AI: Awe, and Science
One of the common misconceptions that religious and spiritual people sometimes have about atheists like me is the belief that we do not experience awe. I once had a dear friend ask me “How can you not believe in anything bigger than yourself?” I laughed when he said it, and said that the universe was big enough for me, thank you very much.
I can understand why some religious people might suspect that I don’t experience awe, especially if their only experiences with it have been related to their faith. Religion is often designed to create the experience easily. It causes believers to feel connected to a larger community both in the present and through history, and tells them that there is a god or gods that they are connected to as well.
I recently went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. We didn’t have time to see everything, so I insisted that my fiance and I go to the meteorite room. We got there, and I started at one end and began reading every single plaque and inspecting tiny little rocks (mostly ignoring the huge ones in the center of the room. My fiance got bored, and told me to come find her in the next room when I was ready – she was going to look at gemstones.
I made my way through the room alone, slowly, inspecting small bits of the universe and reading detailed descriptions. Then, unexpectedly, right in front of me were 5 pieces of Mars. I stood in awe. In a room full of kids and annoyed parents my eyes filled with tears, and I stood there trying to read the display. I let myself stand there awhile, in the presence of something amazing from so far away. It was simply amazing.
I think my reaction was so strong partly because I didn’t expect to find them there. If I had known that the museum had martian meteorites I probably would not have responded so strongly. Some would use the term “spiritual experience” for what I felt, but I don’t. Maybe it was an “awakening of awe” or something, but it was definitely a sensation of connection to the universe, and an experience I cherish.
Have you ever had an experience of awe and wonder at something outside of a religious context? Has science ever made you cry? What makes you feel connected to the universe?
his way? Would it be the same no matter who you attended with?
The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 3pm ET.