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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Life As A Secular Humanist

June 21, 2018 § 2 Comments

The most challenging hurdle that I face as a Secular Humanist, is just how different my worldview is from those that I interact with on a daily basis. The majority find my views threatening to their experience of life. It goes beyond people of a religious persuasion, to friends who are “spiritual.” We might all share the English language, but our meanings are not the same.

Twelve years ago, the metaphysical was my last stop before becoming an Atheist. My friends were shamans, reiki practitioners, wiccans, and various energy workers. I performed as a belly dancer with a percussion group, and wrote odd little melodies on the mandolin paired with my poetry. A perfect day was spent at artist Alex Gray’s Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, where my friends and I hob-knobbed while people at our feet were stoned out on LSD. I viewed life in such a romantic sense; surrounded by people who should only exist in literature.

Often, the spirit world seemed more prevalent than the real world. Much later, I came to understand that the spirit world does not exist—it is simply the strength of the mind. If a person believes something to be true, their mind does whatever it takes to prove that thing to be true. This is enhanced in group experiences, where everyone becomes caught up in a performance of certainty and the exclusion of outsiders. Some people gain power through building on charisma or paranoia. Their position is heightened through supernatural terms where the imagination has no limits.

When people feel that they are having a spiritual experience, they sense a breakdown of physical form, while feeling expansive and united with others. As this occurs, the anterior of the brain—the part which gives us spatial awareness—slows its function. The temporal lobe increases in activity—the part which breaks down space, allowing us to connect, or in some circumstances, hallucinate. This experience is not supernatural, or even spiritual at all. It is what we actually are—physical forms understanding our connection with other physical forms. Rather than the spiritual, I believe in what exists—space, energy, form.

One of my closest friends has a difficult time understanding my views. We first met at the height of my metaphysical phase, and our shared history is a strong bond. She is very intelligent with an intimidating personality that comes from being passionate about a cause. A few months ago, she stayed with us for a week so that she could take a class in the city. She began to get to know the more recent parts of me that we hadn’t fully explored in the brief visits we’ve shared in the past ten long-distance years. My views really upset her, and one night, she and my husband debated me for hours. She has a scientific point of view, and sees the metaphysical as an essential part of that. My husband believes in an uninvolved god and the idea of spirit, but he had never debated against my atheism before. On other issues, yes, but not on this. It really threw me. My two closest allies were no longer my allies. This produced an extreme sense of being alone that lasted for some time after. It is one thing when this sense occurs indirectly with acquaintances. It is entirely another thing, when this occurs in a safe space with those that are closest.

After that, there was a shift. Everywhere I went, it became much more obvious how people express superstitions that are layered within language, culture, and experience. It is embedded in our consciousness, so much so that most people don’t even realize that they are doing it. In reaction, I dodge comments that are so outside of my own philosophy. I develop new forms of language in order to subtract the supernatural, religious, mythical, and mystical.

I go to yoga once a week, which centers me both mentally and physically. I approach it from an energetic rather than a spiritual approach, but of course, highly “spiritual” people practice yoga. I often hear how the Universe does this or that for us, as though it is personified and singling us out from the rest of life—Universe as deity. I smile and say nothing, respecting that I am on someone else’s turf.

A couple weeks ago, one of my instructors said that the “negative” is not a part of us. I found this problematic. Thoughts are not a “dark energy” outside of the self. My thoughts are my own work to deal with and get through. It is the difficulties in life that make us stronger, and I fully embrace that as an essential task. Furthermore, negativity is an opinion. I see pain, struggle, and obstacles to be surmounted as the key to growth. All of life is built on conflict—it is healthy, and how we grow.

At yoga, I also hear the word, “serendipity” which is similar to the more recent term, “synchronicity.” Carl Jung first introduced this concept, and felt that unexplainable events of chance determined a paranormal aspect. My opinion is that synchronicity has yet to be fully explored, but can be explained through science and math, such as quantum physics and probability. For example, subatomic particles connect instantaneously with other particles no matter the distance between them. We don’t fully know the extent to which this occurs on a macro level. Also, in highly populated areas, chance events are more likely to occur due to the increase of possibilities. I personally experienced chance events the most when I lived in the New York City area, and had an extensive social network. Much less so in a smaller network.

Mathematician, Steven Strogatz, said, “Sync is perhaps the most pervasive drive in all of nature.” My cats synchronize as they clean their faces at two opposite ends of the room. Flocks of birds, schools of fish, herds of animals all flow in a synced-up state. Within these actions there is a magnetic quality of bonded forms.

Sync also directs the flow of my work as a writer and an artist. Thoughts magnetize to experience. These connections happen constantly as film, literature, music, art, and conversation both filter through and become my own experience. As I absorb these forms, they direct me to the next things that I will absorb, and all of it begins to overlap in a complicated weave that grows through time and creates the brain that is thinking and producing and creating. Associations develop through comparisons, developments, unities. A magnetism of sync, and an expression of energy.

People often think of the Atheist’s experience as a flat, meaningless, existential dilemma. For example, Christian writer, Francis Schaeffer sums up his view of people without a god as thinking, “man is nothing, the world is nothing, nothing is nothing.” I remember having this same exact opinion as a young Christian. But another thing I wondered back then was, “Why doesn’t anyone else seem to notice how amazing earth is? Why are we looking beyond the stars?” There is a rich experience to be had by scaling one’s vision back from the imaginary to the uncharted territory of life itself. To be fully embodied and present in this existence.

 

 

The Power Of Belief

July 4, 2013 § 4 Comments

DSCN3394A 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.

 

How Belief In God Limits Us

August 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

The question we all have as human beings is “what lies beyond our limit?”  We just watched the film Another Earth where humans are faced with the perplexing realization that there is another earth mirroring our own, even another self completely synchronized with us.

In reality, when we come into contact with other people, their inner being transcends us.  They might let us into a few thoughts, but other than that, we will never fully know them.

But to find another replicated self – would we recognize ourselves?  Would that other self transcend us as well, as though we are looking at a stranger?  Would you feel competitive of your other self?  Would you find your other self ugly?  Would you be annoyed by your other self?  Would you love your other self?  Would you tell your other self to get over all their hang-ups and get on with life?

Just as we will never meet our other self, we will never meet our idea of God.  In Gordon D. Kaufman’s book, God The Problem, he states, “If there were no experiences within the world which brought us in this way up against the Limit of our world – if there were no point at which man sensed his finitude – then there would be no justification whatsoever for the use of God-language (Kaufman, 49).”

To embrace what lies beyond the limit, we talk of God in ways that we can understand from our experience of human relationships.

“…God is spoken of as lord, father, judge, king, and he is said to love and hate, to make covenants with his people, to perform “mighty acts,” to be characterized by mercy, forgiveness, faithfulness, patience, wisdom, and the like – all terms drawn from the linguistic region of interpersonal discourse (Kaufman, 62).”

In the Webster’s Dictionary, the word God is defined as “1 cap : the supreme reality; esp : the Being worshiped as the creator of the universe.”

When I say that I do not believe in the existence of God, I am saying that the belief of a creator and a ruler do not measure up in our current state of reality, or even within the context of the past and ancient history.  He was the explanation that existed before we had a scientific explanation, used as a way to interpret people’s experiences.  People desire to make sense of things, but the problem is, God does not make sense.

I am in awe of our cosmic universe, so much so, that I find it impossible for our existence to be so limited by this idea of God.  To me, we are looking too far out into the distance, when the answers all lie within us, within and beyond our massive and destructive home on earth.

“Indeed, we have learned, that it is precisely by excluding reference to such a transcendent agent that we gain genuine knowledge of the order that obtains in nature, are enabled to predict in certain respects the natural course of events, and thus gain a measure of control over it (Kaufman, 120).”

So there is no direct encounter and never will be – no way to interpret God outside of our own imaginings – in which case, God is actually a mirror of our own humanity – full of insecurities, the need for affirmation and praise, the desire to be close to these humans who are always so distant and cold, the desire to have their obedience, to incite dominance, to be in charge, to have control.  Why does God mirror the fickle childishness of a human being?  And if God is the creator, then who created him?  The answer seems obvious – human beings created him.

“When feeling is given a dominant place in shaping the interpretation of reality or the world, a religious world-view results (Kaufman, 214).”

Lately, every time we see my parents, my mother has to make a comment about God’s existence.  God is woven deeply within the fabric of my family.  He is given praise for all the good things.  The universe is over-simplified through Bible stories taken literally.  My mom celebrates the day that she will “go to be with Jesus.”  It’s not by my father’s intelligence and diligence in over forty years of hard work that brought them financial security.  No, it’s God.

The last time I wrote about religion, I was extremely angry for being raised without a choice.  Writing is good therapy, and I’ve come to a new place of peace and acceptance.  I feel released through my own realizations and views on life.  But I’ve also chosen to keep those views separate from my family life.  They have an idea of what I think.  The problem is, no matter how much I bring it up, they will forget it, or write it off by tomorrow.  My mom especially, has selective memory.  She blocks out the things that she can’t handle.  Especially since, according to their belief, I am “lost” – whatever that means.

When I am with my family, I do my utmost to respect them.  You cannot argue with a mind-set, culture, history, or the entire fabric of someone’s life.  They will do anything to shut out conflicting views, to keep the cognitive dissonance at bay.

Family is extremely important to me.  So I hold hands with them when they pray, I smile and say nothing over the Jesus comments, I listen to my nieces simplify the world by stating the Bible as fact.  In the meantime, I hope that as my nieces grow older, they begin to see that life isn’t so cut and dry.

Coming from children, religion makes sense.  But from adults, I expect more.  Sigmund Freud said, “The roots of the need for religion are in the parental complex; the almighty and just God, and kindly Nature, appear to us as grand sublimations of father and mother, or rather, as revivals and restorations of the young child’s idea of them… when at a later date he perceives how truly forlorn and weak he is when confronted with the great forces of life, he feels his condition as he did in childhood, and attempts to deny his own despondency by a regressive revival of the forces which protected his infancy.”

A universe that circulates around our own egos – that sounds like a man-made myth if ever I heard one.  We are all in the struggle of existence whether we like it or not.  We will all one day fall prey to death.  We have no real control.

“May it not be the case, moreover, that the very act of believing in God is in itself morally dubious?  May this not be largely an attempt to avoid taking full responsibility for ourselves and our lives by creating in fantasy a “heavenly father” into whose care we can place ourselves when the facts of life become too unpleasant (Kaufman, 14)?”

I find this over and over in people who dedicate their lives to God.  Life is just too much for them.  They would like to whitewash all the realities that are too painful for them to take.  It’s a coward’s way out.

The older Christians in my life all believe that I will come back around.  They were “wanderers” in their twenties and thirties, and are convinced that by forty or fifty, I will realize that my demise is nearing.  There are too many things I cannot control.  My body will start failing me, or friends will start dying off.  I’ll be faced with the futility of my existence.  I don’t think they understand, that I have already experienced all of those things.

It seems to me, when people leave faith behind, they fail to search beyond faith.  They avoid the question of spirituality altogether.  Then eventually, they inevitably end up going back to what feels comfortable, to what they knew in their youth.

My dad told me, “Never stop searching,” with his hands clasped tightly around my shoulders in a desperate attempt to get through to me.

I replied, “I never will.”  I wish I could please him, and be what he wants me to be, but I have to be myself.  I will never go back to where I came from.  I will move forward and live to the utmost before my body turns to dust.  And believe it or not, I’m okay with that.

 

For more on this topic:

https://laurenjbarnhart.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/god-against-nature/

https://laurenjbarnhart.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/why-i-stopped-believing-in-god/

 

 

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