Thursday, March 25, 2010

Liberation from Theism and Atheism

Over at Life as a Human, I found this fascinating post about walking away from church, God, and theism. There is something profoundly similar in the following description to some of the enlightenment stories I've heard and read out there.

No matter how many meetings I went to or how many entreaties I made or how many ritualistic practices I memorized, I could not be a theist. When I left that last religious meeting, I waited for the hollow feeling in my chest to return, that feeling of deep grief I had felt at 17 over a path lost. I believed then that I might have finally arrived at the end of meaning, and I braced myself for more of the pain I had felt all those years before.

Strangely, though, the pain did not come. In fact, I felt lighter. The tension in my shoulders loosened. I could feel the night air enter my lungs for the first time in years. When I looked within and found myself without God, I felt blasphemously joyful and freed.

There was no God, and yet all the horror and wonder on earth remained. Nothing was changed. I was dumbfounded.

There's been a lot of talk about theism and atheism on the Buddhoblogsphere. John had an open forum over at his blog. Adam had a post in response to the forum. And there have been several posts about Stephen Batchelor's new book, Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist.

I have to be honest. The whole theism/atheism discussion kind of bores me. Interesting philosophy perhaps, but how does it help my practice, or my life in general?

Seems to me that our path is about a liberation from both theism and atheism. To not get caught up too much in such things because they are concepts that never quite hit the mark of what actually is.

Talk of heaven and God-daddies in the sky always has felt like a screwy attempt to deal with human psychological dramas to me. There are terrible things occurring on Earth, so there must be a God waiting to punish us for our misdeeds, and "he" must be separate from us, otherwise "he'd" be tainted.

And frankly, talk of atheism can quickly stray into something screwy as well. Human reason is the highest power. Only that which is scientifically confirmed is real. There is nothing beyond the material.

Maybe one of these approaches is correct, and all the rest of us are dead wrong. However, if it is true that either there is a Big Daddy God waiting to strike us heretics and sinners down, or that there's nothing but the material world at work out there, I guess I'll just have to be wrong.

Both ends of that spectrum dull the shit out of me, and are, as far as I'm concerned, completely lifeless - deader than the worn out logs currently floating down the flooded Mississippi.

Sitting zazen in my living room this morning, I felt the warmth of an early spring sunlight across my body. Breathing in, it moved through me. Breathing out, it spread throughout the room.

Neither atheism nor theism can touch this experience. Life goes on while we try to label it.


Adam said...

Nicely said.

Jean Vengua said...

Oh, what a great post! Thanks so much! It made my morning... heh

Dave W said...

Two responses:
1) If the topic bores you, why address it.
2) You can't be liberated from theism if you're a Buddhist, since Buddhism is a religion.

Dave W

Nathan said...


I have zero interest in debating the religion/theism issue. Have a good day.


Algernon said...

Nice walk!

JZ said...

And while we all argue over this topic, life and experince passes us by!