Sunday, February 15, 2009
The Atheist’s Way Virtual Book Review Tour begins this week. Please take a look and see what people are saying, pro or con, about their experience with the book. Here are the two tour stops this week:
Donna Druchanas on Wednesday at http://sheeptoshawl.com/blog/
Catherine on Thursday at http://poetrychook.blogspot.com
In The Atheist’s Way I dub certain religions like Buddhism and Taoism “the river religions” and argue that, like the god-based religions, they betray our common humanity by promoting metaphors, fairy tales, and dogma rooted in the same authoritarian energy that drives Islam, Judaism and Christianity. There is no eightfold path, there are no noble truths, and there is no nirvana: there are only personal paths and personal truths and the necessity of personal meaning-making. The river religions, as attractive as they can seem, are detours from the path of personal meaning-making.
I am calling these religions the “river religions” to capture something of their root metaphor, that flavor or “flow” or “way,” and to underscore that they are indeed religions. Many people move from the god religions to the river religions because they want a recognized and non-offensive container to hold their spiritual enthusiasms, not quite realizing that every such container is a human-made device meant to promote fantasy (whether about Heaven or reincarnation) and grab power (whether in the hands of a Pope or a Zen Master).
This week I got a lovely email from a reader of The Atheist’s Way who, perhaps in conjunction with reading the book, had suddenly “seen through” the river religions. Barbara explained:
“I started visiting local Zen centers a few months ago, and have found tremendous improvement in my calmness, rationality and creativity with daily meditation sittings. However, I've been feeling more disappointed as I spend more time with the Zen centers. Yesterday I acknowledged why - it's because I don't believe. Period. I just don't believe in ‘religious stuff,’ not Catholicism like my father's family, not Episcopalianism like my best friend's church, not the radio-show Evangelicism my mother regrettably seems to favor, and thus, not in Buddhism either.
“I don't believe in reincarnation, or karma except as an abstract notion of ‘be a jerk, have a miserable life,’ or the benefits of prostrations, or that lineages of teachers are super special and worthy of prostration, or that the Buddhist ‘miracles’ are any more credible than the Christian ‘miracles.’ I do like the emphasis on mindfulness and compassion, and appreciate the Bodhisattva's Vow where the vow-taker promises to postpone enlightenment until all sentient creatures are free from suffering, but shouldn't mindfulness, compassion and generosity be commonly prized traits that don't need a religion to ground them?
“I think that 1) I'm a little disappointed that I'm an official 100% nonbeliever, since there might be some beautiful practices or comforts out there that I'll miss and 2) I'm disappointed that the tremendous benefits of meditation and the intellectually engaging parts of Zen still come wrapped with miracles, reincarnation and prostrations. But I'm unapologetically a nonbeliever, and that is fine. I'll keep meditating and I think we'll also go back to our local Unitarian church for socializing and networking, where you can be an atheist or deeply agnostic and that is OK. I'm in private law practice, where we are strongly encouraged to get out in the community and know people, and churches and temples are great ways to meet people: if you believe or can pretend to believe. But I see that the bottom line is that I must make my own meaning, with no dogma or snake oil; and that will be fine.”
If you have moved halfway from the god religions to the river religions, come all the way home now. Yes, there will be fewer networking and socializing opportunities—but there will also be fewer scrapes and bows. Leave the river religions behind and, rising from your cushion, stand up for what you believe. Comments welcome!—you can email me your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or post them at the blog where this newsletter also appears: http://theatheistsway.blogspot.com/
Have an excellent Sunday!
Posted by Eric Maisel at 8:24 AM