I read a very interesting article at cnn.com titled, The Friendly Atheists Next Door. The author spent 10 months with the Shaughnessy’s, a white, middle-class family of five from North Carolina. The story centers around the father, Harry Shaughnessy, an outgoing and outspoken business owner, and former Irish Catholic. Harry has a crisis of faith of sorts, and decides that Catholicism just doesn’t do it for him, so he and his wife decide to stop going to church. A few years later Harry decides that he is doesn’t believe in the concept of a God, and then he and other atheists decide to start an atheist congregation, which is like church but without all the God talk.
Essentially, the article explores why some people with strong religious backgrounds end up shunning their faith. What causes them to want to break with the church and what is it like to live in a country that is, to put it bluntly, quite hostile towards Atheists? Why are people so afraid of atheists anyways? I don’t get it. How is not believing in the concept of a God such a terrible thing? This is really a discussion for another post, but it’s just so baffling to me that so many people don’t trust atheists. Moving on…
While it may not seem like it due to the strong push by conservative Evangelicals to attach their religious beliefs to every law in the country, the United States is actually becoming less religious. According to the article, atheists now make up a larger percentage of the U.S. population than American Jews. And Millennials are the least religious of all generations alive today. Not only are Millennials twice as likely to identify as atheists as other generations, they are also less likely to be absolutely certain that God exists.
As someone who has had shifting views on religion during my adult years, I always find it fascinating to see how others go through their own religious metamorphosis. For years now I have identified as an agnostic, which simply means that I don’t know whether there is a God or Gods or not. I have many issues with organized religion, and as a former Catholic myself I certainly could relate to a lot of what Harry Shaughnessy said throughout the article (although long, it is a very good read).
I’ve also recently been looking inward and getting more in touch with my spiritual side, so to speak. I do consider myself spiritual, but not religious. I’ve recently learned that to be truly spiritual, you need to be more aware. It is about becoming more conscious, and in touch with your true being (your soul). It isn’t enough to just say you are spiritual. Anyone can say they are spiritual, but what does that mean?
I have always felt a deep connection to the universe. I know that the atoms that make up my body came from stars, and those stars came from other stars. All energy in the universe is connected. So essentially, I am the universe, and so are all of you. To quote Eckhart Tolle, “You are the universe, you aren’t in the universe.”
And I’ve evolved in how I think about God. To me, God isn’t a human-like entity, as God is often depicted. God is the lifeforce that is found all throughout the universe. God really is in each and every one of us because this force is what gave us life, just as it gave life to the universe. At the moment of creation, all that could ever exist in our universe was also created. All matter and all energy can be traced back to the moment our universe burst into existence. So I guess if you were to ask me now if I believe in God, I would say yes. But again, God to me is simply an energy found in all of us and everything in the universe. It isn’t some omnipotent entity. It is an omnipresent energy that connects everything in the universe.
I think the reason why religion never really resonated with me was because it was never fulfilling spiritually. I found my religion (Catholicism) it to be a bunch of phooey for the most part. To me, the Bible is a book of stories written before science was able to explain most things — like evolution. And I really dislike the general hypocrisy, intolerance and close-mindedness of organized religion. As I’ve tapped into my spiritual side recently, I’ve felt much more at peace. I’m learning to be more present, to be more grateful, to be more accepting and loving.
“Religion is belief in someone else’s experience. Spirituality is having your own experience. Atheism is no experience, only measurement.” –Deepak Chopra
And even though I am not a fan of religion, I don’t blame religion for the evils of the world. It is easy to say that religion has caused countless wars throughout history, millions of deaths and endless suffering. And it is easy blame religion for modern day terrorism. But none of that is religion’s fault. Religion is just the patsy — the human ego is the true culprit of all the suffering in the world, both past and present. But unfortunately, religion is like crack-cocaine for the ego.
Ego controls our minds and forces us to live an unconscious life. Only by becoming more aware can you strip ego of its power. Ego makes us envious of others. It stifles our confidence, and thus our potential. It makes us angry and resentful. It makes us defensive and causes us to dwell on the past. It causes perpetual want so that we aren’t aware of the blessings in our lives. When ego is in control, we become obsessed with the negative — judgement, guilt, self-pity, anxiety, worry, frustration, lack, anger, sadness, jealousy, and most detrimental of all, fear.
“In most cases, when you say “I,” it is the ego speaking, not you, as we have seen. It consists of thought and emotion, of a bundle of memories you identify with as “me and my story,” of habitual roles you play without knowing it, of collective identifications such as nationality, religion, race, social class, or political allegiance. It also contains personal identifications, not only with possessions, but also with opinions, external appearance, long-standing resentments, or concepts of yourself as better than or not as good as others, as a success or failure.” –Eckhart Tolle
A friend of mine recently said something I found to be quite profound. We were talking about religion and ISIS and he mentioned the beliefs of someone (whose name I do not recall) and how they could possibly explain terrorism. This person said that love and hate are separated by a very thin line, and that those who are religious extremists love their religion so much that they hate anyone who disagrees with them. They see the nonbelievers as a threat to something that they deeply cherish, and that is what causes the hate.
Think about how much you love your family, and that if anyone or anything threatened them you would defend your family no matter what the costs. And if it was another person threatening them, you would probably hate that person. That is how much extremists love their religion. They will defend it all costs and they view anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs as a threat that must be eliminated. That certainly doesn’t excuse their behavior, I’m just trying to offer an explanation for religious extremism.
I take comfort in knowing that humanity seems to waking up. We are sensing that we must change the way we treat one another and the way we treat our planet. And I see this most in the youth. I know that the vast majority of many Millennials — all over the world — share the desire to build a more tolerant, loving, peaceful and sustainable world. And while this seems crazy, the fact that there is so much chaos means that humanity is, indeed, evolving. Those who refuse to evolve clearly feel deeply threatened, and therefore they are acting out. That is why terrorism is rising in intensity, and it is even why religious conservatives here in the U.S. are becoming so outspoken. These conservatives have repeatedly said that they are scared that so many Americans are “losing faith”, as they put it. They feel threatened by this (well, they say it threatens our nation), so they are doing whatever they can to keep our country from moving further away from “Christian values” as possible. Even if it means turning our nation into a theocracy where our laws are based on their very conservative religious beliefs.
It is hard to look at the state of our country and the state of the world and not feel hopeless. But you should actually feel hopeful. We are waking up; we are evolving. Humanity is still a young species, and right now we are in adolescence — and we are experiencing some serious growing pains. We will act out and we will feel confused and upset a lot of time. But we’re progressing. Little by little, we are progressing. And our generation has in its lap a unique opportunity to push humanity further than ever before.
Whether with religion or without religion, humanity is destined for much more than this. The more we learn to live consciously in the present — because the present moment is all you ever have — the more we will advance. Eckhart Tolle said, “The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.” We cannot change a future that hasn’t yet happened, but we can make changes right now that will positively effect the future. We can choose to be more tolerant and accepting. We can choose to take better care of our planet. We can choose to compromise with one another in order to fix the many problems that threaten our future.
This is our generation’s destiny. It’s up to us to decide right now to create a better future.
“Choice implies consciousness – a high degree of consciousness. Without it, you have no choice. Choice begins the moment you disidentify from the mind and its conditioned patterns, the moment you become present….Nobody chooses dysfunction, conflict, pain. Nobody chooses insanity. They happen because there is not enough presence in you to dissolve the past, not enough light to dispel the darkness. You are not fully here. You have not quite woken up yet. In the meantime, the conditioned mind is running your life.” –Eckhart Tolle