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?

Hard Earned Gains

What do we get for the time and effort we put into faithful adherence to our spiritual traditions?

Some promise salvation, a future reward for choosing the right side.  They operate like an insurance policy, where your faith and works are taken as payment to ensure a future payout.

Some promise enlightenment, a state of being you can achieve if you work hard enough and make the right choices.  They operate like a personal trainer, where you are guided through systems and decisions and the repetitive perfection of skills in order to become different than you were before.

Some promise power, access to resources and skills that others don’t know how to use.  They operate like a discount club, where your adherence and practice get you a membership card, and you’re promised access to the skills and knowledge you need to get what you want.

As for me, I’d rather be part of one that promises development, a combination of knowledge and opportunities for learning which can be used to improve yourself.  One that operates like a university, where you get to choose your own path towards self-improvement enabled by people who know things you want to learn.  One that provides guidance and instruction, but also provides opportunities to contribute to the larger body of thought and information.

What do you get for what you put into your own spiritual path?

Inside Looking Out

There are days when I feel like so much is going on in the world that I want to be part of, that my day to day obligations hold me back from experiencing.  I know I’m not alone in that, and it’s the very feeling that drives people to seek to make their passions into careers.  If only they could get paid for doing the things they feel most alive and engaged doing, then their lives would be so much better?

The problem is that I’ve tried that, and it didn’t really get me any closer to satisfaction on that front.  I began to enjoy that particular passion less and less, and still found myself wanting to experience life more deeply in other ways.  The more time and effort and money I poured into one passion, the less I had for others.

In the end, I think what I proved is that the natural limits of time and energy are what stand in the way of me experiencing life as deeply as I want to.  No matter how much I give towards my passions and curiosities, there will always be a deficit.

And there is no easy solution for this.

We can manage the frustration by trying to limit or focus our desires for more robust engagement with the world.  It’s a difficult task, one which requires learning to prioritize and balance and let go of things.  Much like the struggle I’ve gone through recently of trying to figure out how to fully engage in the activism I’m drawn to without letting myself get burnt out or spread too thin.  It’s involved picking priority engagements, setting standards for what I say yes to (and demonstrating the ability to say no otherwise), and having a way to prioritize the things I give my extra time and energy to. It’s also involved convincing myself that it’s perfectly acceptable for important work to go on without me, which is not a factor of not trusting others to get it done but rather a factor of me not wanting to miss out.

We can also learn to be a bit more critical of our expectations for certain experiences.  Feeling that there’s too much we want to immerse ourselves in and that our lifestyles are barriers to experiencing essential things can very well be a type of escapism.  It’s easier to see the potential for fulfillment in things we consider beyond our reach than it is to deal with realities we don’t know how to cope with.  I’ve realized over the years that a desire to stay up later, to take on more projects, to make my to-do list as long as possible with things that only involve myself is a clear sign that I’m trying to avoid facing a very real problem elsewhere in my life.

How do you approach a desire to experience life more deeply than you do now?