My “rules” for this post are simple: respect is mandatory; curiosity is fine, asking for clarification is fine; proselytizing, denigration and snark have no place here.
This post originally started as a reply to someone else on another forum earlier this week, before I realized it wasn’t *really* what the original poster was asking for. However, because it’s rare enough that I manage to be even this coherent about how I conceptualize faith, I didn’t want to just delete it. I originally posted it in a more protected space, but decided to clean it up (and expand on it in places) because I think part of what the person to whom I was originally replying is interested in involves the idea that people who think about what they believe (or don’t believe) tend to be private or introspective and therefore silent about it so we have a hard time finding each other. The ability to respect someone else’s belief (or non-belief) and engage in honest curiosity about our world, and about how we all navigate it, is, I hope, not as rare as all that so much as it’s something we’ve been taught by the various dominant organized religions is unacceptable. I don’t believe it is unacceptable, so decided to do my part to contribute to some real or imagined larger conversation.
This got pretty long, so to spare the feed readers of those of you not interested, more after the jump.I’ll preface this with some additional background about me, which some of you will already know. I was raised nominally Roman Catholic in the sense that my paternal grandmother was devout and raised her children within the traditions of the church. My mom is probably best described as agnostic, though I think she was raised Methodist. Neither of my parents were actively practicing in any faith for most of my upbringing, though both my sister and I were baptized, had first communion, and were confirmed. I remember attending church as a family on Easter and when we stayed with grandma. My sister did (and still does) attend services regularly, usually with a family from our neighborhood (now with her own family).
During junior high and high school, I was active in the youth group of the church to which we belonged, largely because the youth minister was an amazingly accepting and loving man. Brother M navigated some intently questioning conversations with me that ultimately led to my decision that I did not believe in God as personified in the Roman Catholic church; he never once expressed even the slightest disappointment in me or my decision, and his constant love and support for all of the youth who participated in the group, of many different beliefs, have been something of a guidepost for how I enter conversations of faith. His unabiding respect for us all as people, regardless (or perhaps because) of our myriad perspectives and backgrounds, remains a fundamental tenet of how I try to see and interact with the world.
Presently, I don’t ascribe to any organized religion and tend to eschew even putting a label on what I do believe, in large part because I’m sufficiently out of sync with the tenets of most commonly accepted religions for it not to make sense, but also out of unwillingness to let someone else make *political* statements or arguments on my behalf based on an assumed commonality about how we approach the world. Belief is personal and, for me, independent of my political views. My faith (or lack thereof) influences my personal political views, but not always in the way that a large organized religion says it should. I’m rather opposed to the politicization of religion as I feel it’s too easily turned into manipulation and spiritual blackmail – the idea that you’re not a “true” believer unless you stand with “us” on XYZ sociopolitical issue is antithetical to my conceptualization of faith and belief.
Belief evolves and I’m not always very good at keeping track of when and where mine has, so in a partial effort to document what I believe now I’ll try to do a concise little brain dump on where I’ve settled for the nonce when it comes to faith. I’ll try to keep things more or less linear, but I can almost guarantee there will be some skipping about. As stated at the beginning of this post, curiosity and respectful conversation about belief, asking for clarification or additional explanation, and respectful discussion about the differences in how we all approach matters of faith are welcome here; if I’ve said something you want to know more about, feel free to ask.
I identify atheist when I find the need to identify as something specific at all, even though those who feel it’s their right to do so have challenged whether I’m a “real” atheist. (My response to such comments – about me or anyone else – is that my faith or lack thereof doesn’t need to align with anyone else’s to be valid or “real”; see above about the politicization of religion. This is a belief that has become more pronounced in my attitudes towards faith in recent years in general, but I think it’s a more or less natural development for me.) I don’t believe there’s a conscious – benevolent or otherwise – higher power at play in our world or universe, nor do I believe in any kind of afterlife, spiritual or otherwise. My consciousness is more than I can explain, so for lack of a better word I claim it as a “soul”, but it’s no more eternal than my body is; when I die, for all intents and purposes the thing that is/was me ceases to exist in everything but a cellular/conservation of mass sense.
I believe there are more powerful forces that act in our world/universe in ways we don’t fully understand and the best name for those that I have is “nature”, but it’s really somewhat bigger than what that typically implies. I believe that those forces are de facto inclined toward balance and that we – meaning humans – can push the balance one way or another, but that the larger/other forces around us will work to rebalance; the system is dynamic, but ultimately closed. It’s a bit like the internet, in some ways: if one means to an end is closed, the system will reroute to accomplish the task. I believe these other powers are ultimately stronger than us, in that they work on a time frame we simply lack the patience and/or longevity to fully appreciate, and that they’ll work toward homeostasis even as the system shifts. How that all settles out may or may not include the continuation of our species. There’s no malice or intention in that outcome, it just *is*.
My belief in the balancing aspect of nature, as stated above, strikes harmony with various Druidic or Pagan practices, though again, I’ve found I’m not sufficiently in sync with any of those religions, even loosely defined, to feel comfortable with claiming them. However, the various Celtic and Norse pantheons, and their concomitant associations with natural forces, are appealing to me as stories and myth – which for me is the nearest I come to a liturgy, I think – largely because their deities were human in a way that I think many modern (western) religions find incompatible with divinity. In the end, divinity isn’t something I, personally, seek; I haven’t felt the need for an external, or superhuman example of something I should try to emulate (which is a really awkward way of putting it, but I’m trying to make it clear that this is my personal decision and that there’s no judgment implied for or against anyone else’s decision with respect to divinity). I don’t believe in the physical existence of those figures of myth, even in a historical sense as they are represented in the myths – there may have been at some point living people who inspired the creation of those myths, but the stories have made them larger than life. In the end, though, they are just stories for me, ones I like and which tend to involve themes I enjoy and in which I find something meaningful. In some ways, they are the stories I might wish to believe were truth.. but not really, if that makes sense. This tends to come out when I find myself using a variation on the verbal memes the reference “god” – I’ll pluralize it or substitute goddess more as a subtle statement that I’m not monotheist, if theist at all (I don’t claim to be, but the verbal memes are so ingrained they’re hard to avoid altogether).
Additionally, the moon always has been and continues to be a force which fascinates me, and it’s increasingly one I personify when I find the need (which isn’t often). If I push myself to describe why the moon, in particular, it comes down to being a natural, nonhuman force that we now commonly understand influences our lives (e.g., the tides). It’s an accessible representation of that larger idea for me. It also helps that my physical body cycles in near lock-step with the lunar cycle, and the synchronicity is comforting even though it’s (fairly certainly) coincident (the parenthetical is because who’s to say whether the gravitational forces exerted by the moon aren’t partially related to the average length of a woman’s menstrual cycle *shrug*). I don’t ascribe any supernatural power or influence to the moon, though when I do personify it, it’s most often feminine which is likely due to the influence of the Greek and Roman affiliations of the moon with goddesses (Selene and Diana).
The combination of those last two paragraphs fairly succinctly summarizes why the six tattoos on my back are what they are, for what it might be worth. *shrug*