When I showed my wife, Laurel, what book I'd bought at the wonderful Paulina Springs Book Company in Sisters, Oregon, she said, "Gosh, you've become as enthusiastic a believer in atheism as you were a believer in what you believed before."
Well, that's a lot of "beliefs" in one sentence. And I have to disagree with one of them, because I don't consider that I believe in atheism.
Rather, to me atheism is the default position that everyone should accept, absent demonstrable evidence for theism. It is the absence of a belief in God, just as aunicornism is what we could term the lack of belief in unicorns.
If I ever have a good reason to believe in some divinity, believe me, I'll start believing. But until that day comes, which I suspect it never will, I prefer to live my life authentically, not falsely.
It's difficult, though, to give up all vestiges of unfounded believing. Here's an example.
I'm getting a Suzuki Burgman 650 scooter. Laurel isn't wild about this, as she thinks (correctly) that motorcycles and scooters are dangerous. Yet it's also correct that motorcycling is as dangerous as you make it.
To my mind, it's a matter of meaning, or values. I value scootering. Laurel doesn't. Vive le difference.
But recently we had breakfast with some neighbors, and they were as down on my scooter purchase as Laurel is. Later she said, "See, the universe is sending you a message!"
Hmmmm. I didn't receive the message from the universe that she got.
Plus, I don't believe that the universe, or any other cosmic entity, sends people messages. I used to, though, so I can understand why this notion appeals to those who find an uncaring cosmos disconcerting.
My experience is that churchlessness isn't accomplished in one fell swoop. It's natural to cling to vestiges of religiosity, letting go of the most obvious dogmas while continuing to embrace subtler forms of unfounded metaphysics.
In the book I mentioned above,"The Atheist's Way: Living Well Without Gods," Eric Maisel mentions some of these seemingly non-religious belief systems.
Following is a lengthy excerpt from the "If you currently believe" section.
I'm sharing it because I think Maisel makes some excellent points. Often a person's religiosity just changes form rather than fading away. Realizing this helps us answer the question, "Am I truly living the churchless life that I aspire to?"
Maisel issues an invitation to live the atheist's way, then says:
I offer you this same invitation if you participate in one of the "river" religions. Some religions, such as Buddhism and Taoism, do not posit the existence of gods. I am calling these disparate religions river religions to distinguish them from god-based religions and to catch something of their flavor.
The river religions tend to posit an indivisible reality flowing eternally. At first glance this view of life does not seem too incompatible with the atheist's way. The river religions can be very attractive to people who do not believe in bearded gods dictating to humankind.
But they are no less false than the god-based religions, because ultimately they are dogmatic and create an unnecessary wall between a person and reality.
And what about an enthusiasm for Wicca, paganism, past lives, psychic powers, remote viewing, spoon bending, astrology, Tarot, the I Ching, palm reading, haunted houses, sacred sites, vampires, seances, and a thousand other variations of new age, paranormal, and supernatural belief?
These too interfere with your ability to assess well, to choose well, and to live well, and therefore they ought to be discarded. Like the god religions and the river religions, our supernatural enthusiasms have their undeniable seductive side, their psychological pull, and their blandishments.
But they don't serve you any better than god-talk or river-talk. Believing in them, investing time and energy in them, and imbibing in their metaphoric power diminish you. The more you consult your chart, the more personal power you relinquish; the more you identify a site as "sacred," the less real you make your life.
The god religions, the river religions, and the world of supernatural enthusiasms do not serve you. They force you to rein in your intelligence, they make claims that you do not honestly believe, they smell of illegitimate shortcut, and they hurt your chances of taking a fearless inventory of your beliefs and charting a course that will make you proud.
Later in the book, Maisel speaks of how the word "spiritual" frequently is misused. Someone watches a beautiful sunset from an ocean beach and says later, "It was a marvelous spiritual experience."
No, it was a natural experience that made the person feel a certain way.
Making it into something other-worldly -- a message in a bottle sent from the distant realm of Spirit -- separates us from the occasion's immediate reality.
Sunset. Ocean. Feeling. Where's the need to put a label of spiritual on this? Why not simply describe what the experience meant to you? Directly. Honestly. Personally.
We might want to applaud her efforts, give her an award, and thank her in any heartfelt way that we like -- without adding supernatural language to our thanks.
...Your cousin says, "I had a spiritual experience"; you reply, "Oh, you had a meaningful experience. How nice for you."
Your co-worker says, "I've never had a more spiritual time than when I visited the formal gardens of England!" You reply, "Really? What was meaningful about that experience?" In this way you keep yourself supernatural-free and help others move in the direction of rationality.
I have a feeling I'd like Laurel. She seems to have a way of nailing things :)
Atheism is very much a religion and a set of strong beliefs. People who don't know are agnostics, and they don't try to convince everyone else they are right. Atheism has a creed and a need. It is out there like any other religion on the trail of converting the world to what they 'know' except they don't know either and should settle for being an agnostic but that would require they go onto some other pursuit that doesn't involve convincing the world they 'know' *s*
Posted by: Rain | June 06, 2009 at 06:44 AM
Rain, I understand where you're coming from. I used to lean more toward calling myself an agnostic. Part of the impetus for my liking "atheist" more came when I went to a meeting of the "spiritual" group I belonged to at the time, Radha Soami Satsang Beas, and heard a high-ranking representative say in a talk: "We are all atheists."
What he meant was, until someone has proof for the existence of God or some other divinity, they don't know this being or power is real. So until then, he or she is an atheist.
Most of the time, we don't have an agnostic position toward whether something exists. At least, that term isn't used. Sure, if someone asks, "Do you believe in Big Foot?" we might say, "Not really. But it's possible a giant creature is wandering in the woods."
We'd be unlikely to say, "I'm an agnostic about Big Foot." So it really is only in the area of religion that agnosticism, the word, thrives. I think it's because atheism is looked upon so poorly by so many people, agnosticism is a safe place to be for non-believers.
I do think that there are degrees of proof that something exists. However, if I see deer hoof prints in my yard, and previously I've seen deer in the flesh, I'm justified in thinking, "Deer were here last night."
God seems to be a much different matter. There is really no evidence of God's existence, so the burden of proof is on believers to explain how they can believe. I'd like to believe in a god or divinity, but I also want to be truthful to myself and not live inauthentically.
Posted by: Brian | June 06, 2009 at 08:51 AM
Truthfully I don't much like labels period. They frustrate me with their limitations. Some also don't like moderate as a label. It seems if you don't want to fit in the standard groups, labels are the most ineffective
Posted by: Rain | June 06, 2009 at 02:05 PM
"Letting go", can be quite hard when it's all possibly in your head, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104291534
Posted by: JJQ | June 07, 2009 at 01:49 AM
Semantics. Spirit is the way you feel. Your rigid conformity of the word sprit is dogma.
Posted by: Josie | June 03, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Josie, I agree that for me (and seemingly for you), "spirit" is the way we feel. As in, "That boosted my spirit."
But most religious people view spirit as something other worldly, supernatural, divine. As in, "I sensed the Holy Spirit." People who look upon spirit in that fashion are the dogmatic ones, not me.
Posted by: Brian Hines | June 03, 2012 at 04:31 PM