Did the Pope Provoke Religious Revelation For You?   Leave a comment


Feeling the faith

As an atheist who grew up in a secular household (having two parents who chose to leave the faith they were brought up in behind), I have always had a sneaky suspicion that maybe I have been missing out on something.  Following the recent visit from Pope Benedict XVI and the crowds he drew (albeit smaller than those originally planned for), I have been wondering if the experience of faith is beyond me.  I cannot participate in this feeling of religious zeal, but is there another path open to me?

In some ways, I would love to be able to experience that intensity and security (and enjoyment) believers seem to get from their faith, but I personally am unable to give my complete trust over to any god-like figure.  I think a belief in God requires a strong commitment, such as is required by to fall in love with someone, but on an even deeper level.  This is often called a “leap of faith” and it is something which I, along with many others, am unable (and, to some extent, unwilling) to do.

When I was younger, I thought that it was the religious people who couldn’t see the bigger picture and recognise the fact that the more faiths that existed meant the more likely it was that none of them had the true answers.  As I learnt more about other religions and their ethical standpoints – courtesy of my school’s religious education GCSE syllabus and later whilst studying Theology at university – it became more obvious to me that believers were getting more out of their faith than I had first thought.  If religion was merely a tool which “kept people in their place”*, surely it would have died out as social hierarchy was overthrown and ‘equality of opportunity’ became a term overused by politicians.  There must be something more to it: a deeper, psychological impulse possibly.

I’m not the person to discuss that in any detail, but I am someone who’s intrigued by the faithful.  There are those who have an unwavering belief in their God: they just ‘know’ that they are right and so are able to completely trust that their religious way of life will offer them the most fulfilling experience both now and in the afterlife.  I personally feel that I live a satisfying life and I follow my own set of moral values (not too dissimilar to those shared by the majority of the world’s religions – and governments, religious or secular), so I feel contented.  However, you don’t miss what you’ve never had, so perhaps I could be getting more out of life if I practised religion; other people seem to get a lot out of it.  All those people who turned out to see the Pope and all those others who also profess a religion or faith – whether affiliated to organised religion or some kind of self-discovered spirituality – they are part of a wider community and often state that their beliefs make them feel part of something bigger than themselves.  How can the non-religious compete with that?

Actually, it is now increasingly easy for the non-religious like me to feel like we are also part of a community as atheist champions (Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Stephen Fry, etc.) have been popping up to support and invigorate us in the media.  So, whilst Pope Benedict worries about the growth of atheism in the UK, the non-religious can feel secure as we work to become a supportive network, able to rely on each other in times of need.  As a relative newcomer to Twitter (find me under @thinkmindy), I have found the sheer volume of atheist groups to rival religious ones encouraging.  However, what I feel many people would like to do now is to take this to the next level and move away from being “non-religious” to “sans religion”: i.e. from being ‘not religious’ to being ‘without religion’.  We need to begin identifying ourselves without needing to mention religion or faith.  This is of course problematic because you can’t say “followers of science”, for example, because you can be religious and a scientist; so what do we use?  The term ‘reason’ is also controversial as those with faith would be inclined to disagree that they don’t conform to reasoned argument.  Maybe we’ll have to split into groups who can find their own defining term, like religions have done.  In that case, I think I’ll opt for the label “free thinker”.  This is already used by some and is often meant to mean that the person is able to think for themselves, ‘free’ from the shackles of a religion.  I think it suits me because I am free to think for myself, but free not from religion as such but free from the opinions of others.  I do not need to care what ‘society’ thinks or believes; I only have to answer to myself – and my conscience.

* From The Collected Works of Lysander Spooner, a 19th century American entrepreneur, libertarian, political philosopher, and legal theorist.

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Posted 23/09/2010 by thinkmindy in conscience, Pope, Religion

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