10 February 2011


So at this point in my Facebook blogging I included a terribly long summary of most of my views on religion. At some point in the future I may republish that (most likely in chunks), but for now I think I'm just going to go into my reasons for including one of the particular pictures that I did in that original post:


First off, I'm an atheist. I'd specify it as agnostic atheism, but with all the contrary definitions of those terms that float around, it feels a little pointless. Most people who call themselves "atheist" could technically be called "agnostic atheist" because they admit they have no proof that there aren't any gods (the important part being that theists don't have any proof that there are, and furthermore that such matters cannot be proved).

In any case, I included the image in the section on my own personal religious views (the other sections dealt with religion in general and religion in government) because it probably comes as close as anything ever will to being a religious image for me.

The image shows the light of the sun being broken into shafts by the branches of a tree; the sunbeams are made visible by the smoke from a nearby forest fire. I find it inspiring for a few reasons. Firstly, it's a great composition. It has a nice balance of symmetry and asymmetry, and a good sense of scale and depth. The lighting and colors are also fantastic. The second part of its attractiveness is in the existential concepts it seems to embody. The sun, as the source of energy for our planet, is the reason any life can exist here. And yet it is essentially nothing more than a ball of fire, and fire is what is destroying life in the image. But, perhaps counter-intuitively at first, regular fires are in fact a natural and important part of the life of a forest: dead trees are burned away to free up dirt and sky for new plants, the ash enriches the soil, and certain plants will only start to grow after the intense heat of a fire. But the balance is a fine one, and fires started by humans can devastate the natural growth of a forest environment.

At least for me, there are a lot of beautiful metaphors and lessons for human life in that. You can take away things about the frailty and persistence of life, the virtue of moderation, and the ability to rebound to new highs from the lows. But I cherish these parallels only as long as they are useful: if for some reason I realized that a certain perspective inspired by this image was in fact detrimental to my life, I could and would abandon it. Furthermore, I do not think moderation is a virtue because of this image or the naturalistic story behind it, they simply summarize that viewpoint nicely.

Human beings are storytellers by nature. We can't help but see ourselves in the world around us, and we enjoy infusing the things we see, hear, and tell with a deeper meaning. But we need to remember that the stories serve us, not the other way around.

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