December 26, 2018

Welcome to the Real World

Earth from space

I live in the real world. It is a glorious natural world, a world of matter and energy. It is void of magic, monsters, or gods, but none of this detracts from its beauty in the slightest way. I regularly experience feelings of awe, interconnectedness, and transcendence in the real world. These are feelings that some people prefer to label as "spirituality," and while that is not the term I prefer, I usually don't object. Life in the real world involves balance. This is a world filled with pleasure and joy but also with pain and sadness. Living in this world involves freedom, but it also entails great responsibility. There are no reset buttons or take-backs here.

Those of us who live in the real world experience great joy. We fall in love and develop meaningful friendships. Some raise children, and many contribute to society in countless ways that result in a sense of accomplishment. Part of the intensity of the joy we experience comes from our recognition that our time is limited. We strive to make our mark while we can because our time is short. Indeed, there are many sources of pleasure associated with living in the real world.

In the real world, we recognize that things are not always as we want them to be. Pain exists, nature can be cruel, and all sentient beings will someday die. All of us will lose people we love. We will not like these things, but we not deny their reality. We have no use for delusions here, for we understand that suffering is part of existence. That is not to say that we do not experience grief or that we never seek comfort. We find consolation here in the real world through each other and our daily routines.

We are sometimes afraid in the real world. We have frightening experiences we cannot immediately explain. We seek reassurance and safety from others, and we find that most of our fears melt away with an improved understanding of our world. When faced with fear or uncertainty, we use the light of science and reason illuminate our way.

We have no use for the many mythical creatures our ancestors created. These gods, angels, and demons once served a purpose. They were necessary when our ancestors had no viable alternatives for explaining their surroundings. They are no longer necessary. Life in the real world has improved immeasurably as science and reason have rendered mysticism and superstition obsolete. We recognize that groveling before imaginary beings does not lead to understanding and is no substitute for action. The temporary comfort it may provide is a false comfort.

To be sure, pockets of darkness remain where superstition and ignorance not only persist but are so widespread that they may seem like the norm. Many people have yet to step into the real world and remain trapped in delusion. Some cannot imagine any other existence, and others are misinformed or afraid. They are not bad people, and we should be able to empathize with their plight. After all, many of us were once in their shoes. Many of us once believed in at least some of what they now believe. Their presence should remind us of how fortunate we are to live in the real world, but it should also prompt us to extend a hand in friendship and invite them to join us in the real world. There is plenty of room here.

An earlier version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2008. It was revised and expanded in 2018.