Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Atheist, Buddhist, Secular Humanist

I've never considered myself a Christian. My mom was Christian, but rarely went to church, and my dad insisted I not be baptized as a baby, saying I should make my own decision on the matter when I'm old enough. As such, I didn't have a whole lot of exposure to religion.

I did go to church regularly when I was 8 or so, for about a year. I was living with my aunt and her husband, who was one of those who thought it was a good idea for everyone in the household to go to church every Sunday. Everyone except him, of course. I didn't mind though. I had already made up my mind about God's existence, even at that age, but I found the bible stories to be entertaining enough. We followed it up with Sunday School, which did nothing to change my beliefs (or lack thereof).

It's been a struggle, trying to determine my spiritual identity. I used to just put 'none' on forms, but that never suited me because I do have opinions on the subject. I tried 'agnostic' for a while, but that didn't fit either. Over the last several years, I've bounced back and forth between these three:

This term immediately brings certain things to mind, few of them pleasant. For just this reason, I resisted this label for the longest time. But the internet opened things up a little, enough for me to see that Atheism is not the evilness it's portrayed to be. But there is still a certain militant view within that I just can't follow. In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't bother me that our money has "In God We Trust" written on it. And while I will eagerly educate anyone who thinks "under God" has always been in the pledge (It was added in 1954 as a means of separating us from the "Godless communists." The pledge itself was written in 1892 without the "under God" phrase.), there are bigger problems in the world. But I do agree that Intelligent Design has no place in science class, unless the teacher wants to use it to demonstrate what a theory is not.

I practiced this on and off for a couple of years. I like it. I like it a lot. It brings me peace. But there are portions of it I just can't get behind, such as karma and reincarnation. I believe in karma only to the point of "what comes around, goes around" or, in bible terms, "as you sow, so shall you reap." But I don't believe there are supernatural forces governing this.

But what's interesting here is that I don't necessarily believe the Buddha himself was as concerned with these aspects as he was the path. That still appeals to me.

While researching and practicing this, I did a lot of reading. I belonged to several online Buddhist forums and discussion groups, and I found a lot of disagreement and infighting. Ghandi once said "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." The same could be said of many Buddhists I met online.

Still, I did not let that sway me. The thing that ultimately led to my abandoning the teachings was the precept against killing. Sure, not killing people is pretty easy. But when every life form is viewed as equal, it gets more difficult. Take food for example. I could relatively easily do a vegetarian diet. I did it for almost a year, even through Thanksgiving. But when I began to think of other aspects, such as the dairy industry directly supporting the veal industry, then things get more difficult. Also, at the time, a motorcycle was my primary means of transportation. Ever try to find a non-leather motorcycle boot that offered decent protection? And now? An upright bass is held together with hide glue, made from animal hides.

Of course, you find ways of making things work for you. A cow will feed many more people than a chicken will, so eating steak is better than eating chicken. And tastes better too.

Of the various Buddhist sects, I identify with Theravada Buddhism mostly, though I don't agree with everything.

Secular Humanism
I first heard this term on NPR seven or eight years ago. I liked it. It's a means of conveying a lack of belief in the supernatural without sounding scary. It also places the focus on humanity rather than the God question. Perhaps this is why, when I took the Belief-O-Matic quiz on Beliefnet.com, Secular Humanism was at the top of this list at 100%. The human equation is more important to me than the spiritual equation.

So what's the answer? I still don't know. A keen eye will notice that I spent more time discussing Buddhism than any of the others. This could be due to it being the only one of the three offering anything to the spirit. Or it could be that I'm feeling my inner Buddha today (which I am apparently).

As for the quiz, here are my top 10 results:

1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (92%)
3. Liberal Quakers (81%)
4. Neo-Pagan (72%)
5. Theravada Buddhism (71%)
6. Nontheist (69%)
7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (65%)
8. Taoism (59%)
9. New Age (57%)
10. Reform Judaism (48%)


Tammy Howard said...

Well said, as always. I hope you find something that ultimately makes sense for you. I hope I find something that ultimately makes sense for me...

Pam said...

Found your blog through Tammy at Mommakin. Love this post. I could have written much of it myself. Though I haven't spent as much time as you have trying to find a relgious identity, I feel much the way you do about the topic. I've never take the quiz you mention, but I'm going to check it out. Oh and I'm not your newest follower.

Bass Is Life said...


One if the great things about the internet is that I've been able to verify that I'm not alone in my beliefs. Thanks for the comment and support.