Godless, not Soulless

So, I’ve had a lot of conversations over the past few weeks about my religious identity, and I get the feeling that a lot of folks in my life have been surprised by my answers.  For the past four or five years, I’ve identified as an atheist, and that’s still the case – but I think the surprise comes into play because people believe that “atheist” can only mean one thing.  So in an effort to a) be clear, b) get my own head around where I stand on matters of faith and spirituality, and c) just to see what comments, if any, this might generate, here’s where I am.

1.  I don’t believe in an omniscient, omnipotent, unified force in the universe that guards over us and intervenes in our lives.  To most people, that means “I don’t believe in God,” so I guess that’s true.

2. I do believe in the human soul – however, what I call a “soul” someone else might just call a “personality.”  What I call “spirituality,” someone else might just call “psychology.”  I believe that there’s something within us that exists separately from our biological, physical selves that defines who we are as people.  I believe that there’s such a thing as being spiritually evolved, and that people who attain this state tend to be happier, kinder to each other, more aware of the needs and feelings of others, more able to handle life’s tragedies, and more able to put things into perspective than those who are not.  Spiritual health to me is different from psychological health, which (to me) basically just means that you’re free of psychological disease.  Spirituality is about your psychological state, but also gets into ethics, worldview, and a lot of other things.  Speaking of ethics …

3. I ascribe to a moral code.  Some of the things that are a part of my morality are found in the Bible, but that’s more of a coincidence than cause-and-effect. There are lots of things I think are perfectly moral that the Bible condemns, and plenty of things that the Bible encourages that I think are downright evil. Basically, my morality consists of two tenets: I believe that we’re all connected, and I believe that we have an inherent responsibility to care for one another to the best of our collective abilities. That’s it. When I hear about people conducting honor killings in the name of religion, bullying gay kids until they want to die in the name of sacred texts that were written during the Bronze Age, or denying health care to those in need in the name of a political ideology steeped in religious fervor, I am disappointed in our ability to collectively evolve spiritually.  And I will admit – at these moments, I believe that my moral code is superior.

4. I’m completely open to the idea of divinity. But, if there is such a thing as “the divine,” I believe that it exists within us and not up in the sky somewhere.

5. Guilt is good.  In moderation, that is. I’m all for people being kind to themselves, but only insofar as they have done their level best to be kind to others.  Forgiving yourself for your past mistakes is crucial, but so is accountability. Doing whatever the hell you want, no matter what damage you leave in your wake, then saying to the world, “I refuse to dwell in the past, so I forgive myself, la dee da” does nothing for your personal growth and pretty much guarantees that you’re going to continue to make the same mistakes, over and over again.  Being truly kind to yourself might involve doing a little digging in the darker corners of your soul (personality, whatever), bringing the muck you uncover into the light, and dealing with it.  And it’ll also result in fewer people being hurt.

6. I have nothing against religious people.  If you go to church every week, pray to an omniscient, omnipotent being so that s/he might intervene in your life, and that works for you: dandy.  If it helps you to be a better, kinder person: extra dandy; you should keep doing that. Just don't use your religion to justify unkindness.  Don't attempt to codify religious tenets that have nothing to do with ethics into law.  Don't prevent me from buying a bottle of wine on a Sunday if I feel like buying it and some merchant somewhere feels like selling it to me. Don't prevent a gay couple from getting married just because your religious leaders have an "ick factor" around sexuality and are telling you that it comes from God and not their own squeamishness. Don't restrict a woman from making her own health care choices because you think you know what's best for her. You don't. Don't be mean, and then say God made you do it.  Because that's a lie.

And that’s about it.  Yes, you can call me an atheist and I will not be offended.  But please don’t say that I have a closed mind, no soul, no sense of morality, and no purpose in life. Because I’ve done a lot of work on those things in the past five years – way more work than I did when I identified with a religious faith, I might add.

Aaaaaaand, scene.

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