“ On the whole, the Atheism belief systemhas not been particularly successful… “
– author“ A wondering mind shall always find what it’s looking for. “
I wish I could say the following lines had been written by an outright, adamant atheist. I really do. I wish I were able to confidently make such a statement. Unfortunately, that is not the case. For as much as I would like it to be so – I am not an atheist. Not even the least bit. I perfectly realize that.
And trust me, it is not for the lack of trying. For I’ve tried hard. I’ve tried being an atheist on numerous occasions. Yet on all of those – I failed miserably.
You may be wondering why I wanted to become an atheist in the first place. Why I haven’t simply stuck with the religion that prevailed in my family, my country, my community? What does this “trying to be an atheist” business have to do with anything? Well, the answer to these questions is a complicated one.
I was born in a rather religious family where it was (pretty much) forbidden to question the Christian system of morality. To some it may sound a bit crazy but I’ll explain.
My family neither was nor is an obsessive one. We were not, like, O.C.D. about Christianity, and my family memebers had never been a bunch of zealous fanatics. They believed in the Holy Bible to a certain extent. They were faithful to one another, moral, just, disciplined – or, at least, they considered themselves so – yet we never visited the local church as regular as some of the more “Christian” families in our neighborhood.
We never discussed faith, religious beliefs, OR problems of religion. However when I was in my late teens – a period when one is slowly but surely moving towards his/her coming of age – a pivotal moment in one’s character maturation – I naturally started questioning some of the ethics Christianity propelled into society. What was my parent’s reaction? They warned me not to voice any of my opinions regarding Christianity but to keep them to myself. Why? Because one of these days God might hear my doubts, and it would most certainly lead to His stopping of supporting our family.
There had been nothing special about our family. We were a typical middle–class family unit with the neighborhood full of very same typical families, who attributed their mediocre successes in life to some form of the higher power. For most of us it was this higher power that was in charge of everything, i.e. granting us things we greatly desired.
My family was not particularly fanatical about it yet there had been certain aspects of our household and interpersonal relationships that we also praised God for. And I guess it was reasonable and fair as long as it was harmless.ATAVISM / AND / SUPERSTITIOUSNESS
Many religious families – by the way some of you may have a similar experience – tend to not only believe in the higher power but to also be quite superstitious. I do not quite understand why that it is, since believing in the only one, the omnipotent God – especially in a particularly Christian manner – naturally implies riddance of other nonsensical beliefs such as good luck/bad luck omens, i.e. white spiders, magpies, black cats. At least that’s how I perceive it. If you are a truly Christian person there should be no other concepts – especially as the aforementioned – that rank as beliefs. If this is not the case your philosophy system is, at least, seriously flawed.
The funniest bit about the whole “black cat” concept is I’ve met people who’d rather make a giant loop of a journey than cross the road at a place the cat did. Which, of course, systematically caused them to be late for work, and hence their boss constantly giving them some lip for it. Guess whom they blamed for the ruined workdays? THE CAT! What bloody cemetery did they bury their logic at?! No wonder majority of those people work for someone other than themselves… they simply lack brains to be self-sufficient!
I do not much care for my neighbor’s black cat. That stupid little thing keeps crossing my paths on daily basis. But if the whole “black cat” theory eventually turns out to be true, I’ll be really pissed. Won’t you?
Not all believe in superstitions, of course. However, my family did. Which for me – a deep-thinking, thoughtful person – had never been fun, I assure you. My brain has always been a sponge that absorbed everything I happened to hear. So taking into account the fact that I was neither an optimist nor a humorist I naturally took all of these quasi– and pseudo– religious stuff seriously. At least, half the time. And the saddest part of it all was the end result of such bringing up, i.e. me, a 30-year-old man, still not being able to completely rid my mind of the superstitions and religious prejudices I’d been fed for years on end as a youngster.
I have, of course, mentioned my neighbor’s black cat that I’m perfectly happy to ignore, which means I must be on the right track of letting superstitious part of me go. However that is what’s so bloody sad about these superstitions – fill your kids’ heads with this nonsensical trash and useless atavistic ideas and your kids won’t be fit to think straight for years! ON / LETTING / THINGS / GO
I really do wish I could stop believing in everything as once. I wish I could spare myself the trouble of consulting the “believer” dwelling somewhere deep inside my mind. I hope one day I’ll be able to say, “Yes, I finally stopped torturing myself with this whole “what if God…” thing”
. However, it feels like I’m not yet ready to do so.
I don’t know what causes my numerous failures when it comes to faith. Why I keep consulting religion instead of cold-headed logic when it comes to life choices and preferences. Why now – at the age of 30, with a wife and two kids on my hands – I have yet to learn how to let things go and not to look back. Why up to this point – being well read, well-travelled, experienced, professional, and responsible – I’m still very much in search of something ephemeral that most people would rather treat as “my life, my rules, and my fortune and fate are mine to blacksmith”. I honestly don’t know.
Perhaps the prejudices are to blame. Perhaps it is the fact that I was born in a family of believers. It might even be as banal as man’s natural cowardice towards things that are beyond his comprehension. I’m not sure. I’m playing a guessing game here. Although I definitely know this: when making a choice, sometimes it seems organic to consult Christianity, yet on numerous occasions it feels like a bloody chore. Like something unwanted, something worth of avoidance. Besides, the guilt I feel should I do something not very Christian usually amounts to nothing but a merely unpleasant experience. And I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about for some perhaps may have felt the same way.
What’s paradoxically funny though is I find some Christians more logical than some of the non-believers. You see, zealous Christians – as well as keen advocates of other faiths – tend to consult their respective religions so frequently they end up adapting their daily routines, hobbies, activities and even their most insignificant of worldviews exclusively to their systems of belief. As a result of such disciplined and austere behavior many of the more adamant believers end up either not rushing into things completely or, at least, being very careful about what they do. It seems they think long and hard before doing something, quite often postponing things and eventually basing their decision-making purely on the facts they have on hands. They most certainly think their life is not as stormy because they live it righteously. However, it is their Christianity-induced carefulness that helps them avoid dangerous and unwanted situations. Which in all fairness is probably a good virtue since many of the righteous believers rarely get into serious trouble with the law. Or at least it seems so. ATHEISM / AND / RELIGIOUS / TRIGGERS
Who is an atheist? If you ask a zealously religious person they will say, “an atheist is a bad-bad person with poop for a soul”
. Naturally, this insane definition would not suffice your curiosity so you’d most certainly turn to either your local college teacher or your “my-dad-says” person. Whose answer to your question would surely be something like: an atheist is someone who does not believe in the existence of God. Which would be a fine rough estimate of what atheism is about. However, there is more to atheists than this basic claim.
I’m talking about a certain character trait they all seem to develop: a bizarre insistence, i.e. a strange quality to not only deny the existence of God but to insist aggressively on their point of view being the ultimate, resolute truth. In other words, atheists do not just NOT believe in God – they do not believe in God SO MUCH they’ve almost turned the atheistic philosophy into somewhat of their own religion, where they worship not gods but their literal physical absence. Atheism seems to have a number of valuable arguments standing for it, however why they are so exasperatingly insistent, I’ll never know.
What’s precisely curious though is that none of us are free from prejudices and bias. We are all very much susceptible to some kind of belief. (By the way many might disagree but I’d say they are thinking subjectively.)
All people – of any cultural, religious, or ethnic background – are born with a bunch of natural triggers lodged deep within the human brain, which either propel us to believe in something or don’t. And it all comes down to the quality of one’s life.
In an attempt to somehow justify some of our appallingly poor living standards, we beseech the heavens for help. By doing so we unknowingly activate these triggers, causing us to become more open-minded towards religious justification of our struggles. Should one’s quality of life become decent enough though – these triggers usually go back to their natural state of dormancy. IN / SEARCH / OF / MEANING
I believe it was a French philosopher (or a scientist of some sort) who claimed religion being a natural side effect of well-developed intellect. I believe he was somewhat right in his thinking. It surely isn’t the ultimate answer but I guess it is somewhere in the ballpark. It is FAITH that differentiates us from animals. Having a greater brainpower leads to creativity, environmental design and various religious doctrines. It’s absolutely inevitable. Morever, I suspect religion of being yet another form of cognitive creativity. I think the origins of faith have to do with the “tragedy” of Life. With the painful – sometimes practically unbearable – intricacy of human existence. LIFE is way too scary and lonely for us not to seek the deeper ultimate meaning of things.
What do you do if your range of interests spans beyond eating, sleeping and mating? You have a stab at rationalizing things. You try to make sense of it all. You apply your thinking, your vigilance. You experiment repeatedly. You watch. You take notes. If something is not yet explained, you gather data. So far, it has been productive and reasonable enough to draw some sensible conclusions, however not everything has been explained yet. So we go back and forth, bouncing somewhere between common sense and gut instincts. “There’s got to be something out there holding this chaos in place,”
we think to ourselves. But the more sophisticated we get the more it seems LIFE seriously lacks logic and meaningfulness. What is this? What are we doing here? Sitting upon this beautiful yet merciless blue ball heading towards the even greater nothingness. Life is truly bizarre. And all of us are in a constant state of panic. For fear and faith are organic. Natural. Almost synonymous. They are merely protective mechanisms to facing THE VAST UNKNOWN we’re heading towards. ON / SPIRITUAL / DEVELOPMENT
The craziest lie we, people, managed to pull off so far is the claim that an atheistically oriented person may not possibly be spiritual. We repeatedly insist on this dumb idea that spirituality is available exclusively to religious folk. In all fairness though it seems only the obtuse lot actually take this claim seriously. So thank God for that! Literally.
Spirituality is not something that you are born with. But it is something that one is able to develop. Spirituality isn’t automatically obtained once you accept some particular God as the only true God. However quite a number of people honestly and full-heartedly believe this is the case. With all due seriousness they seem to accept this crazy idea that anyone who believes in God is bound to be a spiritually progressive being. Or is at least on the path of becoming one.
Spirituality is not a material possession or a college diploma. You do not simply go to a store and purchase it with a credit card and a loyal discount. Neither do you get a spirituality badge sawn onto your shirtsleeve once you join some religious congregation. Spirituality is a purely personal concept. And the only true way of achieving it is through cathartic experience. Through diligent, well-disciplined soul-searching.
To my mind, spirituality is a state of constant awareness. Awareness of oneself with regard to his/her surroundings as well as awareness of effects one is having on other living things and the nature in general. Spirituality is understanding the fact that you are a fraction of something grander. It is an understanding that not everything revolves around particular something (or someone). It is the realization that you are a part of a wonderful journey – a process that has been going on since the very Big Bang – and that your every action may either progress or impede the development of this process. The choice is yours. And if you are a truly spiritual person you will most certainly make the right one for you understand the harmony of things. Slowly but surely you arrive at a conclusion that you are never truly independent. You are never completely alone. The Universe is affecting you constantly, non-stop. It affects you in a million different ways without you even realizing it. And not just you – but everything. It affects you just as much as you affect it. Life is nothing but a dynamic system of mutual accountability.
I’ve met many atheists and non-believers who seem to possess all of these qualities. People who do not live by the word of God yet perfectly realize how much their actions and behaviour affect others. Therefore, they always do right by them. Yet at the same time, I’ve met people who visit the church, pray daily, fast during the Easter and always attend Mass, yet not a single time – not a single damn time! – did I hear them say something decent about the neighbor next door. Moreover, I’ve met people whose house walls resemble something of a Christian iconostasis yet for whom saying “they may all die for all I care…”
is an absolute norm.
Would you call such person a decent Christian? I know I wouldn’t. For them Christianity is somewhat of a subculture rather than spirit-guiding morale-defining faith. They do not truly believe. For them it is nothing more than a tradition. Something they’ve done as kids – went to church with their parents.
If they did believe in something, I’d imagine them being afraid of walking off the “Christian path” – for karma is a stubborn mule and always seems to come back alike a boomerang. However, they are not afraid of anything. They sin. They pray. A minus here. A plus there. The chances are you’re going to be OK. Is that acceptable? No. Is this in any way spiritual? Most certainly not. So why would you ever claim that somebody wearing a crucifix is a spiritually developed person? In reality, there is a very good chance they might turn out to be complete and utter assholes.THE / AGNOSTIC / PATH
A few years ago, – when I was nothing but an office worm in the most stereotypical office that you may possibly imagine – I was in a regular habit of getting out to local book stores. Normally it would be lunch time for everyone at the office, and instead of stuffing my face with indigestible business-lunch-discount food I’d run to the local booksellers to use my break in a more fruitful manner. There I would search through hundreds and hundreds of literary works for answers to questions that regularly bothered me.
Those were the good times – the times of fair, cheap, and fast knowledge accumulation. I did not enjoy sitting at my desk reading forum messages and discussion threads. And “Googling” also seemed less fun. Therefore, I’d often do that – get out to bookshops and spend an odd hour or two digging through bottomless volumes and endless chapters in hope of discovering my own "philosopher′s stone".
Having once found a book by Stephen Hawking I thought to myself, “Now there is a man smart enough to know all the answers”. So I purchased his book in high hopes of finding secret knowledge in his writings that would in turn help me find my own path. Since I was apparently unable to either believe and never ask questions or give everything up at once and become a cynical materialist.
Despite the fact that his book was not about faith or anything otherwise dealing with it, Hawking did somewhat summarize his beliefs in one of his brief accounts.
The strangest thing about his writing was the fact that he was not an outright atheist. “Wait! What?”
I soliloquized. “Professor Hawking? A man who knew about the black holes, the space-time continuum, and the Universe expansion more than anybody else – is not, in fact, an atheist?!”
Finding out that he was an agnostic – a person who believes that an oddity is in fact possible, and we are simply not yet ready to fathom it – was beyond astonishing! I imagined him to be a concrete atheist. A cold-blooded killer of all things “religious”. High-order scientists are like that. They are usually hardwired to be skeptical of faith. Moreover, they are often cynically atheistic.
His writings had nothing to do with religions, of course. It was not his field of expertise. It was obvious that the only thing he cared for was scientific approach. Hence 99% of his speculating and conclusions centered on fundamental science. And if he touched upon something that was still beyond man’s comprehension it was purely for either philosophical or metaphysical purposes. However, taking into account Hawking’s prestige as a man of a brilliant intelligence I still decided to pursue this agnostic concept further for I was unfamiliar with the agnosticism prior to reading of his book. CONCLUSIONS / AND / DERIVATIVES
As I previously stated I was born in a rather religious family. I was not a cocky, arrogant, highly opinionated know-it-all. I accepted many ideas for what they were. I obediently absorbed the things my relatives and parents had taught me about life. After a while though – when, in a teenage like manner, I started to question some of the truths – I came to a sudden realization that I seriously lacked my own views on religion and spirituality. Everything that dwelled inside my mind did not really belong to me. Those were someone else’s ideas, i.e. ideas that arrived from outside. So I was deeply concerned. I was annoyed. It made me angry: the fact that my spiritual development was not mine at all. I did not arrive at these beliefs via experience – these were poured right into me.
My girlfriend once told me, “Well, why not become an atheist then? A clean slate. Drop everything you’ve been told. If it does not sit well with you, why torture yourself? Start afresh.” At first, I thought she was right. Yet shortly after that I came to an understanding that this was not the case for me. I was not an atheist. It was obvious. Neither did the conventional religious beliefs in their purest traditional forms suffice my curiosity. Hence on the very day I learnt that Stephen Hawking was an agnostic did I realize that perhaps agnosticism is the answer I’d been looking for.
I don’t think we are being constantly watched by some higher power. It doesn’t resonate with what I’m seeing walking down the streets. Yet at the same time life presents itself in such peculiar ways, I tend to question its randomness and fortuitousness. I often catch myself thinking, “There’s got to be some sort of a regulating mechanism to this bitter-sweet sizzling hot sauce we call LIFE.”
I’ve tried. I have really tried to rid my head of things that lead people to an endless solving of religious equations. But I kept falling back into it. The more you fight something that is within your nature the more it consumes you. I suppose it is time for me to stop fighting it and accept that I am not built to give faith up completely. At least, not right now. This is not the end of my spiritual journey, I see that. I’m an agnostic wanderer. And I sure as hell won’t stop questioning things. VAL MILEVSKIY