Two days ago, while I was participating in a 'World View' panel at a local high school, I discovered something about myself. With all the other world views present, including Hinduism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Confucianism, and Humanism/Atheism, I found that personally, my views were closest to that of the . . . Atheist!
This was actually rather shocking to me, because although my parents and I never went to church, I was brought up with basic Christian values. I believed in God and Jesus Christ, and as a teenager often said the Lord's Prayer before I went to sleep at night.
During the panel, the representative from each worldview was requested to give a brief summary of their spiritual beliefs. As I listened to the familiar stories of Jesus and the Trinity, I looked down at the sheet I had brought with me, to make sure I correctly covered the Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, and Five Moral Precepts. Then it dawned on me- not only did the Christian beliefs seem remote, but the beliefs expressed by the Humanist were almost identical to mine. The only real difference was that he did not believe in an afterlife, or any type of rebirth.
This realization then begged the question, why was I so shocked?
When I thought about it, I realized that there was a disconnect between my concept of an atheist and the people that prescribe to that world view. In the past, I may have equated an atheist to someone who was actually amoral. Conceptually I knew this was wrong, but since I had never thought that deeply about it, I wrote it off. Perhaps in a Christian culture people believe that if someone doesn't believe in God, then they are automatically not accountable to anyone, and therefore would not be governed by any sense of morality. (Plus the whole 'going to hell' thing!)
Fast forward to now, with my current beliefs, I know why the worldview that should have been familiar to me were suddenly so alien. Although I still believe in the wonderful things the Jesus Christ did and said, looking down at the less than half a page of paper of the precepts and Noble Eightfold path, I know down to the core of my being that those are all I need to be a good person. For me there is no need for a belief in a god, heaven and hell, miracles or rebirth. And while the Christian worldview represented on the panel could have started with the similar concept of the Ten Commandments, they didn't. Instead both the Catholic and Protestant viewpoints spoke of their duty to serve God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Catholic representative discussed the mystery of the Trinity.
Is this wrong? Of course not. It just demonstrates that there is a different emphasis in the Christian worldview. But the outcome is the same. As I stated in my first post about the panel, the common thread for every worldview represented was made up of 1) being a good person, and 2) striving to realize the huge potential one has as a human being.
The Buddhist view just happens to be that in order to 'be a good person' all you need is accountability to yourself. And to my apparent surprise, it was the Atheist/Humanist perspective that directly echoed that. I certainly hope that those high school students learned something from the panel, but I know for sure that I did!!
This is of course, a complex topic, so I am sure it won't end here. I still have many questions about what atheists believe and emphasize, and am looking forward to learning more in the future.