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Sunday, November 27, 2011
Thankfulness and atheist spirituality
We atheists should not forget about the power of thankfulness just because we realize that there is no god. There is always something to thank for, and it is good practice to do so.
And of course, there is always a lot to blame someone for, too.
Now, it is interesting to see, so many theists think that when they let go of god, their lives will somehow become pointless, as there will be no-one to thank for.
I find that the exact opposite happened to me. Back when I believed in god, I would have a very hard time dealing with bad things that happened to me. The question of why god would let something like that happen always hung around like in a speech bubble in a comic-strip. Even if I tried not to think of it, it was still in the back of my head.
I think it is just natural for humans to put the blame on someone. The only remedy is to take up responsibility for one’s own life. This is a gradual, slow, painful process that, I believe, all of us have to go through. Nobody can ever really claim to “be there”, because that tendency can bite you in the back unexpectedly at any time. But we can gradually become better at accepting our own responsibility for ourselves.
I have personally found that theism is a huge stumbling block in that process. The idea of a personal god practically necessitates praising him for the good, while blaming him for the bad. Christians will, of course, try to only go for the praising part while leaving out the blaming part, but in my experience this is always a dance on eggshells. “Lamma sabachtani” – even the purported founder of the religion fell for it; how would his disciples not?
In my life, there is no-one to blame for whatever disaster should strike me. That knowledge gives me radical freedom.
And here is the real interesting part: I can still be thankful. And I should – human beings are social animals, and thankfulness makes them feel good and and helps them be more kindly towards their fellow beings. So we should cherish those feelings.
ESPECIALLY as atheists, we should do so. We should not give up on thankfulness just because god does not exist. We should not let christianity, or any other religion, have a monopoly on thankfulness. (The same goes, of course, for many other good things that religions reclaim for themselves.)
I can be thankful to all the people who supported me. I can be thankful to my parents for bringing up a child with cerebral palsy, for not having an abortion when chances were that this child would be much worse off than he actually is today. I can be thankful to my teachers, my friends, my work-buddies for making my life as rich and colourful as it is. I can be thankful to my customers for giving me enough money to live comfortably. I can be thankful to my cats for their never-dying purring and sweetness.
And on top of that, I can be thankful to all the coincidences that led to my being alive. And I do that, knowing full-well that it is irrational. As a human being, I can deliberately choose to make an anthropomorphic image out of… well, out of basically anything. I can act as if “fate” was something real, I can act as if it was a decision-taking instance, and then give my thanks to it. I do not have to actually believe that this is factually true. It is simply my imagination, nothing more – and I can play around with my imagination as I please.
In short, we can use our own minds in as many creative ways as we want – after all, it’s my own mind, and I should take care of it as good as I can. Practicing thankfulness is one important act of spiritual cleanliness, and we shouldn’t let the fact that god does not exist keep us from exercising those very healthy, very pleasant, very beneficial practices.
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