What? An Atheist With Principles?
While it hasn’t (yet?) been a personal issue with me, I know that other people who don’t accept the idea of a real live god or deity or universal super mind or being have been accused of not having any morals or guiding principles because they don’t accept moralistic rules from ancient legends or shouting ministers.
These accusations simply aren’t true. In fact, I’ve found less dishonesty and hypocrisy among those who are seeking to live as honestly as they can according to reason than I have among those who cop out and hide behind the excuses provided to them by nefarious doctrines such as divine grace, favor and atonement. Too many religious doctrines and dogmas supply acceptable irresponsibility for ones actions.
Perhaps it is the accrued wisdom that I’ve picked up along the way of this wonderfully singular and unique journey of experiencing life as a human Being, but I’ve come to a point where I’ve been able to narrow down the basic and core principles which guide my personal conduct, relationships and interactions with other Beings and the planet upon which I get to live.
Many years ago, at the suggestion of my daughter, I began practicing Yoga as a means of relieving stress and rejuvenating my body. As I progressed I developed the desire to teach Yoga and eventually enrolled in and completed the training necessary to be considered competent enough to help others discover and grow in the practice.
Within the practice of Yoga exists ten ethical precepts which allow us to live and Be in peace with ourselves and with others. These precepts, or principles, are divided into two groupings called the Yamas and Niyamas.
I mention these principles only because I’ve been able to compress most of them into three basic principles by which I try (and I often and frequently fail…but I’m getting there) to relate to myself, others and the world around me.
These Yogic principles are: compassion for all living things; a commitment to the Truth; not stealing or taking something which hasn’t been offered or given; merging with one’s god, gods or goddesses; non-grasping or tenacious possession (it has to do with detachment of possessions); purity of mind and body; contentment in ones present experience; focused enthusiasm and passion upon that which we are engaged; self study; creating or discerning meaning out of everything in life through giving it our full attention.
Through developing a mindfulness through meditation and Yoga I began seeing myself and the world in a much different, more open, free and colorful way. Oddly enough it was the honest application of those very principles which served to release my mind from the consideration of a higher power or a god, if you will, and see things as they really are instead of how I, or others, would want them to be.
I also discovered, through my commitment to the Truth, to not grasping to even my own preconceived notions and engaging in honest and, at times, uncomfortable self study, that there were no gods, goddesses, spirits, Universal minds or energies with which to merge.
Thus, even these Yogic philosophical principles didn’t really define my ethics or world view.
Over time I have compressed a number of various and generally accepted principles by which I attempt to willingly adhere.
Here they are:
1. Enjoy myself. What is the point of experiencing this unique measure of time known as my lifespan if I don’t enjoy myself?
I can do anything that I want to. I’ve experienced a lot of things that people have told me were bad for me and it turns out that they were wrong. I have come to understand that there are consequences to my actions. I seek to experience things which will have no negative consequences on me or upon others. That still leaves a lot of stuff to do!
In my zeal for living I’ve often made some bad choices which have brought some negative (thankfully not deadly or injurious) consequences. I accept full responsibility for my actions; both positive and negative.
I suppose my point in this is to say that at least I am free to fearlessly attempt any experience in life that I deem desirable and appealing to me. If it backfires on me, oh well, I only hope that I had fun in the attempt.
Life IS short! In the broad picture of the universe and timelessness (time is our construct…not that of the universe) we are here for only a relatively few breaths and heartbeats. I don’t want to die with the regrets of not attempting or experiencing something that was in my power to do.
2. Do no harm. I, like most other humans, unintentionally hurt things throughout life. And the harm that I’ve done is a burden that I will have to bear for the length of my own life. Once more I have to say that I take FULL responsibility for any harm that I’ve caused.
On the positive side, I’ve come to recognize that all living things are just like me in the sense that they, too, are ALIVE! Sure, our perception of life, if applicable, is different but that doesn’t diminish the value and precious sacred nature of all of life.
I seek to avoid hurting anything willingly and I have little tolerance for those who practice cruelty and thoughtless harm on any other living things.
This does not mean that I won’t stand and resist if I feel that it is necessary. Many injustices can only be corrected through resistance. Passive resistance is my first choice of resistance for it tends to be harmless.
3. Compassion, charity and selflessness. When it is in my power or within my ability I feel that it is my obligation to help any other living thing which may be suffering or in need. It does no good to pray to a non-existent god on behalf of other people; it is useless and is, frankly, one of those cop outs which many religions provide.
In learning that stuff is just stuff, that money is just money and that through subsequent detachment from the sense of really possessing these things, I’ve found that there is no good reason to withhold anything that isn’t necessary to me. If I have an excess of food, there must certainly be someone who has need of it. If I happen to have a little bit of money left over after my bills are paid, I have often and discretely found a need to meet.
I’ve also learned to live simply and to possess only a little more than I need. What’s the point of being loaded down with possessions that someone will toss into the dumpster or set afire after you die?
A few years ago I had to sell my Mom’s estate in order to provide her with the finances to give her medical care for the rest of her life. She was no longer able to live independently in the home where she had lived a rich and happy life since 1954.
The memories of seeing many of her unnecessary things piled in a heap at the curb still bring me a lot of pain due to my own sentiments attached to those items and knowing what many of those things meant to her. Yet in that traumatic and lonesome experience I learned great freedom and joy in living a simpler life.
Some time ago I asked my daughters if there was anything that I owned that they wanted. I was able to shed some of those things and experienced the joy of seeing those material things become a useful part of their lives. I plan on doing that again in the near future.
For now, all I think that I really need is the love of those who love me, healthy and happy pets, shelter, food, clothing, my guitars and my laptop with a good internet connection. Anything else will come to me when I really need it. Oh, and I need to include coffee and wine to that list. You wouldn’t like me without coffee and wine.
I have no real issues with those who select their own guiding principles from the religious or spiritual books or teachings of their choice. To each their own.
I do take issue, however, with those who seek to impose their own subjective morals and principles on others who would not otherwise wish to accept them. This is where I find danger in religious dogma, the intractable imprisonment of religious orthodoxy, doctrine and unreasonable faith.
My own principles will probably be tweaked as time goes by. I hope not by much. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten this whole life and worldview thing nailed down. But I remain open to new ideas, principles and ways of seeing the world and this universe through the lenses peace, love, compassion and charity.
Whether you adhere to the teachings of holy books, divine spooks, or not, I hope that we can all agree on that.