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Posts from the ‘Universalism’ Category

The Egg

earth_egg

I just read a very short story by a guy named Andy Weir. You should read it too. It’ll just take a sec.

http://www.galactanet.com/oneoff/theegg_mod.html

I have trouble really getting on board these days with any explanation of reality that comes in a story type of package like this one, but a physical/biological translation of it I can definitely relate to.

We give rise to ourselves. Along with physical traits, build, etc, we inherit emotional tendencies and patterns of thought from our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, and the first living beings that ever were. We are all just different combinations of the same genes, the same chemicals. And different types of atoms are, again, just different combos of even smaller particles. And they all just keep getting shuffled around to change the manifestation of things. But nothing is really changed at the bottom of it all. Nothing is created or destroyed (at least as far as we can tell right now). We ARE all one big Thing, really.

Which is just weird.

And it’s even more weird that all this changing and shuffling matters at all.

But it does. For some reason it matters so much to us. For some reason this stuff that everything is made of has developed self-awareneess. And feels things about itself, and has wants and hopes and fears and questions.

Weird, weird, weird.

I love thinking about this. It kinda freaks me out, but also gives me this shot of adrenaline or something. Like a good-scary movie.

The thought that we are all one, and that every change in my life that I perceive as good or bad is really just a million little shufflings of the universe, makes life more handle-able. It doesn’t make those perceptions less real or emotional, but it makes them all okay. And it makes people more lovable to me, and my own shortcomings more forgivable. It makes fashion and money and love and lust and adventure and accomplishment more of a fun game to be enjoyed, and less of a do-or-die. It makes life more real but somehow less serious.

And as my dear friend (who found this story and thought to share it with me) has somehow known innately since he was probably about six and a half, life should never be taken too seriously.

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Christians and Pagans and Atheists and Einstein

There is a great song by Dar Williams called Christians and Pagans. If you’ve never heard it, have a listen:

Back in 2009, when I was reeling from the shock of loosing my life-long faith, scrambling to reconstruct some semblance of a worldview, and aching over the huge gash that had been torn in the safe, warm, loving fabric of my family relationships, this song was my catharsis.

And my hope.

I would sit and listen to it on repeat, fighting tears, aching inside for the all of the parents and children, brothers and sisters, cousins and grandparents and friends throughout human history who, for whatever reasons, have found themselves on opposite sides of a dividing line.

Having one’s heart strings stretched across the brick and mortar and barbed wire and chasms we’ve constructed between various ideological camps – it hurts.

When I lost my Christian faith, I didn’t stop loving my Christian family. And they didn’t stop loving me. And while I understand the reasoning and experiences that have led them to their conclusions, I have had other experiences that have led me to mine. Ones that can be explained in words, but not fully transmitted.

How can I expect my parents to follow the winding trail my mind and heart have travelled since I left home? And how can I begin to understand the lives they lived before I was born, and even after, inside their own minds and hearts, that have forged and strengthened their own convictions about life?

I can’t. We are all stuck inside our own heads, and there is only so much that can be shared through words.

And that leaves us in this awful tug ‘o’ war between love and pain.

I hope that someday it will be like it is in the song – that my family and I will be able to gather around the table, hold hands, celebrate the beauty of life, and choose to respect each other as equally intelligent, good, legitimate people, accepting each other’s differences and seeming crazy-ness in spite of our mutual inability to comprehend, understanding that we are all just trying to “[make] sense of history and [draw] warmth out of the cold.”

I guess we are pretty close to that already, maybe even farther along in some respects. And I am so thankful for that – for my parents’ determination to stay in my life and love and support me, to allow me to participate in theirs; for their growing willingness to engage me in conversation on philosophical topics, to ask what I really think, to clarify what they really think. I am thankful for my siblings’ continued support and communication and care.

I know at times it would probably be less painful for all of us to just go do our own things and check in occasionally to discuss the weather and other innocuous topics.

I’m so thankful that’s not my family.

The one thing I am wishing these days is that they could identify with this line from the song that I love so much, the one that goes, “And you find magic from your god and we find magic everywhere.”

There is magic in life. There is beauty and awesomeness and mystery. I experienced it as a Christian. And I experience it now as an naturalist, perhaps even more profoundly. And it is those who live in light of this magic, wherever they find it, that, I think, tend to be the kind of people that other people want to be around and who, little by little, are loving the world to a better place.

Albert Einstein probably said it best:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

I, of course, believe that the most accurate, whole, and satisfying perspective from which to experience this awe is a naturalistic/humanistic one.

But whether you consider yourself a Christian, a pagan, an atheist or anything else in between, I hope you are finding it – that magic, that sense of wonder, that keeps your inner spark alive, that makes life worth living.

If you are not, don’t waste another minute. Life is short. Go get it. And don’t be afraid of boxes and lines. Crossing them might be painful. It might stretch some cords. But love is amazingly elastic. And amazingly strong.

And the wonder is worth the pain.

Don’t Be A Fundie, Be A Kid

I used to be a Christian fundamentalist. I used to believe that The Bible was the inerrant word of God; that it was the clear, explicit, absolute, ultimate Truth, never to be questioned; that those who believed otherwise were either ignorant or intentionally turning a blind eye.

At least, I thought that’s what I believed.

When I had my “quarter-life crisis” and started really desperately searching for Meaning and Purpose and Answers, and started really studying the Bible in depth for the first time, I realized that I had been basing my life on one interpretation of the Bible that existed among thousands, one that was selected for me by the chances of birth and education.

That realization was partly what forced me to open my mind and consider that I could have it wrong; that somewhere out there among the billions of other people who believed billions of other things, there could be someone who had it more right.

I consider that dawning to be one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

I was home for Easter a couple of weekends ago. I spent time with my parents and brother, sharing meals and goodnight hugs, talking in depth on topics that are too touchy for over-the-phone conversations, attending Sunday service with them at my old church.

And I had a horrible wake-up call: I realized I was in danger of becoming a fundamentalist all over again. Not as a Christian, this time, but as an atheist.

When I was young, the certainty with which I held my Christian beliefs was perpetuated by the homogeneity of my social circle. I was never forced into close contact with anyone who thought much differently than I. Everyone I knew and trusted supported me in my perspective. We all believed the same thing. We all talked in the same terms. Our beliefs were affirmed and reinforced daily as we continued to talk mostly with each other.

My world now is much less homogeneous. I live in the middle of a large and ethnically diverse city. I come in contact daily with people from many different backgrounds and persuasions. I have friends who are gay, friends who are Evangelical, Catholic, Muslim and Buddhist; friends who are older, younger, single, married.

You’d think this would keep me pretty open-minded.

But here is the problem. Deep down, I want to be affirmed. I want to be right. And so I gravitate toward those friends who make me feel that I am. They are the ones I am most honest with, most vulnerable with. They are the ones I spend the most time with, the ones I really let into my heart and mind.

And that is not good.

Because it isn’t until you really let someone in, really learn to love them, that you can really understand them. And without understanding, it is far too easy to let our tribal nature take over and turn the Different into Evil. We need understanding. We may not always agree with a person, but we do need to try to see where he/she is coming from.

Being at home with my family and old friends, I remembered again how the world looks from their perspective. And I remembered that, just as my beliefs are the product of the chance encounters and experiences life has brought my way completely apart from my own volition, so are theirs.

I have a good Christian friend who went away to grad school and fell in love with a “flaming liberal.” It totally took her by surprise. And it was really a shock for him too, to find himself in a relationship with her. We he left his hometown for the school (which happened to be in the South), his friends teased him about falling for a “fundie,” which is pretty much what she was at the time.

Oh Life, you are so ironic.

Though the relationship didn’t last, and involved the hurts and complications that many relationships do, I think it was good for both of them – to come face to face with “The Enemy” and realize that underneath the unfamiliar style and mannerisms and terminology, they really both wanted the same things: to be happy and healthy, for the world to be happy and healthy, to be forgiven for their shortcomings and loved unconditionally.

I wish every person could learn to love someone different; someone they might once have thought unlovable. I think it would make the world a much better place.

In closing this post, I need to say two things:

First, to Christians or theists reading this blog, I apologize if I have ever made you feel belittled or stereotyped. I may not agree with you about some things, but I understand why you hold the convictions you do, and that just like me you think what you think and you do what you because you believe earnestly that it the most best/right thing to think and do.

Second, to Christians and atheists and people of all creeds and colors, let’s not be “fundies.” Let’s not pridefully and unbendingly assume that we have it all figured out and the rest of the world are idiots. Let’s honestly and humbly engage in conversation and try to understand each other.

Let’s try to remember that we are all on the same team. We are all part of one tribe. If there is an enemy to be fought, it is the tragic need we have to protect our own egos and cling stubbornly to absolutes that bring us a false sense of security.

We’ve got to let go of that. We’ve got to be free.

In Matthew 18, Jesus urges his audience to “become as little children.” No matter what you believe about the Bible and it’s origins or the identity of Jesus Christ, that is good advice.

Because the thing about children is that they are free; free of shame, of fear of judgement, of the need to judge others; free of assumptions and certainties. They recognize the incompleteness of their own knowledge. They live with humility.

In their unassumingness, kids build bridges. Fundies build walls.

Let’s be kids.

Why This Atheist Still Gets Up In The Morning

monks

Sometimes, even on sunny Saturday mornings, I have moments when I feel like quitting.

Which is ridiculous considering how easy my life is compared with most. I have a clean, warm home; a closet full of clothes; plenty of food to eat; a job and health care and friends and family to love; and on top of all that, nobody shooting at me. That is a lot.

But still, even when life is easy, life is hard. It is hard in other ways, inside.

You see the never-ending conflict and hurts and injustices between people. You carry the guilt of collective practices that are damaging the earth. You experience and/or anticipate the inevitable pain and frustration and limitations of aging. And, in very lucid moments, you realize the immanence of your own death and the deaths of those you love.

And you just can’t help thinking…what’s the point?

When I had these days as a Christian (and I had plenty of them), I would collapse into a heap and throw myself onto the mental safety net of God’s omnipotence. I didn’t know how he was gonna do it, but I had complete faith that, somehow, someday, he would make everything right.

There is a quote by Julian of Norwich in her work, Showing of Love, referencing the ultimate end, that says, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

I came across it in my universalist days (which turned out to be, for me, the gateway to atheism), and it brought me a lot of peace, believing that no matter how much I screwed up my own life or humanity screwed itself, God would fix it. He would make everything okay.

I would remind myself of that, and stand up, put my head down, and just keep going, and hoping.

I think the emotional need to have this fail-proof back-up plan of The-Salvation-Of-Everything is a huge part of why so many people are compelled to believe in some sort of god concept.

We don’t want to be ultimately responsible for ourselves. We want that cosmic mommy/daddy out there who will pick us up, dust us off, pay the bill, change the tire, and reassure us that everything is under control; that we are safe.

If you were lucky enough to have an earthly parent or two who did those things for you, you know as I do what a gift that is. It makes the transition into adulthood much less painful.

But it is still painful.

At some point, we all have to grow up. And growing up means learning to be your own parent: your own fixer and protector, your own last resort, your own safe place. It means being responsible for your own life.

And if you, like me, happen to not believe in a personal god with a will and the unlimited power to manipulate this reality, it also means being responsible for ALL of existence – this miraculous, inexplicable, self-existing, crazy, beautiful phenomenon that we are privileged by our consciousness to witness. It is a precious and fragile thing, life. And if there is no god, it is up to us to preserve it.

That is when things get really weighty. When you realize that.

Now, when I have those what-is-the-point days, I can’t just throw up my hands and trust that “All shall be well.”

But I can still hope. And I can act.

I read a story recently (a true one) in a book by Joanna Macy, about some Buddhist monks in Tibet who were exiled from their country by the Chinese and only decades later were allowed to return. They, their homes, monasteries, and communities had suffered terribly during the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the fifties, and seven years after returning, they were still rebuilding the center of culture and education their land had once been.

The political atmosphere, however, remained volatile. No one could predict what might happen in a year, or ten years.

The following passage from the story explains a revelation the author had while she and her husband were there in Tibet, observing the monks’ efforts, and wondering about their will to continue in the face of unlikely odds. It was revelatory for me, as well.

As we stood on the outer wall, I watched Bon-pa Tulku smile calmly as my husband queried him about Chinese policies and the prospects of another period of repression. I saw that such calculations were conjectural to him, as were any guarantees of success. Who knows? And since you cannot know, you simply proceed. You do what you have to do. You put one stone on top of another and another on top of that. If the stones are knocked down, you begin again, because if you don’t, nothing will get built. You persist. Through the vagaries of government policies you persist, because in the long run it is persistence that shapes the future.

When I have my giving-up days, now, I still do the same thing I did as a Christian: I stand back up and keep going.

It could be that in spite of my efforts, our efforts, the world may not improve much. And I’m pretty sure it’s never going to be perfect. So I’m left to choose between two evils:

I can plop my butt down and live out my days in selfish hedonism, starved for meaning and fulfillment, depressed that life isn’t the way I want it to be.

Or, I can pull myself up by the bootstraps, head back out into the fray every day, do the little bit I can in my little corner of the world, and hope for the best.

Both options are hard, and either way, life is going to suck a lot of the time.

It makes more sense to me to do the hard, sucky thing that MIGHT produce some good – some positive change that could benefit our children and grandchildren and maybe even alter the course of evolution and consciousness – than to do the hard, sucky thing that is guaranteed to find us a hundred years from now squatting in the same dark hole, or worse.

And I see enough good, enough beauty, enough creativity and awesomeness and love in humanity to make all the frustration and set-backs and agony of the journey worth it, to make life worth preserving.

I hope you do too.

Because it is not “persistence” as a vague notion that shapes the future, but persistence lived out by individual, real people – like Bon-pa Tulku, like you, like me – who together form communities and societies and countries and the human race.

If humanity is going to persist, you and I must first.

Greta Christina

I’m telling you, there are some brilliant minds in the world. And the one that happens to reside inside the head of Greta Christina, atheist blogger, speaker, and author of growing renown, is one of them.

My first exposure to Greta was in an article entitled “Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do With God,” which profoundly affected me. I already knew when I read it that I no longer believed in the Heaven-Hell scenario, and while it had been one of the most joyous discoveries of my life that no human being was going to be suffering torment for eternity after all (I had a little, solo crying dance party in my apartment over it) I had also laid awake for a few nights, feeling the weight and fear and incomprehensibility of my own very likely, eventual non-existence, and for the finality with which I would be forced at some point to say goodbye to my parents, my siblings, my loved ones. For a while, it was terrifying.

I think I would have come to terms with it eventually, but her article helped speed the process along.

When I discovered her blog, it was with great delight. Every mental debate I have had regarding Christianity (or personal-interventionist-God-based religions in general), she has addressed there, it seems, and nearly every “Aha” moment I’ve experienced in which things instantly made so much more sense, she has already lived.

I’m not sure I agree 100% with every single one of her thoughts and opinions, but it is nice finding someone who has not only been where you are and come to many of the same conclusions about What-It-All-Means, but also expresses them so thoroughly, so eloquently-yet-plainly, so frankly, and, to boot, very humorously.

Here is an article of hers I read just yesterday, posted on Alternet.org, on why skepticism is not only NOT a bad thing, but necessary in living life to the fullest: Why We Must Always Be Skeptical.

I’m not even going to try to review it, because I will just end up saying exactly what she said, only not as well. It is longish, for an internet article, but you’re just going to have to read it. It is worth it.

I encourage you to check out her blog, too, particularly if you are interested at all in philosophy or religion. The first time I landed there, I was lost for hours wandering through post after amazing post going, “YES!” “Totally!” “Oh my gosh, duh!” Maybe you won’t feel the need to share with the world your inner acquiescence, but I think – at least on some points – you will acquiesce whole-heartedly.

Before you stop over, a little disclaimer: Greta Christina frequently uses some colorful language. If that is offensive to you, be warned. Also, one of the main topics she addresses in conjunction with religion and other social constructions is sexuality, both in general and her own, specifically. She is quite liberal on this topic. If that makes you uncomfortable, this blog might not be your cup of tea.

The Rock Pool

I stumbled across the coolest blog a couple of days ago. If you get a burst of energy like I do from stepping momentarily into the world of another person and having your own world thereby expanded exponentially, you should check it out:

http://therockpool.wordpress.com

It is so exciting and affirming to me to experience a little bit of another life, different from my own in many ways, and yet, underneath the initially unfamiliar phrases and customs, just the same. There really is so very much of the human experience that is universal.

The blog is a compilation of “thoughts on life” from a number of younger women who range in cultural/religious backgrounds from LDS to Muslim. It has been so interesting to me, discovering that most of the ideas, issues, questions and conflicts that I have faced in my own American Evangelical Christian experience, are present in the communities of each of these women. I have watched videos of Islamic “pastors” (Imams, I believe?) speak on the very ideas I was raised with in my own family and church. I have read stories of an LDS woman’s husband “fathering” a little-league team of fatherless boys and how it made her love him even more. I have heard the laments of young women from every background wondering where on earth all the decent men are, while simultaneously devising ways in which to avoid being questioned by friends and family on their “relationships status”.

It is amazing to me that there has been so much conflict between cultures through time, because if you take just a few minutes to really listen to someone, you realize that their stories are the same as yours, their values very similar, their hopes and dreams and desires for life nearly identical. It is just the terminology and “packaging” that are a little different.

My accidental discovery of this blog could not have come at a better time. I have left Seattle for a week to visit my friends and family out in Central Washington, and it has been wonderful. But also very confusing.

You see, for me, this new journey into truth – my setting out to face reality as best as I can, and to live honestly in light of what I find – is completely uncharted. My reason and logic, my experience of human beings (including myself), what I know of history and biology and physics, what I’ve read on the development of the Bible and the Christian religion and my own experience with it, as well as what I’ve discovered about the statutes, values, and practices of other religions around the world, makes me pretty certain that A) there is no personal god out there listening to each of us individually and waiting to guide us or protect us, etc. and that B) if there is some sort of impersonal “life force” type of god (which I am not at all ruling out), that god does not belong to any one religion or denomination, and is definitely not going to be sending me or any other person to any sort of eternal hell for not figuring out what exactly his/her/its nature is and what he/she/it is all about.

I think there very well might me some sort of Life Force god out there, that people who follow most spiritual paths wind up connecting with at some point. I also think people are different, and experience spiritual life in different ways, and that is why there are so many different religions in the world. What I am still trying to decide right now is whether or not having some sort of religion to hold onto in tough times, to provide a framework/foundation on which to build a stable life, is necessary for living the kind of life I want to live.

In my mind, I can picture what it would be like to be a loving, caring, serving, conscientious, thoughtful, respectful, honoring, generous, persevering, hopeful atheist.  I can picture raising a family from that perspective. I can imagine a community of atheists/agnostics/deists living and working together and loving each other – caring for each other’s children, sharing each others burdens, talking about values and principles and the meaning of life. I think atheists have just as many reasons to live the life I’ve described as people of faith do. But the thing is, I haven’t seen it. I have known individuals here and there who don’t believe in God and yet live good, upstanding, loving, contributing, communicating, open, free and decent lives, but I honestly have never witnessed any sort of community like that. And I think that sort of community is SO important. I think it is the thing that is responsible for producing the admittedly higher levels of intentional self-sacrifice and “good-doing” that exist within faith communities. I have no precedent or model out there to look toward, however. (At least not any that I know of.)

This fact makes leaving the Christian community I was born into a little scary. Although I just CANNOT believe so many of its fundamental assumptions, and cannot support a number of its life prescriptions, the culture of Christianity – of my family – still feels natural and comfortable and safe because it is all so familiar and, in many ways, so, so, so good. When I am here at home, where I am the only one who thinks the way I think, I start to question myself. I try to picture coming back to Christianity – what it would be like, if it would even be possible, how it could work. I always decide that it can’t.

All that to say, my encounter with The Rock Pool was fortunate because it reminded me that the world is so much bigger than my family, my hometown, my circle of friends, and even my country. It reminded me that I am not the only one out there who thinks weird things about life – we ALL think things that seem totally bizarre to others. It reminded me that I am not the only person who has grown to see things differently and experienced conflict with loved ones because of it. And most of all, it gave me hope for the world – that one day people might really learn how to listen to each other and realize that, deep down, we are essentially all the same, and that, though we use different terminology to talk about life and what it is and what it all means, we are mostly all saying the same things.

Oh, with what eagerness I await that day! May the World of Blog continue in its quest (intentional or not) of bringing people together…