Energy Versus Spirituality

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.[1] 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.

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[1] 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.

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What Kind of Girl Are You?

February 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Growing up, I never really talked to any boys until I slept with one.  And by that time, they were no longer really boys – especially since I was twenty-one and I gravitated to older men.

In my senior year of college, there was a speaker at chapel who seemed more suited to Junior High students.  He neatly categorized the different stages of a relationship through a ladder analogy.  The bottom rung was eye contact.  The second rung was conversation.  The third rung was holding hands.  The further up the rungs you climbed, the more dangerous it became.  He told us it was best not to go past the third rung before marriage.

I turned to the girl next to me and said, “I started at the top rung and worked my way down.”  She gave a nervous laugh.  But I knew plenty of people who followed the ladder rule – my sister for example.  She and my brother in-law never kissed until a month before their wedding.  She was disappointed that they didn’t quite make their goal of waiting.  Their friends however, did.

At my college the divorce rate among the alumnus was huge.  Years after, I heard women complain that they didn’t enjoy sex with their husbands.  From birth onwards – girls and boys were taught that sex is dangerous, taboo, disgusting, perverted, depraved, sinful, dirty.  And then one day you find ‘the one.’  You get married and then all of a sudden – sex is beautiful.  But actually, often it isn’t.  Because how do you shake all of those old perceptions that are ingrained not only in your mindset, but in your body.

Growing up in Christian schools, education on sex was extremely limited, and friends offered silly stories that had no bearing in actual life:

“If you don’t have the gene for curling your tongue, then you can’t French kiss properly.”

“A woman is a rose.  To each man she sleeps with, or gives a part of herself, she gives away one of her petals.  If she sleeps with too many men, soon she’ll have no petals left.”

This conveniently excludes the fact that a rose is a perennial and comes back every year.  There is no direct experience in these ideas.  Admitting direct experience is taboo.  Denial even sometimes remains after a girl appears to have swallowed a watermelon.  And of course, denial is also the reason for the failure to buy condoms or birth control in the first place.

The dangers of repression became glaringly obvious one day when a group of girls decided to streak through campus.  Every year it was the tradition for guys to do this, and it was always at a very public event.  The first year it was while we were all on the lawn watching ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon’ in 3-D.  All of a sudden naked guys were streaking past the screen – odd because at first it seemed like part of the movie.  The next year they rode their bikes through a festival.  And the third year, some girls from the Basketball team wanted to join the tradition.

They went streaking through the canyon by the dorms – and strangely enough, guys started chasing them down, driven by mad lust.  Something comical and bonding and freeing turned into something horrific.  Most of the girls darted down a gravel path, trying to get away.  They dove into the bushes to hide, getting scraped by stones and branches.  Only one saintly fellow came and offered clothes to get them back to safety.

This all reaffirmed for me my distrust and lack of interest in the guys at my school.  I had a long list of issues.  For every six girls there were only four guys.  Overall, they were unattractive, lacking in life experience, introverted with women, hypocritical.  Basically, they were a direct reflection of myself, and I did not want to be who I was.  Up to that point, I had always been at the hands of environment and religion – ingrained to think the way I thought.

Among many girls at my college there was a celebration of the infantile.  My friends sported the same haircuts they’d had since the third grade.  They liked to wear t-shirts and sweatshirts with cartoon characters emblazoned on them – most popular being Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse.  My roommate insisted on putting up hideous posters by Ann Geddes of babies in flowerpots and dressed as pea pods.  They favored the pastel colors of a baby nursery – pink, lavender, lime green, baby blue.  Bedspreads ranged from candy-colored stripes to polka dots.  Their binders had pictures of puppies and kittens in the front.  And yet – they were adults between the ages of eighteen to twenty-two.

These women preferred to remain in an infantile state because it was easy. One year I asked all the girls on my floor if they would rather marry for passion and adventure or for comfort and security.  Every girl chose comfort and security except for my roommate and I.  They went to college to get their M.R.S. degree and I listened to them complain if they didn’t get that ‘ring by spring.’  Marriage was protection from the dangers of being out in the world.  A husband would take care of them, protect them, control their lives and make the decisions.  They would spend their time scrapbooking sentimental memories, making banana bread, volunteering at church.  They would mistrust any environment not labeled ‘Christian.’  They would attempt to repeat the entire system by ingraining their children with the same unrealistic worldview.  They would secretly acknowledge that their husband was not a prince.  They would feel trapped, but the world without a husband is the great unknown.  They’d never been in it, and never wanted to be.

I just finished reading Carlene Bauer’s memoir, Not That Kind of Girl.  Maybe I was too excited to read a book that seemed comparable to my own developing memoir.  But she failed to draw me in.  I spent the entirety rolling my eyes, just wanting her to get over herself.  Was it because I relate in all the parts of myself that I don’t like, or because I saw so many of the girls that I grew up with?  Probably, a little of both.

Bauer grew up in the Protestant church, attended a small Catholic college, and then moved to New York to become an editor, still clinging to her virginity.  She eventually leaves religion behind, but not prudery.  She excuses it by saying that she is a perfectionist.

“Used improperly, said church, sex could addle you beyond repair.  If someone who didn’t love you saw you naked, you would become Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass, eyes gone wild and trembling, wanting to drown yourself in the bathtub because your awakened appetite could not be satisfied (Bauer, 176).”

God wasn’t really the reason Carlene Bauer didn’t get out there and throw herself into the depths of life like she really wanted too.  It was only herself holding her back – her fears, her introversion, her lack of confidence.

“Maybe my body was what was weighing me down, not God, and if I could just learn to forget about my body, my mind could finally, finally be free (Bauer, 62).”

The title of her book is ironic.  Not That Kind of Girl.  For the entire memoir, it is strikingly obvious that she has always longed to be that kind of girl – the kind of girl that lives a wild life, with passions and loves, throws caution to the wind, a real bohemian.  She relates to Sylvia Plath and looks up to Edna St. Vincent Millay, and chides herself for not being nearly as interesting.  Though I am happy that she is a success as a writer and has found her way outside of the beliefs that held her back, I wanted her to become what she always dreamed of being.  I saw more potential for her, and I hope she finds it for herself.

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