Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Awe Sans God

Andrew Sullivan offers this photo of Cape Cod taken by his husband and comments as follows:

[O]ne reason I come here and won't leave is because I know of few other places that simply force you to face the full beauty of God's creation the way this place does. Yes, many of you would see it simply as the universe in all its grandeur at 5 am. And I'm sure you would appreciate this as much as I do.

But for me the point is always, simply awe.
I just want to state, for anyone who might hold lingering doubts about it, that belief in god is not a precondition for the experience of awe Sullivan describes here. I feel a sense of profound awe every time I visit the Oregon Coast, as I did when I visited Crater Lake, as I do when I visit Multnomah Falls, as I do when I see Mt. Hood or Mt. St. Helens on a clear day. And so on.

I am profoundly grateful to be living where I live within sight and quick reach of such awesome sights. And that sense of gratitude is where it gets tricky: I feel it, but without a belief in a god, I consciously realize there is no agent to be thanking -- it is unmoored because there is no one to thank but impossible to extinguish because some experiences of nature call it up. Nor do I want to extinguish it, but I do want to understand and accept it as part of the experience of awe. And so I do.

Yes, the point is awe, and no god is needed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think there is more awe without God. I seldom see the night sky because I live in a humid, cloudy, and brightly lit city. But when I do see the full array of stars, I am awed by the hugeness, otherness, and profound indifference of the cosmos.

Theists often can't experience this awe. For them the cosmos is a grand vast stage for a human centered drama, or at least they believe it was made by something at least on some level like themselves that might have some concern for human intentions and purposes.

Their world is smaller and simpler than mine.