An Atheist’s perspective on meditation

Atheism Symbol

The sun was shining and the warm autumn breeze blew across the Mediterranean shore. The leaves of the Cypress trees danced about while the onlookers at Café Portofino sipped their coffee, chatted with their friends, and nibble on Cannolis. Both locals and tourists could be seen walking the cobble streets, entering shops, cafés and restaurants, and walking out with wide smiles.

Brown Castle stood upon the hilltop as a sentinel gracefully watching over the Italian seaside. All is beautiful, just as it was meant to be.

My name is Angelina and I am writing a midterm paper for my college social studies class. My professor handed out many topics from which we could choose to research and compose.

I briefly thought about one of the choices, how the influx of immigrants was changing the fabric of Italian society. Writing about the effects of global warming, a second choice, was also attractive. But instead I decided to venture into the world of atheism, to better understand how people come to pick that path. For me, a devout member of the Catholic Church, not believing in God seemed irrational and heartless. What human viewpoint could bring a person to such a conclusion – as atheism?

Georgio is my fellow classmate, who volunteered to be interviewed for today’s assignment. I did not know that he is an atheist. As we enjoyed our coffee and pastries, sitting outside in view of the ocean, the morning conversation slowly turned to the topic at hand.

Portofino Italy

Angelina:
Georgio, what is atheism, and what if anything do you believe in?

Georgio:
Well, to start out with, we are just regular folks. We eat, sleep, and work hard at our jobs to make a living for our families. We love, dream, and meet misfortune just like anyone else. We wear the same clothes, eat the same foods, and breathe the same air. I like to exercise, stay fit, and do my daily meditation. My heart beats just like yours.

But the defining difference is that we atheists do not believe in God. If you are Monotheistic (belief in one deity) or a Polytheistic (belief in multiple deities); we do not share that sentiment.

Angelina:
So does that mean you would not attend a Christian Church or Hindu Temple service?

Georgio:
Yes. I don’t attend religious services or subscribe to any philosophy/system that promotes deity recognition or worship. We believe that there are no deities of any kind.

I do believe in the basic goodness of people. I cherish love and life. I live by the Golden Rule and respect nature and most aspects of this world.

But there are some churches and spiritual traditions that emphasize the search for truth and meaning, in a non-sectarian way. Those are places that I can attend a service, if I wish.

Angelina:
Well, if you don’t believe in God what do you think happens when we die?

Georgio:
I have always felt that when I die, I am dead and finished, and my conscious life will simply come to an end. I’ll be gone. I don’t know what generates consciousness or awareness, but I expect that it will end. Maybe I will live on as memories in my surviving loved ones, in those who carry me on in their hearts. But for myself, I will cease to exist.

Angelina:
Do you hold any family, political or ethical views?

Georgio:
Just because I’m an atheist that doesn’t mean I hold radical views. Quite to the contrary, we are fairly main stream.

I support the rights of married and divorced couples, gay or straight. Opposition to gay marriage is based more upon traditional religious beliefs, which atheists simply don’t share.

I rely on science to determine when life starts. If a newborn baby can survive outside the womb due to an early premature birth (after 37 weeks), then that’s when human life starts. Although abortion is not a pressing issue for me, I tend to be more pro-choice. I respect the rights of women.

I strongly believe that our country got it right with separation between of church and state. Far too many wars have been waged in the name of religion. Millions have died for their cause. And when I look around the world I see daily occurrences of beheading and forced religious conversion. It’s a misguide ego thing.

Religious States and Theocracies are so yesterday. They belong to the medieval 12th century, not to modern man. I hope that mankind will outgrow those dark features of human unconsciousness.

Here in modern Italy, reborn as a secular state in the 19th century by liberals, church and state are separate. Gone are the days of the Reformation. But even so, the Vatican still exercises a huge influence over Italian politics and society.

The World simply is. Born with a Big Bang, it’s operating in accordance to physical laws. And now scientists are saying that there could be as many as 17 billion Earth like planets just in our own galaxy, the Milky Way. How will the Church deal with that?

Angelina:
Speaking about different types of governments, are there some places in the world that are better for atheists than others?

Georgio:
Yes, definitely.

While most government constitutions in the world have nice language that supports freedom of speech and religion, very few nations actually abide by it.

Check out the Freedom House 2013 assessment for yourself. Of all the areas on the Earth, Western Europe governments are the most free (96%).

Western Europe – 96%
The Americas – 69%
Central and Eastern Europe – 45%
Asia Pacific – 43%
Sub-Sahara Africa – 22%
Middle East and North Africa – 1%, (Israel is the only free country in that region)

http://www.freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/FIW%202013%20Booklet.pdf

Freedom is essential to life and human growth. It provides a safe platform for the search for truth and meaning.

Atheists and humanists suffer persecution worldwide. For example, an atheist would be sentenced to death in Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, the Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. In other countries, such as Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait and Jordan, “blasphemy” laws prohibit its discussion.

According to the Pew Forum, as of 2011, 47% of the world’s countries and territories have laws or policies that penalize blasphemy, apostasy (abandoning one’s faith), or defamation (disparagement or criticism of particular religions, or religion in general).

Angelina:
What are your views on war?

Georgio:
Think beyond your own personality. Then there will be no wars.

But as a group we sometimes discuss if there ever is justification for going to war. Some atheists believe yes, and others believe no.

Angelina:
Is health care a right or a privilege?

Georgio:
Just as in your question about war, us atheists have a wide variety of opinions on this topic. Should end-of-life treatment be provided, and should governments be responsible for providing universal coverage to everyone? Some atheists believe yes, while some others believe no.

Angelina:
You mentioned staying fit and healthy. I thought that meditation was more of a religious practice and that as an atheist you would never get near it.

Georgio:
I practice meditation to reduce stress and strengthen my individuality. I found that a calm mind better helps me to concentrate on the task at hand, and enjoy life’s experiences more. Peace of mind helps to free me from worry.

Here are some additional benefits of meditation:
• physical relaxation becomes deeper with continued practice
• studies have shown increased blood flow and a slower heart rate
• decrease of the aging process
• better social behavior
• it’s easier to get rid of bad habits; they just fall away
• personality becomes more balanced
• phobias & fears become less
• satisfaction at work increases
• has been shown to lower high blood pressure
• there is less restless thinking and wandering of the mind
• less anxiety attacks
• will power becomes stronger
• with a clearer head, it’s easier to make better judgments
• enhances the immune system
• helps to build self confidence
• contributes to greater creativity and brain wave coherence
• leads to better grades at school, and an improved memory
• helps to quit smoking and alcohol addiction
• emotions become more stable
• relationships with just about everyone gets better
• petty issues no longer have any sway over you
• more self actualization
• more acceptance of oneself

Angelina:
Do you pay your taxes like most people?

Georgio:
I suppose we share the biases of just about everyone in society. Lower taxes and limited government, or higher taxes and more government, are in question.  Take your pick, because there are valid arguments on both sides of the equation.

Angelina:
Do you believe in Global warming?

Georgio:
Based on climatologically records that have been kept over the past few hundred years, and geological research into climate over past millennia, it does seem that average temperatures are increasing.

Now whether that is due to manmade pollutants, or other human activity; or natural causes beyond our control, that question is still up for grabs. Some of my scientific friends say that there is undeniable evidence that the current 7-billion people of this planet cause significant carbon dioxide emissions. We certainly pollute the waterways with pesticides and a multitude of other chemicals. The coral reefs in the world’s oceans are dying. Species are disappearing from the face of the earth.

But my one geologist friend states that the current warming is all part of a natural cycle that the Earth goes through; from ice age – to warming – to the next ice age. The continents will all be rearranged again over the next 250-million years. Due to continental drift they will once again come together to form one big super land mass.

But I do believe that we need to limit human created contaminates in the oceans, land and atmosphere, to keep the earth as pristine as possible.

Be as friendly to this beautiful planet as you can.

Angelina:
What type of world government is best?

Georgio:
Any country that separates Church and State is preferable. Religious theocracies and religious republics are horrible, since they regularly prey on atheists and other minorities.

Angelina:
I’m curious as to what events and experiences in your life brought you to embrace atheism. Were you raised that way by your parents, or did you choose atheism for yourself?

Georgio:
As with me, many atheists grew up in families that were religious. My parents are Catholic and go to church every week. They consider themselves to be god fearing, charitable good Christians.

When I was young I went to Church with my parents, but somehow what I learned there did not resonate with me. I didn’t know if there really is a God, because I never saw, heard, or touched him. Yes, there a plenty of status of Jesus and Mother Mary and the other Saints in Churches, but I never actually saw God with my own eyes.

Some people say that they talk to God every day. But what is that all about? God is certainly not appearing and standing in front of them so that they could have a real face to face conversation. It seemed to me that just as children have invisible friends to play with, so to, that adult relationship with God is nothing other than imagination. It’s one sided, and then people look for events in their lives to “justify” or “prove” that God answered them.

Faith is good for some things. Speaking for myself, just because I don’t know something first hand, that doesn’t mean it’s not true. In fact, our five senses perceived just a tiny fraction of what is happening in our environment at any one time. And the curtain of death is hidden from us all. The afterlife, if there is such a thing, must be wonderful because everyone who goes there doesn’t see fit to return.

And yet for me, faith must build upon actual verification to be trusted. If my science professor tells me that electricity in the flow of electrons from negative to positive charge, and he shows me that in a laboratory experience, I start to have faith in his teaching. If later he tells me that space-time is all relative and depends upon the speed of the observer and the observed, although I don’t understand Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, and the mathematics are way beyond me, my faith leads me to believe that what he has said is true. So faith builds upon concrete and verifiable truths, not something that is just taught in the Church, and you just must believe it or else.

Religions seem to have done a lot of harm in the world. All too often it stops people thinking in a rational and objective way. It divides people, and is a cause of conflict and war. Religion doesn’t give equal treatment to women and gay people, and thus offends basic human rights. Religion obstructs scientific research and evidence, and is a political tool for the social control of people.

But it’s also possible to be both an atheist, and spiritual.  Virtually all Buddhists manage it, as do some adherents of other religions.

That’s why I practice several forms of Buddhist meditation. I do Vipassana Mindfulness Breathing Meditation and Walking Meditation as I can. But I make sure that I do their Mantra Meditation twice each day, morning and evening. It’s very relaxing.

Epicurus, that ancient Greek philosopher (341 – 270 BC), was one of the first atheists. He presented the theory of “materialism.” It states that the only things that exist are bodies and the space in between them. Epicurus taught that the soul is also made of material objects, and so when the body dies the soul dies with it. There is no afterlife.

It seems to me than some atheists are much more “spiritual” than most solid church goers, simply because they question everything and want to find out the truth – not just blindly accept something because a Religion, or Priest, or Imam, or Rabi says so.

So my religion is the search for truth and social justice. I’m a humanist. No deities are involved.

Angelina:
Well, thank you Georgio for meeting with me today and helping in this college assignment. I have certainly learned a lot.

Georgio:
Sweet Angelina, enjoy the rest of your day.

§§

Monotheistic Religions:
Bahia, Christianity, Hinduism, Deism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism.

Polytheistic Religions:
Hinduism, Shintoism, Chinese folk religion, Wicca, and Taoism.

God, religion, and atheism are concepts that only exist within the realm of mind. All of that occurs in thought; bound by time and space, past, present and future.

To He/She who has transcended the sphere of mind and relativity, immersed in timeless eternal absolute being, those concepts which may have once guided the seeker upon the path are now cast aside. Unfettered by limitation of any kind, the enlightened person serves as nature’s gift.

No matter what meditation practice you prefer, or how you came to meditation, spend some time with it every day. Your reward will be immeasurable.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 21st, 2013 at 10:25 pm and is filed under Knowledge. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

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