Brothers and Sisters

For many people, spirituality is a way to become part of a community.  You find acceptance and validation with people who believe what you believe.  Sharing a path with someone can be the foundation for a very deep bond.

There are a great many people who walk their spiritual path alone by choice.  I’ve largely been such a person for most of my life.  Even when I was part of larger, mainstream religions I chose not to participate in a lot of unnecessary gatherings or activities.  I needed personally relevant experiences, and for me those tend not to happen in groups.

Certainly now I can’t say that I know anyone whose beliefs mirror my own very closely.

Still, as I’ve contemplated the question of who out there believes what I believe, I’ve realized something possibly profound.  My spiritual beliefs, as I’ve talked about some on this blog, link strongly to my social activism.  And so, if I look at it from that perspective, I know many, many people who believe what I believe.  I stand at protests with them and organize with them.  Though our beliefs about the existence of a deity or what it means to be spiritual may differ, our beliefs about the value of humanity are the same.  And though I may elect to search alone for answers about what lies beyond and beneath our mundane existence, the type of personally relevant and transformative experiences I have in gatherings with this larger community are equally important to my spiritual self.

Perhaps we all do ourselves a disservice by seeking spiritual community only in spiritual settings.  Perhaps the communities we will benefit from the most are found when we put our spiritual beliefs into practice for a greater good.

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Luck of the Spiritual Draw

Another one of the ideas that wormed its way into my brain as a kid and set me down the path I’ve traveled is the realization that, had I been born nearly anyplace else in the world, I would likely have been taught a completely different religious belief system.  We put an awful lot of importance on the truth in our religions, and yet the single biggest determining factor in where our spiritual journey begins is the genetic lottery.

If one religion is assumed to be true and the rest false, and only a certain number of kids in the world “luck into” that religion at birth, what kind of deity are we dealing with? And since pretty much all the kids in the world are raised to believe that the religion they were born into is the correct one….

I mean, even as a kid this seemed like a pretty crappy system.

Ironically, as I’ve left various paths and found others, that path has largely been determined by chance as well.  Catholicism wasn’t the only faith I’d learned anything about or experienced in my college years.  What if I’d decided that Judaism felt really inspiring to me?  I had Jewish friends.  It was a possibility.  Catholicism was simply an emotional choice.  If my wife hadn’t expressed an interest in Wicca, I wouldn’t have started attending a pagan discussion group.  All of this has just been twists of circumstance.

For me, that’s not a big epiphany, nor does it invalidate my journey.  My view of religion and spirituality as a conglomeration of complicated but similar perspectives is quite different than it used to be, and it no longer includes concepts like “truth” in relation to “doctrine”.

But it’s fairly irrefutable that the vast majority of humans on earth believe what they believe because that’s simply how the dice rolled.  It’s all a big game of chance.

How does that reconcile with what you believe?

Perhaps I Should Wear a Warning Label

Ironically, of all the big revelations I’ve made to people about who I am and what I believe, my atheism is the one thing which strikes people as dangerous and detrimental. And I know it’s not unusual.  I know I’m not alone in that.  Atheism scares people. The roots of religion in the modern world run extremely deep.

It’s as if modern humanity is only now rediscovering that it’s possible to live without believing in a god.

In some ways, ironic as it is, it’s not surprising at all.  The predominant understanding of the history of mankind is that as soon as we properly existed as humans, we worshiped something.  The fact that research doesn’t back up the teachings of early missionary anthropologists doesn’t make its way into popular culture, so we’ve been fed a story of natural human spirituality and religion for centuries.

And if we believe that we’ve always worshiped a higher power, that this belief in a god is natural and ancient and simply a fact of our existence, it’s in some ways not hard to see how a dramatic break from that can be seen as a threat.  We threaten the presumed natural order of things.  Our existence challenges the very beliefs which underpin cultures worldwide.  If humans have always believed in a higher power, then what are we?

To be fair, atheists really do threaten the status quo.  The simple fact that many people question whether atheists have a sense of morality paints a stark picture of how deeply ingrained the idea that religion is natural to human existence really is.  We stand in counterpoint to ideas which have been used to create and shape and enforce societal standards for centuries, for good or bad.  So in that sense, I suppose we can be pretty scary.

Still, it’s pretty ironic that, held up against all the atrocities committed throughout history in the name of religion, the mere lack of belief in a deity would strike so many as so dangerous.

Has anyone ever told you that your beliefs were dangerous?

 

What Can You Give?

My spiritual life in the last several years has been a very private one, which has been a conscious decision.  I may talk about it in circles like this one where I can generally assume that if you stay to hear me you’re interested in what I have to say.  I have no desire to go around trying to convince people to follow my path.

However, there’s a big difference between proselytizing and contributing.  Surely, if a spiritual path is worth anything at all, it will call on those walking those footsteps to do something positive for others on and off the path.  And, it would follow, that the more solitary the spiritual journey, the more important it would be to contribute of oneself in ways that reach beyond spiritual practice.

In my own spiritual life, I choose to take this as a call to not just strive to improve myself, but to strive to improve what I can of the world around me.  This opens possibilities far beyond the feeding of the hungry and comforting the hurting.  This stretches into a search for opportunities to teach, to assist, to generally make myself useful when I can to efforts which I feel are beneficial to the world.

What does your spiritual path ask you to give to the world around you?

Out of the Mouths of Babes

There’s an interesting thing about wisdom.  It’s fairly universally assumed to come with age.  We look to our forebears to tell us what they’ve learned through their lives so that we don’t make the same mistakes they did, and we expect those younger than us to respect our opinions on account of our age and experience.

This forms the basis for most of our religions and spiritual practices.  We have more respect for older traditions and consider them to contain great wisdom.

The weird part of all this, though, is that the very mechanism assumed to impart this wisdom is the experience of change.  We realize that those older than us have been where we are and lived far past, that they’re different now than they were at our age, and that those changes have taught them things.

But then we completely disregard the changes which have imparted a far different kind of wisdom on the young.

If I were to be given the choice of seeking wisdom from either someone from the past or someone from the future, I would speak to the person from the future.  They will have experienced a reality built on the experiences of generations beyond myself, and that kind of wisdom would be earthshattering to us now.  The past?  While I’m sure there are many ideas and nuggets of wisdom which have escaped documentation and fallen away from collective memory, the most important lessons and wisdom of the past forms the foundation upon which our reality is built.  We have it already, if we choose to access it.  Not all of it is particularly relevant anymore.

As we get older, though, we actually have access to future wisdom all around us.  The younger generations grow up in a different reality than we did, one built on our own widsom.  And yet too many of us are too quick to dismiss them.  We expect that they will grow to understand reality just as we do, disregarding that that has never consistently been the case before.

And the change which makes each subsequent generation’s reality different changes the environment in which our spiritual lives occur as well.  Shouldn’t we put a little more value on the insight of the young?

All I Ever Wanted

If there’s one thing I’ve always wanted in my life, it’s the freedom and ability to be independent.  I’ve wanted to choose how my time is used, to prioritize what matters to me, and to not be restricted by the opinions of others.

If there’s one way I can describe the spiritual path I’m on right now, it’s one of freedom and ability to be spiritually independent.  I alone choose how to use my time and resources spiritually, I alone prioritize what’s important in my spiritual life, and my path is not subject to anyone else’s beliefs or opinions.

What have you always wanted in life?  Is your spiritual path giving that to you?

Faith and Fairy Tales

If there’s one thing you don’t want to do in the process of indoctrinating someone to a belief system, it’s telling that someone to study science.  Science and religion are both processes by which some form of truth is sought.  Religion tends to teach trust.  Science teaches us to look at evidence.

This is why, so often, the two are painted as opposites.  As enemies.

And that is why I am no longer in the faith I was raised in.  I was taught the faith, but I was also sent to school to learn and excel.  I was encouraged to take advanced classes, to be a good student.  So I did.  And I learned.  I learned to look at the world around me.  To look for evidence.  To not ignore certain pieces of evidence.

So what I learned to question most about my home faith was its method of verifying truth.  If the truth I was taught didn’t match with the evidence in reality, how were we so sure it was the truth?

Now, I will absolutely admit to trying to reconcile the two.  I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but for a while I followed the lead of those around me and got pretty good at apologetics.  It could get complicated, but there are all sorts of explanations one can come up with to bridge the gap between fact and faith.

But over time, those structures inevitably begin to crack.

If it takes that much effort to map reality to faith, faith to reality, then is your truth really true?  If you have to exclude evidence to validate your beliefs, isn’t your truth a lie?

Useful spirituality needs to apply to reality as it is, not as we imagine it to be.

Does your belief system describe reality or fiction?