There is truly nothing more delightful (for me anyway) than to walk into an undertaking like this one (the blog) with no agenda, believing that it will become exactly what it is meant to become, and then have it do just that. As I moved forward from "Further Thoughts on Sustenance" into a question based format, I was thinking in terms of questions like, "My boyfriend is cheating on me, what shall I do?" (bear in mind, this is not the type of question I necessarily crave, simply what I thought might inevitably be thrust my way). Instead, in the early goings anyway, we seem to be engaged in ongoing examination of the nature of faith... fucking fabulous! This newest question (more of a statement really... though a damn fine one) comes from one Mike A., and is, essentially, a response to the preceding post "The Challenge of Spirit."
Oh, to have this be a conversation instead of a blog post. I too am an atheist, however, I may not be the kind of atheist you are accustomed to hearing. I take the title quite literally, I do not believe there is a god. That is not the same as not having faith.
I wear the brand "secular humanist" quite proudly...I have faith that the human race (generally), and most people (specifically) are good, and, when treated fairly and properly, are likely to treat others fairly and properly. Most come to this behavior through a religion, though there are many bad things that people get from religion too (just like anything, religion can be turned to ill purpose).
I have faith that when I am at peace with myself, I will be at peace with others around me. And my peace comes not from the comfort that, though things may be outside my ken, there is a omni-present force or face there that understands. I can hold in my head the idea that infinity is outside my grasp without fear. The resolve to be ME, understanding who I am and how I became this way, is the path I walk. For me, the faith that I can achieve this needs no support from a building, an idol, a community, or a god (it does need some help from the therapist, lol).
I guess my other title that is relevant to the discussion is "scientist". To me that title means that I am fascinated to understand how things work. It also means that, when confronted with something I don't understand, I know that there is a process by which I could come to understand it. For me, the scientific method, when appropriately applied (given sufficient time and effort), can explain any piece of our infinite universe. There is no reason to have faith that someone or something somewhere understands (created, planned, etc.) the things I don't.
Michael, have you encountered the Gnostic Gospels? The book by Elaine Pagels was fascinating to me because it displays "the road not taken" in early Christianity. The path so described seems much closer to how I approach the world. As I recall it (which likely means "as I came to understand it"), the idea that God is the part of us that is not flesh, and that we together collectively are God, was most interesting to me. It was a push to find an interpersonal spiritual connection. I see that what instead evolved (through the ill-deeds of power-seeking men) was a system by which interpersonal spiritual connections required an intermediary. All Christian systems, no matter their evolution, still hold that God, or a bishop, or the pope, or a minister, is the apex of the triangle. Marriages are assembled this way, for instance.
The idea that the "self", the part that leaves when the heart stops beating, and the part that appears somewhere in the second trimester, is drawn from a universal pool of unique souls, well, it sounds way too literal a myth to have power. If instead you hold infinity out as the benchmark...then all things that can happen have a chance to happen. There is nothing odd about "self", because in an infinite universe there is no reason I could not happen.
(I know this same argument can turn back around at me, so I use it with the caveat: I'm not done framing it.)
I would never claim a religious perspective, for in our modern world to disbelieve in God means you disbelieve in Religion.
I wish that we had connected sooner, and that we were not now 3000 miles apart, because I would sorely love to get a pint and talk this out.
I guess to sum: I challenge that atheist equals faithlessness. I challenge that faith equals God.
The more I read (and re-read) your post, the more I began to think that the term atheist is a rather anomalous one. It is far too broad and, consequently, often misunderstood and misrepresented. Quite frankly, if one chooses to use the popular dictionary definition, "a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings," than I am an atheist. While I consider myself to be a man of deep and abiding faith, the idea of a master builder is quite ludicrous to me.
My sense of God is essentially "a source"; an innate undercurrent of energy in the universe from which we may draw great power. I am quite comfortable referring to this energy as "God," mainly because it has proven remarkably convenient. It is one syllable and, by far, the most commonly understood word to describe whatever the aforementioned energy may or may not be. In fact, the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous often uses the word God as an acronym for Good Orderly Direction. While the acronym itself falls a bit short of my sense of spirit, I feel it still speaks accurately to the idea that the word itself ultimately means nothing. What I mean to say is, whatever is up there (out there, in here, etc.); it certainly does not have a name. Even the Bible (which I find useful only as an interesting, and sometimes useful, spiritual read) does not suggest an intrinsic title for "the source." While God is used ad infinitum, so is Lord, Almighty, Jehovah, and, my favorite, "I am that I am." Therefore, when I speak of spirituality and/or the journey of consciousness, I speak of my relationship "with God." The listener then has the choice to either probe further what this means to me, or they are free to assume that I am a religious zealot (and I am clear that you fall into the former position).
Your statement that, "I have faith that when I am at peace with myself, I will be at peace with others around me," defines what I would call the path of consciousness. The great challenge of our human journey DOES seem to be, "understanding who I am and how I became this way." The corresponding question then becomes, how do we shake off the ways in which we are prone to define ourselves (specifically through input and conditioning from the past), and find our truth? My experience, strength and hope (all I really have) tells me that, while counseling has always proved a valuable tool, spiritual practice has been the undercurrent to genuine growth. And so, when I begin and end my day, every day, with prayer and meditation, it is my effort to let go of the insanely imperfect nature of my limited humanity and plug into the perfect, limitless nature of spirit. The expression, "we are NOT human beings having a spiritual experience, we ARE spiritual beings having a human experience" speaks perfectly to this concept. When I count on will power and intelligence as my primary tools, I find myself consistently prone to useless projection, co-dependency, fear of abandonment, people pleasing, self-loathing and a whole host of human perils. When I allow will power and intelligence to work as subsidiaries of a power greater than human power, I find myself slowly liberated from these potentially crippling character liabilities.
What I absolutely know about God is that I don't know what God is; the true growth has come in letting go of the need to know. My experience has shown that most people have a driving need to know, and are subsequently jammed up attempting to know the unknowable. Not only do I not know what God is; I don't care. It matters not one whit. My spiritual freedom actually comes from not knowing. This is to say that when I pray, what I am praying to can morph according to what my needs are at that moment. While the idea of God being a person of some sort holds no weight for me, there are certainly times that what I envision in my prayers is a paternal or maternal loving being. Why the hell not? I'll never know what it is anyway, so if I am feeling raw and vulnerable, and the idea of praying to a universal subconscious mind feels too cold and detached for me in the moment, I can envision my source as a loving mother.
This is why i am not anti-religion; i am simply not religious (which was drastically informed by my degree in theology, by the way). If the idea of a single path to God via community and custom and dogma is the most effective way for you to draw power from the universe, huzzah for you! On the other hand, if you have become a prisoner of these ideas based on early life force feeding, your experience will probably be less than fulfilling (but that is for another post). I have had marvelous, life altering experiences in Christian churches, Buddhist temples, Jewish congregations and Islamic mosques. While there are elements of all these faiths which trouble me enormously, by not signing up to "join the team," I get to take what I want and leave the rest. For my money, there is me and there is God- every way which exists to engage in that relationship (organized religion, yoga, astral projection, crystals, divination) functions as a lens. Which lens will suit me and when, has all to do with paying attention to my needs and using what feels useful.
I, too, am a scientist. I, too, find great fascination in the whys and the hows of this world. Though, as mentioned earlier, I also believe in the unknowable. While I honor your belief that, "There is no reason to have faith that someone or something somewhere understands (created, planned, etc.) the things I don't," I must tell you that I can give you an excellent reason: it relieves a whole lot of self imposed, unnecessary pressure. I really don't believe that we are meant to know everything; and I really don't sense that the world would be a happier place if we did. I love knowing. I love not always needing to know more.
Yes, I am familiar with the work of Elaine Pagels, and I find an immense amount of beauty in the ideas you speak of.
It is clear to me that, minus all the language (and I am a BIG fan of language- sometimes to my own detriment), we are not all that far apart. It is clear to me that you have a strong faith and a true sense of spirit. So are you really an atheist? Ahh- what the fuck does that mean anyway?!
God bless you-