The Spiritual Life of An Atheist

November 27, 2011

Spiritual Life of An Atheist: Measured Optimism

The winters in the San Francisco Bay Area are about as mild as one can reasonably expect–outside of Southern California or a Pacific island.  But even in the temperate Bay Area, winter is not generally a time of expansive optimism.  We have the unpredictable rainstorms, truncated daylight (it’s pitch black by 5 pm), and even-mild-weather-impaired drivers to deal with.  If you do like snow sports, you have a long drive and often a traffic-jam-for-miles to look forward to.  In some ways, winter in the Bay Area better suits my mood.  I’m rarely one for rose-colored glasses.

My worldview is not supported by a sense of divine significance, nevermind purpose.  When I’m on my xc skis at the top of a curving hill with trees tight on both sides, evaluating whether its within my skill set, I have no prayers or mantras to invoke.  What I focus on is my practical strategy for stopping safely if I end up on the verge of out-of-control, and then I make a measured decision about whether to test my limits or to take off my skis and walk it.

This is my basic approach to all challenges in life.

I do not like fear to constrain me, but I also don’t like to take chances I think are more than I can reasonably handle or the consequences of which I’m not willing to suffer.  In judging the risks and consequences life presents, I do not feel the comfort of a special mission or guiding hand.  I am confronted with the reality of a fragile individual human body among the forces and vagaries of the natural and man-made worlds.  The good news is I still have fun.

From the viewpoint of magical optimism–the perspective that recites, “It’s ok.  It’ll all work out,” no matter the circumstance–my mindset looks quite a lot like pessimism.  But it’s not.  I don’t believe everything’s more likely than not to go wrong.  If that were the case, I wouldn’t be on skis at the top of a tree-lined, arcing hill in the first place.  But a lot of predicaments exist from which it does seem to me quite unlikely the desired end will result.

I do my best to sort the wheat from the chaff with a sense of measured optimism.

copyright 2011 by S. Anne Johnson



  1. I notice you said: “I also don’t like to take chances I think are more than I can reasonably handle or the consequences of which I’m not willing to suffer.” Presumably you have evaluated the possibility that there is a God – because the consequences if there is one I don’t believe anybody would be willing to suffer – burning in hell for eternity.

    I also notice that you quoted from Jesus, when it comes to separating the wheat from the chaff.

    Comment by Mark Anderson — November 28, 2011 @ 3:47 pm | Reply

    • I have evaluated the possibility that the Judeo-Christian God, as well as any other god or gods exist. Since I am an atheist, I clearly have determined that the likelihood of the existence of any of these gods is de minimis. I have no fear of burning in hell, or of any other supernatural consequence espoused by any religion. I was not quoting Jesus. I was using a common English idiom, many of which do come from the Bible, many of which come from Shakespeare, and many of which come from sailing.

      Comment by SAJohnson — November 28, 2011 @ 4:55 pm | Reply

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