A couple of nights ago, around this time, I was working on my magnum opus of a blog entry that I have been talking about for quite some time now. It's real, I swear. I was taking a short break to check my twitter account and saw the news that Christopher Hitchens had passed away. I knew that he had cancer and was nearing the end, but it still caught me by surprise. I don't claim to be a big fan of Hitchens and only knew a little bit about him. I had seen him on the Bill Maher show some years back and was pulled in to his aura by how honest he was, even his general demeanor. He was smoking a cigarette, if I recall correctly and drinking a glass of scotch, which Maher pointed out. At first, I was annoyed at his brazen and confrontational attitude, but then like many, charmed by his intelligence and wit.
The next day, I read a few news stories about him and watched a few interviews given by colleagues and friends of his. I was especially moved by a short remembrance that his brother had written about him upon hearing of his death. Without going into great detail, the two brothers were philosophically opposed on many subjects, to the point of not speaking for a long period of time. They had gotten on better in recent years and had mutual respect for one another. The one strongly held belief, of the many that he possessed, that struck a chord with me was atheism.
For all intents and purposes, I am an atheist. To be much more specific I am a non-theistic realist or perhaps an apatheist. Personally, I don't believe in a god or afterlife, but I don't claim that there isn't one. Some have said that explanation than falls in to agnosticism, which basically states that the existence of god can't be known. I don't necessarily agree with that. Perhaps we don't have the technology or knowledge to prove or disprove the existence of god or a deity. Religion just doesn't play a part in my life, with the exception of having to deal with the obligatory residue of believers I come in to contact with. When I was younger and first came to this realization of belief, I was a bit confrontational about it, when confronted. I did not seek out arguments, but didn't back down either when the conversation arose. Now, I prefer not to talk about it much, especially if it is likely to turn in to a debate.
The bottom line for me is that regardless of personal beliefs, whether they be in the area of religion or other, each person has their own values, priorities, experiences, and viewpoints. I don't believe that my perspective on any given subject is right or wrong, with little exception. As I approach middle age, I believe less and less in right, wrong, good, and bad. These type of labels become more of a hindrance on life, discussion, and understanding due to the generality of their use and scope. The discussion of religion or the absence of it, has become similar to the question of, "What's your favorite song of all time?"
These types of discussions are far too limiting in nature other than for the purpose of setting up an understanding within the context of conversation. General beliefs such as religion, politics, and favorite sports teams are the builders of barriers that herd people together and more importantly, keep us apart. They limit us within the community and shun those who may actually be more like us than we think. These futile exercises in identification hold us back from truly being a more global community, which I have come to believe is a problem without answer. It is far too normal and common for humans to clench these types of description and labels in order to make sense of the world and perhaps more importantly themselves. I believe that this behavior, no matter the reason, is a basic human reaction for the purpose of self preservation, whatever the goal.
As I have grown and learned about the world we live in, which I am still quite ignorant of, I have attempted to be honest and objective within my stubborn opinions which has been at times, quite painful a process. One thing I have come to believe in more and more as I have moved farther and farther away from religious thought, is the old adage, "The more I learn, the less I know.", which at first is rather frustrating, but also uplifting. In addition to the most precious gifts in my life, my wife and children, I have gained a greater thirst for the future and the experiences I wish to have and although they may be intertwined with fear and frustration, they have caught me none the less.
I think that it is my lack of faith or absence of belief in an afterlife that instilled a passion for life and experience which has grown and renewed itself with each door that opens in my time here. I have always said to my wife that I love the idea of being wealthy and the thought of living in luxury, but the only true possessions that I value above all are the lives of my children followed closely behind with that of my wife and my own as the caboose.