I’ve never believed in God, and while I spent a brief period questioning my own lack of faith, I’m now fairly comfortable with my atheism. Whatever muscle, organ, or divine spirit creates faith, I seem to lack the ability to sense it.
In times of political turmoil, religion often comes up, whether as a means of dividing us from them, a comfort when things don’t go your way, or a call to unite under a common belief system. During this most turbulent of times in America, I’ve been thinking about how my atheism changes the way I react to and cope with the changes in our government and society. If I were religious, perhaps I would have confidence that the wishes of God will be fulfilled, even if I don’t understand how. Perhaps I would be able to attribute evil acts to the influence of supernaturally evil beings. Perhaps I would be able to pray that a beneficent power would intervene on behalf of all the vulnerable groups who will be in jeopardy under the new regime.
As an atheist, I don’t have any of those avenues. I believe firmly that all we see before us is due to the actions of human beings, and only the actions of human beings can alter our course. It was nothing but the flaws and fears of humanity that has brought us to this point. Quite honestly, this has made me pretty misanthropic since this election cycle began.
It was only this week, ironically right before the inauguration, that I have been able to feel some more of my usual optimism. I’m never an outright sunny person, but I am a pragmatic optimist, if such a thing exists. If there are no gods nor devils, the evil actions of the world are our fault—but so are the good things. We own all of the history of humanity, completely and fully. It is easier to write off humanity in light of its atrocities, but it is also lazy. There are so many amazing things that humans have created out of our natural impulse to build, to improve, to beautify.
Trump takes office on January 20, 2017. We all know what that means. But his ascension does not erase the products of our human hands and minds. At this moment, I can walk down the block to the art museum and see centuries’ worth of our painting and sculpture. Even the swords and shields, the implements of war, are painted and embossed and tasseled. If I leave there, a few more blocks away is some of the best damn ice cream I’ve ever had. Art and ice cream are not going to stop the very real effects of Trump’s administration—that will take consistent hard work from all of us. But neither does our political situation erase our human natures. All that is good in the world is there because we put it there. We are the only saviors we have ever had. Contrary to every strongman and bully through history (and there have been a lot of them), we are still here, building and creating and acting out our messy, curious, beautiful human animal instincts. That is the one thing that does not change. That is the thing that redeems humanity.