Saturday, January 16, 2010

Fundamentalism is flawed

It is interesting how we all (bloggers) respond to comments left on our sites. I remember once when I asked a guy not to use a term I viewed as culturally insensitive and how his feelings were hurt that I might think him to be less of a good guy than he was. Every now and again we say something that affects people in profound ways that we never intended.

Yesterday I got a comment here indicating that my reasoning in my search to find my own understanding of my higher power was flawed because, said my reader, there is no such thing.


I have had this conversation before, with others. I happen to believe that there is a force for good in the universe, and I happen to believe certain things about that force, as I was outlining yesterday. I hold these beliefs because of things that have happened in my life and because of my own kind of reasoning. Perhaps I am off my nut -- it has certainly happened before -- but this is about me exploring what I believe and how that affects me. This is about my spiritual growth and development, not anyone else's.

A few months ago, I engaged briefly in a discussion with another fundamentalist atheist, and the results were really quite unsatisfactory, at least to me. I find the arguments we had were very similar to those I have had with fundamentalist Christians about my beliefs. My opinion was that everyone should be free to believe what they believed, and my atheist friend was strident in her assertion that any belief in a higher power was inherently flawed and thus faulty. I held that she was welcome to believe that, but I did not, and she again stated, with great conviction, that there was NO god and to even consider such a thing was plain foolishness. It felt very much like arguing with a fundamentalist Christian who insists that I MUST accept Jesus as my personal savior or I will forever be damned to hell, and that my current faith is not enough to prevent it.

I believe that each of us should be free to search and learn and explore all aspects of religion and spirituality without interference from others. Help is fine, discussion is wonderful. Telling me that what I believe is wrong is not. I do not believe I said anything to indicate that I might think that atheists are wrong in their beliefs. What I said was that my belief in a higher power makes my life a happier place. And honestly, I can't see what is wrong with that. I have yet to sell off my belongings to give to a televangelist with a shiny suit and bad toupee. I am just exploring what spirituality means to me in my life. I have never said that anyone should believe what I believe or practice what I do. I'm just trying to define what it is that I believe.

So, if I am to make any blanket statement of any kind with regards to the discussion of religion and spirituality -- and those are two very different things -- then this is it: Everybody has a right to believe what they want, without interference or judgement from others, so long as their beliefs and practices to not interfere with the freedoms and practices enjoyed by others. People should be allowed to search and learn what they want at whatever rate they want to do it.

That's my blanket statement. Be nice. Be polite. Do your own thing. Let others do theirs. Don't piss on their parades.

OK, maybe that last line was a little bit harsh, but still. We don't get to tell people that their beliefs about the divine are stupid, wrong, or the wrong kind.

The thing that burns my ass the most in this whole arena is this: I have never asked anyone to believe what I believe. I have never said "you need to worship a god that does x, y, and z and looks like such-and-thus." All I have said is "this is what I think I believe. It's evolving, so bear with me."

I recently joined a church. Now that statement might send my atheist friends into spasms of "see? she's nuts!" but bear with me. I joined a Unitarian Universalist church. A belief in god, specific or otherwise, is not required. There are several atheists in the congregation I joined. There are several pagans, a gaggle of recovering Catholics and a couple (or more) former Jews. There are a few people, including the minister, for whom the UU church is the one they grew up in, but as happens often at UU churches, those are the minority.

We come from all kinds of faith traditions, and we get together on Sunday mornings to attend a worship service in each other's company. That is not to say that everyone worships, because there are some who do not believe in a higher power of any kind, but we share a time and space in which we all seek to be a little bit more than we are, to open our hearts to each other and to whatever growth might happen for each of us there.

The UU church doesn't have a creed or a list of things that its members must believe. There is no test. But one of the principles that guides us is that we affirm and promote "acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregation." Another principle that we affirm and promote is "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning."

That means that the atheists are free (and encouraged) to prove that god does not exist, and I am free (and likewise encouraged) to believe that he/she/it does and that we each don't get to tell the other that she's nuts. Well, I mean we are free to say what we like, but it's pretty not cool to be judgmental. That's just good manners.

Once again I wonder at the wisdom of writing for public consumption before I have finished my first cup of coffee, but honestly, it seems to be when the words are closest to my heart and my truth. If I have offended anyone here, I apologize. My intent was not to offend. My intent is to explore what I think and feel and believe, to firm it up for myself. I have invited my readers here to watch and listen, and to participate at whatever level works in a blog forum, but truly this journey is my own.


msladydeborah said...

Well said.

Middle Aged Woman said...

I wanted to comment yesterday, but couldn't think of a way to say what I wanted to say. I totally understand your search, but I fear that hoping for some kind of less tenuous connection to your god (or any) is fruitless. That's why believers have faith, no? Because the tangible isn't available.

I am an atheist as well, but pushing my lack of belief onto anyone else is abhorrent to me. I get that all the time from believers, who look at me like something from the bottom of their shoe when I tell them I don't believe in any such thing.

ella said...

@MiddleAgedWoman: the bottom of one's shoe is where the rubber meets the road. Walking is not possible without friction. Perhaps they are finding something helpful despite themselves.

judyhill39 said...

Wonderfully, forcefully, and gently written. If this is what you do before coffee, I don't think you need it. I guess the problem can be summed up with three words: judgmental, fundamentalist, evangelical. It amazes me how these three words so often apply to self described rational atheists. It seems that these 3 words when found in individuals seems with very little scratching of the surface to reveal insecurity, even fear. It takes a lot of courage for people like you to search, explore, journey to evolve their beliefs or faith.

Ghost Rider said...

Very well put. I'm glad your looking for some higher power. I may not agree with you or even believe that there is such a thing to find. But so long as the search doesn't interfere with the rights of others, than what does it really matter? For some people, God is a rock that holds their life together. I think that's all right. I really enjoy the UU church for that reason; we're all allowed to question, we'll all allowed to believe. I can think of no greater freedom that people can give to each other. Journey on.

Ann said...

I am of the belief that spirituality is a very individualistic, personal kind of thing. When I was very young, about 4 or 5 years old, I was in Sunday School one day when the teacher asked us to draw a picture of God. I drew God as I saw it; an energy source, depicted as best I could by a burst of yellow and white crayon. I was chastised harshly for my depiction, but subborn enough to consider that what I thought wasn't wrong and perhaps she just has some other perspective. I pondered her version, some old guy up on a throne full of judgement and damnation, and it just didn't ring true to me. I believe there is not any ONE way, but that there are many ways and perhaps as many as there are people on this earth.

Miss Trudy said...

Well, you are right. I am an unbeliever, but I also understand that it is not my place to impose my disbelief on anybody else. Each human being has her/his own row to hoe and as Voltaire famously said through his Candide, let us each tend to our own garden. Or something along those lines ...