I’m wrestling with an idea promoted in a TED talk by Alain de Botton. I have been an athiest for several years. Formerly deeply involved in my local RC church, I became progressively skeptical due to the absence of signs of the workings of God’s grace among the parish.
The final straw was when conservative parishioners treated our pastor very shabbily – a man I had great liking and respect for.
Then I read The Pagan Christ by Tom Harpur, who argued that Jesus of Nazareth of the Christian gospel never existed. I followed up his book with an energetic examination of his sources and came to the same opinion as Harpur.
Having stopped believing in “God,” I noticed no subsequent improvement in my character, a character admittedly in need of significant adjustment. I and those close to me have felt a need for work on my anger, for example. I have improved a little by trying much harder, but began to wonder if there are basic human needs that are commonly met, at least partly, when one belongs to a religious community.
Recently a friend posted an article on the web about Pema Chödrön, who teaches tonglen, a Mahayana Buddhist practise that uses meditation and slogans to train the mind to be sensitive to one’s suffering and to the suffering of all sentient beings. We breathe in our suffering and that of others and breathe out good, positive energy to them. It provides a pause when we begin to feel angry or hurt and channels this into a much more peaceful and positive response.
I really like the tenet that we and the world around us are very illusory and much less solid than we appear. This ties in with science because atoms, and therefore anything made up of atoms, are almost entirely empty space. When we realize this we can really “lighten up.” How can we get upset about stuff that is largely illusory? The ego becomes important only as a problem to be eliminated.
So de Botton’s TED talk kinda makes sense to me. I respect athiests like Christopher Hitchens, RIP, immensely, but think that I need some sort of ritual or thoughtful process to help me improve as a human, sentient being. That need, at this point, does not include God as a necessary component or as an explanation.