Poetic atheism

From Jennifer Michael Hecht, on the blog Unreasonable Faith:

The truth may be real but it is not “matter of fact.” What in fact we have here is a billion fantastically sexy weird interesting stories all going on at once in a great cacophony of experience. How do we make sense of what it is to be human, to be this thing, this sentient matter?

Well I certainly don’t think the magic of consciousness should be considered evidence for something hidden, something else. The magic of consciousness is magic enough. Nothing is gained by adding fantastical imaginative inventions to the wonders that actually are.

But the truth, the what actually is is very strange and overloaded and wondrous indeed.

This next bit, in particular, seems to resonate with and expand on something I tried to touch on in my “Science vs. poetry?” post:

Poetry uses the precision and dedication to accuracy of science, with the scope of everything (the scope of religion, the scope of art), with the widest scope possible.

What can we say that is not invention, that is all fact, but that takes into account everything at once? That’s what Poetic Atheism is about. Looking at the magic that is real. How can we think about what is absurd and amazing and true, dreams, devotion, generosity, the wonder of everything from ecosystems to echolocation, without making stuff up and getting sloppy and believing nonsense? Very frikken carefully! Is it easy to know the world through poetry? No! But it is possible and it is marvelous and it is ours.


Read the whole awesome giddy Sagan-esque piece here.

And her more detailed exploration of “poetic atheism” here. A key passage:

All we ever had was the feeling of meaning, and we still have that and it loses nothing now that it is no longer associated with a third party. It is what it is, no more, but no less. Feelings of right and wrong are sufficient to prove morality, though they indicate nothing unseen lurking behind them. The feelings of right and wrong, the feeling that it matters what you do and what happens to you, the experience of kindness, listening, and generosity, the thrills of art, all of this is extra-rational and it makes life – the real life that we actually have — worth living.

We can talk about these things in terms that value them as real, and do not merely explain them away, but don’t add any heavens or buddahverses because the truth matters.

An atheist believes you don’t make up extra stuff in the universe to help you make sense of it all and feel safe and cozy. But what we sometimes miss is that an atheist can, in fact, have a positive relationship with the irrational, can notice that existence is too weird to fit in any purely rational box. We can glory in that without duping ourselves with false beliefs.

Yes, yes, yes.


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