September 11, 2018 § Leave a comment
I often tell people, that as an Atheist, I believe in energy, but not in spirituality. It means that I stay mindful of what is rather than what isn’t. That I am invested in the earth rather than in the imaginary.
People often describe the intense feeling of being interconnected with all of life as a spiritual experience. I see that experience as simply tapping into what we actually are—elements of earth that are all part of the life source that it grows in cycles of time. When my niece stayed with me last summer, she observed how I interact with other life forms. Whether it was being mindful of tiny crabs under rocks at the beach, or the way that I show respect and appreciation for my two cats, she was intrigued by how I strive to honor all of life. If we’re only aiming to think of ourselves in the scheme of our environment, then we fail the environment completely, of which we are a part. For me, this is a meditative state of living within an awareness of all energy and life forms. That’s not to say I’m always in that state, but I aim for it. In all honesty, it is most difficult to feel that way towards other humans when they can be challenging to deal with.
In comparison to the state of being grounded in nature, spirituality specializes in the things that are unseen and unverified. It generally believes in the existence of “souls,” but only for human beings. Spirituality either makes gods of imaginary entities, or of the universe itself. Because its basis is within the imagination, it breeds superstitions of all kinds that build fear in people, and lead to an obsessive development of rules and regulations. In both the East and the West (except in extremely ancient and indigenous traditions), it furthers the concept that we must transcend the body through prayer and rituals of purification, that lead us toward the dream of immortality after death, or reincarnation.
I’ve been working on my book, on the history of religion and conquest, for the past three years now. It’s been a fascinating journey, and what continues to be most striking is the interconnection of myth stories throughout time and region. It is also interesting to perceive exactly when certain ideas took shape, and how they affected culture on a massive scale. For example, if a person comes to a vague idea about what it takes to get to paradise (and imaginary ideas are always vague), they may do whatever it takes to get there, even if that means killing hundreds of people for the glory of their god. If they believe that the apocalypse will occur in their own lifetime, they may live in extremes of piety, seeking signs and symbols at every turn. And if they believe in purity, they will attempt to regulate bodies and control women through a rigid patriarchy. These various reactions then become layered in the culture, both within these beliefs, and outside of them.
Every decade, the number of people who attend church in the U.S. goes down. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, in 1986 only 10 percent of young people (eighteen to twenty-nine) claimed to be religious “nones,” while in 2016 that category went up to 39 percent. One aspect of that shift, is that our sense of ethics has grown beyond religious literature and institutions. In my own case, when I read the Bible I’m struck by the violence, the hatred for outsiders, and the way in which women are property with less rights than they ever had before. In the New Testament, the Evangelical concept of “family values” appears ironic next to the words of Jesus telling his followers to leave their families and follow him. Adding to this ethical disconnect, in the age of science, people are less susceptible to a literal belief of myth stories.
Two attacks that I often see made against Atheists is that we must either be nihilists or pantheists. Even in my dashboard dictionary, the example for nihilist is: “dogmatic atheists and nihilists could never defend the value of human life.” My question is, why does life lose value without a belief in things that don’t exist? Shouldn’t life have more value if I only believe in existence? As for the view that I must be a pantheist, this assumes that as a human, I must worship something. I don’t believe in worshipping anything at all.
Instead, I am simply aiming for awareness. Activities that bring me toward this daily goal are:
- Exercise – to achieve balance in mind and body.
- Expression – for meditation and reflection.
- Experience – to build connection within a diverse community.
- Empathy – through understanding other points of view.
- Exploration – which brings clarity from being outside of routines.
This is my practice of cultivating presence in an energetic world that is alive, and therefore constantly shifting and in flux. These points might sound basic, but I find them challenging because every day is a new beginning. For example, I have days when I would like to avoid flow, and stay within a rigid space of control. It is easy to grow cynical and hard. Much more of a challenge, however, to remain open and flexible and alert to the experience of life.
 Fred Edwords, “Faith and Faithlessness by Generation: The Decline and Rise are Real,” The Humanist, August 21, 2018, https://thehumanist.com/magazine/september-october-2018/features/faith-and-faithlessness-by-generation-the-decline-and-rise-are-real.
August 27, 2014 § 4 Comments
When I first began writing my book on how religion keeps us from being happy, I couldn’t even open my Bible without feeling a deep-seated sense of disgust. Simply removing the blue leather clad book from the shelf made me ill. I couldn’t wait to put it back again. The Bible represented years of pain and depression. It reminded me of all the friends that disowned me when I left; all the love that wasn’t there; tricksters under the guise of miracle-workers; control freaks; condescending misogynist leaders caught with their pants down; shame; hatred for outsiders; and lies that spread fear.
A year later, and the Bible is on my work table all the time. I love digging in to find the specifics of every story I’ve heard so many times that it’s surprising to find each one is completely different than I remembered. Instead of having to read it in order to believe it, I can now read it in total shock that I once believed it, and be amazed by that insanity. I love the Bible more now than I ever did as a Christian. It was a chore to read it in my place of belief because it never felt completely alive. I no longer have to fight that feeling. It is now simply an interesting piece of literature.
What I’ve learned through writing books is that the place where you start has zero resemblance to the place where you end up. The issues I write about still make me angry, but the anger has transferred from my own life, to the lives of others. I see now, that what I’m writing can help people. In talks that I’ve had with those who are struggling, I see that it helps them to understand they are not alone in their misgivings – the conclusions that they come to are their own journey, and I am just there to present a different point of view.
The history of world religions is a fascinating story of thought patterns that spread like a virus. When at its most insistent to spread, dogma pounded down the dissidents, and bloodbaths followed. More people have been killed for the sake of, or at the excuse of, religion than any other motivating force. This result usually first takes place a few hundred years after the religion is first born. The initial phases of a new belief system are a golden age of love and community. When that era is long enough in the past to become mystical, power-hungry individuals turn those teachings into a means of furthering hierarchy. This results in conquest of other people groups, a stamping out of other religions, and the intertwining of church and state. All of these issues have had detrimental effects on societies, wiping out advancements in philosophy and science with the destruction of thousands of books, cultures, and people groups.
The finest moments of history have been in eras of doubt – Greek philosophy and science, the Renaissance, and even the era we now live in. The heretics of yesterday are the heroes of today. Even within religion, those who experienced doubt were able to advance ideologies on a different route, though they were first viewed as Atheists. Buddhism developed out of Hinduism as a rejection of the deity structure. Zen expanded from Buddhism into the enlightened path of the individual. John Wycliffe was an early dissident of the Catholic faith and called for the separation of church and state. His body was exhumed after his death and he was burned at the stake. The early Christians were the Atheists of their day in the rejection of Roman paganism – a religion that furthered the state rather than the individual.
I am on the path of doubt. Which might be viewed as negative to some, but to me, my life is open to philosophy and closed for business to dogma and illusion. My parents were over for dinner last Sunday, and for the first time, my dad actually noticed the bookshelf full of research for the religion book. He said, “C.S. Lewis is swimming in a sea of negativity.” I replied, “I don’t need the books on Christianity because it’s all in my head. It’s the entire education you brought me up in. And I really don’t like C.S. Lewis.”
I continued on, explaining what some of the books meant for me. How Karen Armstrong revealed the entire history of religion, how Sue Monk Kidd woke me up to patriarchy, how Christopher Hitchens made it okay to get really angry, which led to the first steps of my recovery. I didn’t mention that the reason why I don’t like C.S. Lewis is that I found his arguments weak and that it seemed as though he rejected Atheism in favor of peer pressure (Tolkien was instrumental in his conversion). It was also a way to return to his childhood self after the loss of his parents – what Freud would call the juvenile need for God.
It’s true that the entirety of Christian thought will remain inside my mind for life. No one needs to remind me of it, or recap something I might have missed. For the hard facts, I am just like a Christian – I need no other books besides the Bible to explain what the Bible actually says. What is written there is completely different from what Christians say in the books they write.
A year ago, writing the religion book seemed like an insurmountable feat – like climbing Mount Everest. There was so much information to wrap my head around, so many books to read (and still read), and so much excess baggage of writing to get to the good stuff for a final draft. If you look at the entire project all at once, it seems impossible. But broken down into bits of chapters, week by week, it grew. It’s still growing.
There have been times where I was so sick of this topic that I wanted to give up and start writing a novel. Every time I tried, I bounced right back into the current book. I also had to deal with some resistance from a guy in my writer’s group. Overall, however, the group has been invaluable, prodding me in the right directions, asking questions, pointing out the spots that needed filling out.
I’ve been asked many times, “Why are you writing this book?” There are many reasons. I find it important to fight against dishonesty. That dishonesty has harmed millions of people. It’s created shame where there should be none. There is nothing flawed with the way that we naturally are. We are organisms within the scheme of nature, not spiritual entities trapped inside of bodies, battling between good and evil. I’m writing this book because I’m tired of seeing the same things happen to people I love that happened to me fifteen years ago. At some point, a negative cycle must be broken.
At the end of the Bible, in the prophecy of Revelation, God decides to break his negative cycle as well. He realizes that creating the earth was a disaster, and the only thing to do is destroy it and cry, “Do-over!” He bids the angels to torture humanity, then begins the mess by throwing people into a giant wine press, where their blood flows up to the height of horses bridles for 180 miles. He turns the oceans into blood and kills everything that swims, and uses the sun to scorch those who remain. Then he shuts the lights off completely. Satan is a mere pawn in the escapade that gets locked up for a thousand years. When the dragon is released, he spurs the resurrected into a war across the four corners of the earth (the world was still flat), and is then tossed into sulfur and destroyed.
In the end, every character is a pawn – from humans to angels to the devil himself. Victims of a stage play that ends as a tragedy. Rather than a story of love, the Bible ends as a series of abusive relationships. And what does the next world look like? There is no mention of improvements that will be made or how a very flawed God will fix himself to make things right. Will he do away with his insane need for affirmation, his explosive jealousy, and his desire for puppets rather than humans? I would love to read the sequel to this gripping piece of fiction. And no wonder why, as a Fundamentalist Christian, I was scared to death of even living life.
July 4, 2013 § 4 Comments
A recurring dream I’ve had for the last three years – I am forced, for unfinished reasons, to return to my alma mater, a small Christian University. I am told that I have to think a certain way, act a certain way, go to Chapel and pretend that I believe when I pray. If I don’t do all of these things, I will not be allowed to graduate into adulthood.
I am a 34-year-old agnostic atheist. The dream would not be so terrible if it wasn’t for this fact. It would even seem kind of fun to go back to school. It wasn’t a bad place, and I really enjoyed my time there, especially my studies.
A friend of mine said, that it seems like most people that are raised in the church eventually wizen up and leave faith behind. Quite the contrary. Judging from what I have seen in my Christian high school and college, I would say 5% have left the church. I have no way of knowing if they have grown out of faith altogether, and on that count, it may be more like 1% (I might even be the 1 of that percent). I am intrigued to know if there are any others.
The theology of my education was indoctrinated into me from the time I was born. It began with my mother who was at the height of her “Jesus Freak” phase, when I was “miraculously” conceived after years of trying for a second child. My young life was immersed in Bible stories, songs, memorized verses. Then Sunday school, Vacation Bible school, Praise Night, tent revival meetings, Amy Grant, Sandi Patty, The Gospel Bill Show, Tammy Faye Baker on the PTL club, Christian school from third grade through my senior year of college. I was not allowed to go to a Buddhist friend’s house, I was spanked for asking what the word “witch” meant, and Disney movies were all of the devil. Every influence around me was a Christian influence. There was nothing else.
From my religious perspective, as a child, it did not seem strange, or even wrong, that God supposedly commanded the Israelites to commit genocide at Jericho.
It seemed normal, at least in the Bible, for Lot to offer up his own daughters to be gang-raped, protecting his houseguests from a similar fate.
And when Noah’s son Ham saw his father’s drunken nakedness, and told his brothers about it rather than covering him up right away, it was normal for God to condemn Ham’s descendants to be “The lowest of slaves (Genesis 9:25).”
In The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, he writes, “Shouldn’t a literalist worry about the fact that Matthew traces Joseph’s descent from King David via twenty-eight intermediate generations, while Luke has forty-one generations? Worse, there is almost no overlap in the names on the two lists! In any case, if Jesus really was born of a virgin, Joseph’s ancestry is irrelevant and cannot be used to fulfill, on Jesus’ behalf, the Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah should be descended from David (Dawkins, 120).”
In a study of 168 Israeli children, the kids condoned the well-known story of Joshua’s act of genocide. But when all the names and places were changed, they condemned it.
“Religious leaders are well aware of the vulnerability of the child brain, and the importance of getting the indoctrination in early. The Jesuit boast, ‘Give me the child for his first seven years, and I’ll give you the man,’ … In more recent times, James Dobson, founder of today’s infamous ‘Focus on the Family’ movement, is equally acquainted with the principle: ‘Those who control what young people are taught, and what they experience – what they see, hear, think, and believe – will determine the future course for the nation (Dawkins, 206).”
Though religion was ingrained in me, at school I often wanted to ask questions. But there was an unspoken rule that it was inappropriate to ask. If you asked questions of the Bible, your faith was faltering, you were weak, you were a failure, you lacked virtue.
“Christianity, just as much as Islam, teaches children that unquestioned faith is a virtue. You don’t have to make the case for what you believe. If somebody announces that it is part of his faith, the rest of society, whether of the same faith, or another, or of none, is obliged, by ingrained custom, to ‘respect’ it without question; respect it until the day it manifests itself in a horrible massacre like the destruction of the World Trade Center, or the London or Madrid bombings (Dawkins, 346).”
The idea that question equals failure permeated my entire consciousness to the point that I was afraid to ask questions in all of my other subjects as well.
Judgment was a huge fear for me. Everyone was always watching. So rather than falter in front of them, how about, just do nothing at all. Sit in a corner, and pretend you don’t exist. For eighteen years, that’s exactly what I did. I was not an exemplary student, to say the least.
Women barely exist at all in the Bible. I clung to the stories of Ruth and Esther for dear life. They were all I had. Mary, the mother of Jesus, certainly wasn’t worthy of admiration. She is described as being more like a vessel than a person. Jesus treated her poorly. He directed his followers to leave their families behind to join his hippy movement. Reading the Bible, it’s difficult to figure out where “Christian Family Values” came from.
When I was twenty-one, I chose to walk away from the church. I decided that I no longer wanted to battle against my own human nature. I longed to fully accept who I was so that I could find happiness. I didn’t think about my departure much beyond that basic need. For the next ten years, I avoided the concept of faith and religion completely.
Instead, I spent that time doing the basics. I had to rebuild my life and deprogram my brain (not an easy task). I put myself in uncomfortable situations so that I could learn, grow, and figure out my own path. I went through an inter-faith phase, and had a year or so of being enamored with mumbo jumbo, third eyes, magickal practice, and shamanism; but I never explored what I came from.
Three years ago, I was finally ready to face all of my fears surrounding the culture of faith. At first, when I started my research, I was horrified by the realization that all of my life I’d been lied to by people who actually believed the lies they told. I was extremely angry. I couldn’t pick up the Bible without feeling disgusted and repulsed. I expressed my rage in some of my past blog posts which (going viral) attracted the ire of some very hateful Christians. One accused me of wanting to be gang-raped by five guys on a pagan altar. When you come from Bible culture, this is not an “out there” thing to think.
As a woman (according to the Bible) I am a descendant of Eve (no matter that so are all men). Therefore, I am an evil temptress who can’t be trusted, and I need to remain under the protection and the thumb of my husband or father, who will keep me in line. I am not a man’s equal (since I come from his rib, and he was there first after all), so it’s okay to take me down a few notches and skewer me as a sexual deviant to take away the blow from my viable arguments against religion.
You can teach a normal, healthy human being the practices of religion, but the fact that they subscribe to blind faith makes it positively unhealthy. The more extreme the faith and the acts behind it, the more the rewards in heaven multiply. Thus, suicide bombers abound.
I had a good talk with my brother in-law last week. He and my sister are Bible translators in Papua New Guinea, though they are home on furlough. He gets sick of being judged that he is going to act or feel a certain way on the basis of his beliefs. I get sick of being judged by Christians that I am selfish and evil simply because I do not live by faith.
Unlike the Christian faith, I don’t believe that we only subscribe to morals for fear of punishment or hope for rewards. I don’t believe that I am a hopeless, fallen soul with no control over myself. I take full responsibility for all of my actions, for my well being, and the well being of those around me. I don’t believe my dreams will be handed to me on an answered-prayers-platter. I believe in working hard to make my dreams a reality.
A friend was visiting not long ago and said to me, “I forgot that you are an atheist, because you are just so spiritual.”
I’m not sure what this means exactly. I am in awe of the universe. Is that spiritual? Is my spirit separate from my body? There is no evidence that supports that.
Scientists believe we have discovered the origins of the universe. Though the theories make a great deal of sense, I wasn’t there, and I will never know what actually happened. And that’s okay, because I am merely a collection of matter, ever-changing, and living on this marvelous stage of life, lucky to be here, honored with the magnificence of it all, never ceasing to be intrigued and amazed by my journey through art, life, words, loves, dreams, and actualizations.
Could it not be, that we have come into existence by the actualization of atoms, which create the same feats in our own lives? From particles to beings, from beings to mass movements. If you believe something enough, it will come true. That is why I still believe that prayer actually does tend to work. In prayer or meditation, you have set your mind to something, and will (hopefully) lay the groundwork to fulfill that need.
I no longer feel angry when I pick up my Bible. For the first time in my life, I can enjoy it simply as a piece of literature. Well, on second glance, maybe not. That is wishful thinking in my case. It could only remain as a piece of literature to someone who was not affected by its life consuming goals. Such as, the way I was not affected personally by learning about Greek mythology. No one ever told me I had to live by the commands of the great and all-powerful Zeus.
In Philippians, Paul’s words remind me all too well of what I have left behind:
“… I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ… I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8-3:11).”
According to Ignatius, Paul was eventually decapitated as a martyr under the rule of Nero. He is not the first martyr or the last. He is not the first to give everything up over his lame powers of perception – believing in the great white light, spirits, visions, what have you. As I read the words now, I feel sorry for his loss. I admire that he lived his life with passion. But his blind love cost him his head. It also cost him the chance at finding truth and happiness in the one life he lived.