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.

 

 

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Heaven Is For The Living, Not The Dead

July 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

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“If I believe in God, and it turns out to be true, then I go to heaven. If I don’t believe, and it’s true, I go to hell. The safest bet is on believing, and if it turns out to not be true, than what have I lost?”

This is an argument that has been posited to me many times by family members and people within the church. It is known as Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth century French philosopher, physicist, and mathematician. He believed that there was more to be gained than lost by believing in God due to the potential for heaven or hell in the afterlife. For those who believed, he saw only a finite deficit of pleasure in the present. For those who didn’t believe, the possibility of hell was too great a loss.

If a person struggled to have faith, Pascal advised that they should not look for more proofs of God, but rather they should abate their passions and follow the rituals of the church. Through these actions, they would be cured of their ill—ritual creates belief.

This is a weak argument from every angle. The wager presents an issue that always seemed like a shoddy reason for believing—fear. Pascal tells us that we need to do our utmost to believe on the basis of fearing hell. However, there is no evidence of hell; and there is no evidence that aligning ourselves with a savior figure will take us to heaven and a new earth. Viewed from the outside, these tales seem ridiculous—ancient leftover legends that somehow still make an impact on the gullible.

The concept of heaven and hell did not originate within Judaism. At the time of the Old Testament, they believed in Sheol—a Hebrew word that is said to have meant abyss, dirt-pit, or grave. It is a place underneath the earth where the dead congregate. Families were buried in the same location so that they could continue to commune together. However, the main preoccupation of the dead was sleep. Sheol did not differentiate according to belief. Everyone went to the same place and never came back. There was no soul or spirit that departed from the body. The gate to Sheol was in the West, because the sun sets in the West—an idea directly borrowed from the Egyptians. As time progressed, our current conception of heaven developed from a mixture of sources within surrounding religions. Within the Bible, the gates of heaven are well described, but what lies beyond is quite vague. Perhaps the glory of heaven is best left to the imagination, where it remains until we go to Sheol—the grave pit.

The second part of Pascal’s Wager is the recommendation for non-believers. He assumes that the non-believer is ruled by passions, and because of this, they cannot find their way to belief. By comparison, the Christian is taught to repress their natural instincts. By suppressing an action, the thought of that action grows over time. So it is assumed, that a non-believer who doesn’t subscribe to this repression must be driven by lust and a desire for 24/7 intoxication. But this of course, is not the case.

The illness lies within the repression and remains in the idea that nature is evil. The well-balanced non-believer does not struggle with unbridled tendencies, which is to say that not all non-believers are well-balanced. There are many who have recently left the faith, and are still struggling with leftover dogma. For those that are far beyond that, or never had to deal with it in the first place, “pleasures” are a nonentity, experienced freely and hardly given a thought. They are not an issue of control; rather they are a natural part of life. There is no internal battle going on. People are not driven by “sins,” rather we are driven by the human needs for happiness, health, community, food, and reproduction. Our actions are swayed towards surviving and thriving—a phase of excess is put to bed in lieu of this.

The “sin” is an aspect of a particular belief, and is not a negative for the non-believer. It is a system of control for the group that believes—such as modesty, laws about what foods you can eat, sex before marriage, or resting on Sunday. These “sins” have nothing to do with the person who does not believe. They have no bearing, and are a means of unification for the tribe of the faithful. Avoiding these “sins” is a way for the religious to separate themselves from the pack.

The second instruction for the non-believer is to engage in the rituals of belief in order to start believing. This is another way of saying, “fake it till you make it.” In Judaism and Orthodox Christianity, ritual is the basis of the religion. Believing is not the essential ingredient. The religion is made real through the actions of ritual. But in Western ideas of Christianity, belief is the foundation for entering paradise. One must believe that Jesus existed and rose from the dead, and they must live their lives in accordance with him in order to join him in the afterlife.

When Pascal tells the non-believer to not look for more proofs of God’s existence, he is adding to the marketing campaign of every religion. Religion crumbles through the search for truth. This is why the religious are told not to question. There is nothing original to the faith of Christianity. Within other beliefs, all of the basic tenets were there for up to 3,000 years before the birth of Jesus. Yet, Christians would like to think that their faith magically appeared from the sky. Instead, it was an evolution of ideas, a borrowing of myths, and a copycat of rituals from other religions. The story of history reveals itself as a series of political maneuvers where beliefs reflect the reigning leaders. Rather than spirit, there is conquest.

This borrowing of principles and rituals was nothing new at the time. This is why from Tezcatlipoca in Ancient Mexico to Tammuz of Babylon (to name just two of many more) people worshipped the dying and rising savior figure according to the time of year. Over thousands of years, sacrifice evolved into sacrament, and today we worship the current incarnation of the dying and rising savior—Jesus Christ.

The collective consciousness creates our story and our reality. Belief began as a form of magic in order to fulfill the desire for control over nature. At this point, we have so much control over nature that we may just succeed in destroying it.

The only thing proven by religion is that beliefs spread like a virus, and those beliefs form our culture. I would wager that the single most motivating force for conversion to Christianity is the threat of hell and the promise of heaven. It is a great marketing tool for gathering followers. So much so, that ever since, people have been saying, “Better to be safe than sorry.”

Fear controls the masses. It is a method of herding people into doing what you want them to do. When you take the veil off the fear, the fear has no power. Unmasked, we can see it for what it really is. It loses its mystery and mastery over us. We gain, rather than lose from this process, and only then can we find freedom.

 

God Against Nature

January 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

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             A picture was posted on Facebook, “Twins in the Womb – Hey Brother!  Do you think there is life after birth?  Do you believe in Mom? – Nah!  I’m an Atheist, I mean, have you ever seen Mom?”

This analogy literally makes no sense.  First of all, we don’t leave our bodies when we exit the womb.  The mother is also a physical body and everything she does directly effects and is experienced by the fetus – Walking, talking, dancing, listening to music.  Not only are the twins physically inside of her, but they are also consuming what she eats through an umbilical cord.  Both mother and fetus are a part of and joined in nature.  But the idea of ‘God’ is not.

In Nature, Man And Woman, Alan W. Watts explains, “The architectonic and artificial style of Christianity is nowhere clearer than in the idea of God as the maker of the world, and thus of the world itself as an artifact which has been constructed in accordance with a plan, and which has, therefore, a purpose and an explanation.  But the mode of action of the Tao is called wu-wei, translatable both as “non-striving” and “non-making.”  For from the standpoint of Taoist philosophy natural forms are not made but grown, and there is a radical difference between the organic and the mechanical (Watts, 39).”

Western man would like to measure, categorize, explain, experiment, and use every last inch of our earth.  If he probes deeply enough into our insides he feels he can explain our bodies as mechanized objects.  In this way, existence is only used as a method for profit and gain.  And though we have come into an age of a more secularized society, the brain is still programmed from religious thinking to be on the outside of nature looking in.  In this way, life is experienced as a bystander, irresponsible and apart in a perceived isolation, separate from all other creatures.

As a person who grew up in the church, it was exhilarating to first experience the freedom of my natural self without guilt or shame.  I was surprised that I felt no guilt, but for me, it was like an escape from a prison that I had been in all my life.  I had struggled to make my belief real.  But it was dead and I was left hungry and thirsty for real life and the riches of gritty experience.

“For in identifying God, the Absolute, with a goodness excluding evil we make it impossible for us to accept ourselves radically: what is not in accord with the will of God is at variance with Being itself and must not under any circumstances be accepted.  Our freedom is therefore set about with such catastrophic rewards and punishments that it is not freedom at all, but resembles rather the totalitarian state in which one may vote against the government but always at the risk of being sent to a concentration camp (Watts, 133).”

I think it is obvious to everyone that merely having belief in principles does not make you those principles.  A person who lives by belief must also wear a mask, because what is occurring on the outside and what is being thought on the inside are two entirely different things.  And the more you try to be ‘good’ with all your might, the more its shadow twin ‘evil’ is increasingly prevalent from the denial of it.

Christians like to say that their belief is not about might.  They say that Jesus will change you from the inside out.  If you believe that enough, through the power of self-hypnosis and faith, yes, you will change to some extent.  But you will still have all the same feelings you had before.  Feelings that are now associated with a sinful nature.

“To give free rein to the course of feeling is therefore to observe it without interference, recognizing that because feeling is motion it is not to be understood in terms which imply not only static states but judgments of good and bad (Watts, 93).”

Allowing our feelings to guide us is the only way to be truly happy and centered, to break out of isolation and connect into the flow of life.  “… Confucius felt that in the long run human passions and feeling were more trustworthy than human principles of right and wrong… (Watts, 177).”

Christianity has a long history of denying the spiritual that we experience in the physical.  In denying the body we deny life.  And fear of experience becomes worse and more consuming than the actual experience.  In pain we learn the possibilities of ecstasy and pleasure.  In sex we find spontaneity and transcendence.  In expressing emotion freely, we are released and connected with other human beings.  The full spectrum of physical experience moves us forwards into spiritual growth.

I had a friend in college that I love very much.  She goes to a questionable church that I used to attend.  They believe in punishing the unfaithful by disassociating with them, which is probably why she doesn’t talk to me anymore. But we had also grown apart, and the last time we saw each other, it felt slightly forced and awkward.

I first fell in love with her when we were on a student trip to Europe.  We were in Salzburg, and we all ordered Wiener Schnitzel with currant sauce and lemon.  It was succulent and delicious.  It was so good that she began to cry.  I had never seen someone so moved by the pleasure of eating.  She lived out her pleasures in the most beautiful ways, and I have always admired the joy she takes in the simple things.

She has alluded to a sexual sin in her families past that resulted in an excommunication from a church.  This seems to have shaped her fear of intimacy, beyond basic morals.  She believes in waiting for marriage, and has denied herself the sexual experience of being with a man.

It is obvious to everyone who knows her well, what a truly sensual, and beautiful person she is.  Her greatest repression has become her ultimate mission.  She goes out with her church group at 3am to help prostitutes by talking to them about God and giving them toiletries.  Her passion is to help stop sex trafficking.  But I find it ironic and strange when such a difficult repression is used to fuel a passion.  I am always happy to hear that someone is helping people, but I also worry that it can be patronizing to the less fortunate tiers of society.

“…  Profound love reveals what other people really are:  beings in relation, not in isolation (Watts, 199).”  A coward’s life is in isolation.  But the lover’s life is in relation.  I see my friend as a lover who is only allowing herself a fraction of what life has to offer.  In my opinion of this, of course, I am making the judgment of an observer.  But it pains me to see how religion can limit a person’s experience of life, where feeling is repressed beneath doctrine and dogma.

“… a God to be grasped or believed in is no God, and that a continuity to be wished for is only a continuity of bondage (Watts, 116).”

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