This morning a question was posted on a group I participate in on Facebook, The “A” Club, that asked members if their value system changed when they became an atheist. Some folks said it was their value system that led them to atheism. I must say the same is true for me. The constant lying, denial of truth and reality, refusal to consider any point of view not consistent with their programming, these things drove me crazy for years before I abandoned faith. It was not the beliefs but the failure of ‘believers’ to actually live their faith that ended my sojourn in Christendom.
Another person, however, said he was happier now as an atheist. I cannot say that I am. I am no more happy now than I was before. Nothing has changed within Christianity. The millions I once called my brothers and sisters remain deluded, programmed, and confused. They practice a moral standard far removed from that taught by their Jesus. And worse, they dismiss the whole of humanity and life on the earth as unimportant, fleeting, and temporary. Their obsessive and insane belief in heaven leads them to devalue life. I cannot be happy when so many people–including every member of my family–are so oppressed and oppressive.
I moved from Christianity to Buddhism. What most people do not know is that Buddhism is an atheistic religion. It hardly qualifies as a religion at all in the general sense. Buddha believed there were ‘spirits’ or other realms. He believed in a form of reincarnation. But he did not believe in a ‘god’ in the same sense that religion does. Buddha was the first evolutionist. Essentially he believed in the existence of a ‘life force,’ for want of a better term, a thread of energy that moves through every living thing. I do not translate the beliefs very well but the fact is that a true Buddhist is an atheist; he does not believe in a god or a ‘creator.’
I miss the idea of a creator. It was a comforting thought. Many people leave Christianity and other mainstream religions only to become Deists or New Age mystics or something similar because they can’t abandon the idea of a god altogether. Whatever I may have thought about Christians it was still very difficult for me to put aside the thought, “I see a sunrise and know who to thank.” Nothing in Christianity destroyed that feeling. Something else did: a photograph.
Ever since I was a kid I looked at the stars with a sense of wonder and excitement. The night sky has always overwhelmed me. Knowledge of the universe has increased exponentially since I was a kid. I was as excited as anyone could be when the Hubble was launched. Little could I know then that the Hubble would prove the death of faith for me.
Christians so blithely quote Genesis, that god created the ‘heavens and the earth,’ without giving a single thought to what they are saying. We’ve become aware of how incredible and immense the universe is. The simple, medieval belief in creation does not fit. It makes no sense that a creator with such power and ability would be all that interested in an obscure planet such as ours. I managed to rationalize my beliefs for a long time. Then I ran across the Hubble Deep Space Survey. That single photograph changed everything. It hit me that the idea of a creator was ridiculous.
With my discovery of the Hubble Deep Space photo came a total realization that belief in a creator was absurd. Thus the final string was cut between me and religion altogether. But that does not mean I like it.
Furthermore, I am, unfortunately, still far too “attached” to ideas, ideals, and humanity itself to be content with the knowledge I have. It was much easier to dump stuff on god than it is to face it directly.
I was taught to believe in the value of mankind and the necessity of ‘making a difference.’ These things remain a part of me. I am not content just to know truth myself. I am driven to figure out a way for all of humankind to find truth, too. Truth, I believe, is the answer to all our problems and conflicts as a race. But truth is very hard to pin down. Truth is much more a recognition of “what is not” than an understand of what “is.” I very often get the overwhelming sense that truth is in some way being withheld from us, not by ‘god,’ but by someone/something beyond our known world. That feeling really pisses me off.
I cannot accept the general scientific theory that we evolved. The gap between humanity and all other species is too great. There may be some superficial similarities between us and apes or chimpanzees but there is no other species that comes close not only to our intellectual abilities, our ability for abstract thought or appreciation for art and beauty. Apes do not make cave paintings. Chimps do not gaze at the sunset with adoration. And no species is as capable of selflessness or selfishness as humankind is. We are too different, too far removed from the nearest species to be directly descended in an evolutionary way.
I am forced into isolation for an assortment of reasons. Were I living in a place where there were a number of people who thought as I and I had a social life I might not dwell so much on these thoughts. But here I am, stranded, and thus forced to ask the proverbial ‘why?’ I ask, ‘who,’ too, but discard the idea that the ‘who’ we do not know is a ‘supreme being’ or god. I’m somewhat like the child crouching in the corner of a shack surrounded by the ravages of war asking, “what the fuck is going on?”
I became an atheist with reluctance. I did not want all I believed in for forty years to be a lie. I could not, however, hide my head in the sand. I cannot accept any notion that is not provable, logical, rational. But in loosing ‘the faith,’ I am bound up in a conundrum. The ‘god’ idea wrapped life in a nice little package and placed ‘the unexplainable’ in a little corner where I could say, ‘some day god will show me.’ God went away but all those unexplainable events, ideas, realities, did not. They’ve come out of the corner and dance around my head like a troop of malevolent ballet dancers.
Worst of all, I realize now that it’s unlikely I will ever know the truth. All I have is the life I live. Time is very short. My ability to discover truth is extremely limited. And that ultimate expectation that god would explain it all to me ‘over there’ is completely gone. Thus there is no happiness. There is only longing and desire for answers. So I continue to seek, to question, to look, and, in total contradiction to what I believe, to hope.
Whatever we may be. Wherever we come from. Wherever we’re going, there are answers and solutions. Either my days will end and I will dissolve into nothing and it will not matter or at some point before my last day it will all become clear. Until then, I remain, the seeker.
I have no faith.
I have no faith in an absent god and no faith in humankind.
Life is not going to get better.
People are not going to wake up from this hedonist, lascivious, selfish nightmare and realize “we are the world.”
Wars are going to get worse. Cruelty is going to get worse. Anger and meanness and resentment and selfishness and lying and stealing are going to get worse.
There’s not a damn thing I can do about it.
The American soul is dead.
Would somebody stop the world and let me off, please?
I’ve been reading a magnificent book called What Buddhists Believe. The copy I have was printed by the Texas Buddhist Association*. I’m a bit slow in getting through it, haven’t finished it yet, but on about every page I find stuff that just thrills my soul. What a wonderful world this would be if people would abide by what this book teaches!
Consider these examples:
In the world today, there is sufficient material wealth. There are very advanced individuals, brilliant writers, talented speakers, philosophers, psychologists, scientists, religious advisors, wonderful poets and powerful world leaders. In spite of these intellectuals, there’s no real peace and security in the world today. Something must be lacking. What is lacking is loving-kindness or goodwill amongst mankind. (p165)
Man should learn how to practice selfless love to maintain real peace and his own salvation. Just as suicide kills physically, selfishness kills spiritual progress. Loving-kindness in Buddhism is neither emotional or selfish. It is loving-kindness that radiates through the purified mind after erradicating hatred, jealousy, cruelty, enmity and grudges. (p166)
All my life I’ve had one question on my mind. That question is WHY? Well, there’s actually a few thousand questions that begin with the word, “why?” Why are humans so cruel, so hateful, so rude, so selfish? I grew up in the sixties. The news carried video of dead VC, gave body counts, told about the war in Vietnam. The next story on the news was of some race riot or protest. It was a quiet day around the house when someone wasn’t arguing, mom wasn’t complaining about some illness, or some other crap was going on. Why?
Not long after my mom died I concluded I had to write something with the title “Life After Mom.” I had to explain the before and after of my life, my beliefs, my direction. I let my mind ponder through the holidays.
Totally without any planning today I wrote what needed to be written. The following essay began as a response to an email to a new friend telling about my history and beliefs and morphed into what it is now. I re-wrote the letter to the friend and revised the rest into this work. (And I’ve revised it again having read it out loud and found some terrible writing!)
I will at some point expound further on these thoughts but for now this is what I want to say about….
Life After Mom
Sitting here on the first floor of Memorial in a snack bar I hear conversation behind me. From their dress and mannerisms the people are Pentecostal. There were two families talking. One person ask another, “what can we do for you?” The answer: “just pray, that is all.”
“I know what you are against. But what are you for?”
Emile de Becque in the movie “South Pacific”
In the recent post “Walking Away… ” I talked about my choice to leave behind my “former life,” the religion and tradition of my youth. I gave a few glimpses about why. But that post is only half the story. The quote above, one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies, reflects how we too often use negatives to prove our point without ever giving a positive reason.
I have left Christianity. I continue to distance myself from everything “Church” and “Christian.” I’m not running but I’m certainly walking rather quickly.
Saturday Morning reflections…
A discussion on the SacredCowTippers Yahoo group led to my posting the following about our “sin nature.” I thought I’d stick it here for the fun of it.
Last evening Julie G. asked for my thoughts on original sin. I was too zonked to answer. I’m not sure I’m all here this morning but I’ll give it a shot.
I’m no theologian. I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, either. lol Ahh, but that hasn’t stopped the old Trailerpark Scholar (me) from talking like one, eh? So, what is “original sin?” Continue reading