I entered college a devout Christian and left it an atheist.
In the decade since graduation my atheism has become more profound but less vocal. Nothing that I have seen or heard or read has indicated to me that there is any sort of supernatural world, any spiritual realm, anything other than this physical world in which we live.
I have not turned my back on religion; religious belief continues to fascinate me, has shaped my life, but for myself, I do not believe.
As anyone, I am the sum of my prior experiences, the totality of all that I have heard, seen, read, and done. These experiences have — for better or worse — been filtered through the sieve of my mind until what remains is the essence of Who I Am.
But who am I?
I am a non-proselytizing atheist whose personal moral convictions are deeply rooted in both the Mormon and Mennonite faiths, those religions of my youth. My convictions are tempered by personal experience and by ideas from authors as diverse as Charles Dickens, Plato, Ursula LeGuin, John Stuart Mills, Ayn Rand, Joseph Campbell, Milan Kundera, Daniel Quinn, Kathleen Norris, Wendell Berry, ad infinitum.
I believe that one’s ultimate responsibility is to oneself and to one’s own happiness insofar as this happiness does not infringe upon the happiness of others.
Though I’m a devout atheist, I try not to be an evangelical atheist. Spiritual evangelism is a curse, a blight upon this world. Spiritual evangelism is responsible for most of the Great Evil that humankind has committed: past, present, and future. If your belief system is sound, if your god is the One True God, then others will come to know it through your actions; you needn’t foist your god upon them. Evangelism is the telemarketing of spirituality. I deplore it.
I deplore it in atheists as I deplore it in the religious.
I’m willing to share my spiritual beliefs (as I’ve done the past three days), but I’m not about to force them upon anyone, to espouse them as true for all people. I do not believe the world would be a better place if everyone were atheist. (Well…)
Spirituality is an individual thing. What is right for me may not be right for you. What is right for you is almost assuredly not right for me.
Though I am an atheist, I continue to grow spiritually. (It is perfectly possible to be spiritual without a belief in any supernatural presence.) Reading is my doorway to enlightenment, as it always has been.
Many of the books I read take religion, or spirituality, as a central theme. Why is this? Do I feel some fundamental lack in my life? Do I pine for god, for salvation?
The quest for spiritual fulfillment has been a central human experience for millennia. It is a primary theme in the book of each person’s life. Naturally this has lead to an enormous body of literature in which religious and spiritual themes are explored. How can one help but read from this pool of books? Why would one want to avoid doing so?
I just finished Moby Dick: here is a book that is deeply spiritual without being religious, a book with spiritual themes applicable to all people, no matter whether they are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, animist, or atheist.
I enjoy reading about characters or ideas with which I disagree. To do so is often enlightening, illuminating myself and others.
I’m evolving. I keep an open mind, consider new ideas. (I see many of my friends and family cling to some idea or other and never let go — they do not grow or change. This works for them, and that’s fantastic. It does not work for me.)
Some of my best friends are Christians. Indeed, it could not be otherwise in this country, a nation in which ninety percent of the population is Christian and ninety-nine percent believe in god. I am friends with these people not because they are Christians, but because of who they are. I don’t care what a person’s religious belief is so long as they do not attempt to impose their beliefs on me.
The people I most admire are those who have undertaken an intellectual and spiritual journey and have ultimately been able to make that Kierkegaardian leap of faith, and who reveal their faith through actions rather than words. Ken Kauffman and Michael Hampton are two that I admire; they are intelligent, learned, and devout. Paul Jolstead (who, incidentally, posted a comment to yesterday’s entry as I finished this one) is making this spirtiual journey, has traded his atheism for agnosticism for spiritualism and, perhaps, religion. His journey is thoughtful and deliberate, stopping at many points to explore ideas he finds along the way. I do not know what point he will reach, but I know it will not be an arbitrary choice, but a result of reading and thought. To an extent, Andrew Cronk is also making this journey.
I try to live a life that adheres to fundamental Christian values (especially Mennonite values), yet a life that does not require a belief in god, and a life that does not focus on the little things. It seems to me that spirituality and religion should not be about the details (“thou shalt not masturbate”, “thou shalt not drink strong drinks”, “thou shalt not eat pork”, etc.), but about the Big Picture instead.
It’s possible for an atheist to be more Christian than most Christians. This seems a worthy goal.
It’s no longer important to me that I be Right, that I find the One True Way. I don’t believe there is One True Way. It’s more important that I live a happy, fulfilled life and that my actions do not interfere with the happiness of those around me.
Yesterday’s entry has engendered several thoughtful responses to this subject. It’s as good a place as any to continue the conversation.
On 27 November 2002 (12:33 PM),
On 27 November 2002 (12:57 PM),
On 27 November 2002 (01:46 PM),
On 27 November 2002 (04:55 PM),
On 27 November 2002 (07:18 PM),
On 06 December 2004 (01:01 PM),