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Why Atheism?: Part III, Median Years

March 16, 2008

So, it’s been a few fever-filled days, and I’ve had time to think about what I call in my head the “Median Years” of my search for god. I also thought about green cats and giant tigerlillies, but that was probably due to the fever.

I have to sort the next part of this into years rather than a specific religion because I did a lot of bouncing around. Learning about something so different than the experience of Catholicism awakened a thirst in me to learn about more religions, and in most of them, I found something that was worth learning. Let’s list them out, shall we?

  • Taoism
  • Buddhism
  • General Christianity
  • Hinduism
  • Jainism
  • Zoroastrianism
  • Bah’ai
  • Secular Humanism (this is an important one)
  • more Wicca

I’ll warn you now, this one is long. Sorry.

There may be more but if there are, they are not important enough to remember. I think I studied Taoism first after Wicca. My introduction to Taoism was a book called The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff. This is an amazing book, and is highly recommended by 9 out of 10 me’s. As is the sequel, The Te of Piglet. Taoism stresses (in a very relaxed way) a simplicity of life and mind and a connection to the world. It also touts the concept of P’u, the Uncarved Block. P’u is a symbol of perfect simplicity and the state of being before the that simplicity is muddled by the experiences of life. The concept of P’u is also a state of constant potential, and any actualizing of that potential breaks the perfect state of P’u. That type of simplicity ordains a childlike innocence and an expulsion of the value of intellect and complex thought. That’s where the problems for me began.

Show of hands, how many of you are alive today? Hopefully all of you, otherwise my realized belief system completely mistaken! Think of how nice it would be to go through life as an innocent again. Hopefully, you can remember at least a bit of what that’s like, as you lived that life: that of a child during winter or summer break. Exploring the woods around the neighborhood, climbing trees, snowmen, snow forts, Tom and Jerry, video games, never having to worry about anything beyond what time you needed to be home for dinner. It’s a wonderful memory, and a powerful nostalgia. Now, try to apply that to your life now. Not every once in a while, but as a complete lifestyle. Simply put, we can’t. We have kids, bills, jobs, complex ideas and issues that require complex thought, such as politics, equality, and women. The concept of the Uncarved Block does not fit into the world anymore as a lifestyle. However, as an infrequent aspiration…

That’s what I learned from Taoism. Living a simple life for even a few hours out of the day keeps me sane. When I have the time, I play some video games, play D&D, read stories about spacemen or wizards, roughhouse with my kids (not the youngest so much, but that little ball of smiles spends a good amount of time swinging upside-down). I play. I make sure that there is some time out of every day (if I can) where the complex issues of life are not an issue. This allows me to recharge and be able to attack the problems later with getting overwhelmed being a very rare problem. So, as was rapidly becoming a pattern, I learned a good lesson and discarded the rest.

Next on the chopping block was Buddhism. I can’t remember which book I read and honestly practise of this demi-religion didn’t progress beyond a bit of meditation, which was refreshing. I loved the idea of kindness to all things and it stuck with me that this was not just a “well of course” merit, but something that I needed to be vigilant about. What turned me off was the philosophy that existence was torture and the ultimate goal was the Nirvana of non-existence. I don’t know about all of you, but there’s some pretty fucing fine things about being alive: family, cotton candy, volkswagen beetles (classic), video games (see above), books, sex, beer, food, etc. Your list may differ, but those are things that make life not so much a torture, but something I want to keep doing.

As I said before, the idea that persisted from my admittedly brief study of Buddhism was that of kindness to all things. This is probably my highest-held and most frequently failed ideal. It’s no big problem for me to be kind to those that are kind to me, but to just random people, it’s an act of effort to remember to say “Hello” first or hold a door for them. Actually, that second one I’m pretty good at, but it pisses me off when the receiver of my kindness doesn’t say thanks, which introduces a level of selfishness to my kindness that bothers me. And to those that actively antagonize or indirectly offend me, I have known to go into invective overtime. Those fuckers. The other thing that I realized after my brief study of Buddhism was that I was not actually looking to tailor myself to a religion, but the other way around. Not only that, but it didn’t necessarily have to be a religion at all.

That realization quickly engaged my guilt reflex, which lead to my next and penultimate flirtation with Christianity. After attending the return meeting of a cousin’s Discovery retreat, I decided to sign up for one. Discovery is a Christian retreat for teens where you pretty much go and talk about life and Jesus. I honestly don’t remember too much more than that about the content. What sticks with me to this day, however, is that the people there were incredibly warm and friendly, even to those who did not share their exact views. I got a glimpse of what it meant to be in a community that revolved around a belief system, and the kind of support that provides, and today I see the lack of that in the non-theistic populace as the one big hole that desperately needs to be filled. This is being handled quite well by groups such as the Secular Student Alliance and various Atheist and Freethinkers clubs around the nation, but I hope to see it catch on as a necessity, rather than languish as an exception.

That experience with Christianity lingered for about a month or two after my Discovery retreat, and from there I went back to Wicca, stronger than before. Looking back, it’s easy to see that it was likely prompted by my father’s sickness and eventual death from cancer that prompted the switch. This was the end of the brief years that my dad and I had to become real friends, and this painful and devastating loss did not gel with the philosophy of a personal god that acutely cared about my happiness. What did match was the idea that nature, and therefore, life is a wild and unpredictable thing, just as willing to bestow a blessing as it is to send a storm. This was my storm, and for a while I acted in just about the opposite way of the values that I had been trying to cement. Overly bitter sarcasm was the rule for years, even during a time that I found a close group of friends who shared my renewed beliefs. This bad time lasted years and culminated in one horrible mistake that snapped me out of it. I won’t share that, as it still pains me to think of it.

During my renewed faith in Wicca, I found a website called the Witches’ Voice. This site is fantastic and taught me that the Christians aren’t the only ones with a strong sense of community. Valuable info. Any Wiccans reading this should check it out if you haven’t already. This site is also responsible for planting the seed of passion for equal civil rights in my head.

After this, my search reached a fairly long hiatus while I tried to piece things back together and get back on the track of being a good person again. In fact everything ground to a halt at this time, including all of my personal relationships. My self-imposed hermitage was quickly cut short when I met a beautiful young lady, who I quickly proposed to, lest she get away. This came to be the best decision I ever made, and I can never thank her enough for saying “yes” and eventually, “I do”. Of course, difference of religion almost put the khibosh on the whole affair, because she didn’t want to be with someone who wasn’t going to the same place she was when he died, and I didn’t want to be with someone who valued that above the relationship. We actually got over that one pretty quickly, and the rest continues to be the best part of my life.

And, for a while, I didn’t think about god and religion much. It was a well-needed break.

Again, I apologize for the length of this one. I also realize I skipped over some of the religions in my list that I studied. The reason for that is that they had no impact of my life or beliefs. They were just religions that were interesting to read on. This series will conclude with the second after this article. The next will be far more brief. Thanks for bearing with me!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2008 6:54 pm

    Nice summary. I would caution you about reading on Taoism and Bhuddism. These are practices as much as religions.

    Have you worked on Tai Chi or sitting Zen? I found Tai Chi a strong attraction and spent a dozen years in study… I know more now than when I started.

  2. March 21, 2008 3:44 pm

    I did Tai Chi for a short while years ago. It’s not something I would be against doing again, as it was pretty relaxing.

    As for Taoism and Buddhism, there was not much relation to actual religion, so I see your point there. As for practicing them, I didn’t see much point when I had pretty fundamental issues with the philosophies.

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