The First Letter to My Atheist Friends

To sleep, perchance to dream.

I said something on Twitter, innocently and perhaps stupidly so, and my friends, the atheists, came calling in response. I enjoyed it altogether. I love my friends, the atheists. This and future posts by this name are especially for them.

I started out life a pie-eyed realist. The truth, instinctively, has always meant everything to me; I need to know in a desperate way.

But I was naïve, probably I still am, and I found that realism is a dark way, because at every turn reality dealt me and my fellow humans blow after blow bludgeoning us down into pessimism. The truth hurts.

Somebody loves me? They die. Day before the big race? I stub my toe. We've all been there. But I couldn't live with pessimism and his partner cynicism - I am going to die anyway, so why not enjoy my life? So, I actively, purposefully chose optimism instead. I calculated that there are probably just as many true happy or funny things as there are true crappy and bitter things, and with life dealing me enough crap as a matter of course, I might as well focus on the true stuff that makes me laugh.

But then an interesting thing happened and just recently: I realize that laughing and being happy is the way things are supposed to work anyway. In terms of sheer practicality, when I approach life in a way that denies bitterness air and precious time, opting instead to give funny stuff and happy stuff air, I feel better and I get more done. Indeed, everything runs more smoothly, especially my relationships.

So now, here I am again - a pie-eyed realist. Am I still naïve? Perhaps, but not nearly as.

I am here to be lucid and to build a bridge. Perhaps we, me and the atheists, will build many bridges and towers together.

To give us an encouraging beginning, we have something profound in common: I hate religion. I might even hate religion more than atheists.

When atheists laugh about the way the Bible is used by religious people, I laugh too. Not out of respect or any other motive, but only because it truly is funny, on the merits. It is ridiculous, with all due respect to people's sincerely-held beliefs, to think that the bush Moses went to was actually, literally on fire... but didn't burn. How can people ever believe that?

But I did once. Wasn't I blind? Now we have something else in common: We all think I am blind.

Is everybody blind? Yes and no, just like me. We are all figuring out the truth for ourselves. I am honest with myself, enough to see that I am stupid and blind. In that regard, ironically, perhaps I have become smart and see clearly.

Can we agree that everybody in the room enjoys irony? Maybe we can.

We have much more common ground than we imagine, if for no other reason than we don't take the time to open our eyes and see that we don't have to imagine it at all; the common ground is already there.

Everybody has dreams, pipe or no. Why do we call our dreams our dreams? Is it not true that the real dreams happen while we are, for all practical purposes, unconscious? Are they always good? I mean, doesn't everybody else have nightmares like me? Those are also our dreams, aren't they?

And yet everybody agrees to the metaphor. I bet that in Russia they call their dreams their dreams, even though they also have nightmares. I bet it happens in Jordan too. Somehow this dream business got down in our bones so much we all say it and accept it as truth without giving it much thought at all.

We all choose to accept the good side of our dreams, validating that with our metaphor of how we want to materialize those dreams to our endless happiness, even though, for all of us, the nightmares are terrifying. We all seem to accept the risks - we are all, so to speak, pro-dream. There are no exceptions.

That may sound trivial, silly, even pedantic, but I find that the simplicity of this epiphany makes it yield more light to me. We all dream. These are the most real and tangible concepts imaginable.

Almost every problem we face as people comes down to our refusal to find common ground. Our dreams are important to us, almost sacred, and I am not aware of anybody who is exempt, though I confess that I fear to hear their story if they exist. So, the brute fact that we all refer to our dreams the same way means we have it in common down in our bones; and the proof is in our words - there are no dissenters when talking about dreams as dreams. Sooner or later we say what we really mean, and we have, as a race, accepted that metaphor as perfect. I assert that this is more important than appears at first sight.

I have dreams in common also with that Jewish redactor from two-and-a-half millennia ago who was trying to speak to his contemporaries, maybe also even perhaps to me, and didn't know how to say it. He was limited by his worldview and perspective, somewhat like me, only more extremely. He used what means he had available to him, the scriptures handed down to him from other people who dreamed and sought the truth over centuries of time. And while I am not going to argue about whether or not he did that correctly, I can at least assert that he wanted the same things out of life that I do. And that you do.

The more honest I am with that rabbi, even with his mythology, the closer I get to his mind. Was his a superstitious mind? Probably. Can I learn anything from that mind? Or better put: Can I learn anything from any mind not privy to the information provided by our digital, nuclear age?

Quite frankly, the more honest I am with today's atheists, the closer I get to their mind, devoid as it is of superstition. That is good - I also hate superstition. If I connect with the old prophet, no matter what he believes, in some respects I connect with the world entire; if I connect with an atheist, no matter what they believe, in some respects I connect with the world entire. Truth is, the atheists are closer to me, because they are here with me, in this consciousness, at this moment in history. The only modern prophet I am aware of to reach out to is Dr. King, who is dead. My hope is with the atheists.

Isn't that ironic? I enjoy that. But maybe there are atheists who don't. Maybe good irony is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe there is bad irony. I doubt it. I still hope we all enjoy it and have at least that in common.

This will not be my last letter to you, my atheist friends.

What if the meaning of Moses at the burning bush is that all of the ground is holy? What if the ground we are on is holy whether we like it or not? What if the agnostic lover of the ocean, wanting us to preserve it and cherish it and enjoy it, what if my atheist forest ranger friend who sees the glory in the trees is walking around on holy ground... and doesn't realize it? And yet, ironically, in the most important ways does realize it? Might I suggest she take off her shoes? Maybe she doesn't even need to.

Is the bush burning because the ground it is growing out of is holy? For the rabbi, yes. Might that suggest that we too might burn if connected to such ground? Is there even such ground that we have in common?

Perhaps. Sounds like the basis of building a bridge. We can still hate religion and everything.

I hope my atheist friends make comments. I will try to answer them all. I am ready for this connection with my sisters and brothers the atheists. I almost crave their mockery, because it makes me laugh. Seriously, it is funny. Superstition is funny and absurd; truth is too. Truth has many faces.

I think we will find mutual respect. I really do. None of you can out grind or out love me.

Sounds like more common ground. Hell, maybe common ground and holy ground are the same thing.