Tag Archives: atheism

The world in a grain of sand? How about your soul in an atom of hydrogen?

14 Sep

My son has a new girlfriend.

The young lady is lovely, though my son initially described her as a Smurf. She’s tiny, except in certain places where tiny is less than desirable, and she has blue hair. Well, not completely blue, but the Farrah Faucet-y bits around her face are definitely blue.

But before he described his lady love’s appearance, our son told us, “She’s an atheist.” I didn’t realize how important his religious stance was to him, though, until he started preparing us to meet Girl Friend for the first time. He repeated the “she’s an atheist” bit and then said, “I told her you guys are atheists, too, and she thinks that awesome.”

“You told her what?” I asked.

“That you guys are atheists.”

“But we’re not,” I said.

“Dad’s an atheist and you’re a Buddhist. That’s the same as being an atheist. You told me yourself, ‘Buddha’s not a god’.”

Now, I can tell the kid to start the oven for the pizza, or move the wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, or bring our entire collection of drinking glasses down from his room and he forgets within minutes. I have no idea how he hung onto “Buddha isn’t a god” but I was definitely wishing he hadn’t. Some days you want to help your kids with the big ideas and some days you don’t.

I took a deep breath.

“Ok, you’re right. Buddha isn’t a god, but that doesn’t mean that I’m an atheist.”

“Do you believe in God?”

“You mean white guy on a cloud god? No.”

“Then you’re an atheist.”

I sighed.

“Yes,” I said, “I suppose you’re right.” He smiled the smile of those who believe they’ve won the argument and the subject is closed, so he didn’t really hear, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in a spiritual life, that I don’t have a soul.”

But the subject isn’t closed. Not by a long shot. Since that conversation, I’ve mulled the idea of soul and spirituality on a daily basis. I now have a headache.

I’ve thought about soul on my runs, which has led me—consistently—to finish them singing, “R, E, S, P, E, C, T!” Not a bad way to end a run, but not the resolution I’d hoped for.

So, I asked other bloggers what they thought about soul. The G’nat at G’nat’s Eye View is an existentialist. His response made me realize that there are some seriously deep people in my virtual world. G’nat said:

I don’t think there is a difference between the soul and the self. Purpose? Purpose is our creation. Life is a blank canvas, and the self (or soul) holds both the paint and the brushes. The self (soul) not only has the freedom, but also has the responsibility to paint its own purpose.

I took philosophy in college. I really liked it, back when I had a lot of time and a young brain. I’m not saying I’ve gotten slow, but I had to read G’nat’s very thoughtful response a few times before I really understood his view. I think there’s a reason I read mainly trashy fantasy novels these days.

But the G’nat doesn’t get at the spiritual component of soul that nags at me. I’m not the only mom prodded to address religious issues because of her kids. Dinnerversions, who happens to publish a pretty wonderful food blog, said:

My own feeling is that our ‘soul’ is the energy within us. Neurons firing, chemical messengers moving across a gradient, the electrical potential between the cells of a heartbeat, the positive or negative charge of an amino acid….All of that is energy and when we die, that energy leaves us. That’s about as deep as I get.

I think that’s pretty deep. And she seems to be on to something. Hello Sailor has a similar view:

I believe everything has a soul and a soul is a type of energy, or a life force. Logically my brain wants it to know that it is just neurons and chemical messages, but in my heart there is something mystical about it, because where did that energy come from in the first place and where does it go when we are finished?

Maybe the energy gets recycled? Nevercontrary believes in reincarnation. I’ve tried; I’m not sure I don’t. It certainly explains having an immediate and intense reaction to someone, as I’ve had on meeting several people in my life. Mad Queen Linda at The Magic Bus Stop, equates the soul with consciousness and I like that, seeing as how it leaves room for lower and higher levels of consciousness. My cat, for instance, is on the same level as, say, Adolf Hitler and is likely just as irredeemable.

A few bloggers thought I was over thinking, which is really nothing new. Racing thoughts of all sorts kind of go with the bipolar territory. (Am I doubly bipolar if my thoughts are racing while I run? Does that make me quadripolar? Are my thoughts racing right now?)

Courtney Hosny of oneweektocrazy considered her immortal soul and decided whatever is at the end is at the end and figured the point of soul-searching was moot. Societyred once had a discussion about whether or not a rock has a soul. My kind of guy! He gave me a lightbulb moment with his retort to someone asking if he cared where we spend eternity: “I told him I had too much to think about in the here and now. Isn’t this time part of eternity?”

This time is, indeed, part of eternity. Certainly, some things feel like they take an eternity, like pre-school Christmas holiday pageants.

In the end, I believe that there is something beyond our physical bodies that makes us wonder about things like, is there something beyond our physical bodies. Areyoufinishedyet offered an explanation for the “something beyond” that she promised would blow my mind. It did.

Our bodies are made up of about 50% hydrogen atoms. When the universe was born, ALL of the hydrogen and helium atoms were formed. And since matter can neither be created nor destroyed, that means the hydrogen half of you is 13.7 billion years old. I think that definitely speaks to the idea of soul, and the continuity of the soul. Maybe the soul is the collective experience of those hydrogen atoms. We are imprinting our own story on the atoms inside our body as we live and breathe, and that story will be taken with those atoms once our bodies are gone, transformed into something else.

I would like to thank everyone who so thoughtfully responded to my call for input on the idea of “soul.” They all certainly have it.

The Soul Train

10 Sep

I got to thinking about soul the other day, primarily because my son is in a phase where he needs to label everything, from his sister (“annoying little freak”) to his religious beliefs. He is an atheist and is intent on naming everyone in his family, except the annoying little freak, as an atheist as well. He won’t speak for the freak because he thinks she’s too young to have formed an opinion about theism.

When he said, “You’re an atheist,” I balked. Then we started splitting hairs about what we meant when we said we were theist, atheist or simply “spiritual.”

I spent an entire 5 mile run thinking about the concept of soul and what business a godless heathen has even considering whether or not she has a soul.

What does soul mean to you? Do you have one? Do all creatures have one? All of existence, including non-living entities?

A is for Atheist

3 Oct

In the list of parental daydreams, wondering if your child will become president is probably right up there with imagining eight consecutive uninterrupted hours of sleep. Among those who’ve adopted internationally, there is even some discussion of whether our children can even run for president.

I will admit that I did, on at least one occasion, wonder if my son could be President of The United States. He’d be a fine President, I thought, based on the good judgment he showed in being born to my husband and me. As he grew and matured, it became clear that our son was much more interested in making music than in making laws. It’s a good thing, too, because research indicates that more than half of all Americans wouldn’t even consider voting for someone like our son.

You see, our son is an atheist. When he first said that he was an atheist, I thought he was being provocative.  I wondered if he even knew what an atheist didn’t believe. At this point, though, it’s pretty clear that he knows what he’s saying when he declares his graceless state.

You might think that our son doesn’t believe in god, with a big or little “g,” because he didn’t go to church. My husband and I don’t really come off as get-up-and-go-to-church folk. Frankly, my husband isn’t even a get-up-and-go-before-10 a.m. kind of guy. But at least until our son was about ten, we were regular churchgoers. I sang in the choir; I served on committees. We went to potlucks. We hosted potlucks, for crying out loud.

Now, before I get grief from those in the know, I will admit that the church we attended was a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I hear you: UUs will let you believe anything. There is something to that; dogma isn’t really on the offering plate at a UU church. But the idea of questioning and questing for spiritual truth was what drew me to the congregation. I am what initially drew my husband and two-year-old son. We stayed because we found that church thing that can be so elusive: a community of like-minded individuals who also seemed to like us.

Our son started his religious education in the nursery, playing “I love the earth and everyone in it” kinds of games and having his diapers changed by tolerant, loving people. He moved through the RE program without a hitch. He played his roles in the annual Christmas pageant with more or less enthusiasm, depending on his role. Cow in the manger? Not so hot. Shepherd complete with fake fur tunic and Bedouin head covering? All over that one. He was dedicated in front of the entire congregation by a minister he still considers “bad ass.” He grew up with a number of other children who were known and loved by the congregation.

I was raised Roman Catholic. I don’t recall thinking any of the parish priests from my childhood were the equivalent of “bad ass.” I’m not real sure “bad,” “ass” and “Catholic priest” should even be in the same sentence, but I wrote it, so I’ll have to live with it. I don’t have any recollection of any of the priests even knowing I existed. My strongest recollection of being raised Catholic was the terrible revelation, at a fairly young age, that my dream of being a priest was just that. After years of saying mass to my stuffed animals and little brother, I felt betrayed in a way that still stings. Eventually, I found Buddhism and I practice it today. My kids will tell you I need the practice. I say they are the reason why.

I’m going to lay credit for our son’s godlessness at my husband’s feet. He is a Jew. This is something quite different from being raised religiously Jewish. He didn’t go to temple; he didn’t study Torah, he wasn’t bar mitzvah’d (apologies to my Jewish friends for any awkward use of Hebrew). He is culturally Jewish. This means, for him, that he values education, debate, political inquiry and really good lox. We have tried to build a Jewish identity for our children that is both meaningful and fun. My husband is less interested in the fun; he’d rather our Seder were more sedate. The kids, though, still get a kick out of flinging mini-marshmallows and plastic farm animals, among other things representing the ten plagues.

I would worry about my son’s immortal soul if I were more sure about my own immortal soul. The thing that truly frightens me about my son’s atheism is that it could get the crap beaten out of him.

Atheists in America are more reviled than Jews or Muslims. I suspect that there is more tolerance of gays than there is of atheists. Americans would vote for a candidate of any religion before one without a religion. I know there is a gay and lesbian support group at his high school. I haven’t seen anything of its kind for atheist youth. I regularly see postings on Facebook about how hard it is to be Christian in America. Really?, I think. Try being an atheist.

Now the thing that really compounds my worry for my son, is the fact that he has no problem saying he is an atheist. To anyone. He regularly gets grief from Christian friends about his unbelieving. He never tells them they are wrong to hold their beliefs. Recently, though, he posted on his Facebook wall that he only asks for the same respect for his beliefs that he gives others for theirs. It was a brave statement; it got lots of likes.

I’m deeply proud to be raising a young man who is confident in what he believes and willing to stand up for himself, despite considerable pressure from both his friends and his society. He is tolerant, kind, generous, funny, intelligent and outspoken. He’s all the things I’d like to see in the President of my country. It’s so sad that half of my country wouldn’t even give him a chance.

© Copyright 2011 by Janice M. Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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