Atheists I have lovedPosted: March 16, 2012
I’m in the midst of a blistering spiritual drought.
While I am happy that so many people have connected to my book on a deeply personal level, the 24/7 promotion and publicity machine coupled with parental unhappiness with certain aspects of said book have resulted in a rapid and vast spiritual desertification unlike anything I have experienced before.
In the face of this, I did what any good Muslim girl experiencing a spiritual drought would do: I went to hear an intelligent atheist hold forth at the Jewish Community Center.
I’ve loved many atheists in my life, and they have all had the effect of helping me fall back in love with my faith and religion in a way that often co-religionists do not. It’s not because of their abrasive, militant stance against religion – that’s not the style of atheist I’m attracted to – but rather their curiosity, and willingness to engage with and to listen to someone with a different belief system.
Even people of other faiths can help me see my religion in a renewed and beautiful light. It’s often other Muslims I struggle the most with. They are the ones who make me feel furthest away from the beauty and light of my own faith. Perhaps it’s because I expect more of them.
So, I went to hear the charming, brilliant & self-proclaimed “gentle” atheist philosopher Alain de Botton speak about his new book, Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believers Guide to the Uses of Religion.
His insights into the meanings of the ritual, forgiveness, community, art, and other aspects that are so central to religion were poetic, insightful & moving. Even his remarks on the necessity of daily spiritual breaks like prayer or the use of water as a cleansing and focusing agent were lovely in a way that lectures on the fiqh of salat or wudu have rarely been. Indeed, they revived my own faith in a way that little has since January.
I only wish that we had more people like him – affiliated with religious traditions, or not – who are devoted to exploring and sharing the qualities of beauty, wisdom, empathy, curiosity and compassion. As members of a secular society, we need that so desperately in this day & age in which romantic love and financial success are deemed the ultimate arbiters of success and yet so often leave us feeling empty and longing for something deeper, something more. As believers, we need more poets and lovers – people who are ablaze with the loving and generous spirit that is supposed to illuminate the legal structure of faith.
Didn’t Imam Shafi say that he considered everyone he met to be his teacher, either on how to be or not to be? Last night, Mr. de Botton was my teacher on the special strengths of faith and the bridges that are possible between people with opposing views on God.
If Mr. de Botton’s lecture was a love letter to believers, this post is a love letter to atheists in honor of all that I have learned and continue to learn from them.
Ayesha Mattu is a writer, international development consultant and the editor of Love InshAllah. Her writing has appeared in CNN.com, The Huffington Post, International Museum of Women, and Religion Dispatches. This piece was originally posted at her blog, Rickshaw Diaries.