I have, in what may be the understatement of the century, had an interesting spiritual life. I was brought up in C of E schools that essentially paid lip service to religion. My religious education was extremely lacking and I set out to find out more about what spirituality was on my own terms.
Finding out about Christianity was easy enough. There were bibles and assemblies that filled me in on a lot of stuff. As interesting as I found it, it didn’t really work for me as a belief. I couldn’t quite submit to the idea of a guy in the sky being stern and forgiving you for everything. I couldn’t really put my finger on why, but the one thing I enjoyed about it was the way the people came together. I filed that feeling away and talked to the guys who didn’t go to the C of E based assemblies by virtue of being Jewish or Mormon.
I found the differences fascinating.
I found the similarities intriguing.
For myself and my personal spirituality, though, I looked elsewhere.
Islam and Sikhism were all well and good, but again, didn’t really do it for me. I can absolutely respect their beliefs, but they along with Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, etc., just didn’t feel right for me. After a lot of thought, and in an attempt to qualify what I felt, I put it down to not having a connection with place that the religion started. I couldn’t really identify with the stories and peoples in those books, because they were so far removed – either by time or distance – to my own experience and while I could see the validity of the story and parables, it wasn’t of my culture.
This lead me to paganism with it’s roots being – broadly – about spirits of place. I studied and practised everything from Hedgewitchery to Golden Dawn, taking in Gardnerian Wicca, Chaos Magick, Shamanism and God(s) know what else.
I even taught people the various schools of Magick and spent many a cold night in the middle of a wet field performing rituals. The problem is, I’m not sure I ever really believed as such. I saw the value of it in anthropological terms and saw the value in terms of community and ritual behaviour. I was even a ‘state endorsed shaman’ for a while, but that’s a whole other story.
However, I didn’t really drop the scepticism and embrace faith. My ‘belief’ was academic. I was never secretive about my misgivings and I was lucky in that the people I practised with were sympathetic and by virtue of friendship/community, I wasn’t excommunicated! There was still great deal to learn, and a great deal you could learn from all of these faiths. I still believe that.
I flirted with Buddhism which – lacking Gods – is the thing I was most comfortable with and I still meditate and do the heart jewel chants simply because of the comfort value – there’s also a link between repetition and endorphin production, but that’s a different post altogether. Then something weird happened and I went back to Christianity. That was pretty catastrophic, all things considered, but again, a tale for another day.
I swung back and forth between systems of belief, all the time never truly finding out what it was that I believed in.
And that, after much searching and education, was that I didn’t believe in God.
I had always lived with the hope of life after death, the hope that there was something more. The hope that after death, someone would be waiting to tell me that everything was okay and there would be a new adventure waiting to be lived.
Losing that comfort was devastating. As a result, the world became colder, smaller and less forgiving. I still struggle with that, but . . .
The thing is, I’ve always been into science as a concept – I say a concept as for the most part the ins an outs of it absolutely baffle me. I did some Open University courses in Natural Sciences (I have a certificate and everything! Whoo!) and did a level two course on Quantum Physics which I passed but don’t understand to this day.) But one of the things I could never reconcile was the disparities between science and religion. Greater minds than mine have pondered this for longer and deeper than I, so I’m not losing sleep over it.
So. Practical upshot, I identify as an atheist.
But I find my status as an atheist being misunderstood. Thanks to certain individuals, the concept of atheism has been perverted and rather than being ‘without God’, these days it seems to be ‘foaming at the mouth, killjoy asshole’. Dawkins, I’m looking at you.
My problem with Dawkins is that he isn’t an atheist. He’s an anti-theist. I don’t have a problem with that in principle, if that’s how you roll, it’s how you roll. But I object most strongly to him calling himself an atheist as it puts people without a god, but with respect for religion, in the firing line. I mean, if you don’t beleieve in God, there’s not really anything to discuss and the concept of an ‘evangelical atheist’ is too comical for words.
I remember a time when Dawkins was a respected scientist, hell I even had some of his educational PC programmes, but he is treating his supposed atheism as a religion, which is supremely ironic.
Consider one of the definitions of “religion” for a moment.
“a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.”
Bearing in mind the devotees of Dawkins, hooting and baying at the denunciation of ‘the invisible guy in the sky ‘ – something that fails to take into account the wealth of female deities, incidentally – and bearing in mind that Middle English etymology suggests ‘being bound with reverence to an ideal’, Dawkins can be seen as the head of a nascent religion.
And he’s saying “My religion is the one true religion”.
The thing is, it’s perfectly acceptable to not believe in god. It’s also possible, if not desirable, to not be an asshat about it. In much the same way that it’s fine to have a god or gods or goddesses without being an asshat, too.
“I don’t have a god so you can’t have one either” is the argument of an arrogant twat. I mean substitute ‘god’ with anything else and see how it sounds: playstation 4, penis, artichoke, brain, enema, teddy bear, cheese factory.
I’m sort of spinning off the point of this post. In fact, I’m not even sure what the point even was.
Probably something to do with states of being. And not confusing “Atheism” with “Anti-theism”. And also the importance of not being an asshat and about religion, the lack of, or anything, really.
I think what interesting is that pretty much all religious texts advocate peace and being nice to one another. People have interpreted them otherwise. That’s people for you. What is also interesting is that when a whole group of people get together for a common cause there is a palpable change in atmosphere. Whether that’s the ecstasy of religious worship or fifty thousand people at a football match. It’s a gestalt thing.
Incidentally throughout all of my searching, the ‘worship’ sections of religions all ‘felt’ the same; human but more so; ecstatic; more than the sum of the individuals, but definitely human. Perhaps “Human+”
Maybe that’s what god is? Humanity moving together? Probably not as I don’t believe in God in any of it’s flavours, but I do believe respect for different view points is fundamental.
However, dear former excellent scientist, stop calling yourself an atheist. You’re making me look bad. Call yourself what you really are: a smug, arrogant, anti-theist bully that does nothing but preach – irony again – intolerance and hate. Exactly the things you say religion is about.
In these intolerant days, wouldn’t it be better to fight the tide than contribute to it?
I dunno. Anyway, none of this is particularly relevent or uniquely insightful. I’m just burbling.
This has been an existential crisis in the name of me and only me.
Party on, dudes.