Friday, March 17, 2006

A View Of The TEM Being Outed

I'm kicking the door off my closet and I'm walking out.

I'm an atheist.

There. I said it. Feels good to get that out in the open, like that first spring breeze.

I've held this belief for a very long time - almost as long as I've been able to think seriously about religion, faith, and what role it plays in my life. I've explored several religions, did a great deal of soul searching, read, prayed (at least at the beginning), and finally embraced my viewpoint. I am now ready to live out in the open, proud of who I am and where my beliefs are.

I've come to see religion as a tool created and honed over time to make sure a group of people stick to a set group of social mores. In that aspect, I think the power of religion is used mainly for good. We all need to learn how to treat each other better, how to respect our fellow man, how to be civil and caring within our communities.

I've also come to see religion used as a weapon to smother dissent, encourage prejudice and oppression. I've come to see religion abused to bring out the ugliest, darkest aspects of human nature -religious beliefs used as a weapon against the weak of body and mind.

And that's where the root of my atheism begins. The concept of an all seeing, omniescient being with absolulte power, with the ability to create all in His/Her image, accepting and condemming at the same time just does not register with me. It's a beautiful idea when you think about it, but one that ultimately absolves us of our personal responsibility. It's easy to say, "I'll pray to God to make things better," than it is to take one's life into one's own hands and doing the work to improve one's life. It's comforting to think that when one dies, there's a beautiful, carefree place where the soul goes so we can live on, when nobody knows what happens to us once we make that transition or wants to contemplate how to find happiness and contentment while we are here on Earth. It's easy to imagine having our mistakes, our cruelty, our failings magically wiped away by a powerful being in the sky than it is to think about the mistakes we've made, are making, and will continue to make. Easier than thinking about how to correct those mistakes, move past them, and prevent ourselves from making them again. I'll be the first to admit I'm as flawed, damaged, dare I say sinful as the next person on this planet. Turning to a deity or an icon to dismiss or defy my faults, however, just makes no sense to me. I have to take responsibility for my mistakes, own them, face my fears of what will happen once I die, of dying itself, and finding my inner peace while I'm still alive.

The idea of a God, of messengers, of miracles, are sweet beautiful concepts that work for many people. I'm not one of them. The idea of a God who creates an Earth full of creatures modeled in His/Her own image, but then being told those creatures can be rejected by Him/Her because of who they love, the way they choose to create, the ways they try to cope with their own internal suffering is contradictory. The idea of a God who asks one to worship Him/Her fully and completely without question, but not being able to serve in one of His/Her churches because of their gender makes no sense to me. We're told spiritual texts like the Bible, the Qu'ran, the Book of Mormon or the Torah, are from the mouth of God, but in the next breath we're told it's the word as told to man, leaving the texts open to the interpretation and manipulation of a group who wants people to belive as only they believe. It's impossible to sort out what may be true in those texts and what may be the truth turned and twisted to fit one person's personal agenda over someone else because of greed, jealousy, or a lust for power. There's too much left to personal manipulation, to a grab for power, to a need to advance and conquer at the expense of someone seen as weak or inferior for me to even begin to subscribe to the belief of a God as we know it. It scares me to think of the way my country, one based on the concept of religious freedom, is using religion as a key test of patriotism, as a basis of law. The use of religion as a measure of national loyalty in any form; from it a pledge to God in a public school, or mandating the core beliefs of one religion over another discounts that nation's citizens as a whole. It's the personification of Orwell's lesson in Animal Farm: Everyone is created equal, but some are more equal than others. It is a perversion of belief and a further illustration of the way man uses religion for personal gain.

As much as I've tried, I cannot find comfort in religion or in the concept of a God because of this. George Clinton said it best for me: The kingdom of heaven is within.

Now before everyone picks up a Bible, a bottle of Holy Water, and begins preparing strategies for saving my immortal soul, let me say this: Please save yourself a lot of frustration and don't try. I've lived almost 40 years developing my self image, my opinions, and my views. I've earned the right to not believe in a God just as you have earned the right to believe. I would never try to sway you away from your faith in the religion you choose to practice. Everyone has their own path in life that they must follow. When they do, they have to accept the responsibilities and consequences that come with following that path. I've found mine, am exploring it and have accepted the responsibilities that come with it. It would be presumptuous to assume that because my path differs from the paths of others is wrong, and disrespectful to try and move me from my path onto yours just to make yourself feel better.

In other words, live and let live. I'm here. I'm an atheist. Deal with it.

I still follow some of the traditions of my religious upbringing. I celebrate Christmas because I like the concept of giving selflessly to bring happiness to others, not because I believe in a manger in Bethlehem. I say "God bless you," when someone sneezes out of habit and it feels weird to say "Gesundheit." I also say, "Goddamn it," but that's because I have a potty mouth. I say a lot worse, too. I've occasionally attended church over the past couple of years, mainly to support my ex-boyfriend's search for a new church home. I think it ultimately disappointed him when I stopped going after he joined a church that was the right fit for him and his spiritual needs. He had a hard time accepting my spiritual life would never be the same as his. I'm even beginning to tentatively explore Buddhism because its main tenets of personal enlightenment, karma and finding a sense of calm within seems to mesh with the viewpoints I've developed during my soul searching process. There will be more about my ongoing personal development in future posts.

In the meantime, feel free to read, comment, and share. The closet door is open now, so feel free to peek in and take a look around. I'll be happy to guide you along. You can also learn about atheism and agnosticism by visiting the Atheism Web, a clearing house site that discusses atheism and agnosticism.

More to come later....

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

TEM

If you are of the opinion that heaven is within, do you believe that there is one, thing etc. that is higher than oneself?
I agree with you for the most part with regards to organized religion, that is why I have embraced spirituality which is more one on one and is more fulfilling to me.

SS

10:12 PM  
Blogger TEM said...

Hi anonymous,

I would say the mystery of life itself is higher than oneself. Why are we here? How did we get here? What is our path? How do we treat each other?

The search for those answers takes us toward finding our path, finding our center and our inner peace. Organized religion can be a way to start because of the basic golden rules, but in the end, I don't think one's peace is going to be found in a God or any of the other parts of that sort of ideology. That's one of the other reasons Buddhism intrigues me. The way I'm understanding it, that seems to be the main thrust it.

What sort of spirituality have you embraced? Please share - this blog is all about open exchange. If it helps, I think the worst thing that any human can ever do is to become selfish. Finding one's center is a wonderous thing, but believing that YOU are the center of everyone is completely wrong.

Thanks for stopping by. Keep visiting.

10:39 PM  

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