trying to be spiritual after years of atheism
February 11, 2016
I’ve been thinking about this off and on for a while now, but I’m somewhat spurred on by that discussion where Tiara said that her ancestors, having been muslim for centuries, wouldn’t appreciate her worshipping them…..
In a similar way, my ancestors (both white and pilipinx) have been catholic for centuries. Not quite as long as hers, I don’t think. But long enough. Not that I’m about to go back to the church. I’ve already left it to become a seventh day adventist in my teens. Like. I could go back but….
I’ve long since been convinced that a personal, all powerful, creator diety (ie theism in the philosphical definition) is incoherent. I was agnostic for a while after leaving the SDA church but Nagarjuna’s arguments against the existence of a theistic god have convinced me. So I remain an atheist.
Now, given that I use the term as it was defined in my philosophy of religion class, my notion of atheism tends to be a lot more narrow than other’s, since it is really only about not believing in a personal, all-powerful, creator god. For many years I remained agnostic on the question of gods that have some, but not all, of those qualities. Could there be personal gods? Idk. What about all-powerful ones? Maybe. Surely no creator gods? It could happen. And mix and match as you wish, short of having all three qualities (eg, personal creator god? sure. all-powerful creator god? why not. personal all-powerful god? let’s do it.).
After years of feeling the tug, I finally decided, a few years ago, to start exploring anito (the general word for pre-colonial animist tradition for tagalogs). And in so doing, I’m immediately confronted with a problem: how the fuck do I actually do this. Because Tagalogs were ground zero for spanish settlement we’ve lost a lot more of our ‘traditional’ culture than other ethnic groups. There aren’t that many old books. Most of the traditions got folded into how we practised catholicism (known as ‘folk catholicism’). I probably could spend some serious time and effort comparing traditional roman catholicism and tagalog folk catholicism to maybe infer what might be indigenous and what is foreign.
If I were still around my family, I might’ve actually pursued this. Many of my titas are very involved with the church and are very religious. I’m sure they would’ve been more than happy to teach me stuff and get me involved. But I’m disconnected from my family, for various reasons, and with that disconnect I’ve lost my primary connection to my culture (concievably, I could find ways to get involved with my local community but… being pilipinx is so intertwined with family for me that I haven’t really be able to take this step – leaving aside the disability problem).
And so… what then? I’ve done some research (ie, read old spanish accounts about what my ~indian~ ancestors practised and believed). I know there are some other resources but… The problem I end up bumping into, all the time, is really lack of appropriate context. It isn’t easy to find stuff that is explicitely about Tagalogs. A lot of the times you find some kind of pan-filipino stuff and I honestly… can’t. In part bc I don’t want to appropriate from the indigenous ppl who have held onto their traditions and also because its fucking dangerous, yeah?
Like on the subject of magic… I don’t do it. I might be able to. I might even want to, but there isn’t anyone to teach me and I’m not going to open the door without knowing I can do it safely. Same goes with any kind of serious spirit work. What I’m basically left with is… making the occassional offering and maybe asking for guidance once in a while (or at least try to interpret my life with the understanding that my ancestors have a hand in shaping it).
Is there more to it? Probably. Will I ever know what that is? Probably not.
For me… this is the pain of being diasporic. At the end of the day, as much as we are looking back, home isn’t a place you can return to. But I also don’t want to live in the past. If I had a better imagination, I’d try to project what little I know of the traditions four hundred years into the future and try and figure out how this would manifest in the present.
Culture is a living thing and looking backwards (as you go forward) only makes you vulnerable to tripping and falling on your ass.
It all feels so out of reach. But I still feel it, deep inside. And so I satisfy myself with doing what I know to do. With trying to be here, in the present. With ‘worshipping’ my ancestors by walking the path I think they want me on. And whatever… negative feelings I have about them, I know they aren’t as bad as it could be. I could be appropriating other groups’s practices and traditions. I could be living in the past and reducing my own people/self to being a dusty relic, rather than a vibrant people alive today.
(Now I’m seriously considering starting to attend mass again, since maybe cobbling together my own type of folk catholicism might be the way to go. Er… not that I ever actually attended mass on a regular basis, since my dad wasn’t really into the whole scene. I bet you, though, that it’d only require going a few times to remember all the rituals.)