The gifts of atheism


Being from a country where most are atheists or agnostics, I am familiar with the gifts of those views.

The different main -isms reflect aspects of reality. There is some truth to each of them.

Here are some examples.

Atheism. Our images of God are not it. Reality is more than and different from our ideas, images, maps, and theories.

Agnosticism. We don’t know. We cannot know anything for certain.

Non-theism. Spirit is all there is. Everything happens within and as Spirit. The divine is not a separate being.

Panentheism. The universe is Spirit, and Spirit is more than that.

Of course, this is very simplistic. But it can be interesting – and fun – to explore the grain of truth in any views, as it appears to us.

What other gifts may there be in, for instance, atheism? This is what comes up for me. It reminds me to not automatically believe something just because someone told me it’s true. It reminds me to have a healthy skepticism towards religions. It reminds me of the downsides of religions. (Their main purpose is, almost inevitably, to maintain themselves. They can get mired in dogma. They are sometimes used for a few to gain and maintain power. And so on.) It reminds me, as mentioned above, that me images of something are images and not reality itself. And militant atheists remind me that any idea or ideology can be made into a religion, and that I don’t know anything for certain.

For me, these reminders are not so much about religions since I have never really been drawn to them, but other areas of life. Which areas of life do each of these reminders apply to for me? Where can they be a healthy reminder and correction? Where do I tend to believe something someone else said? Or make something, any idea at all, into a religion for myself? What are my own most cherished beliefs or ideas? Where do I get defensive? (As if I am trying to protect an idea or identity.)

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This is something that was more important to me in my teens and early twenties, but it came back to me after seeing an article about atheism in the US. (The article was about how atheists is the one group left in the US that’s often seen as fair play for intolerance.)

In some ways, I see that the atheist label fits me.

I don’t subscribe to the idea of God as a person, or entity. Unless we see all of existence – capacity, formless, form – as an “entity”.

I am a-religious, in many ways. I am mildly curious about religion, as a social, psychological and mythological phenomenon. I appreciate the value of what they offer (community, guidance), and sometimes enjoy going to ceremonies etc. I also see the drawbacks of religion, especially how it’s sometimes used as a tool for social control and power, and limits how people see themselves and life. But there isn’t so much more there for me.

I am science oriented in terms of methods and also in appreciating and making use of the content of contemporary science.

I grew up in a religionless family and culture (in Norway), so atheism is natural for me. I became a self-described atheist in elementary school, and even back then criticized religion for often misleading people and being based in having to take what someone else says as gospel.

Also, the Buddhist label fits me, since I have found the pointers there helpful and accurate. And the Christian label fits me, since I do have a strong connection with Christ and the Christ presence. Aspects of many other labels – including panentheism – also fit.

And really, none fit very well. Reality cannot be captured by any label of set of images and ideas. And I find pointers from just about any religion and spiritual tradition, and also many pointers from outside of religion and spirituality, helpful.

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