I wrote a while back on how social activism could, really, be a spiritual path of its own. Admittedly, I’ve been consumed with these thoughts in tandem with being consumed with social activism. Learning about various upheavals and movements in school did not adequately prepare me for the reality of times like these, where I can see all the horrible decisions being made and I am filled with the drive to do something to resist and fight back, and yet so many people around me seem to be unconcerned. But the deep knowledge that this fight is important, that it is vital, is all-consuming.
Anyway, as I’ve been thinking about how this new reality feels a lot like religion did as a kid growing up in the church, I decided to look up the generally accepted list of characteristics of a religion to see how closely this fits. I may not believe in a deity, but I do strongly believe that what is going on in the world is destructive and hateful and wrong. In fact, my belief in that fact is much stronger than my faith in a god ever was. My participation in this feels exceedingly more fulfilling and powerful than participation in religion ever did. If I am to have a religion, I feel comfortable in stating that my religion is the resistance.
So, the first of the 8 elements of religion is that a religion has a belief system or worldview. Many place the whole of creation under a deity or group of deities, or at least place humanity there. Some have a hierarchy for humanity itself. There is usually some goal or intent placed upon humans or living beings, some reason we exist at all.
Frankly, as an atheist, none of these make any sense to me. But the ideal which has pushed to the forefront of my life over the last few months – that of equality and basic human rights for all people – is clear and logical.
This may just be me, but I’ve always thought of the kind of activism we’re seeing now as reactionary more than anything. People protest things or demand specific rights and concessions in response to specific events and changes in the world around them. What has, I think, generally kept me from considering activism as a form of spiritual practice or path is the difference between fighting for or against a specific thing and working towards a larger worldview. Now, as I think about it, I realize that activism would be better served by focusing more on the latter than the former. Certainly the work towards justice and equality won’t end if one group of protesters get their specific demands satisfied. There will still be more work to do, more hurdles to clear. There will ALWAYS be more.
In fact, we will not see the absolute attainment of our goals in our lifetimes. We know this. The work must be ongoing, and therefore this movement almost naturally becomes something akin to a religion. It can invade every aspect of life, this drive to fight wrongs and make the world better, in a manner otherwise only duplicated by religion. And there is no shortage of ways to integrate the struggle into one’s life.
For atheists, the idea that humanity is responsible for its own survival and evolution can, I think, quite comfortably take the place of religious dogmas in a meaningful practice. It requires no faith other than that which keeps you fighting and working. And, perhaps, that’s the hardest part of this. If our worldview is that all humans are meant to be treated justly and as equals, it suggests that we have to believe the goal is, at some level, attainable. That our work actually gets us somewhere. And that’s where things get difficult. When it seems the world is hurtling towards hate and injustice and tyranny despite all we can manage to do, it’s easy to lose hope.
It is, perhaps, the one type of faith we atheists can comfortably hold onto.