Every week, a different student group at Harvard Divinity School hosts our Wednesday Noon Service. The first Noon Service of this past semester—27 January 2010—was hosted by the HDS Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists, who recruited me to do brief reading in response to the question, “Why are you a humanist?” I don’t know that I actually am a humanist—an ambivalence that is, I hope, subtly apparent in my reading itself—but agreed anyway. The service itself turned into bit of a disaster after the choir sang the Klezmatics’ rather irreverent and accusatory “I Ain’t Afraid,” but my reading was well received, so I decided to post it.
At some point the story lines of my native Christianity stopped making sense and the practices stopped connecting. I wanted something that I could follow without apprehension, something I could swallow whole. Mostly, though, I just wanted something to move me.
Converting to Buddhism in Georgia was like coming out of the closet. First, I was a Christian who just liked Buddhism a lot. Then, I was a Buddhist-Christian. Then, I was a Buddhist who still believed in God. Finally, I was just a Buddhist.
Abandoning my belief in god was one of the most valuable things I have ever done, because it forced me to get over my subconscious, ingrained notion that there might actually be a god somewhere who would punish my disbelief.
Of course, I never embraced materialism, either. Unlike many of my western coreligionists, I believe in the real existence of kārma, rebirth, spirits, heaven and hell realms, and so on. I firmly believe in the supernatural.
In Existentialism is a Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre says, “If a voice addresses me, it is always for me to decide that this is the angel’s voice.” For me, this means that belief and disbelief really are our choice. Why not choose what we find most helpful, most life-affirming, most moving and beautiful? It is in this sense that I am a humanist.