It never ceases to amaze me how much of my life was hampered by the reins of religion. Every once in the while I’ll come across something in my life that I noticed it could have been different had I grown up in a moral but non-religious family. One of those ideas I’ll share with you now.
The influence of religion in our lives was extreme. We were taught in this way because our mother was taught that way. Her and her five siblings were taught that way because their parents were taught that way. As my parents divorced around the time I was ten my father’s secular influence unfortunately wasn’t really in the picture as it had been decided that we would be living with my mother.
As the shock waves of the divorce started to settle down I eventually started pursuing interests in my life. I became a highly devoted and accomplished pianist studying classical music on my own. I became recognized in middle and high school which later resulted in my performing solos at concerts and special events. I also considered myself a scholar as I took on long detailed research projects outside of school in anything that sparked interest in my young mind. Growing up in a poor family I had little to no allowance but whatever I did manage to save I always spent on sheet music and books. I loved reading but I never read fiction. There were simply too many interesting things in life that I wanted to learn. And so it began.
There were a few subjects that I felt compelled to read about which some would say are controversial. They were the subjects of paranormal investigations, UFO’s, world religions, human sexuality and miscellaneous nostalgia. They were all “normal” ideas to the naturally curious mind. I read about the stories; the people who encountered strange objects in the skies or claimed they had psychic abilities. I then read about the research and the laboratory experiments that were conducted. I additionally conducted my own experiments. As an amateur astronomer I was already watching the skies and recorded anything “of interest”. The subjects were exciting and adventurous for a young man like myself but my overall mindset was investigating the truth. I wasn’t set out on proving that these things were indeed true but I was set out investigating whether they are true or not!
I kept my “underground library” in a locked cabinet as I knew my mother wouldn’t understand my reason for having them. One day she decided to break into it to see what “evil” things I was hiding and the experience for me was of persecution by having books confiscated and destroyed. My heart was torn as I saw my books ripped apart and thrown away. I pleaded with her that I was not interested in the “worship of the devil” as she accused me of but it was in answering my own questions of what these things are and whether or not they exist; that we indeed had a right to learn and understand for good cause. My inquisitiveness was called “seeds of the devil” and “wrong”. Unfortunately after my mini-inquisition I underwent a heavier religious discipline. And so it would take me years before I had the time, place and freedom in which I could once again engage in these studies.
Now granted, paranormal investigations and UFO’s seem next to the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause now but back then as a teenager it was an honest inquiry and exciting! It was my right to seek knowledge and understanding: to be skeptical. But I lived for years under the rule of religion and dogma. Under that roof I had “no rights” and had no choice but to honor my mother as unquestionably correct and righteous as dictated in the Ten Commandments. My freedom of thought was years delayed and I can’t help but wonder what kind of person I would have become if I was allowed to exercise my freed mind.
Just the same I felt a dissonant chord strike within me years later when watching a documentary on Leonardo de Vinci. Leonardo was researching (by way of dissection) the heart and had noticed build-up in the arteries. He recognized that this build-up was a result of something streaming in the blood and might possibly have been the cause of death of the person under his scalpel. It was at that moment that he was summonsed to the Vatican where he was then charged with Necromancy and ordered a cessation of all his medical research. As I understand it it was his drawings and writings which helped save him from further persecution and even death as they showed his honest quest for understanding and not communion with the dead. Although writing backward left-handed didn’t help him there but hey, he was self taught!
Thought da Vinci’s lifetime was at the beginning of what we know as modern science it’s always interesting to ponder what he might have further contributed to the understanding of this blockage. Fortunately the work he had previously completed was still groundbreaking in the ways of modern science as diligently articulated in this essay on his clinical research.
Even though da Vinci had a personal idea of what spirituality was he still had the mind to employ scientific inquiry and not simply set aside his subjects as ‘god’s perfect creations’ which should not be subject to scrutiny. I’m sure that if I had the freedom to study freely the known universe I would have made more of a significant contribution to my intellectual life and perhaps even my prosperity. The following years after that critical point religion and other family problems forced me to find answers in no other place but religion. That inevitably futile search lasted ten years as I later left home, left Christianity, and tried finding the answers in other religions like ancient yoga meditation and lastly Buddhism. I eventually and finally found what I was looking for outside of the realms of religion and spirituality: sense, i.e. non-contradiction. I found it through the medium at which I first started my quest: science and critical thinking.
Today I am clearly not a religious person but I can consider myself a spiritual person. But the term “spiritual” is an old one that refers to a higher part of ourselves and what we feel about our involvement in the universe…or multiverse. Though I do not believe in god, gods or spirits I don’t like to use the term atheist. It kind of has a negative connotation so non-theist is more of an appropriate word. To make things more complicated though I am a non-theist I do still have what people would call spirituality! I therefore like to refer to myself rather as bright as coined by Daniel Dennett.
Though I will reserve my writing on spirituality and becoming a non-theist for another posting I will share briefly with you where my spirituality lies in order to show that in this type of transition life does not become less special. In fact, it became more special that I have ever, ever perceived.
There were a few losses and gains from this change. I think it goes without mention that I’m comforted knowing that god and my deceased relatives are not watching me in my private moments…at all! You know those moments where you wonder, “I wonder if they can see me…..” Nope!
One loss from this kind of change is knowing that I’m not going to live forever. Okay~ minor set-back. I had to now put my prime focus on living for the now. I know that whatever I wanted to experience I have to do before I die. I had to re-examine and re-evaluate my past and make sure that I got the best out of life for what I am physically and mentally able to achieve. I couldn’t just be a good boy, chill out and party it up in god’s great kingdom! But looking at life in this way put more of an importance in what I do every day.
Putting the prime focus on this life also allowed me to find and redefine my own spirituality. The simple idea that the beginning of our beautiful Earth and its inhabitants were no longer the simple miracle of a god; the extraordinarily complex and beautiful system of its origins seems more amazing to me and now shined as bright as the sun in my mind with sparks of amazement, reverence and wonder.
Reading Charles Darwin’s The Origins of the Species and The Descent of Man for example thrill me in much the same way that reading sacred scripture would have done. Watching something as extraordinary as David Attenborough’s First Life or Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life brings to reality the true greatness behind global life. It sparks the notions that this is real and this is about me, where I came from and where I am going. It is, in itself, a truee sense of spirituality, i.e. a heightened awareness and connection to all life which in this view is one life.
When asking me my religions preference at my initial examination my personal physician wrote down “agnostic / atheist” in my file. I told her, “Scratch out agnostic and underline atheist. I know what I believe.” She smiled a bit and said, “You have big shoulders.” “What do you mean?” I asked. She responded, “That’s a lot of weight to carry.” It was then that I realized that indeed I did and I was proud. I had not only the confidence and strength of mind to question the binding ideas of religion; I also gained the scientific knowledge to prove to my logical mind what was real. But most importantly I realized that I was also happy; that I reclaimed my sense of spirituality and sense of belonging that I once had. That was the third and final piece of the puzzle I needed to complete what I initially stared years ago.