Actively bringing about much needed change in our communities and hope to the broken and disheartened.
Yesterday I was asked to sit on a panel as part of a religious education forum at a local undergraduate school here in Albany. It played out much like I thought it would.
On the panel there was a non-denominational evangelical Christian, a Reformed Jewish Rabbi, a Muslim couple who served as Principal and Vice-principal at a new Islamic school, a Unitarian Universalist, a Catholic theologian…and me…you’re token atheist.
Atheist you say? When did that happen?
I don’t know really. I guess it just kind of creeps up on you.
What has honestly been a long process of walking away from my former beliefs has turned into me trying to establish a new identity – one that I can put into words that will help people understand who I am, how I operate, and what I believe. Atheism is a loaded term that – for all intents and purposes – I probably don’t know that much about. What I do know is that atheists don’t believe in a god, and so the working title fits the description for now.
I think the title of atheist makes people cringe. A lot of atheists (i.e. Richard Dawkins) spend their time bashing the notion of a god, crushing the idealism of the religious faithful, and being more or less angry and combative. That’s not really me. I don’t really care if you believe in a god or not. If anything, I feel free – so you can feel however you choose to feel and I’ll accept you for that. I spend literally none of my time thinking about whether or not there is a god, and whether or not my life is a pleasing life to that god. I get to live each moment fully present for myself.
So why not agnosticism? Isn’t that the more PC term – the easier term for people to digest?
Trust me, as a millennial who has zero other things in life figured out, the last thing I want on my plate is trying to see if I can muster up enough faith to believe in a god. I’ve spent enough of my time and energy trying to figure that out – just go back and look through these posts and you’ll see I gave it a good effort. But agnosticism means that my searching isn’t over – and I’d say it pretty much is. So, atheism for now.
The reason I say ‘for now’ isn’t because I foresee a big change happening in my life where I’m swept up into my former beliefs again. No, I’ve moved away from them and I don’t intend on returning. Instead, I say ‘for now’ because I haven’t really taken the time to try and align myself with any particular way of thinking yet. I call myself an atheist with some reservation because frankly I don’t really know what being an atheist truly entails. I could call myself a Secular Humanist because I am a social worker and live and work for social justice – but I’d be lying if I said I knew anything substantial about that term either. Nihilism could fit the bill perhaps – but again, am I terming myself something that I don’t fully comprehend?
One thing that I’ve found interesting is that while I’ve heard from many of you who indicated that you were also wrestling with faith – most of those I’ve spoken directly to are still hanging on to their belief in a god. This puzzles me, because subjectively, the further I drifted away from church and from the bible and from all of those things, the less sense belief in a god made to me. I don’t want to diminish the fact that these folks genuinely believe in the existence of a god, but is it possible that this belief is maintained because of the identity that is found in belonging to a group of people who believe? I’ve thought that in my conversations – but then read an article about Bart Campolo becoming a secular humanist, and my thought was supported externally:
“Campolo notes that many longtime, active members of churches confide to him that they share his skepticism—maybe even his outright unbelief. But they often stay there, silently assenting to what they don’t believe, because they need the identity, the support and the belonging that comes from their existing community.”
So maybe that’s true. Or maybe Bart and I are truly the exceptions to the rule, and that most people never settle on the opposite side of the pendulum’s swing, but are ok with the tension of being somewhere in the middle. While I won’t lie to you and say it hasn’t felt like I’ve wandered off from the pack of millennials who I started down this path with, I am happy to have been a part of the larger conversation in challenging a system of beliefs that we were tired of following.
So, for the record, the panel I sat on went fine. I cringed at the religious jargon being thrown around to a room full of people who didn’t have a working knowledge of terms like “predestination” and probably thought people were referring to farm animals when they referred to “the risen lamb” – but aside from that, it certainly challenged me to be somewhat more clear about what it is I do believe, rather than merely keeping a list of things I don’t.
More to come.