A universe without God?

Discovering Humanism

I don’t believe in an all-powerful god sitting somewhere looking down on us and letting bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it. As an 11-year-old, I couldn’t figure out why, if god made everything,  did (he) make the devil. The scripture teacher smacked me on the bottom in front of the class for that question.

At the same time, I felt a strange sense of jealousy when my best friend, Annette, would go to church on Sunday. When she had something special to believe in, and I had nothing. When her family had elaborate rituals, and my family had nothing. The sense of community it gave her.

Later as an adult, I went on to describe myself as agnostic. I believed there must have been “something” to believe in, I just wasn’t sure what.  I couldn’t say for certain there was NO god. I couldn’t prove that god didn’t exist. But neither could I prove god does exist. That feeling of disquiet I felt as a kid remained. I wanted to believe in something; to give me “purpose” and focus.

When my daughter converted to Judaism and lived as an Orthodox Jew in Israel, I was in awe of her strength of passion, and again jealous of her sense of commitment and surety. I was jealous that she was so sure of what she believed that she was willing to turn her life upside down for it. That she had a way of ordering her life that made sense to her. I struggled. Why was I here? What was my purpose? What was the purpose of the Universe?

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I reflected on my jealousy and realised part of it stemmed from the fact that if there was no god and if I did not follow a religion, then everything was up to me, and I had to be responsible for all my own actions. That burden sometimes felt too heavy. I wanted someone to tell me how to live my life and how I should act.

I have changed my mind again and now I feel liberated and free. I have discovered there are people like me and we are called humanists. Why did it take nearly 60 years to find this out?

Humanists believe in science. They do not believe in God, gods or supernatural beings. They do not believe in an afterlife. They believe we live one life and we have a moral obligation to live that one life well. To not damage others or the universe. To exist in harmony and peace.

Notre Dame - God's grandest house?
Notre Dame

Humanists understand that life is uncertain and we can not know everything. We can, however, use rational thought, experimentation and our senses to learn about and then explain our universe and the amazing things in it.

That describes what I think and believe. There are people out there who feel the same way and hold conferences, have debates and write books I never knew existed. I have found my tribe! My lack of religion is not a calamity, it is not a shortfall in my character or upbringing. It is sensible, rational and true.

I came from nothing, I will become nothing. I have no memories of life before I was born because there was no consciousness. When I die, I will again have no capacity to feel or think and I will be nothing but a pile of saggy flesh and bones hopefully nourishing a tree.

I will be gone, and maybe I will be remembered kindly by those who knew me. That is up to me, and how well I live my one life.

 

 

House of God?

 

Huntsville Space and Rocket Center

Old Chook in Space!

I have never had dreams of being a astronaut but the prospect of a week at Space Camp in America was exciting. Educational, related to my work as a science teacher and 100% tax deductible! After a few emails back and forth with my science-nerd travel buddy Bec, we had applied, been accepted and booked. We built a science-based trip around the week in Huntsville, Alabama. It would start with a few days in San Francisco, a week in Montana doing a dinosaur dig, a road trip through Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. We flew to Alabama from Los Vegas after a few days of non-science-y luxury in a casino resort.

US Space and Rocket Center

The US Space and Rocket Centre is not part of NASA but has close ties to them. They have lots of equipment related to the Apollo Missions and a decommissioned space shuttle. They run summer camps for children and occasionally camps for educators. These Educators’ Camps are for STEM teachers and concentrate on the disciplines of maths and physics as they relate to space travel.  We spent our days participating in hands-on activities that we could use in our own classrooms. The photos below show an experiment where we made our own heat shields. The idea was for the egg NOT to get cooked.

Science teachers work as teams

We worked in teams, my team, Destiny; had teachers from the US, Canada and Bec and I from Australia. Destiny trained for two simulations; landing the space shuttle and piloting the moon lander. I am afraid to say we crashed the Space Shuttle! Even though we all knew it was a simulation it was a very intense experience. Using the thick folders of procedures  the “real” astronauts use, we flicked switches, punched in numbers, and ran a communications log. The two hours went by in a flash and we all emerged in a cold sweat.

Space Camp Food?

We stayed in student accommodation at the near-by University of Alabama  in quad-share apartments. Comfortable but not glamorous. All our meals were at the camp centre. I have to say this was the worst part of the experience. The meals were not good, although the meals provided for the teachers were 100% better than those provided for the kids who were on camp at the same time!

 

Holiday friendships

I made some strong friendships at Space Camp and keep in contact with several team members. It’s probably a once in a lifetime adventure that I wouldn’t repeat but my life is richer for it. I still look back on my photos and giggle at the fun we had.  The white rabbit belonged to my niece and nephew and he was the trip mascot.

Costs:

The fee for the camp was all inclusive. It was around $US750. There was a scholarship which could cover the cost but we didn’t get that and had to pay ourselves. There were very few opportunities to spend money as our time was almost completely booked up with Space Camp activities. We went out to a nearby bar once. So apart from the initial cost we didn’t spend much.

This machine simulates the use of an external jet pack.

The video below is from the Space Camp’s website.