A little while back, I read a story about a blogger who had been sued for using a photograph which she had downloaded from Google images. It was the second such story I had read, in the last couple of months on the same topic. As any of you know, if you have read me for any time, I pay attention to such coincidences, thinking that they are significant if I notice them repeatedly.
While I have always been careful to get my images from sites which gave permission for their use, it is possible that even with such due diligence; I could be deceived by someone who shared the picture without being the owner of said photo.
So, I decided that on all future photographs, I would request permission from the reported owner, before posting in order to have some proof of my effort. It would be far easier to just buy the photos, but since I do not generate any income with my blog or with my Facebook page, I can hardly afford to purchase a dozen or so pictures a week to fill all my needs.
Recently I wrote to an individual who had posted some pictures on Flickr with a creative commons license, requesting permission to use a few of his photographs on my Facebook page. He promptly wrote back giving me permission to use his prints in accordance with the creative commons license.
He also wrote me a second email and told me that he was an atheist and that he felt compelled to tell me this in an effort to dispel the myth that being an atheist was synonymous with having immoral behavior. After telling me that he was a loving father, was faithful to his woman, and was ‘very giving, almost to a fault, he added, “The reason I feel it so important to inform good people like you that I am an atheist is to help stop the belief that atheist’s and agnostic’s stray from morals.”
I had sent this man a link to my Facebook page, where I post pictures with quotes from my readings ( facebook.com/one1now ) so I was surprised when he quoted something I had written on my Secrets to Peace blog. What surprised me most, however, was this idea that being atheist or agnostic somehow meant that one would be lacking in morals. I wonder who would choose to believe such a faulty myth.
After considering it, for some time, I decided that one would have to be very confident, in the validity of their own beliefs, to apply such stereotypes to these groups of individuals. While the number of religious people has been steadily declining in the last ten years, the number of atheist and agnostic individuals has grown, according to the Pew Research Center.
When you consider that “Spiritual but not Religious” is now the third leading response, when people in the world are questioned about their faith (after Christianity and Islam) it seems far more realistic to assume that there are people who make kind and unkind choices within the group which identifies itself as atheists and agnostics, just as there are moral and immoral individuals in all of the worlds religions. No one organization could possibly have a monopoly on either extreme of human behavior.
My point is this: Why would anyone believe that a person’s religious beliefs dictated their ethical behavior? We have all known reported Christians who were very immoral and those who sought to live as Jesus taught. Obviously, we know the vast majority of those who follow the teachings of Muhammad are peace-loving individuals and that only small percentages live their lives without regard for the rest of humanity. So how could anyone lump all self-professed atheists or agnostics into a sub-category of human behavior which is without moral fiber?
I believe it was a philosophy class, when I was much younger, which taught me to avoid all use of never or always when speaking of humans because neither extreme is usually true when speaking of any condition of the human psyche. It would have never occurred to me to classify all atheists as having low moral character. There are many famous atheists, currently and throughout history, who have been scientists and other individuals who contributed amazing things to society and there have been many famous religious people who have sought death and destruction in the name of their God. The choice of whether or not an individual believes in the existence of God could never be the sole indication of their moral character. The latter can only be determined by the choices this individual makes and demonstrates when coexisting with his/her fellow humans and with the planet, as a whole.
I really like this quote by Anne Lamott, someone who is quite spiritual. She said: “You can safely assume that you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people that you do.” We see people, supposed Christians from right here in Topeka, Kansas on the news all the time carrying signs proclaiming the things and the people whom the God of their creation hates. I would consider myself an atheist before I would ever follow a God of hate.
Consider these five facts about atheists from Pew Research:
- The number of people who identify themselves as atheists in the United States has been rising, modestly but steadily, in recent years. Our aggregated data from 2012 show that 4% of American adults say they are atheists when asked about their religious identity, up from 1.6% in 2007.
- Atheists, in general, are more likely to be male and younger than the overall population;67% are men, and 38% are ages 18-29(compared with 22% of all U.S. adults). About four-in-ten atheists (43%) have a college degree, compared with 29% of the general public.
- Although the literal definition of “atheist” is “a person who believes that God does not exist,”according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, 14% of those who call themselves atheists also say they believe in God or a universal spirit. That includes 5% who say they are “absolutely certain” about the existence of God or a universal spirit. Alternatively, there are many people who fit the dictionary definition of “atheist” but do not call themselves atheists. More Americans say they do not believe in God or a universal spirit (7%) than say they are atheists (2.4%).
- Not all atheists see a contradiction between atheism and spirituality.A quarter (26%) say they think of themselves as spiritual people, and 3% consider themselves religious Four-in-ten atheists (41%) say they often think about the meaning and purpose of life.
- Among atheists,82% say they either often (52%) or sometimes (30%) feel a deep connection with nature and the earth; among all American adults, 85% either often (58%) or sometimes (26%) feel such a connection.
Personally, due to my experience of life, I know, with no uncertainty, that there is a unifying force which animates all of life. Oftentimes, I identify this One Power as God. Mostly I call it Love. Frequently, I refer to it as Source. This Oneness, which exists, in me, as me, is not real similar to the idea of God I was taught as a child growing up in a Southern Baptist Church. While such teachings were a part of my spiritual foundation, everything I insist I know, today, has come to me as a result of my meditation, my time spent in the quiet. There I found answers to all of my questions, and in-fact, had all of my questions erased.
Knowing what I know, I still consider myself agnostic, which is why I find “facts” three and four of the Pew Research so interesting. I call myself agnostic, because I do not believe we can ever know what this One Power is, fully. It is so far beyond the mind’s ability to comprehend, any attempt to identify or quantify its existence is, as Anne Lamott suggested, creating God in our own image. It cannot be done, not with any integrity. Any attempt to do so only proves that such definition is coming from the ego and not from Awareness.
The man I met on flickr was clearly a beautiful soul. In the end, being a loving being is far more important to humanity than believing in some religion. My religion is Love. Everyone who truly loves honors the same God I strive to emulate.
Peace is ours when we acknowledge the Light (another term I use for the One Power) in one another. This Life Force thrives in every rock, tree, plant, animal, and human. When we look at the world through awakened eyes we can see that everything vibrates with this Energy: (Even the individual, who has turned away from the Light, still carries within his/her being a flicker of this Truth.) When we are able to see this Light, glowing, within another, Love is the only prudent choice we can make. This does not depend upon religion. This is a choice, just as loving your wife and family and showing up to love your neighbor as yourself.
The choices we make in honoring one another are far more important than the labels we use to identify our religious beliefs. Choosing Love is choosing Life, regardless of whether or not one professes a belief in someone else’s God.