Tuesday, 30 September 2008

No faith

These days I seem to spend a lot of time, IRL and online, with people who have a variety of religious and/or spiritual beliefs. I often wonder why I have no beliefs along these lines and others do. Then I wonder how it can be that so many people get so much from these beliefs and yet I feel no lack.

I often wonder if some of the framework of morality and ethics that a religious upbringing provides, I got from the atheist, politically aware family that I was raised in. We didn’t have faith but we did have beliefs and these, I think, are why I felt so secure in knowing right from wrong, in my childhood. I was certainly brought up to think that we all have duties towards each other – as well as rights. This is one of the things that irritates me when people blame the ‘breakdown of society’ on the decline of religious observance. There was an article along those lines in our local paper today. I object to the notion that my children will be inherently 'worse' than children raised with faith.

But, for many of my friends, their beliefs are about way more than a code of conduct. They feel immense comfort in the notion of a divine or cosmic being or essence that is watching over them. I’ve never felt that to be anything other than a creepy notion. I certainly do have moments of despair about the self-destructive impulses of my species but I feel comforted by the thought of the vast universe. We are just one little rock. It is sad that we can cause ourselves, each other and other creatures such pain. It is rather shameful that we appear intent on destroying our planet. But the planet will adapt and something else will happen.

My personal fate is of little importance. I find death a rather comforting thought. I am a little creature that lives for a very short time and then I’m gone. Everlasting life sounds exhausting to me! I’m not after heaven or salvation. Let me be gone when I’ve had my time. I find it re-assuring that just as there is a limit to the pleasure any human can experience, so there is to the pain – for me and for everyone else. I miss people that I have lost but they are dead. I have a human brain, which means I have a bank of memories and the people I have loved are in my mind. Over generations they will be forgotten and that’s ok too.

Maybe I’m shallow. Maybe the fact that a beautiful sunset or a flawless beach are just that to me, shows that I’m lacking something. But they are just that and they can still move me to tears. They don’t move me to tears as evidence of divine creation or cosmic energy but as the place I’m lucky enough to call home. I’m an animal with the capacity to appreciate beauty. How cool is that? (as my dd would say...)

My lack of spiritual beliefs means that I do believe that there are people entirely alone, suffering. It is a harsh world, in many ways. But there are also many, many examples of what a Christian friend of mine would call fellowship. I’m frequently amazed by people’s goodwill towards each other and their capacity for empathy when others are going through a hard time.

I do understand the offence caused by people who condemn religion – even if I have my moments of nodding along with them sometimes. There is nothing to be gained from ranting at people about all the things you find offensive, or plain ridiculous, about their beliefs. It’s not like anyone is going to suddenly throw up their hands and say, “hey, you’re right, it’s a silly idea.” It’s arrogant and unpleasant to listen to. Mind you, I say the same about people who want to accost me in the street, or on my doorstep, to let me know I’m doomed to everlasting hell unless I agree with them. Oh yeah, and most of them would like me to live a celibate life and renounce the love of my life too.

I sometimes have to cough down a comment or two when I fear that people I care about are damaging themselves through adherence to a spiritual or religious belief I don’t share. But I remind myself that they are probably doing the same thing when watching me go my merry way. In the end, I believe in freedom more than ‘being right’ – way more.

One of the things that age has changed in me is the fact that I now have far more faith in human capacity to get things wrong than I ever did when I was a young woman. I wanted to find a formula that could be applied to ensure a better world and for me that was a political quest. Now I believe that one of the few things we can rely on is that whatever we do, there will be unintended consequences. This has killed the revolutionary in me (she was always rather tentative anyway!) and made me feel that the best change is done in small steps with plenty of opportunity to rectify the messes that you will, inevitably, make along the way. But that’s all dependent on there being a will in the first place and that demands the recognition that we will be best served by caring for each other and the world around us – rather than seeking to win the race or get the biggest heap of gold. But, just as I no longer believe in a political formula for a better world, so I don’t believe in a religious one. Because I don’t believe in God/spiritual forces I think that religions are human constructions and so they will be full of error. Unintended consequences abound! If we start with an idea that the first thing that must happen is that everyone adopt the exact same belief system we’re off on the merry path to witch burning and stoning. I don’t want to go there.

I don’t anticipate a death-bed conversion to any religion. But I never say never. That’s something else that I think I’ve learned over the last twenty years or so. We are changing creatures and people do the most surprising things. But I think that spending a childhood with no God, no religion, makes it more likely I’ll live and die that way. People who are raised with faith often do tend to miss it if they go without later on, I’ve observed. We’ll see.

This evening we’ve all been talking about religion. I was trying to explain that Jesus is both God and the Son of God. Pearlie raised an eyebrow and said, “that must have been a complicated family tree.”


cosmic seed said...

I really enjoyed reading that :-) Just to add to the pot about this bit:

"This evening we’ve all been talking about religion. I was trying to explain that Jesus is both God and the Son of God. Pearlie raised an eyebrow and said, “that must have been a complicated family tree.”"

Alot of people believe that this father/son/god thing is of a more symbolic nature and that what was being driven at (by Jesus) is that we are all *god*, because we all came from the original source. Which interestingly is what I think David Icke was trying to say way back in the 80s when he was ridiculed for saying he was the son of god. It's an interesting theory if nothing else :-)

peri said...

An interesting and thought provoking post - I enjoyed reading it - thank you.

Anonymous said...

I blame the ’breakdown of society’ on cable teevee and gameboys. Our attention has been sapped, whacked, and returned in a vortex of brainlessness. Standards have dropped. I like a nice polished shoe for example, and now it's all trainers and jogging pants ;)

I don’t think religion has anything to do with moral fibre or good society. It’s often a front. There are way too many corruptions in every spiritual outfit with a following. Religious groups always have a thick seam of corruption, these are people after all, not superhumans.

All the rules and regulations about who gets into hell and heaven do my head in. I cannot peddle that to my kids at all. It gives them nightmares (concept of hell as pit of fire they will go to).

I know that I needed some form of something. For me that was a certain form of prayer, with regu-larity. And yeah, a moral code to be inspired by, but within reason. More and more I see that if I am to become a follower, that would mean not standing up for human rights, I cannot just 'accept' what my gut says run from..

And there is no way I can take sides. Judging by what I have been told, I am going to hell anyway, if you go by the rules we all are. Being threatened with hell for not having a religious husband was the bit that got me, that changed me.

Now for me, beliefs/faiths – it’s personal, I don’t have a belief as such, I know some stuff and some stuff is beyond me, but I do have a daily practice. I just don’t claim to be an authority, or able to speak for the masses, I try not to be pigeon holed, but it is too late for that I guess since I always stick a label on myself first.


I dunno.

The worst thing is to call ourselves something. And I fall into that trap, but that has always been a thing with me. From very young proclaiming “I am a this!” then “I am a that!”

Living out in nature I see animals surrendering to death in such a way that I know, basically, every-thing is gonna be alright. Being with people at the moment of death (as I have a few times now) you see them just go so utterly peaceful and in bliss. We are in some way imprisoned in bodies of pain. How blissful to experience heaven on earth though! In the sunset etc. No hell below us, above us only sky.

God to me is not someone watching over me, but a cosmic chuckle. Massive. We are but specks etc. All religion is man made or man operated. When women are treated like second class citizens or as worth ‘half’ a man within religion, I have to change the rules.

The sufi tradition I am inspired by grabbed me because it had in writing a lot of my own personal ‘code of conduct’ anyway. I don't do gurus and masters. I don’t agree with it all, there is a lot I will not do, and I gather this makes me one of those dreadful cafeteria types.

I really think that we should feel free to express ourselves in whichever way we need to, but that yeah, lets face it, we’ve all had enough of religions putting each other down and each religion saying “WE are the chosen ones!!!” It’s embarrassing. And I am getting more than a little tired of the promise of hell after all this. This sort of thing has the ability to tip me over the edge. I get depressed enough as it is, I don’t need threats of hellfire too. I would question the benefit of threatening people with hell. It seems to be like the promise of ‘in heaven you get everything you want if you have been a good girl’…weird that anyone could be motivated by that sort of thing, but fair enough, whatever gets one through the night *shrugs*.

EF x

Allie said...

Hi, all. Cosmic seed, yes! I see what you mean and that does make rather more sense to me. David Icke, on the other hand...

EF, it is true that my kids don't have gameboys, so maybe you're on to something ;-) No, actually, I have beloved nephews into that stuff and they are very centred and loving children. I don't think standards have 'dropped' - not really. Every age has its own problems - as does every place. I'm sure these streets, where I live, were full of brutality a hundred years ago. Behind our house was a 'home' for wayward women. You can imagine the pain that was inflicted in that place... Sure there's brutality in this age too but at least that particular bit of oppression has been left behind.

When you say,
"I get depressed enough as it is, I don’t need threats of hellfire too."
I am so with you. But I do try to remember that many religious people don't make these threats. Many live with great compassion and forgiveness.

I have always struggled with a notion that anyone who really knew what it was to be loved, or to love, could factor in eternal damnation by their loving God. For me, loving is about reaching for the most noble qualities you can find. Why would a God, who could forgive, indulge the desire to punish?

Come to that, why would he demand worship? For our own good or for his particular fancy? Is it good for people to worship? Is an entity that demands worship worthy of it? Oh, there is so much to think about in all this and, for a non-believer, I have spent a fair amount of time doing that - and talking with friends.

But, in the end, what counts for me is that people respect each other. This means being able to say,
"Gosh, that was a bit of an ignorant comment. Can I explain?"
without the whole thing descending into fury and violence. What people believe is interesting to me, because people are interesting to me. I like to hear about it all - from 'cafeteria types' (maybe the way to get a nice, balanced meal?) to signed up and card carrying.

I think we all need 'homes' of many kinds - emotional maybe, and spiritual for some. For some people, labels are very important. For me, they have been everything at times. There are some I feel like I need and some I have let go. But, deep down, I reckon everything transcends labels. We label what we have to at a given place and time. It is about what our society thinks is significant. I like black socks, but I don't have to declare that to the world with a special label. In many ways, I wish all matters of belief and identity were accepted with the same open mind as sock choice. I reckon labels would be less important in such a world.

Gill said...

I've gone from being dogmatically brought up Christian (no questioning was allowed) to being a complete atheist to, after some interesting insights and whatyou might call revelations, believing this:

"..that we are all *god*, because we all came from the original source.."

I think the universe has intelligence, we are part of it, and there's an all-powerful thing called Light/Love and we're part of that too. People have many names for it, don't they?

But I totally reject the dogma of my childhood - that he's up there on a cloud next to Santa and the tooth fairy, peering at us through his holy telescope and we're.. what? Little toy soldiers on his carpet? Etc.., you get the picture. I think the message got a bit warped over time, didn't it? Gah, sun on screen. Lovely post, anyway xx

mamacrow said...

lol re Pearlie's comment!

God said 'here is faith' the Devil said 'ooooo, let me organise it...'

Did you know, there are ancient roman letters of a business man complaining to his son about how society's standards are slipping, and the 'yoof' just arn't up to it?

same old same old - there is nothing new under the sun!

I'm not afraid at all of death. I am rather hesitent about the pain that could potentially be involved in the lead up...

me? God is everything and everything is God.

Eh, what can I say. It's passed midnight, so my answer - rather than being in bullet points - is in platitude points!