- Posted January 19, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The Spiritual Atheist
I am often asked how I am able to refer to myself as spiritual when I am an Atheist. For me, the answer is quite simple, although not readily accepted by those who embrace religion and often times, even by those who do not.
The spiritual Atheist is one who denies the existence of a literal god, a higher power, a supreme or sentient being, or a belief in other deities while holding to the idea that the universe is completely and wholly natural. And while denying a literal god, the spiritual Atheist supports and encourages others regardless of individual beliefs.
Science, reason, logic, honor, respect, empathy, and compassion guide the spiritual Atheist's actions and words with the understanding that one need not possess a religious belief or affiliation to care for and live in harmony and peace with others.
I do remember as a child trying to believe in a god, but for me, it has never happened. I am just an Atheist, which is simply described as "godless." Not heartless, unethical, immoral, or sinful. Just godless. And I am good without a god.
It really is all that easy. I live the way I do because I love life and I love myself. I love my family. I love a lot of things. The simple things in life make it worth living. I love people, wherever they may be on their life's journey. I respect them and I respect their beliefs. I know a lot of religious people who live their lives the same way. The only difference between us is they believe in a higher power and I do not.
I live in a world of science, logic, and reason that has always remained open to the idea that there may be someone or something "out there" that science just haven't discovered yet. I require evidence and facts and to date, they just haven't presented themselves to me as proof that a god exists. But yes, I remain open-minded.
One of the greatest mentors and influences in my life was my grandfather, who's grave I am visiting in the photo above. He was a Methodist minister (a Circuit Rider) and throughout my childhood never once proselytized but rather, lived his faith through the way he lived his life.
One of my fondest memories with him was when I was perhaps three or four years old. It was snowing relentlessly and the temperature was below freezing. He spotted a homeless gentleman sitting in a corner beside a building, trying to stay warm. Being the man that he was, my grandfather loosened his grasp on my tiny hand, slipped off his heavy wool pea coat and handed it to the man who gratefully and tearfully accepted it. As we walked away, my grandfather lifted me into his arms and I asked why he had given the dirty old man his coat. With tears in his eyes, my grandfather looked at me, smiled, then kissed my cheek and replied with one brief but memorable sentence. "Because I can."
He taught me about compassion, respect, empathy, and love and while I'm sure I attended his church as a child, I remember many lessons but no sermons. He never admonished me for asking questions. He encouraged my questions. He fed my curiosity and never answered me directly but instead applauded and fortified my hunger for knowledge and justification of the world around me and in doing so, caused me to find my own ways of learning and never leave a stone unturned.
I believe he was the greatest influence in my decision to become a nurse. And I also believe that it has been through his guidance and teaching in my childhood that I am able to love what I do and look forward to attending my job behind the heavily guarded doors of the correctional facility where I am employed. I jokingly tell others that I blame my grandfather for being the person that I am, but in all reality, it is very close to the truth. Because of him, I do not even think of judging my patients. I do not wish to nor am I even inclined. They are just people who have made poor decisions and it's my job and my honor, to offer them compassionate, competent, professional, and empathic care, no matter what their situation might be.
One of my favorite quotes that my grandfather used to recite to me is by by Samuel Johnson, "Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful."
It took me many years to understand what that meant. Many heartaches. Many failings. And many awakenings. He instilled a sense of integrity within me that I strive to honor each day of my life. He did this not as a Christian but just as my grandfather. Because he could.
I continue to live my life in such a way that he taught and I hope were he still alive today, he would smile at me with pride. He would also understand why I deny the existence of a god. And he would encourage me to keep searching.
Another mentor of mine and a man whom I consider to be a dear and close friend, is the Rev. Tobias Schlingensiepen. He is the pastor at the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ as well as one of the chaplains for the Topeka Police Department in Topeka, Kansas. He is also my pastor.
He knows where I stand spiritually and each time I have attended his services, I have never failed to learn. His presentation of scripture always leaves me with questions. However they are not questions of his interpretation, because he encourages his congregation to study, provoke, and come to their own conclusions regarding what he has presented. They are questions that cause me to educate myself even further, to test the accepted, and to challenge the unknown, He, like my grandfather, is truly a minister who ministers to those in need, not just those who come to church. Because he can.
And yes, we can all be "ministers" without embracing a faith or believing in a religion. It is merely about helping others just because we can.
And for those who might wonder; I am perfectly at peace with who and what I am as a human being. I do not fear death. I do not fear life. I live each day with the expectation that it will be the best day of my life and in turn, I believe that my place in this world is to help make the lives of others, just as happy and beautiful as mine.