Friday, September 11, 2015

What We Talk About When We Talk About Religion

Most of my friends are Jewish atheists. There are also some ex-Catholic atheists and few other denominational non-believers. (I’ll put my Buddhist ones aside since of them I know not). I devoutly believe it is more likely for an atheist to be religious than those observant of a religion. Or to put it another way in order to have a religious experience it helps not to have a religion.

A house of worship is one of the least likely places to be lifted to an, aha dimension. I regard fundamentalist orthodoxies as a form of mental illness or at least some sort of neurosis. Those whom I’ve encountered seem to have a desperate need for the absolute with no room for doubt or deviation.

The noun, religion, has been so degraded by hollow ritual, hypocrisy, fables, divisiveness and irrelevance that only the adjective survives for me. Even then I wish for another word. Our vocabulary is impoverished in expressing spiritual, numinous or transformational moments.

In my view organized religion has usurped and subverted the true experience which I regard as touching one's soul. We are asked to park our brains outside. The congregation of the lost hungers for that other realm but must settle for warmed over passages which numb the mind separating instead of joining with people outside those walls. 

Maybe this is as it should be since these special happenings are beyond articulation. They can be described but not explained. However I think those soulful instances where one feels most aligned and lifted might be more recognized if we had the words to say it.

If I’ve stepped on sacred toes talking about that which we are never to speak God help me. It seems to me the very subject we ought to share. I have this need to turn around the negative of non-theism into something positive.

The atheism I embrace is not simply a statement of rejection of a Godhead. It is an affirmation of humanity. Walls of temples are not sacred, nor icons and edifices, nor days of the calendar, nor ancient texts and their poetry-turned-literal. Life is holy. The natural world deserves our reverence. How we are stewards of the planet is religious; how we care for one another through generosity and forgiveness, how we open our hearts to suffering, how we love and receive each other…these are among the daily opportunities given us to go beyond.

Art embodies all this. Music, dance, visual pieces and the written or spoken word offer a chance to connect. But there is also art in our dailiness. In the close listening and the bearing of witness there is a devotion I call my religion, Humanism.