I think we need to talk to each other about our spiritual lives. Even though we may respectfully disagree, I believe that peaceful co-existence of all religions – including atheism – depends on this. Hence every now and then I feature interviews or guest posts on Spritzophrenia. You can find other interviews here.
Today is part one of a guest post by Jared Cowan of To Hold Nothing. Enjoy…
I started on the path to become a more secular and philosophically minded person when I stumbled across Deism through a French class report on Voltaire. After discovering the nature of it, I endeavored to learn more, considering myself a Deist for a few years before looking into other religions, such as Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism in my junior year of high school through a teacher in a sociology class. She inspired me to think as an individual more than I had ever done in my years of feeling like an outsider even as I was accepted (partly) by the church community my father was raised in. We moved to that church for reasons I’m not quite sure of besides my mother wanting a more down- to-earth spiritual community.
That community has recently changed for the worse as myself and other children grew up and either moved to new churches as they started their own families, or in my case, leaving the whole religion for lack of belief. Political squabbling and bickering within the congregation about choosing a new pastor among other superficial things has kept my mother from participating for the most part. My father still attends weekly, possibly in order to maintain the status quo, but also because he genuinely believes it and feels he should contribute to the group.
After a while, I began to go beyond Deism and affirm some form of atheism, though at the time I didn’t realize that I leaned more towards apatheism in that while I genuinely believed that the likelihood of there being a God of any sort was very low, I didn’t concern myself with it. My disbelief in God was not for lack of evidence, since I didn’t really seek it out, but practical considerations. God was not relevant or meaningful to my life, since I found more purpose and fulfillment through interactions with humans; especially with people I now consider some of my best friends. Just sharing time at an anime convention for 3 and a half days was an experience in and of itself that compares to a spiritual retreat in some sense. Or at least to the human companionship I’m usually exposed to sporadically, being more private and socially reserved.
I don’t doubt my parents’ sincerity in their beliefs, as they’ve had enough combined education and experience with varying belief systems to be relatively secure (though not necessarily sophisticated, but stable). I also have no intent of trying to “convert” them, since I think if they really wanted to investigate other religions, all they’d have to do is ask me, since I’m not in the closet about being a nonbeliever to them when it is pertinent and I have a background in, and significant library of, religious studies. We maintain peace on religious issues now. I used to be very inquisitive and argumentative, which stayed with me until at least my sophomore year in college, which might’ve had to do with getting a more openly atheist roommate who I still respect. I keep my head up during prayers, but I am by no means intrusive about such things, usually staying away from most funerals and weddings unless I’m especially close to the person.
My paternal grandmother was recently married (4 years after she was widowed) and my cousin, an especially religious and devout preacher, led the service, reminding me of a particularly bitter flavor of Christianity that was a partial factor in my leaving, since that sort of hyper-evangelical community is not remotely what I’d like to be part of. That same cousin said hurtful things at my paternal grandfather’s funeral, saying atheists have a sad life in not believing there’s anything after death (paraphrasing, of course). My family in West Tennessee is more religious than much of the family in Middle Tennessee; family reunions are almost dreaded by me, since I’m resigned to staying in the back of the chapel. I’m contemplating just slipping out as the service starts this year, since I’m unobtrusive enough that people wouldn’t even notice me leaving; I’d like to appreciate nature in that time, since the area we have our family reunions at recently is sylvan in nature.
I also don’t have any real issue with my younger brother reaffirming his Christian faith, having been baptized like me, not to mention exposed to Episcopalian Christianity through his education at a private school. He is still nominally Christian from what I understand, but my parents are happy he has found a spiritual community. I hate to think that they are only proud of his reaffirming Christianity in the context of Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) because their elder son (me) has apostatized from the faith, but it may be me over-thinking.
That lingering thought that my parents think they have failed their child rarely crosses my mind though, since I get the feeling that they believe that Christian adage paraphrased from the Bible that they should “train up a child in the way they should go (Christianity) and when he is old he will not depart from it”. If they took that seriously though, I can only conclude they’d plead to God for intervention, since they failed to truly instruct me in the ways of Jesus.
Next time, I’ll discuss some of my beliefs, particularly Buddhist ones, in more detail.
Click for more interviews with different faiths here.
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