To the Desert, Just to Lie Down Beneath this Bowl of Stars.

I didn't feel it.

Everyone told me that I would but I didn't. They speculated. They questioned. They dared and they told me that all would be revealed to me once I got there but it wasn't. It wasn't.

I argue with religious folks of all stripes on all occasions and I can put one single supposition to rest. The Grand Canyon does NOT make me concede the existence of a single and all powerful god.

Though I've heard it many times and in many incarnations*, I've never understood this particular argument. "How can you look at the Grand Canyon and not believe in god?" The argument, and a poor one, is that the scale and the beauty of the Grand Canyon is so overwhelming that one becomes instantly in touch with god and understands that all of their atheist leanings were self-aggrandizement.

What bullshit.

I spent most of this past weekend becoming intimately familiar with the Grand Canyon. I rode down one of the only passable road to the canyon floor. I floated a soft bottomed boat half way to Lake Mead. I explored one of its waterfall caves. I rode its rapids. I climbed its sheer sides and then dove into the tepid and opaque river below. I rode a helicopter out of its depths and drew hard breath at the scope of it from both below and above.

And, not once, not for a moment, did I feel compelled to concede the existence of god.

What did I feel? I felt very, very small indeed. I felt very young and I understood, if only barely, the transience of my own life in comparison to six million years of geology. I was confronted with the insignificance of my own deeds against the pulverization of a billion tons of stone by the driving force of one of the continent's most powerful rivers. I was dazzled by colors and dwarfed by the rim, some four thousand feet above. I was entranced by the sheer, unadulterated glory of it. I was humbled by nature.

But, I see no reason to invoke a singular god. Is it not enough that this place exists, carved from hundreds of thousands of layers of sedimentary stone in the Colorado plateau by millennia of pure, hydro-kinetic force? Does it not cheapen nature's glory to infer that this place must have been imagined, created, by some force of will rather than by the pure happenstance of geology and climate? Is there not enough wonder in the knowledge that this place is the result of laws of nature and that those same laws of nature can also result in the Amazon, the Himalayas, the Tundra and even in self-sustaining, motile, sentient organisms like us that can then parse out those selfsame laws?

I love this place and I will go back but I certainly will not go back to pray.

*And the Grand Canyon is just one example. Any awesomely large natural formation or sufficiently frightening natural phenomenon can be used to posit this same argument and none of them make it particularly convincing.


Tom Harper said...

Aw man, the Grand Canyon didn't make a believer out of you :)

The Grand Canyon is one of my wife's favorite places, and she's a devout atheist. I'm more of an agnostic myself -- "I don't know and you don't know either."

nursemyra said...

It would take a miracle to make me believe ;-)

wythy said...

For myself, I agree. I'm a Christian, but when I was an agnostic, I heard the same rumors, so I would go for long walks under the stars or through the woods and got...nothing. Nothing except cold and ticks and an appreciation for stars and trees. Now I take that appreciation and transfer thanks to the deity, but only because I believe.
I'm also willing to say this is a matter of temperament, spiritual/mental inclination, and (post-conversion) grace but not necessity.

John Myste said...

This was a very good literary piece, which I very much appreciate. I am an atheist who often spends time enjoying the foibles of religion, but I nonetheless and genuinely glad that some people see God in the Grand Canyon. I see Him in rational thought. I see the Almighty as nothing more than the current highest explanation of intellect and love.

Though I am quite certain no entity referred to commonly as God exists, the sense of awe of which the Christian speaks, does.

Not sure how I stumbled upon your site, but I like it.