An Atheist's Devotion to a Higher Power

Higher than all the rest. And you know it.

Posted Sep 03, 2019

Labeled for reuse National Park Service
Source: Labeled for reuse National Park Service

I’m an atheist, but I do have faith in a higher power that I insist is greater than all the rest. In that, I’m like the religious and spiritual who insist that theirs is the highest and get irritable when challenged.

But no, the higher power I bow down to really is higher than all the rest. Indeed, everyone knows it, though not everyone admits it. Some people pretend that some other God is higher, but in practice, they show way more daily devotion to my higher power.

And well they should. My higher power is merciless with those who defy it. It’s neither jealous nor compassionate. It wants nothing. It makes no effort to achieve anything. It is thoroughly dispassionate. It doesn’t care whether we live or die. It’s not rooting for or against any of us.

But you cross it, and it will smack you down with insurmountable force. No other God can save you from its consequences.

My higher power works in mysterious ways. No one knows them all. Anyone who pretends they know them all is not showing due respect to my higher power.  

Still, its mysterious ways are not like those claimed for other higher powers. This one doesn’t perform miracles or special favors for anyone. It doesn’t whisper that it likes you best and then trip you or your enemies up in “mysterious ways.” 

And it’s not like those imaginary higher powers that are declared forever mysterious, permanently unknowable. No, we learn more about this higher power’s ways every day, individually and collectively, ­especially as increasing numbers of us turn our attention to it, admitting that it’s a higher power than all the rest.

I debate its nature with others. I try to make careful guesses as to how to live in accord with it. And then for fun and escapism, I do imagine other higher powers, Gods and superheroes, though I know they’re just my imagination.

I grieve for the education-deprived who become so desperate and gullible that they need to insist their imaginary gods are higher. Some bend their entire lives toward these imaginary higher Gods.

They or their leaders play with these imaginary higher gods like ventriloquist dummies. They ask them questions and then mouth their answers and pretend it’s the higher power talking. “Do you love me?” they ask. “Yes, I do, best of all,” they answer in God's voice.

Which is nice and affirming, like kids talking to their stuffed animals. But it gets dangerous when these ventriloquist dummies start whispering to defy the real highest power. People pray to their ventriloquist dummy Gods, “Is it OK what I’m doing?” and then mouth back in the dummy’s voice, “You bet. Do it more.”

That happens a lot. It could get us all killed.

The higher power I bow down to goes by a few names: Reality, truth, nature—sometimes mother nature, though its maternal instincts are not to be relied upon.

My higher power is reality. Science is how I pray to it, trying to guess ever better its heartless ways.

Can anyone define reality? Though we’ll debate what reality contains, I think it’s not hard to define. Reality is the set of all things that don’t change, no matter what we believe or do.

We know reality by its consequences. We learn about it from its history. We’re married to it ‘til death do us part—our deaths, not its death. We're married to it. It's not married to us. Reality is in this respect timeless.

Reality is traction we can use to make lives better. Learning its ways, we can thrive within the context of its ways.

Reality is also what makes life a hard-hat area. Watch out for falling reality. It’s up to us to prevent accidents. Reality won't protect us from our own ignorance. It smites those who are proud of their ignorance. 

Reality—my higher power—is manifest everywhere. It’s there in the brick wall I better not run into. It’s there in the climate that’s changing despite the deniers' insistence that the climate crisis is fake news. It’s there in gravity.

It’s what's understood by all those whizzes who pray to it so well that they can yield us all these wonderful modern gizmos—computers, planes, solar, gene therapy, cell phones, fake meat, and carbon sequestration. You can't pull off such gizmos without praying to reality to reveal its secrets. Reality makes it possible for me to live, if I play my cards right, and kills me if I don’t.

That is my faith. Faith that, in the end, reality wins all battles and all debates. Though we don’t know all of reality’s ways, we can continue to learn them. And should. Because if we don’t, we’ll all be removed, disappeared, extinct. Reality will wipe us out and not shed a single tear at our disappearance.  

Reality—my higher power—is a leg up for those who learn its ways and a trapdoor for those who don’t.