The Spiritual Life of An Atheist

December 31, 2010

Spiritual Life of an Atheist: A Prose Requiem for the Past Ten American Years

I can remember approaching the onset of the 21st Century with a great deal of optimism.  Perhaps it was my life stage–I was just entering my 30s.  Then the dot-com bust bottomed out with September 11 fast on its heels.  The protracted and costly (in every way) US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq followed.  The US Department of Justice doctored an argument for a policy of torture of “enemy combatants” and the Bush Jr. administration advocated indefinite detention without any process.  The Space Shuttle Columbia exploded on re-entry.  Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans area and the Mississippi Gulf Coast–the region where I grew up.  The culture wars continued to rage, with gay marriage made legal first in Massachusetts and then legal and then not in California; a Republican Congress inexplicably intervened in the very personal Terry Schiavo case; and, in the last few weeks, a lame duck Democratic Congress finally repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell–on which John McCain seriously flip-flopped (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/02/AR2010020202588.html). 

All the while interest rates stayed at historic lows and helped fuel the near-catastrophic real estate bubble that burst in 2008 and the global Great Recession began, with millions of jobs lost and housing and stock values plummeting to what they were just after the turn of the millennium.  The US elected an African-American president, who was quite prematurely awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.  An angry, misguided guy got on a plane Christmas 2009 and tried to blow everyone up with his explosive underwear, shepherding in even more invasive security screens at airports, threatening all our junk with being touched.  (As usual, Jon Stewart had the last laugh, “Even if the bomb works, there’s going to be 72 very disappointed virgins.”)  The US Supreme Court, in its infinite conservative non-activist wisdom, overruled existing precedents and found that corporations are people with rights of free speech, striking down corporate campaign finance restrictions.  The Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico (definitely not the best decade for the Gulf region) resulted in the worst oil spill in US history.  A proposed Muslim cultural center in the vicinity of the former World Trade Center sparked national ethnic outrage.  At the Democratic President’s urging, a Democratic Congress voted to continue historically low income tax rates for the wealthy, despite a mounting debt, crippling cuts in basic services, and an increase in the number of Americans living in poverty to over 43 million.  Women continued to face a daunting glass ceiling.  (See http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html)

Technology marched on.  The mapping of the human genome was completed in 2003 and Facebook was founded in 2004.  In the developed world, AIDS became a livable disease rather than an immediate death sentence.  Due to our ever-increasing life spans, Alzheimer’s became practically epidemic in the elderly, and we developed the ability to diagnose it earlier and earlier but made no progress on treatment, much less a cure.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/18/health/18moral.html?scp=4&sq=alzheimer’s&st=cse)  Although global climate change was well known enough in the early ’90s for me to study it in college, the past ten years saw almost no progress in confronting it.  Perhaps people were just too confused about how global warming could result in worsening winters.  (See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/26/opinion/26cohen.html?_r=1&hp)  In less than 2 short years, science reversed itself on whether we are or are not part Neanderthal.  (See http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/05/100506-science-neanderthals-humans-mated-interbred-dna-gene/ and http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/08/080812-neandertal-dna.html.)  Downloadable music captured the market and ebooks began their own rise to dominance.  American consumption grew to an average of 11,000 watts a person–the equivalent of a blue whale.  (See  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/magazine/19Urban_West-t.html)  Our collective waistlines expanded to match.  The US population topped 310 million, with 80% urbanization.  The world population approached 6.9 billion, with over half now living in cities, and cities joining to form mega-regions.  Enormous garbage patches in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans were documented.  The imagined end of the world remained nigh with The Day After Tomorrow, Children of Men, I Am Legend, WALL-E, 2012, The Road, and The Book of Eli.  Theists railed at atheists and vice versa. (See http://omnipotentpoobah.com/2010/12/30/how-many-secularists-and-non-secularists-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin/)

While Verdi’s Dies Irae is fantastically fun to sing (http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xnhnn_verdi-requiem-dies-irae-extrait_music), it’s not so great to live through.  I for one am happy to ring out the 10 years from ’01-’10.  Here’s to hoping that with some concerted effort, despite all the formidable challenges we face, the next 10 will more resemble Beethoven’s Gloria in spirit.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYMgYcMyRRs&feature=related)

copyright 2010 S. Anne Johnson

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1 Comment »

  1. It’s really so amazing that all this has occurred in the past 10 years. What a rough decade it has been! I agree, I hope we’ll have alot more “Gloria” in the next decade! Here’s to keeping that sense of optimism! Happy New Year!

    Comment by Sheryl Traum — January 2, 2011 @ 5:15 pm | Reply


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