I’m not sure I want to be called an atheist anymore
I change my mind a lot. For most of my life I have been on an involuntary spiritual journey that has led me into and out of Christianity, through explorations of Buddhism, through agnosticism and into atheism. And now I am not sure where I am heading.
This year I’ve decided that I’m not sure I want to be called an atheist anymore, even though I don’t believe in god(s). I know according to the dictionary that I am an atheist, but I’ve become disillusioned with the atheist movement, which largely seems to thrive on making fun of believers and ignoring the desire for spiritual fulfillment that most people feel.
Although I have some Christian friends in America, over the past years, I have found myself viewing all religious people as some sort of monolithic negative stereotype, hell bent on controlling everything and everyone, and teetering on the edge of insanity. I spent the summer in Lithuania where I met people from all over the world, I found that I’d made new friends who were Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, Buddhist, agnostic, and “just spiritual.” Although we didn’t talk very much about religion, we engaged in meaningful and interesting conversations about many different topics. I found myself rethinking the stereotypes I’d come to accept, and wanting to engage more fully with people of differing backgrounds and philosophies. I want to be open to see where my own spiritual journey will take me next, and I am not willing to be pegged down by labels or stereotypes, even those of my own invention.
I’ve recently read pieces by two other women authors who are in places that I admire. I’d like to share a few of their words with you.
Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka The Yarn Harlot, is a well known knitting author who has outed herself as an atheist who can appreciate religion and spirituality.
I attended St. Paul’s Cathedral for the Sung Eucharist. Many of you will know that I often say that I am a godless heathen, which is to mean that I do not keep with any particular church, and that I am (gasp) an atheist. This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t respect or enjoy religion in general, and as a matter of fact, there is a very great deal I find my personal moral code has in common with much of organized faith, particularly when it comes to the basic rules that almost all faiths…. and all good people, have in common. (It is the interpretation of those rules that defeats me. Stuff like “Thou shalt not kill” or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”being interpreted as “Thou shalt not kill unless you happen to think that the other person isn’t really a person because of your own rules” or ” do unto others as you would have them do unto you unless you think that simply being a human isn’t a good enough reason to receive human rights” is a problem for me. I would have been invited to no parties at all during the Crusades.)
I loved the sermon (topic involved how being a good Christian must include being an environmentalist, should you respect the work of God at all) and was profoundly moved by almost all of the sentiment. When I was offered a sign of peace, and made that same sign to others, and the organ swelled and the choir sang, I was filled with an enormous feeling… A respect for the monumental force that is human faith. Although I don’t place my faith in a supreme being whom I believe to be sentient, I am faithful. I have faith in the goodness of people. Faith in the love I have for my friends and family, faith in the love they have for me. I have faith that people will almost always do the right thing, especially if they are not hungry or poor or homeless, or worried about becoming hungry or poor or homeless. I have faith that most poor human behaviour is driven by ignorance, not cruelty. I have a mountain of faith, and that was what I had in common with everyone else in that church. Faith. Different sorts of it, but faith nonetheless, and it was a very human and binding experience.
Sharman Apt Russell, another author I admire, has written the new book Standing in the Light: My Life as Pantheist. This book, which I’ve only begun to read, is giving me a glimpse into another, less conventional way, to explore spirituality — without superstition.
I am fifty-one years old, sliding toward death, and I don’t much like myself. I have failed at so many things–not the very best writer, not the very best wife or friend, not even the very best parent. I don’t much like the world either, which is too full of suffering and disease and war, as the world has always been. I am acutely aware of how my country has betrayed itself, refusing once again to fulfill its potential, to be wise and strong. I am acutely aware of how humanity has betrayed itself, poisoning the earth, heedless of the future we create for our children. As a Quaker, I have lost my sense of the Light. I dislike town. I don’t feel special. I am surrounded by miracles–the porch step, the blue sky, black ravens croaking and gurgling–only I don’t see the connection. What do they have to do with me?
Still, I feel hopeful. My husband and I have a house in the Gila Villey and a new view of mountains. Living in nature will restore me. This time, I will pay more attention. This time I will take along some friends, books I haven’t read for many years, some things I have forgotten. I will take along my science, my neglected pantheism, my neglected Quakerism. If I know anything, I know that I do not want to live in a universe devoid of community, mystery, and awe. I do not want to be alone in my brain, my timid and lazy personality, unconnected to the rest of the world. I cast my lot with Spinoza, Thoreau, and Einstein. I want to live every minute in a holy universe, so pleased and grateful to be part of this existence.
Of pantheism, I will ask the questions we must ask of any religion: How can I lead a better and more joyful life? How can I come to terms with my death and suffering? How should we live as humans on the earth? Ho can we be at home here?
These are the same questions we must ask of ourselves, those of us without religion. Desire, it seems, is the beginning of every journey. Whether we love or hate the current state of the world and of ourselves, if we can find the desire to grow and search, then — as they say in Lithuania — viskas bus gerai, everything will be all right. My own journey may be just beginning.
Cross posted on The Atheist’s Way.