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Posts tagged ‘atheist’

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.

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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.