Changes in the New Year

Hello,

Happy New Year! Like all years, 2015 saw lots of growth and change. I received my Master’s in English and Creative Writing, I moved, I became and atheist and a vegan, and lots more. 

2016, baby!

2016, baby!

As I plan to focus even more on my writing this year, I have decided to consolidate my blogs into one. I will still be writing about the same things, but all on one site.

If you would, please visit http://ravenburnes.wordpress.com for all my latest musings. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know who you are as well.

Here’s to love and growth and passion in 2016!

Peace and love,

Raven Burnes

First Atheist Christmas, First Hanukkah

This is my first holiday season as an atheist. I live with a theist who is Jewish by heritage. So, this is also my first Hanukkah.

First of all, where has Hanukkah been all my life? I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be fun, but it is – at least how my boyfriend has introduced me to it. He simply lights the menorah while saying a prayer in Hebrew, with a little part in English, and then he hands me a gift. Yes, please. If sermons had come with gifts, my evolution as an atheist might have been delayed by quite a few years.

In all seriousness, the holidays have caused me to appreciate the difference between religion and tradition. Just to be clear, I do not believe in the supernatural. The natural is already fascinating enough for several lifetimes. There is no need to fabricate stories that defy every ounce of reason that we have. Whether or not the historical Jesus existed, the two different versions of his early years both take leave of logic, and they contradict each other. Any god worth the title would not need to sire himself, then (temporarily) kill himself in order to save humanity from himself. Huh? Nevertheless, the holidays are an important time of friends, and family, and reflection.

The Getty 004_white_flower

What I’ve learned this year is that life is not under my control. Things don’t happen TO me; they just happen. I get to choose how I respond. Life is not always fair; it’s not always fun; but it is always interesting if we see ourselves as the main characters in our own novels. We don’t know how long or short the novels will be. Some people’s lives are only a few lines of poetry; while other’s live long, fancy novels a la Tolkien. All we can do is love as hard as we can, make as big a positive difference as we can, take nothing personally, and try to have as much fun as possible without getting into any inconvenient trouble.

And, along the way there are sweet traditions like Hanukkah and Christmas and Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve to make the journey a little more special. Especially Hanukkah. Love it. Eight gifts. Whaaat?

What is Atheistic Spirituality?

This week, one of the many books I am reading is Sam Harris’ Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. In it, Harris discusses the issue of spirituality, evoking neither the trappings of religion nor the types of fuzzy thinking that normally accompany notions of spirituality. The book is fascinating because it delves into the complexities of neuroscience, which perplex even the experts. But it also addresses the practical notions of training the mind through meditation in order to live a purposeful and peaceful life.

While researching this topic, I came across a wonderful definition for spiritual atheism. One can think of atheistic spirituality as “a sense of the sacred, of the things that are highly valuable and worthy of reverence…a sense of awe and wonder, a recognition of the deeper and more profound aspects of life” (“In Awe of Everything”. Daylight Atheism).

 

Despite the fact that I love and identify with this definition, I just don’t feel comfortable with the term “spiritual.” I feel this way for the same reason that I am not comfortable with the word “God” – no matter how many gymnastic stretches of the English language I’ve heard use to define each term. It’s like when old people start using certain teen, street, or hip-hop slang words – that’s how you know the word is no longer cool. The words “God” and “spirituality” have been beaten into bloody pulps of nonsense. Therefore, simply redefining them won’t do.

Rather, as an atheist who meditates, produces poetry and art, and has been described as “spiritual,” I would like to reject the term, but keep the sentiment. I am not “spiritual.” I am humble in the face of the magnitude of my own relative insignificance in the grand scheme of the universe. Nevertheless, I recognize and embrace the part I have to play in my own circle of influence; and I do my best to play that part to the fullest. I believe that, as a human, I am honor-bound to take care of other humans and the Nature upon which we all depend. I believe that I have inherited a set of traits which have produced a certain set of proclivities. I develop and display those traits for the good of myself and the people around me. I believe that, as a human, I am a communal being. Therefore, taking care of my community is fulfilling. Being a proactive and responsible citizen helps me thrive as an individual and as a part of the whole.

 

Most importantly, I accept my mortality. Acknowledging that life is short, I am committed to using as much time as I can to influence my own happiness and those of the people I love. The only immortality I have is the legacy I leave behind in the form of my children, the people I help, and the work I leave behind. Perhaps, we can come up with some word other than spiritual – a word that does not invoke woo. I am a naturalist, a freethinker, an atheist, a Darwinist who lives in awe of the interconnectedness of all things. A trans-materialist, maybe? (I’ll keep working on it).

 

Have a beautiful week!

My First Time

Last night was my first attendance at any kind of atheist gathering. It was a meetup called Atheists United, San Fernando Valley. I went “blind,” knowing no one. The meeting was about fifteen miles from my house and I don’t take the freeways. So, as I drove, I had time to contemplate what I was doing.

 

I thought of how much we are communal creatures, how important it is for us to find like-minded people to go through life with. I thought about how our likes, dislikes, interests, and passions can bring us together with strangers and pull us away from the people we already know. And I thought about how good it would feel to actually speak freely with people who agree with me.

 

Although my expectations were low, I was more than pleasantly surprised. I was received warmly and the ensuing discussion did not disappoint. People made reasoned comments with humor and grace. People listened respectfully to others and never seemed to take themselves too seriously.

 

My previous notions of atheists were that they were angry, condescending, humorless creatures with dysfunctional private lives. This is probably why it takes time for new atheists to even use the “A” word. I, myself, refer to myself as a “naturalist” in public. (Someone in the group last night quipped that “naturalist” sounded kind of like “nudist,” so maybe I should revise my label!) In any case, my own atheism is part of an overall evolution in my consciousness. I have felt that I am traveling this journey alone, which I have been okay with. However, it is much nicer to have some sympathetic people to relate to. I look forward to engaging further with this group and possibly others.

 

The End of My Faith

“For anyone with eyes to see, there can be no doubt that religious faith remains a perpetual source of human conflict. Religion persuades otherwise intelligent men and women to not think, or to think badly, about questions of civilizational importance. And yet it remains taboo to criticize religious faith in our society, or to even observe that some religions are less compassionate and less tolerant than others. What is worst in us (outright delusion) has been elevated beyond the reach of criticism, while what is best (reason and intellectual honesty) must remain hidden, for fear of giving offense.” –Sam Harris, The End of Faith (2005). W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. p. 236-237.

I just finished the above book and loved it. I am new to exploring the idea of “no God.” I have been moving in this direction for years, but never understood enough about the origins of the universe to feel comfortable eschewing God completely. I acknowledge there is a lot we don’t know about the world and about ourselves. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that none of the extant religions have a coherent narrative to explain much of anything. Also, if there were a personal, omniscient (and decent) God who demanded that we know and serve him on threat of eternal punishment, there would be no ambiguity. There would be no “interpretations.” No all-knowing God would rely on hearsay to get his message out, and then torture people who don’t get it.

No, religion was created to help us explain our surroundings, to comfort us when we are afraid, to give us that sense of awe that feels so great, to provide a sense of law to keep our communities in order, and to give us a sense of family with one another. The good news is that religion is completely unnecessary to experience any of these things. Reliance on any church, guru, or institution to tell you what to do with your life is an abdication of your responsibilities as a human being. It is also a waste of a perfectly healthy brain.

It is not easy to live free of god/religion in our society. Skeptics make people uncomfortable. People think the only way to have morals is to sign up for a religion, or, more likely, to stick with the one imposed on you from birth. However, the reality is that religion encourages tribal thinking – us vs. them hatred, condescension, and animosity – not peace. It also encourages passivity, magical thinking, and superstition. It only encourages peace and love between those within one’s religion – those with whom one already agrees, or those one can convince to sign up. I fail to see what is impressive about that. Although I have no desire to make people uncomfortable just for the heck of it, or to impose my lack of belief on anyone, I am unwilling to force myself to believe in things that aren’t real.

There is enough true beauty in the world to celebrate without having to bother with fictitious beings in the sky. Loving one another is a humanist idea that transcends man-made religion. My goal is to make this world a better place because there is no evidence of any others.

Love and peace,

Raven