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Inspirational atheism - Comments

Zeuglodon's Avatar Comment 1 by Zeuglodon

To be honest, I get most of my inspiration from science media - books, documentaries, websites, and DVDs - and from learning in general. For philosophers, for example, I'd pick Epicurus, Democritus, Archimedes, and Socrates. Jeremy Bentham is the only contemporary philosopher I can think of off the top of my head.

Here's a couple from Epicurus.

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly.


Don't fear god.

Don't worry about death.

What is good is easy to get.

What is terrible is easy to endure.


Watching a BBC Attenborough documentary is inspiration in itself, and strangely Douglas Adams' writings can be inspiring too - he had a new way of looking at things. He makes humour sublime.

For scientific writers, I'd pick Richard Feynman (with the advantage of being self-deprecatingly funny), Stephen Jay Gould (when he's at his best), Carl Sagan, and William Hamilton. There are many more, but I've only read extracts of their work.

I'm not sure you can have an inspiring atheist without drawing on some other view. The obvious ones are anti-theism or anti-religion, but the really inspiring stuff is pro-something, like pro-science, pro-existentialist, or pro-consequentialist.

Tue, 15 May 2012 19:34:18 UTC | #941669

Lapithes's Avatar Comment 2 by Lapithes

Stephen Fry, he's very thoughtful. Whilst I don't like the idea of preachers manipulating the public I think Stephen Fry would do it well. Here's a vid: The whole speech is superb.

Tue, 15 May 2012 22:43:45 UTC | #941710

All About Meme's Avatar Comment 3 by All About Meme

Neil de Grasse Tyson is magnificently charismatic, and would be a sensational speaker for atheism, but that's apparently not the way Dr. Tyson rolls...

Christina Rad explains the unfortunate situation.

Wed, 16 May 2012 01:40:11 UTC | #941737

Bobwundaye's Avatar Comment 4 by Bobwundaye

Comment 2 by uuaschbaer Stephen Fry, he's very thoughtful.

Thanks for the link. I found that really good. I would go to "church" weekly if I had that kind of a talk ;)

Wed, 16 May 2012 04:12:17 UTC | #941768

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 5 by QuestioningKat

I like finding quotes that are meaningful in a secular way. Views or words that reframe events so that they are no longer charged with religious meaning and have value on their own, speak to me personally. I also like art and nature.

When I was deconverting, I struggled with the idea of death being permanent and without an afterlife, life seemed meaningless. I was deeply upset and depressed. Then I took a trip to NM and visited the Millicent Rogers museum. An inconspicuous letter was framed near a door. I read it and wanted to cry right there in the museum. Millicent Rogers struggled with illness most all of her life. My guess is that her words are influenced by Native American beliefs, but they spoke to my non-belief.

"Darling Paulie,

Did l ever tell you about the feeling I had a little while ago? Suddenly passing Taos Mountain I felt that I was part of the Earth, so that I felt the Sun on my Surface and the rain. I felt the Stars and the growth of the Moon, under me, rivers ran. And against me were the tides. The waters of rain sank into me. And I thought if I stretched out my hands they would be Earth and green would grow from me. And I knew that there was no reason to be lonely that one was everything, and Death was as easy as the rising sun and as calm and natural - that to be enfolded in Earth was not an end but part of oneself, part of every day and night that we lived, so that Being part of the Earth one was never alone. And all fear went out of me - with a great, good stillness and strength.

If anything should happen to me now, ever, just remember all this. I want to be buried in Taos with the wide sky - Life has been marvelous, all the experiences good and bad I have enjoyed, even pain and illness because out of it so many things were discovered. One has so little time to be still, to lie still and look at the Earth and the changing colours and the Forest - and the voices of people and clouds and light on water, smells and sound and music and the taste of wood smoke in the air.

Life is absolutely beautiful if one will disassociate oneself from noise and talk and live it according to one's inner light. Don't fool yourself more than you can help. Do what you want - do what you want knowingly. Anger is a curtain that people pull down over life so that they only see through it dimly - missing all the savor, the instincts - the delight - they feel safe only when they can down someone. And if one does that they end by being to many, more than one person, and life is dimmed - blotted and blurred! - I've had a most lovely life to myself - I've enjoyed it as thoroughly as it could be enjoyed. And when my time comes, no one is to feel that I have lost anything of it - or be too sorry - I've been in all of you - and will go on Being. So remember it peacefully - take all the good things that your life put there in your eyes - and they, your family, children, will see through your eyes. My love to all of you. "

As I read this letter, I came to realize that I am living in an incredible world. I am part of this grand dance which is precious and impermanent. Even with no God, life is magnificent and that is enough.

Inspiration exists, we just need to look a little harder to find it.

Wed, 16 May 2012 04:12:47 UTC | #941769

Sample's Avatar Comment 6 by Sample

I had the damnedest time trying to coalesce my thoughts about this topic. And then I read comment 5 (QuestioningKat). Perfect.


Wed, 16 May 2012 05:02:09 UTC | #941778

jokitch's Avatar Comment 7 by jokitch

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is truly inspirational when he speaks about us being stardust.I could listen to this man all day.

Wed, 16 May 2012 10:45:28 UTC | #941800

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 8 by crookedshoes

I "march" to myself. I am the only person who knows succinctly what I think. Even when I try to articulate it or write it out, the words get in the way. I "get it" my way and do not care if there is no real strong speaker on my behalf.

I like Tyson, Sagan, Dawkins, Fry, Hitchens, Feynman........ I love what QuestioningKat wrote above (the Rogers quote). But, none speaks exactly my truth. My truth is mine and unique (and yours is yours and unique).

You have all heard the idea that we all march to a different drummer???? Well, sometime I march to an accordion player.

Wed, 16 May 2012 14:40:55 UTC | #941853

bluebird's Avatar Comment 9 by bluebird

My go-to video is 'My Spirituality as an Atheist'.

Wed, 16 May 2012 17:10:21 UTC | #941870

Southern Humanist's Avatar Comment 10 by Southern Humanist

First, I think you heard Susan Jacboy talking about the lack of charismatic leadership within the atheistic community on Up with Chris Hayes. Second, it's a tough question because it's difficult to create a community or an agenda around not believing in something. It's hard to be an "expert" in atheism as a standalone thing for example, whereas there are “experts” in theism who get paid to lead entire congregations of people. That said, you can find eloquent expert cosmologists like Carl Sagan or expert evolutionary biologists like Richard Dawkins or expert philosophers like Bertrand Russell who all happen(ed) to be atheists, but they didn’t or don’t rally people together once a week to discuss their atheism.

Wed, 16 May 2012 20:00:19 UTC | #941909

SomersetJohn's Avatar Comment 11 by SomersetJohn

I find the works of Robert G Ingersoll worth reading for the language used. The man had a way with words. A most interesting man, a fine orator and an entertaining writer.

Wed, 16 May 2012 22:27:57 UTC | #941929

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 12 by QuestioningKat

You have all heard the idea that we all march to a different drummer???? Well, sometime I march to an accordion player.

..and sometimes your drum may be broken.

Crookedshoes, I agree with what your said. Every person is different and has their own individual needs. What speaks to you may not speak to me. Timing is also important. If I read that letter when I visited Taos 15 years earlier, I probably would not have finished the first few sentences. I stumbled onto it at the perfect time. Much of the depression and confusion I was dealing with for much of the year, was instantly lifted and I felt like I could float when I walked outside. Since then, I have been able to rebuild my view of what is important in life.

At times, lyrics can speak to you or a simple flower could hold special meaning. The object or event doesn't hold any truth in and of itself, but it sparks something within you that allows you to see something differently, or encourages you to appreciate something. It can motivate you to do something, or try something new. People help people and sometimes telling our own story can spark someone else in unexpected ways.

I think this is why "spirituality" or secular inspiration is superior to religious assembly. These two approaches take personal experience and individuality into account. Religion is about conformity and following group traditions that have preset, expected events and experiences (holidays, prayer services) in which a person is expected to react and respond emotionally in accordance with the parameters of the worship. As a former Catholic, people were expected to reflect upon the meaning of the stations of the cross (recounting the events of Jesus being led to his crucifixion.) You were to feel transcended by empathizing with how Jesus felt when he fell numerous times while carrying the cross. "You too have your cross to bear." Somehow, I found it easier to relate to Millicent Rogers, socialite, art collector, sickly child who struggled a lifetime with health issues (not just a weekend.) I related to her humanity. She "fell" numerous times and kept going and touched many people's lives. She viewed this world as "sacred" wonderful, beautiful, complex. She saw herself as ONE with life not separate or superior.

In religion and in cults, people are frequently told they need to relate to a personal God in human form. Jesus certainly seems to fill these shoes. In the Jesus story, God came down from the heavens and incarnated in human form....much easier to relate to than a storm, force, energy, etc. Many cult leaders claim that they are divine and by worshiping a human form of a God, themselves, it is easier for them to relate to the ideology.

It seems very clear to me that people invented a God in human form because it was easier for them to relate to this version and easier to manufacture events of importance to unify groups of people. Religion reminds me of highly landscaped property which has manufactured ponds, pools, topiaries, statues paths, closing hours, etc. that are so overdone and over planned that they are past the point of being tacky, mundane, unoriginal, impersonal, and plastic. Religion provides a sugar coated, artificial experience of life. "Insert meaning and emotion here." All personal growth, exploration, and meaning is prepackaged into a format that has the seal of approval from a select group of people who are in authority. No work on your part is necessary; all the details of the cruise will be provided by your Captain and cruise directors. A painful retelling of the Captain's ordeals at sea will be retold at 3 pm on the Lido deck. It is important to recognize how this ship would never ever sail if it weren't for the Captain, all are expected to attend. Anyone not present will be hunted down and forced to walk the plank and live eternity at the bottom of the sea in Davey Jones' Locker. Cocktails will be served afterwards, please join us in fellowship.

Spirituality or inspirational atheism, humanism etc. is "like wrangling up cats." This clearly frustrates the controllists and literalists because the power is not within their realm.

Thu, 17 May 2012 01:48:59 UTC | #941951

Rationus's Avatar Comment 13 by Rationus

Preachers and politicians appeal to the emotional sides of people. Scientists appeal to the thought side of humans. Since life is mainly about struggling, suffering, reproducing, and dying, man seeks escape from the pain of this reality. That's where religion, drugs, and any other diversion finds value to humans.

We can be described by our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Most people aren't capable of critical thinking. That's why politics, religion, and marketing work so well.

Thu, 17 May 2012 03:24:31 UTC | #941964

endgamex's Avatar Comment 14 by endgamex

carl sagan by far. to bad hes not alive anymore :(

Thu, 17 May 2012 04:26:37 UTC | #941969

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 15 by Steven Mading

Comment 3 by All About Meme :

Neil de Grasse Tyson is magnificently charismatic, and would be a sensational speaker for atheism, but that's apparently not the way Dr. Tyson rolls...

Christina Rad explains the unfortunate situation.

Yeah, Tyson is one of those people who, frustratingly, fits the definition of "atheist" but wants no part of the label because they've fallen for the false claim that it requires a greater degree of certainty than it actually does. Basically, Neil would be about a 6 on Richard's 1-7 scale much like Richard himself is, but Neil doesn't want to identify with being an atheist.

Thu, 17 May 2012 05:25:06 UTC | #941974

Dave H's Avatar Comment 16 by Dave H

Carl Sagan has to be the ultimate.

Robert Ingersoll springs to mind for me also, although his powerful writing (which is now widely available, along with mp3 files of his speeches, narrated by a modern actor) does get a bit preachy sometimes.

Sam Harris is good, too, from a morality and compassionate point of view (but only his speeches - not his writings, which don't pull any punches.)

Thu, 17 May 2012 16:51:16 UTC | #942058

Duarf Dog's Avatar Comment 17 by Duarf Dog

I like A.C. Grayling.

Thu, 17 May 2012 17:03:47 UTC | #942062

Sample's Avatar Comment 18 by Sample

Atheism and the atheist isn't always inspirational. This is where Prof. Dawkins will often point out the difference between comfort and truth and, what he prefers. Having had to unexpectedly euthanize Quinn (the springer spaniel I mentioned in another discussion) a couple of weeks ago, I find no inspiration in the fact that after a fifteen-year friendship, he's gone forever. Whatever "he" was, is, for all practical purposes, finished.

Perhaps I've seen it here or at the Reason Rally, but a thought that gives me inspiration in good times and bad could very well be described as canine philosophy. Dogs believe in life before death. And so do atheists.



Thu, 17 May 2012 17:40:52 UTC | #942070

jbkaffe's Avatar Comment 19 by jbkaffe

I find comfort in the fact that my atoms are a part of this universe. And for a brief moment in (earth)time I'm actually capable of controlling most of them, and use them to do whatever makes me feel good. It's my own private version of free will.

Afterlife is what happens when they spread out and we start chilling( the dude-style ) alongside sub-atomic particles 'n stuff.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.....for now at least.


Thu, 17 May 2012 17:57:07 UTC | #942073

Corylus's Avatar Comment 20 by Corylus

Comment 17 by Duarf Dog :

I like A.C. Grayling.

As do I.

Thu, 17 May 2012 19:14:46 UTC | #942085

VrijVlinder's Avatar Comment 21 by VrijVlinder

@Sample:Having had to unexpectedly euthanize Quinn (the springer spaniel I mentioned in another discussion) a couple of weeks ago, I find no inspiration in the fact that after a fifteen-year friendship, he's gone forever. Whatever "he" was, is, for all practical purposes, finished.

That may be so, but you do have memories of your time with Quinn that I am sure will last for ever. It is like losing a child. Too bad their lifespan is so short.

I had to do that to a german shepherd I had for 15 years. She was paralyzed from waist down. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I think it was worse than when my father died. There is no source of comfort except knowing you gave them as good a life as they could not have had anywhere else.

I had her cremated and still have her ashes. I still miss her and love her. It took me 10 years to get over it. Now I have 3 dogs. a 5 year old a 2 year old and a 10 year old I rescued not sure about her age, that is approximate. Dogs bring happiness to everyone with their loving nature.

Thu, 17 May 2012 19:18:54 UTC | #942088

Caper's Avatar Comment 22 by Caper

But it does seem that atheism lacks a charismatic preacher

Sorry, but the last thing we need is a "charismatic speaker". It's what someone says, not who said it.

Fri, 18 May 2012 00:46:13 UTC | #942118

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 23 by QuestioningKat

Comment 22 by Caper :

But it does seem that atheism lacks a charismatic preacher

Sorry, but the last thing we need is a "charismatic speaker". It's what someone says, not who said it.

I agree, but we also need to have someone who is a good communicator. Nearly everyone prefers a nicely wrapped package; only a few will be overjoyed upon seeing plain paper bag.

Fri, 18 May 2012 02:22:37 UTC | #942134

justinesaracen's Avatar Comment 24 by justinesaracen

Hey Meme,

Thanks for the Christina Rad (used to be Radinsky or Radkovsky?) video. Charming, down to earth, and pretty smart. Maybe in a few years she'll be that charismatic speaker we're looking for.

As for Tyson, yeah, sometimes he can be a pain. It's annoying when it looks like an atheist, smells like an atheist, tastes like an atheist and gives strong atheist lectures (see "Stupid Design) yet refuses to identify as one.

Sat, 19 May 2012 16:32:17 UTC | #942298

All About Meme's Avatar Comment 25 by All About Meme

Comment 24 by esuther

You're quite welcome!

Sun, 20 May 2012 02:32:21 UTC | #942338

Roedy's Avatar Comment 26 by Roedy

I think that charismatic person will have to an ex-Christian. Ever since I was a teen I tried to understand them and just came to the conclusion they were defective, brain damaged, stupid, liars, con men, deluded etc. They are like mental patients wallowing in their own ordure refusing to take their meds. My attitude is extreme contempt. They make no sense at all.

This is not the most persuasive posture.

I suspect the process to rescue a Christian may be something like reassuring a child about bogey men under the bed. Maybe you have to pry it loose by selling them on the possibility of Pan. Does it take deprogramming-style extreme threat and emotion to exorcise it?

Logically we need to study the process by which Christians are cured. Why actually works? What are the mechanisms by which it attacks and holds on? We need to study it with same seriousness you would any other mental illness.

The root problem is the Christian believes God told him many things, when no such thing happened. A perfectly ordinary person made claims as to what God said, who even then did not get it first hand. He is afraid of God, not such much those BSers.

There is not even a clinic people can do to where experimental cures can be applied.

Sun, 20 May 2012 04:20:13 UTC | #942348

inquisador's Avatar Comment 27 by inquisador

I am an anti-theist who nevertheless likes most Christians, regardless of how deluded they may be.

I am also an anti-islamist who likes many muslims but hates islam.

My nomination for a greatly inspirational person is the ex-muslim, Wafa Sultan. [Watch through to the end.]

The beautiful Ayaan Hirsi-Ali was in tied first place, for her inspirational autobiographies.

Sun, 20 May 2012 18:39:21 UTC | #942466

Nordic11's Avatar Comment 28 by Nordic11

I don't find our inevitable personal annihilation particularly inspiring.

Mon, 21 May 2012 01:00:06 UTC | #942536

xmaseveeve's Avatar Comment 29 by xmaseveeve

OP, Bob,

This quote, which you give at the beginning and end of your piece,

"Not only hold the truth, but have the truth hold us."

is meaningless. What meaning do you see in it?

Mon, 21 May 2012 03:39:57 UTC | #942558

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 30 by ZenDruid

Comment 28 by Nordic11 :

I don't find our inevitable personal annihilation particularly inspiring.

Your life experiences can give you a lifetime's supply of inspiration. If you're preoccupied with annihilation or some mythic afterlife, then you're doing it wrong.

Mon, 21 May 2012 04:17:32 UTC | #942562