To connect with the great river, we all need a path.
But when you get down there, there is only one river.
— Matthew Fox
It is the commonly observed practice, across virtually every iteration of the Christian church, that fledgling converts are called on, at some point, to publicly profess their personal belief in — and spiritual surrender to — the proffered understanding of the godhead, and the observances of ritual, as have been previously decided on by the founders of the particular sect.
And, an over-arching acceptance of the deal is none-to-quickly proclaimed by the minister, as having been fully accorded — or professed — on the wondrously fortunate occasion of having managed to motivate another normally numb and sometimes less than fully informed pilgrim, to respond to the supplications of an alter-call of one sort or the other.
This, of course, clearly demonstrates the power of what salesmen commonly refer to as ‘the silent close,’ when applied under the color of religious authority, and in front of an audience.
It is intended to be, and often is, a very profound and life-changing event in the person’s life. And in true all-sales-are-final form, is quickly followed by the additional observations of some hands-on bathing, and a securing of the lord’s funds.
The point is, that it’s important to realize that, sans this kind of high-pressured squirming, many Christians, of even inconsequential faith, can’t help but honestly doubt the depth of any real understanding of the issues involved, by anyone claiming to be an atheist.
So I’d just like to see if we can’t be a little more clear on some of the assumptions that normally proceed from there.
Regardless of what any of us purport to believe, we all have certain values. And more often than not, we hold many of the same values in common.
And, although most atheists don’t believe in any thing, most harbor an abiding conviction of the value inherent in a life personally examined.
And while it may seem like some cold comfort to some, the fact that we ascribe no personal belief or meaning to any of the ideas or symbols commonly claimed as sacred objects of worship — by any number of religious or quasi-religious organizations — is not confined to beliefs of the Islamic tradition.
Many seem unaware of the fact that this position is the same one normally taken, towards those ideas and beliefs claimed by serious practitioners of astrology, numerology, readers of tea leaves, or any number of other pseudo sciences — not to mention belief in the occult, aliens, crop circles, ghosts, fairies, or the superstitious reading of fortune cookies, et al.
The fact is, different people ascribe different beliefs, to many different gods. And we are all atheists, to the extent that we fail to personally embrace anyone else’s particular set of beliefs.
Here is an easy example:
Most of our ancient Greek and Roman ancestors attributed such natural phenomena as thunder and lightning to the dispositions and actions of their various (and what are now referred to as pagan) gods.
Silly, sure. But any such disbelief by the likes of us would have been met with deep consternation, distrust, and even fear. “After all,” they would arguably have reasoned, “how can any man who does not believe in, or willingly bend his knee in obeisance and honor to Thor, the god of all thunder and lightning, be truly moral?”
Being an atheist is really no more than being willing to hold your own personal beliefs up to the light of day, and exercise the intellectual honesty required to critically examine and ferret out those particular beliefs and ideas that are found to be exerting unreasonable meaning and unjustified sway in our lives — but which can also be determined to have no empirically testable basis in fact.
So I think you can see – especially for those coming out of any kind of religious tradition – it’s not an overnight or sudden conversion to any kind of new belief system. Rather, it’s the application of individual effort, in an ongoing process, of digging yourself out from under those entrenched false beliefs that have often been set from childhood.
And progress, when it does come, is often hard-won. But likewise, it can be richly rewarding, with the personal discovery of sometimes new and transformative truths.
We can all agree, that some people are easily intimidated by the very idea of trying to make any sort of personal discovery — about the same way some people are intimidated by math.
So it doesn’t hurt to be reminded, then, that even though it may be true that some math is quite complicated and simply beyond the pale of many of us to ever fully grasp, that has certainly never kept the rest of us from acquiring a working knowledge of the kind of practical math needed, to keep our own accounts.
Do I believe in God? The answer is no.
And, as far as that goes, I usually write in ‘MATH’ (for Modern Atheist) under religious preference, on any form where it is required.
But, let me leave you with this:
Straight and Narrow Be the Way,
— but MATH is the Path.