn up in order to survive”. So I was not sure what I’d seen and thought longingly of my binoculars in the glove compartment. Still, I was enthralled as any Wordsworth on an English field trip. Then I remembered a couple of chewed, fallen trees I'd seen in March down from the trail. Of course!

Next I made the right turn at the million dollar condos which headed me straight toward the Columbia. When I emerged from this pleasant, short stretch, with condos on one side and wetlands on my right, the sight of the swollen river amazed me. Shorelines, where people picnicked last year, were completely submerged. The river rushed by very close to my concrete boardwalk. Right then a wonderful misty drizzle began which shaded into a steady but light rain. I opened my umbrella, breathed deeply the marvelous coolness and continued my stroll. I can’t tell you how delightful these walks can be.

After a half mile or so, I came to my turning around place—a long narrow (10 to 20 yards) strip of land that juts into the Columbia about a football field and a half long. The walk to its end slopes upward and then downward to a concrete pad upon which is marked with an arrow the direction, “N”. A lone fisherman stood there in the rain. He was young and I greeted him, “The water’s really up.” “Yes,” he replied. “Catch anything?” “Not yet.”

And the water is truly up! Normally, the land slopes down from the pad quite a few yards all around and the fishermen climb down those slopes to fish for sturgeon and salmon from the rocks at the water’s edge. Right now, the water is touching the pad itself, lapping and splashing over it from time to time, I imagine, when the wind is up.

I stood there for some time, surrounded on three sides by a mighty river, watching the swirls caused by the jetty where the river beats against it upstream and the whorls of water it forces the river to make on its way around the jetty’s tip. Just a little leap, and I could be swimming, though not safely. Farther out, float logs and islands of matter torn loose and set free from the Columbia’s banks farther upstream. On a man-made pole and platform nearer the bank downstream, an osprey has built its nest and the female crouches in it, her head peeking above the edge of plant matter—brooding the eggs? Or is it the male? They are mates for life.

What a vision this river and its banks are! I love it. I breathe it in and find joy in the moment—my ecstasy, a reunion with my evolutionary roots, not some imaginary god hypothesis. Then with a “good luck fishing,” to the solo fisherman, I departed the pad and him to return to my car.

Heading back, the wind shows up—a new element of nature added to my sojourn! It drives the light, misty rain horizontal, so my pant legs begin to darken with wetness. I tilt my umbrella in the direction of the wind and walk a little faster, though I love the rain, the wind, my walk. Soon, I’m back to the short run of walkway between the condos and the wetlands. Now I’m into a narrow passage between tall cottonwood trees, and, then, another element of nature emerges. The rain stops, a break in the clouds opens above me, and the sun bursts out, dappling the ground! And I rejoice with an ecstasy based on my psychological nearness to the nature that birthed me! I can’t express adequately how fun this is, these feelings, this walk, all so different from the artificial religious and forced cleanliness of a modern church where people gang together and create an artificial high between themselves and an imaginary hypothetical superbeing. Here, on my walk, its me in touch with the natural world, my aboriginal home; in there, its them in touch with their hypotheses.

Soon I’m back to my car and driving home. I’m thinking of sharing my morning with my friends who read this blog and those who are members of the Inland Northwest Freethought Society. I’m thinking over the whole morning, my intellectual discussion, topped off with a wonderful whipped cream of nature! Only an atheist can know this sense of enlightened freedom, out from under the fog of Jesus and his killer father and their constant moral harping and shame-based finger pointing. And, look, free of god, I have not, like HIM, resorted to killing, maiming and raping for my fun and revenge. All I’ve done with my ethical freedom is take a walk and have a friendly discussion with an intelligent fellow human animal. Next, I’m off to the hot tub, a good soak and a shower. What an evil atheist I am!

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