Sunday, January 12, 2014

Anti-Theist vs. Spiritual

A recent trend in my life is that most of the outspoken atheists I know are less compassionate than the outspoken theists I know, who are in the minority.  This trend coincides with a shifting of my active spiritual development from recovery to exploration.

For many years, I shied away from theists (save for NeoPagans during high school) because most of the ones I knew had used spirituality/religion to manipulate and hurt people.  My personal search was that of a victim/survivor trying to get away from trauma.  Ideas of What's Going On, commonly referred to as God to the detriment of theological language, were separate in my mind from the terrible people around me.  Blame the music for the douchebaggery of the dj?  Blame the art for the snobbery of gallerist?  No, I try not to mix the unmeasurable with the measurable so it never made sense to me to blame "God" for the acts of humans.  Other people can come to their own conclusions.  Nevertheless, it took a long time for me to stop judging theists.

After years of theological and philosophical study, summer '13 was when I chose to stop being a victim/survivor and to begin being a practicant, however curious and hesitant a one. Although I have yet to actually talk to anyone at any of the parishes that I have visited - including the one I've found that promotes both compassion and intellectual search - largely because I still distrust dedicated parishioners in general, I have opened discussion of spirituality/theology with friends, family and appropriate acquaintances.  The trend I find today is disturbing.

At this point I should make a distinction: "belief" is a word that I shy away from using.  A religious belief used to mean a lifestyle (traditions, symbols, holidays, values, languages, rituals, etc.) that a person practiced.  What a "believer" actually thought didn't matter; an atheist was simply someone who didn't practice what any established religious community practiced.  The meaning of belief changed when our culture changed away from separate groups of lifestyles.  The understanding of belief as an idea that's accepted as measurable reality, an understanding promoted by both anti-theists and fundamentalists, is relatively new.  I hate to say it, but I find that this definition cheapens the personal meaning that a person can discover - whether it's through religious practice, scientific research, or something else altogether.  In any case, when I say "atheist" I mean a person who refuses any religious affiliation in all aspects of life, and when I say "theist" I mean a person who regularly participates in religious practice.  Most people fall somewhere in the middle.

What a person accepts as reality/truth, whether it's 100% scientific evidence or angels, really doesn't matter to me.  It's frankly none of my business, nor are my "beliefs" anyone else's business (though I'll gladly discuss it with any interested, non-judgmental parties).  But the trend among many of the vocal atheists I know today is to harshly judge anyone who isn't as reliant on science as they themselves claim to be.  What is the point of this?  I can agree that certain ideas are, for lack of a better word, stupid: arbitrarily attaching doctrine to something mundane and trendy.  But who does more harm, the person who prays before every meal or the person who refers to pray-ers as cattle?

It's common for anti-theists to deride all religion altogether because of atrocities done in the name of religion: the Spanish Inquisition, Al-Quaeda, the Exodus (ex-gay "therapy") program, witch-hunts, etc.  To affiliate violence with religion, either a specific one or in general, both devalues the benefits of religion as well as shifts the focus away from actually solving violence.  I've met atheists who advocate genocide of all theists, I've met people who are atheists because scientific research brings more personal meaning to them than anything unmeasurable, I've met theists who win religious community service awards while locking children and dogs in their basements without food or water for days, I've met people who began volunteering at poverty-stricken nursing homes because The Virgin Mary "told" them to.  The religion isn't the point, the practices of both compassion and personal meaning are the point however they are brought about.  What disturbs me is that many of the very atheists who blame religion for cruelty are beginning to act out the same hostilities.

I used to block out theists because the only ones I knew were malicious.  Now, I try not to categorize people through their practices - and I don't want people in my life to line up into patterns of spite that way again.  That does appear to be the trend, though, among many of the atheists I've been meeting the past couple years. As I establish myself as a practicant rather than as a victim/survivor, it is a priority to distance myself from those who would put me back into that state.  After all, it seems to me that anyone who thinks less of me because I find personal meaning through spiritual practice would also think less of me because I find personal meaning through art.  They're both unmeasurable, personal, nonverbal, harmless exercises that I enjoy and have spent years studying.

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