My mental acrobatics: I used to hold fundamentalist beliefs. Today, I’m hypersensitive to hints of theism.

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I consider the belief that an anthropomorphic being plans the lives of all humans a fundamentalist belief. Until I was around the age of 22, I believed that the Jewish god had planned my entire life out for me before I was born. I believed that he had a whole saga of joys and challenges, of wonderful adventures and trials, in store for me. I imagined that all life experiences would be handed to me by a parent-like figure from a place of love and joy.  

On my lunch break today, I read a blog post by Tara Sophia Mohr. About halfway through the post, she writes about the “hidden curriculum” that lies within life experiences. When I read these words, they conjured for me my childhood idea that a supernatural parental figure designed my life experiences to give me life lessons, growth opportunities, and sometimes tough love… as if a loving person hid a curriculum in each life experience for me to find.

I decided that the words “potential curriculum” would work much better for me than “hidden curriculum”. “Potential” turns my initial perception around, implying that it’s up to us whether we look for and find learning and growth in life experiences. This matches my current worldview – that it’s up to us to seek and create meaning for ourselves – much better.

I then imagined Tara addressing my thoughts, with her signature warmth and kindness. “It’s interesting that that’s where your mind went, Sara, because of course I didn’t mean those words in any kind of theistic way – I was simply describing my observation that there are often learning or growth opportunities in experiences that we don’t see unless we go looking for them”.

Later in the post, Tara also uses the word “sacred” to describe purposes. She uses mildly religious language like this all the time. It distracts me, but I usually succeed in interpreting it in a way that works for me.

I call this mental acrobatics. I think it consumes mental and emotional energy. I crave spirituality-focused writers as attuned and insightful as Tara who use language that is more clearly nontheistic than Tara’s. I don’t want to have to navigate – choke down, digest – potentially theistic ideas in my self-help reading. My antennae are up and I want to relax. Maybe that’s inner work I need to undertake, but my desire for explicitly naturalist spiritual support doesn’t seem unreasonable or impossible to me.  

On that note, I constantly translate “spiritual” as “emotional” in my head.  I think of spiritual as “higher emotion” – there are basic emotions and higher emotions (such as feeling fulfilled), and they are all emotions and all very connected to our bodies. I don’t believe in any kind of spirit independent of body, so maybe “spiritual” is a word I shouldn’t use. But I use it and perform the acrobatics.  

I don’t yet see any purpose or value to the acrobatics. I suppose the most I can hope for is that my talking about life in the naturalist terms that work for me will allow me to connect with other like-minded people. Maybe one day I’ll be able to help like-minded people connect with important parts of the human experience that are normally discussed only in theistic terms that alienate naturalists like me.

-July 5, 2017

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