Learning how to trust myself

Learning how to trust myself

One of the hurdles in my personal growth has been learning to trust my own mind and my own memories. This is particularly difficult with anxiety because of the way my mind tries to jump from thing to thing while I am hardly even aware of what is happening. I’ve been though hurried and anxious days at work where I could barely remember what I did that morning much less exactly what I said to a client on the phone last week. It was that bad, and my tricky memory would get me into hot water — especially when I was held to promises that I didn’t remember actually making.

I have always had some difficulty trusting my memories and my reasoning and my feelings because of my anxiety, and also because of the way I was taught to judge thoughts and feelings. If I didn’t feel or think what I thought I was supposed to be feeling or thinking I would deny it and pretend otherwise. As if I could make myself not really angry because I’m not supposed to be angry. I was far into adulthood before I could really sit and admit to myself that yes, I feel anxious (even though I perhaps can’t logically put a reason to it), or that I’m angry (but what if I’m wrong to be angry about this?), or that I have a bad feeling about someone is saying though I can’t quite wrap my mind around the reasons why.

Once when I was a teenager I went to a Christian concert with my parents and with a couple of girls who lived next door who I was friends with. At one point, the older of the two neighbor girls talked about some situation in her life where she needed to make a decision and was not sure what to do. Mom said at the moment something to the effect of she should trust herself to do the right thing. (I don’t remember the exact words but that was the gist.) But afterwards, after the conversation, Mom expressed concern that she forgot to warn her that demons or the devil might try to mess with her thinking. I don’t remember much about the concert, or about what issue my friend was dealing with, but that conversation stuck with me.

I’ve spend time agonizing about trusting my thoughts and feelings. The Bible says the heart is untrustworthy, and that mattered to me when I was a Christian. And how could you know if your thoughts are even your own or if it’s the devil whispering in your ear? And then there is the idea that our minds and souls are corrupted by sin so therefore we need to subdue our thoughts and bring them into conformity with what God supposedly wants. (2 Corinthians 10:5, if you are curious) The whole concept is crazy making — at least the way it was presented to me.

I’ve found the healthy alternative to handle my thoughts and feelings is to apply a bit of mindfulness. I’ve started waking up before my child each morning (when possible) and finding some time to sit quietly with a cup of coffee before I start the day. No music, no TV, just the coffee, the ambient morning sounds, and my own thoughts and feelings. I take the time to inventory how I feel — physically and emotionally — and what is going though my mind. I’ve learned, finally, to sit and recognize when I am feeling tense, or angry, or content, or anxious, and not argue with it or try to chase it away. It’s not good or bad, it just is. I want to feel and I want to just be aware of how I feel and maybe get to the root of what is causing it. Listening to your feelings is good, because they may tell you something your mind hasn’t caught up with yet. Just knowing and recognizing when I am irritable helps me not to take it out on my child or my spouse. And it has gone a long way to helping me know my own mind and trust myself.

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What is needed for Religious Pluralism to work?

What is needed for Religious Pluralism to work?

These are my thoughts briefly about the idea of religious pluralism expressed by Eboo Patel in the book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. Which is a very good read, by the way, and I barely stretch the surface of the books contents in my video blog. I highly recommend you read it for yourself.

 

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Reflections on why I rejected God

Reflections on why I rejected God

Now that I’ve been thinking about religion, I’m brainstorming what I used to believe as a youth and why I rejected it. I’m starting with God, and what I was taught about this god. These characteristics were either explicitly stated or implied about what God of my upbringing was supposed to be.

– the personification of goodness and love
– could do anything
– created the world (In 6 days? Through theistic evolution? How this was supposed to fit into modern knowledge was not clear at all.)
– loves everyone (But the Bible says God hated Esau so that was confusing.)
– has no body (In contrast to what the Mormons believe.)
– listens to prayers (Yep, everyone around the world at the same time.)
– does things that affect the physical world
– can suspend the laws of nature at will
– created the laws of nature
– wants everyone to be ‘saved’ (But only the people who believe the right things will be?)
– wrote the Bible (Through humans, of course.)
– is a literally existing person
– has thoughts
– has feelings (anger, jealousy, affection, etc)
– has a mind
– is a person
– is male
– is unchanging (Though this is contradictory with having thoughts and emotions, which are constantly changing by their nature.)
– gets the credit for good things
– sometimes ‘lets’ bad things happen as part of an unknowable ‘plan’
– has a plan
– is very concerned with human affairs, especially sexuality
– demands blood sacrifice for ‘sins’
– could read your thoughts and was very concerned about whether or not you believed in him and in Jesus
– promised rewards after death for those who pleased him, and severe punishment for those who displeased him

The things that I was taught about God growing up confused me as to what expectations I should have. For instance, the preachers said that the Bible said that if any two people were together and prayed Jesus would grant them what they prayed. This seemed to work well for invocations, where there was a gathering and everyone prayed for a sense of God’s ‘presence.’ A sense of ‘presence’ only required that the people present believed it. Or if they prayed for success for the church parking lot repaving — while at the same time dedicated people worked very hard to make it happen. But if you asked for something more difficult, like actually bringing sight to a blind friend, not even the most fervent prayers of the elders at the church convention made the smallest difference. Weekly prayer gatherings for the kid with leukemia also made no difference, except that they expressed support and solidarity with the family. It could have made a lot of difference to me if it was actually presented that way. Maybe to the many of the adults there it was mostly just an expression of support for the family. If the church didn’t teach explicitly that God was *literally* a person who was all powerful and always present and loving and could actually intervene in these situations, I might actually believe that was the real intention.

But believing all that literally made no sense with what I was actually observing. None of it made sense, and when I questioned it I was either ignored, rebuked, or given answers that also made no sense to me. So I rejected it.

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An Atheist with a Religion?

An Atheist with a Religion?

So then, I took the plunge and joined my Unitarian Universalist church. I signed the book, went to new member orientation, made a financial pledge, and signed up for volunteer opportunities. I’ve decided that this is how I want to raise my daughter.

I am also co-organizer for Louisville Atheists & Freethinkers, and co-hosting on the Blasphemy in the Bluegrass podcast and participating with other local atheist organizations.

I have developed a rather weird relationship with religion, one that doesn’t get talked about much in the public discussion between atheists and believers. That is, being an atheist and identifying as an atheist but also having a church and a religion. What makes that even possible is the one big overlap between the atheist community and the UU church: they both full of heretics, and generally proud of it. A heretic being someone who decides for themself what they believe rather than accepting the word of an authority.

A Google search for “Unitarian universalist atheist” usually brings up a handful of posts about why atheists should not join Unitarian Universalist churches. So I’m pretty aware that there are voices in the atheist community who do not agree with me. At an earlier stage of my life, when I first encountered the UU’s I agreed with them. Their arguments usually focus on some disparaging things a former president of the UUA said about secular humanism. But the thing is, I haven’t encountered those attitudes in my own congregation. The other thing is that it is OK to disagree with the leadership here. For the first time in my life I can listen to a sermon and not feel deep shame and self-doubt if the minister says something that makes me uncomfortable. I just take a deep breath and acknowledge that I don’t think that is right and then continue listening calmly. If it’s important enough to me I can bring it up later. I could say it’s part of my spirituality right now to practice listening and resist giving into the temptation to have a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction. (I can split hairs on what ‘spirituality’ means later. :-p)

I’ll be writing more about this in the near future.

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“I don’t believe in that God either?”

“I don’t believe in that God either?”

One phrase I’ve come across with liberal religious people (most recently in a ‘common read’ book I was reading that had a bit about interfaith cooperation) is “I don’t believe in that God either.” You know, that judgemental God that hates gays and sends people to hell. The one that thinks women are not worth as much as men and commanded genocide in the Old Testament.

As an atheist I have a problem with this, because it always feels to me like the intent is to take all the oomph out of the atheist position, as if our objections were trivial. “I don’t believe in God.” “Well, tell me about the god you don’t believe in and I probably don’t believe in that God either!”

I don’t mind at all if someone believes in a thing they call ‘God’ so long as they do believe in a “live and let live” way. That is, if you are not trying to push your beliefs on me — verbally or by voting for politicians who want to erode the rights of the non-religious — I don’t mind if you believe something that you label ‘God’ or not. But this attempt at asserting common ground is misleading. I don’t believe in a God who is always kind and loving to everyone regardless of their religious belief either. Or one that created the universe. Or is one with the universe. Or created consciousness in the human mind (or in other animals or even plants). Or that used evolution and the big bang to create the world. I don’t believe in any of those gods either (though I accept the underlying natural processes as far as I understand them.) I simply don’t believe in supernatural forces and I don’t think we should apply the ‘God’ label to natural forces or objects.

“Tell me about the God you don’t believe in and I probably don’t believe in him either” is not a good way for the liberal religious to find common ground with atheists. I find it very off-putting. We can get along with each other while admitting and accepting that sometimes we just don’t agree about theology or what labels we should use. What matters is sharing the same basic set of values, regardless of your personal theology.

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