“Real” atheists will be quick to point out that the statement above is immediately untrue and tell me the word I’m looking for is agnostic. I would promptly disagree and do my best to explain why. Here is my stance in brief:
God and gods are merely human concepts of the idea that conscious beings (or consciousness) can exist without physical bodies. I say I’m an atheist because I don’t agree with any human attempt to describe this consciousness or these consciousnesses. I’m not agnostic because I believe this position (the illusion of self explained below) can be proven or at minimum experienced for the “self.” I say I believe in God or gods because they exist within a story which created the “self” (or you) and that story is false. You and I do not exist. What exists is the story of you, which is just as real as the story of God (or gods of your choice). These stories about God or gods point to (or attempt to explain) the source of consciousness, and consciousness is real (you’re experiencing it now).
Regardless of the story you choose to believe (atheism, agnosticism or theism) it is false (because it’s a story). I’ve chosen to label myself an atheist who believes in gods to point to the paradox of existence. All that said, I think any belief system (atheism, agnosticism or theism) is the perfect place to start the journey to completely understanding reality.
Now I will share the story of how I came to this conclusion. Believing my conclusion is a bad idea too (it’s just another story). 😉 But I hope it helps you find your conclusion (or perhaps you’ll leave a comment and help modify mine).
I started writing a book yesterday and it’s where these thoughts sprang. I’d like to share a section of what I wrote:
We all most likely share the same qualities of being born (from a mother). The events leading to your mother becoming pregnant (or more specifically “your” egg joining with “your” sperm) are the essential ingredients for the creation of “the self” (being born). We can also agree that we are all the products of the acts of many generations of people meeting and creating new people. The disagreement comes from our various and varied stories of where we originally came from and who we are in relation to this source.
Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and even atheists all have stories for where we came from and where we are going. Below the surface disagreement agreement exists once again. While we can’t agree on where we (as a species) came from or why, we can all agree with the idea that we had no control of being physically born and no control over much of our time spent as a youth. I would go so far as to say you had no control over whether you read this sentence or not. At some point what we gain is an illusion of control. One based on our story of the past which creates our dreams for the future.
If you had no control over being born what makes you think you had any control of the events since the creation of the “you”?
We Are All Made of Stars
This ends my copy and pasting. In 2002 the artist Moby released a song titled “We Are All Made of Stars.” I heard it soon after its release and immediately checked the science behind it and found it to be true (based on the language of science). Something I had been telling myself long before the Moby song is that “It’s all just energy from the sun.” Every gust of wind, sound you hear, movement you make and, by association, thought you have, is a product of the sun (in essence, not a product of “you”).
I had never, until recently, taken the time to really merge those two concepts together into one idea. Without going into what existed before and immediately after the big bang, we’re primarily comprised of the physical products of exploded suns and powered by a sun. Without going into what gave birth to suns, one things is clear, suns gave birth to us (by impregnating the remains from their “deaths”).
Everything (at our level of existence) is a pure expression of energy and that can be seen in Einstein’s equation of E = mc2.
Here’s a musical interpretation of that equation you may enjoy:
You Don’t Exist Because “You” Have Never Made A Decision on “Your Own”
Before I discuss my believe in gods (based on the science atheists hold so dear), I want to present the idea of you not existing. The story that led me to this conclusion is one based on the Big Bang, stars forming and exploding, planets forming, simple cellular life emerging, evolution creating complex animals and finally the rise of modern man which created the culture and language necessary for sharing all these stories (of gods and you). While people may disagree about the story of how humans came to be, we can all agree with the following.
We each had a mother and a father (or more specifically and egg and a sperm) which came together to create us and we had no control of this. This egg and sperm formed in a womb which was attached to a mother (or, because of the wonders of science, at minimum a host of some kind). Did you exist then? While we know that the baby born eventually grew into to the “you” now reading this, when exactly did “you” begin to exist? You were immediately given a name (that “you” didn’t choose), but when did you recognize it as being yours? All the ideas of your existence (I, me and my) are a direct result of culture, language and decisions “you” never made.
When exactly did you start making decisions for “yourself”? If everything that determines who you are and what you do was given to you and all decisions made are a direct result of experiences “you” never had a say in, when exactly do “you” get to make ONE real decision for “yourself”?
If you have never been able to make one decision for yourself then who or what are you? I don’t want to attempt to answer that question now. I’m just sharing my line of thinking about the self and self image. You didn’t create your self or self image, nor did the creators of your self and self image create thiers. You can trace this all the way back to the Big Bang or Adam and Eve, your choice (oh wait… no it isn’t. 😉 )
Much of this reasoning is due to being exposed to Daoism at a young age, but when I first started investigating Atheism a year or two ago a friend told me to read or watch anything by the members of the “The Four Horsemen” (of Atheism); Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens (I thoroughly enjoyed watching videos of “Hitchslaps”). One of these “horsemen” is currently coming to a similar conclusion. He has a book out on the subject, has done talks, and I ran into this Q&A hosted on his website with the author of the book “The Self Illusion.” I share these for fellow atheists who may want to dig a little deeper on the subject of self (and there not being one).
Why I Believe In Gods
I believe in gods for two simple reasons. Personal experiences (one of which I’ll share with you shortly) and the fact that I don’t exist. “I” am just as real as any God or gods, I’m just a story with a “past,” present and perceived “future.” God(s) and “I” are a product of the same mind (or, if you prefer, minds).
In the past I lived in a personal fantasy world comprised of Daoist magic and immortals. Describing this world is beyond the scope of this post, but I can share one story from it. During one of my “spiritual awakenings” (observed by others as manic episodes) I had an experience where I went to a park to train with a friend who I thought was meeting me there. He never showed up, but who (or what) did was the spirit of Grandmaster Yin. Words have always failed me in describing the experience, but I often mention “glow” or “white light” and telling people he “spoke” to me (although I heard no words). The message which was conveyed is that I possessed some kind of “glow” and I was required to use it for “good.” This was all told to me in a very stern demeanor.
I don’t think I ever told any doctors about that experience. They had enough information to (legally) medicate me and label me bipolar based on destructively running through a grocery store and getting into fisticuffs with four cops. My goal isn’t to convince you that this really happened (in a way that wasn’t just a manifestation of my mind). The first thing I want to point out is that this experience had a dramatic effect on my life (right up until now). “Real” or not, it was real to me (the me in that slice of time) and had real effects on my life. Second, everything is a manifestation of the mind (including your belief in existing). Belief in God (whichever or in whatever quantity) is just as real as a belief in self and you had just as much say in where you stand on those beliefs (none).
God and gods are just a part of the human experience for some humans. Gods are just as much a part of (illusionary) reality as you are. Even when you “choose” to not believe in God or gods the effects of the God stories have very real effects on “you.”
Atheists Live the Same Delusionary Lives as Theists
I think I can better explain the point I was trying to make in the two posts “Is Atheism a Religion? Why or Why Not?” and “Categorizing Atheism as a Religion.” I was merely pointing to the fact that both of these “systems of thought” (usually tend to) reinforce the notion of self. I can respect religions (and atheists like Sam Harris above) who point to the notion of no self. Many religions seem to be based on stories from people who have transcended self (or skirted around the edges) and used the languages and cultures of their time to explain these experiences. I can understand how many atheists are frustrated with the fact that so many archaic ideas have lingered around “so long” in the face of science and reason. I think a major source of this lingering is that science has done a dismal job of capturing the essence that many of these religions point towards. In fact, I think Atheism and atheists are far worse (generally speaking) than theeir theist (or agnostic) counterparts at describing the subtler nature of reality and who we are in relation to it.
The idea behind having an Atheist religion was to create a place and system for nurturing the development of our “transcendent selves.” Whether one believes in a god or not, belief in the self is the source of all one’s problems.
When one lets go of the story of the self, one sees that everything is just as it should be. I don’t know what better vantage point I can take to accept everything as it is than being an atheist that doesn’t believe in anyone’s version of god while accepting the realities people create through the belief or disbelief in a higher power and always believing in themselves.
Understanding that there is no-self and living in a way to reinforce the idea of no-self (instead of self) doesn’t mean anything special takes place. Food must be eaten, clothes must be cleaned, showers must be had and balls must be washed. Transcending the emotional pain created by desires and aversion is hard enough. Transcending physical pain (caused by the self) must be ten times harder. Knowing (or being) “no-self” doesn’t turn one into a mindless robot which lacks any human emotion, on the contrary. It creates infinite compassion for all worldly beings and beyond.
Before being more in tune with this “awareness” all I wanted to do was everything I could to “save the world” while spending a lot (the majority?) of my free time avoiding the suffering of thinking I was doing a poor job by playing video games, drinking beer, partaking in the drama of relationships, reading books, watching movies, TV, etc.
Now it feels like a weight has been (is being) lifted, allowing me to focus on the same work I was engaged in before without feeling rushed, pressured, or tense about “where I was then” in relation to where I wanted be in relation to the world as I thought it should be. The same efforts I engaged in before feel much less effortless as the dilution of self dissipates. I suppose much of this feeling is due to being OK with investing as much time each day as necessary into cultivating “no self” without feeling guilty about being selfish. How? By doing the same things I’ve always done and subtly subtracting the motivations from “me.” While the urge to listen to a song I like or read a book still arises (some urges, like alcohol, seem to be in remission), it no longer feels like an escape. Now when I want to “escape”, I go to the Buddha, the infinite, the Dao, the Now. Heh… Now when I want to escape the now I go to the Now…