Belief systems are the bane of humankind. Usually belief systems are the foundation of religions. But atheism can be a belief system as well.
Truth be told, there are two kinds of atheism—hard atheism, and soft atheism. The former is a belief system; the latter is an attitude.
The basic ingredient of a belief system is settling on a truth. When we are young, we naturally question things, but as we grow older, society demands that we fit in. And to fit in we have to quit asking questions, and start accepting received truths, however ossified and deleterious they are.
Do all cultures require conformity? There may be exceptions, but I know of no existing culture that doesn’t demand conformity, to one degree or another.
The great contradiction of American culture is that it is very non-conformist at the superficial level (everyone is free to ‘do their own thing’), but it’s brutally conformist under the surface.
The thing that parents and teachers don’t tell us, because they’ve forgotten it themselves, is that truth is something that can never be settled on. The moment one settles on a truth, it’s no longer the truth.
Which brings me back to atheism. The kind of atheist I can relate to doesn’t believe in ‘God’ or any kind of deity, but leaves the question of cosmic intelligence open. A questioning agnostic.
The other kind of atheist is really just the flip side of a believer, and therefore merely a different kind of believer. Rather than believe in God, as their Christian or Muslim antipodes do, hard atheists declare that there is not, ipso facto, anything beyond the human mind.
In other words, believer-atheists don’t simply negate the nonsense of monotheism and polytheism and start their enquiry from there; they end enquiry by proclaiming that the universe is solely a matter of random evolution, and that rational thought and scientific knowledge are it.
This believer type of atheist has become, ironically but not surprisingly, quite vocal in their belief system in recent years, proselytizing in their own way.
It’s easy to see that conceptions of God are the fabrication of thought. But saying there is nothing beyond thought and its constructions, and thus making thought the idol, is essentially no different than religion, and even more absurd. That includes one of the human mind’s greatest creations–scientific knowledge—which itself has become a golden calf.
When things get really difficult, it’s tempting to pray to a higher power, asking for help. But to put it anthropomorphically, the intelligence of the universe (God, if you like, in a non-theistic sense) doesn’t like such prayers. Human beings grow by standing on our own two feet and questioning, not by prostrating ourselves before anyone or anything.
That doesn’t preclude a sense of reverence before the infinite mystery of the universe, nor a profound humility in light of humankind’s dubious place in the ultimately immeasurable and unexplainable harmony of the cosmos.
Of course during periods like this, having insight into man’s place in the universe can be an awful lot to ask of a human being.
The choice is not between rational thought and chaos, as hard atheists contend, but between the dominance of thought and the movement of negation in attention. It’s thought that leads to nihilism, not negation. Negation leads to awareness beyond thought.
The sun is bright, and warm enough despite the wind late on a winter’s afternoon in California. Two hawks—kites—suddenly appear over the creek, closer than I’ve ever seen them. They cavort on the wind, wheeling, spinning, and hovering around each other in what appears to be an early courtship ritual of spring.
Their long, slender wings (white, tipped with black, against a cobalt sky) give them unsurpassed aerodynamic abilities. I watch astounded for half a minute, until one breaks off toward the east. The other hovers for 15 or 20 seconds, before also disappearing.
It was such a fleeting, ephemeral, exquisitely beautiful sight that afterward it didn’t seem real.
There is something beyond the human mind, but the mind-as-thought has to be completely still to perceive it. No one can convince another of it. Each person has to discover that holiness for him or herself, by passively observing their own minds into stillness.