New snow

One evening not long ago, I took the garbage and recycling out to the curb. A gentle snow was falling, drifting down through the orange glow of the street lights.

I stood in the serene silence, contemplating the scene. The marks of vehicles and feet, grit and grime, were all disappearing beneath a pristine orange-white blanket. My subconscious gently whispered a single word to me:


It was a forgiving snowfall.

It was a peaceful sensation, standing at the curb, watching the forgiving snow fall, feeling the cool night air against my cheeks. It suffused me with an unlooked-for sense of relief, of release from the stresses and worries of the day. I began to reflect on the appeal of forgiveness (a concept that seems to be a central, motivating element in more than one religious system).

I saw how someone in my position, feeling what I felt right then, might infer a divine forgiver behind the emotion (rather than dismissing it as simply coming from their own mind*). After all, forgiveness is normally granted by someone else.

And of course, if one is forgiven, it is generally in response to a transgression of some sort. You are forgiven for something. A sin.

And the forgiver must have had some alternative (or else what’s the point?). If forgiveness were not granted, then what? Punishment. Retribution. Some sort of supernatural gulag. Hell.

I noticed that, in a short series of very natural steps, I had been led from a remarkable experience to imagining the invention of a religion – a religion with a very familiar structure. I felt, as I don’t think I have felt so strongly ever before, how appealing are those belief systems that hold up forgiveness as a central reward of participation. I could see why someone might want to believe. Why I might want to believe.

I don’t know. I don’t know whether my chain of imagination in any way reflects the birth sequence of any actual human religion. I don’t know if any individual person has ever come to religious belief through such an experience.

Though it was powerful and moving, the sensation and the thoughts it inspired did not make a believer out of me. It was wonderful, memorable. It begins to give me a little more insight into how my mind works, how I process things emotionally.

But it does not look to me like evidence of a supernatural realm, of a divine forgiver.

I think – I hope – that the experience has given me a new sympathy for believers, a new ability to see why they find their beliefs so attractive. We shall see.


* It is both curious and telling that, in response to atheists’ skepticism, believers often challenge them by asking if they think these experiences are simply in their heads. As if anyone with even a passing familiarity with neural physiology or human psychology could ever describe the physical mind as “simple”. Your brain is incredibly powerful, and is doing so much more work processing the input of your senses and curating your memories than you are ever conscious of.


One Response to “New snow”

  1. tts Says:


    […]New snow « Friendly Humanist[…]…

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: