I bumbled around for decades thinking I’d failed as an atheist. I didn’t believe in God, and yet I still yearned, well, for something. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was the feeling that there was something more in this life, something transcendent, shimmering even, that could give meaning and purpose.
I didn’t get what was going on until I read Karen Armstrong’s book The Case for God: What Religion Really Means. Armstrong wrote that religion was never meant to focus on belief. Instead, she said, religious life was meant to be one of “trust, commitment, and engagement” in a practical discipline that sought to go beyond the “reasoned, logical, scientific thought” that the ancient Greeks called logos.
We have become used to thinking that religion should provide us with information. Is there a God? How did the world come into being? But this is a modern preoccupation. Religion was never supposed to provide answers to questions that lay within the reach of human reason. That was the role of logos. Religion’s task, closely allied to that of art, was to help us live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there were no easy explanations and problems that we could not solve: mortality, pain, grief, despair, and outrage at the injustice and cruelty of life. Over the centuries, people in all cultures discovered that … (certain religious practices allowed them to experience) a transcendence that enabled them to affirm their suffering with serenity and courage. Scientific rationality can tell us why we have cancer; it can even cure us of the disease. But it cannot assuage the terror, disappointment, and the sorrow that come with the diagnosis, nor can it help us die well.
Unlike Armstrong, I shun the word “religion” because of the associations we’ve piled up around the word. I favor “spirituality” because it doesn’t imply that you have to believe in anyone’s particular set of gods or goddesses to engage in this practical discipline, but which word we use isn’t half as important as what we do. Finding a way to live creatively, peacefully and even joyously is my goal. Now that I’ve embraced it, the discipline of spirituality is helping me find my way.
A NOTE ON THE PHOTO: This marvelous image was harvested from http://publicdomainarchive.com/. A thousand thanks to them for their fine taste and their generosity.