Red ~C Diary: So, Am I an Atheist?

With all my postings about religion, politics, atheism, and the New Atheists, I think it’s time that I reflect on where I stand within the psycho-socio-spiritual spectrum.

As I’ve already mentioned in my previous post,
I grew up Roman Catholic by virtue of my parents’ religion (they are
lukewarm Catholics, btw) and the norm of the culture I was born into.
But I can safely say that I’ve already outgrown the religious
memes–dogmas, irrational beliefs, unsound moral teachings–I was
indoctrinated with from childhood to my teen years. This “purging” of
religious memes didn’t happen overnight. It happened gradually
as I grew up and got exposed to more knowledge of history, psychology,
sociology, philosophy, science, comparative religion, and mystical
writings of people within the context of their own religious
traditions.

So the question is: Am I an Atheist? My quick answer is, Yes and No.

Here’s my long answer…

First let’s have a definition of Atheism. Wikipedia defines Atheism as a philosophical view:

“…that either affirms the nonexistence of gods or rejects theism.
When defined broadly, atheism is the absence of belief in deities,
alternatively called nontheism. Although atheism is often equated with
irreligion, some religious philosophies, such as secular theology and
some varieties of Buddhism such as Theravada, either do not include
belief in a personal god as a tenet of religion, or actively teach
nontheism.”

Whew! That definition is a mouthful. But discerning readers will notice in the definition that Atheism is dependent
upon theism for its existence. It’s impossible to define Atheism
without referencing Theism. The etymology of the word Atheism attests
to that. Atheism only makes sense in a culture that has a concept of
theism. In short, we cannot teach Atheism without teaching Theism. In
that sense, Atheism is inseparable from Theism. In the realm of nonduality, Atheism and Theism are two sides of the same coin. I think this is the reason why Sam Harris rejects the “Atheist” label.
I agree with him on this. (And Harris is very ballsy to parade that
kind of reasoning in a big room full of Atheists. That’s why I like the
guy.)

That said, we (or most people) spend most of our awareness in a waking
world of duality where labels (such as good, bad, ugly, beautiful,
etc.) is how we make sense of our reality. So in this post I will
accept and groove on the reality of Atheism as being a valid label for
the sake of rational discussion.

So, can you quit philosophizing and just answer the damn question? Are you an Atheist or not?

Ok, fine. But first let me point to a short and insightful article by Ken Wilber on BeliefNet: Which Level of God Do You Believe In?

In that article, Wilber describes levels of “God” which are parallel with Jean Gebser’s structures of consciousness. Here is the key quote:

“Put bluntly, there is an archaic God, a magic God, a mythic God, a mental

God, and an integral God. Which God do you believe

in?

“An archaic God sees divinity in any strong instinctual force. A magic
God
locates divine power in the human ego and its magical capacity to
change the animistic world with rituals and spells. A mythic God is
located not on this earth but in a heavenly paradise not of this world,
entrance to which is gained by living according to the covenants and
rules given by this God to his peoples. A mental God is a rational God,
a demythologized Ground of Being that underlies all forms of existence.
And an integral God is one that embraces all of the above.”

In their books, the New Atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens) argue about the supernatural mythic God,
and rightly so, because majority of the religious population (and
unfortunately, politicians and world leaders) has a mythic concept of
God. In fact, Dawkins devoted a chapter in his book, The God Delusion, to explain and define what kind of God he is attacking. I think Dawkins is right in asserting that God is such a loaded
word because it means differently to different people (at any stage of
development). That is very respectful of Dawkins, imho, contrary to
what others have accused him of being arrogant, silly, and foolish. I
think people who outrightly dismiss Dawkins’ book, before and without
reading it, are the ones who are arrogant, self-righteous, and being
intellectually lazy and dishonest. (More on this later when I post my
review of the book, The God Delusion).

Anyway, before I tangent into philosophical obscurity, my answer to the question is:

Yes, I’m an Atheist relative to the mythic and supernatural God. I’m a “believer” in a rational and integral
God. But I remain Agnostic in matters of ultimate questions, such as
origin of our existence and the nature of consciousness. If I’m pressed
to put a label on the philosophy which I subscribe to, I think Agnostic Buddhist comes closest. Here’s a definition by Stephen Batchelor:

“So what would be the
features of an ‘agnostic Buddhist?’ Such a person would not regard the Dharma
as a source of ‘answers’ to questions of where we came from, where we are
going, what happens after death. He or she would seek such knowledge in the
appropriate domains: astrophysics, evolutionary biology, neuro-science etc.  An
agnostic Buddhist would therefore not be a ‘believer’ with claims to revealed
information about supernatural or paranormal phenomena, and in this sense
would not be ‘religious.’ An agnostic Buddhist would look to the Dharma for
metaphors of existential confrontation rather than metaphors of
existential consolation. He or she would start by facing up to the primacy
of anguish and uncertainty (dukkha), then proceed to apply a set of
practices to understand the human dilemma and work towards a resolution.  An
agnostic Buddhist would eschew atheism as much as theism, and would be as
reluctant to regard the universe as devoid of meaning as endowed with
meaning.  (For to deny either God or meaning is surely just the antithesis of
affirming them.)  Yet such an agnostic stance would not be based on disinterest.
It would be founded on a passionate recognition that I do not know.  It
would confront the enormity of having been born instead of reaching for the
consolation of a belief. It would strip away, layer by layer, the views that
conceal the mystery of being here at all.”

So there.

It’s easy to philosophize and reflect on this issue in a blog post
where I can write and distill my train of thought, reference the works
of others, while feeling good about the soundness of my reasoning. But
when asked directly, in person, by people I care about whom I don’t
want to offend, now that is a tricky situation!

Here’s an autobiographical case in point…

One evening I was lying in bed with ~myDakini while talking about our plans for our future. Suddenly, she blurted out a question:

“Are you an Atheist?”

“Why do you ask?” I was surprised and caught off-guard.

“Well, because I read your blog.”

“Huh? You read my blog?” OMFG! She reads my blog. Please don’t read my blog.

“Of course I read it, when I have nothing to do.”

“Um, ok. But you shouldn’t take everything seriously.” Please don’t tell your friends that I have a blog, damnit.

“Regardless, why don’t you just answer my question. Are you an Atheist or not?”

I took a deep breath, stuttered a bit, while I grasp for the right
words to say. “Let me put it this way. I no longer believe the
teachings of our religion. I think the teachings put a limit on the
concept of God. So I no longer believe in the kind of God that was
thought to us.”

“Really? But where do Atheists get their sense of morality? How can people be moral without a concept of God?”

[Note: As an aside ~myDakini is just expressing the cultural norm in
the country where we grew up, where Atheism is generally misunderstood,
ridiculed, and even despised (thanks to the ignorance of our religious
and political leaders). ~myDakini is far from being a religious
fanatic. She’s one of the most open-minded people I know.]

“You see. There are other religions (and philosophy) that don’t have a
concept of God. Like Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. But they have
developed a sophisticated moral system. For example, our family values
come from the influence of the Chinese [our country is located in South East Asia,
and ~myDakini has Chinese blood so I thought that it’s a perfect
example to cite]. Our ancestors already had a developed moral system
before we got influenced by the Christian religion. So although our
morality is heavily influenced by our Christian upbringing, it doesn’t
mean that we get all of our morality from our religion.”

“I see. Well, if you put it that way… I won’t even argue about it. The
thing is, I don’t care if you’re an Atheist, as long as you’re a good
person, a good husband, and a good father to our children.”

“I am. And I will do my best to be.”

We embraced, kissed, then fell asleep into each other’s arms.

[~My dear Dakini, this post is dedicated to you. I love you.]

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