Let’s start with the easy stuff: what I do not believe. I don’t believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, or in his Son Jesus Christ, or in the Holy Spirit. I don’t believe that a god or gods who require blood sacrifice—human, animal, or god-man—could possibly fit my concept of good, not if those gods are all-powerful and all-knowing. The idea that perfect justice requires the blood of the innocent is just that—an idea—and a not very kind one. That the innocent do suffer is a matter of reality—one that must be accepted, surely, but as a human being I accept such a reality with gravity, rather than exultation. A good man, much less a god, would fight to save the innocent from a wrongful death. Nature, which is neither entirely human nor at all divine, sometimes requires the death of an innocent, sometimes thousands of innocents, but it does so indifferently, not to fulfill some end apart from the workings of its laws. Gravity sometimes kills, but it does not sacrifice, nor does it require a sacrifice. A god who eats, murders, threatens to kill, or sacrifices his son—whether only begotten or one of a litter—or daughter or children is nobody I care to know, much less honor and worship.
I don’t believe in a life after death. It might exist—but it’s one of those things that can be neither proved nor disproved. I have no scientific basis for this disbelief, which emerges mainly from the fact that I have no feeling for the idea itself, which is more repugnant than alluring for me. The idea of living an eternal life is no more seductive to me than watching an everlasting episode of Seinfeld. If either idea tickles your fancy, you are welcome to your belief. From an existential standpoint—as a being who currently lives and breathes—my temporariness is indeed a sobering thought: there are movies I will never see, books I will never read, cities I will never visit, people I will never laugh with. But then there are already myriad experiences and opportunities I have missed out on—having a dodo bird for a pet, for instance, or visiting Gertrude Stein in Paris, or fucking Alexander the Great. I do not regret not having had a life (that I know of) before my life anymore than I fear not having one (that I know of) after my life. My existence appears to be not only temporary but finite as well—there are millions of my contemporaries on Earth whose names I will never hear. Such knowledge reminds me of my smallness in the universe, but it does not fill me with regret—or with longing for such things to be different from what they really are.
I am an idealist who accepts reality. I try to imbue my life with meaning, but I am not searching for the meaning of life. My spirituality involves a deep connection (or at least a grasping for such a connection) with things—physical, homely things, without halos—their smells, their textures, their colors, their sweetness or saltiness, their heat, the layered music of the sounds that rise from them. I love the senses—these are my miracles, the only ones that strike me with wonder and a sense of the sublime. Even pain—assuming you might ask me about pain: pain, by its very definition unpleasant, is a part of life and a part of reality. Still, uncongenial as it is, pain warns, it pulls us into ourselves, it deepens our awareness of who we are, it makes the world vivid, and arguably it makes the sweetness of health and life even sweeter. So, yes, pain has my guarded and begrudged respect, as well.
I don’t believe in a god or gods who exist apart from the material universe. Like the stoics I believe that all beings are material or bodily beings. What the stoics called fate, I would call natural laws, which, I believe, animate persons, magnets, geisers, satellites, comets, lava, dreams, ecstasy, history, economics, breezes, tornadoes, bubbles, avalanches, waves, weather, clouds, emotions, passions, births, sexualities, deaths, decay, humor, intelligence, consciousness, war, love, valor, compassion, and so on. What moves us, moves us all, is the synthesis of natural laws bearing down on us or lifting us up or pushing us forward or blocking our ways. If anything has existed forever, it is, I imagine, the universe—in all its material vastness, its embrace of both chaos and order (with neither ever having a firm stay on the other), its fascinating and perplexing laws, its illusions too (illusion being only a misperception—or misinterpretation—of the ways things really are), its seemingly infinite extensions into both the cosmic and the molecular, its indifference to us and to our yearning to connect with it on some grand, true, but probably entirely impossible level. The universe knows less of the divine than we do, who first thought up the idea to appease our vanity and our itchy and constantly ill-fitting consciousness.