This essay is part of a collection. If you would like to read the related essays, or download a pdf copy of this essay, please visit:
Religious Essays on

Am I Religious?

by Jeff Lewis

Am I Religious?

Well, no. But if somebody were to ask me that question, and I gave them that simple answer, I think it would be easy for them to have a misconception about me.

When I was younger, if I heard that somebody wasn't religious, I'd assume that either they believed in God, but just didn't like going to church and following the rules, or that spiritual concerns seemed a little too abstract to them, so they'd rather focus on the physical world, or they just didn't really care about spiritual/philosophical questions at all. I guess this is a bit of projection, but I'd assume that's the way a lot of people take it when they hear somebody isn't religious.

But even though I'm not "religious," it doesn't mean I don't care about those questions. I didn't become an atheist just because I didn't like going to church Sunday mornings, or because I didn't want to have to follow the rules anymore. I read the Bible. I studied science. I read up on philosophy. I became an atheist because that's the way I think the universe really is.

I want to know the Truth, with a capital "T." I want to know how old the universe is; how our solar system was formed; the history of life on this planet; whether archaeopteryx was a direct ancestor of modern birds, or a member of a lineage that went extinct [1]. I want to know how the universe works; if the Higgs boson really is responsible for mass; what dark matter is, if it even exists at all; what exactly is the smallest subatomic particle. Do we have souls? Who's right - the materialists or the dualists? When I die, is that it, or will a part of me continue to exist, and what would that existence be like? Are there ghosts? If we don't have souls, what is it that gives us our experience, and what else in this universe besides animals can experience its existence? Does the sun have a sensation of its nuclear fusion? What goes through an ant's mind?

How should I be living my life? How much of my time should I spend helping others, and how much should I worry about making myself happy? How do I decide who to help? Where should I be volunteering my time? The past two years, I've spent a week in Guatemala helping Mayans at a hospital, but I used up all my vacation time to do so, so I didn't take my daughter on any big trips. My wife and I have now decided not to go on those mission trips for a little while so we can focus more time on our daughter. Did we make the right choice? I feel guilty not helping those people now, but I felt like I was neglecting my daughter before.

When I look at the world around me, I'm struck by its beauty. I can't see a bird on the wing without stopping in my tracks to watch it. I look up at the night sky, and I'm awe struck by just how big the universe is, and how much is out there, and how strange and wonderful it all is. I still watch all the specials on the Discovery channel - even when I'm not learning anything new, I love to see the beauty of the universe.

So no, I'm not religious. I don't believe in the Christian God, or Jesus, or any of the other gods of other religions, or their myths about how the world works, or how the world was created. And I'm not going to follow arbitrary rules and dogma just because a book tells me to. But I still wonder about all the same big questions I wondered about when I was religious. I still want to know how everything works, and why things are the way they are. And I still see all the beauty in the world around me.


[1] Actually, archaeopteryx was almost certainly in a lineage that went extinct, but I chose an example that I would hope most people have heard of.