I divide my religious framework into three components - my knowledge, my values and my practice. That is - what I know, what I believe, and what I do. This post will go into detail around the ways my knowledge and belief are transformed into action in my daily life - what I do.
If the natural world is the only thing I believe exists, then why does my religion focus on ritual practices? Why do I give offerings, burn incense, intone and meditate and light candles? What’s the point?
I see it as being all in my mind, which is fine - every experience I have is filtered through my senses and thus inside my mind. But despite the fact that I believe these things are psychological in nature, the materialist foundation of my experience doesn’t (and can’t) negate the reality that actions can still evoke emotions. For me, ritual practices are a tool with which I calm my mind, invoke specific emotions, retrain my conditioned responses, and examine and process my experiences.
Simply put - the point in doing ritual is that it gives me the results I’m looking for. And I think it’s pretty difficult to argue with results.
The most prominent aspect of my religion involves a rite that I do regularly, at my home altar, alone. It consists of a set of elements that I utilize individually, but that combine to bring me into a more powerful state of emotional examination and openness.
During this rite, I engage with a variety of individual practices. I anoint myself to bring my thoughts and senses into the present moment. I listen to droning music that puts me in a meditative headspace. I practice divination as a form of lateral thinking. I give offerings as an expression of gratitude, light incense as a physical manifestation of my will, dedicate my signifiers and magical tools, perform contemplation, and express gratitude.
This rite replaces attendance of the Mass for me. It encapsulates my worldview and reminds me of what I believe and why it is important to me. It gives me space to contemplate and examine my emotional state with the aid of symbolic representation. It makes me feel connected to my interior landscape.
There are a lot of Catholic mechanisms and concepts that I’ve brought with me to my current religious beliefs. For instance, the Catholics consider every Sunday, as well as a handful of additional days throughout the year, to be days of obligation - meaning you are morally obligated to attend the Mass on those days, unless you have sufficient reason or a dispensation for not attending.
I like this approach. Not as a form of browbeating or to make people feel bad. But viewing my practice as obligatory in some ways is actually beneficial to me - specifically, it externalizes my motivations for performing my practices and detaches it from how I feel. Oftentimes, I can most benefit from my practice when I “feel” like doing it the least, so using criteria other than how I feel at a given moment is powerful.
The frequency with which I engage in ritual praxis varies. At some points, I’ve done it daily. Other times, once or twice a week. I rarely go more than four or five days without doing it. I am currently exploring what a concept of “obligation” looks like in the context of atheist religious ritual. From where does the obligation originate? What is its purpose? Is it enforced? Are there consequences for its violation?
In addition to the rite I perform regularly, I have other, smaller devotional practices that I try to do regularly. I use the term “devotional” to mean something smaller, more impromptu, or less involved. These practices are a way of reframing my experiences to relate to my religious perspectives, to remind me to live my beliefs, and to provide practical benefits during the day.
For one thing, I wear a set of accessories that signify important aspects of my worldview. They seem relatively mundane to most folks, which is convenient for me, although I get asked about my pendant regularly. They provide reminders of the values I hold to be important. All of them are also practical in the sense that they are functional tools that I utilize in my practices.
I try to do small meditations, visualization exercises, and perceptive shifts throughout my day. My practice is psychological in nature, and a lot of these practices as tools to help me access and understand my thoughts and feelings. Meditations that help me clear my mind can improve calm and focus. Contemplative practices (in which I dive deep into thinking about a problem, thought, feeling, etc.) allow me to focus and really plumb the depths of a topic. Visualization exercises and perceptive shifts help me convince myself to see the world differently and reconsider my perspectives on things.
These practices are typically small, unassuming, and rarely noticed by folks that might observe them. But they serve as a powerful daily reminder of the work I’m doing and why, and they have become practical forms of processing and interacting with my thoughts and emotions when the space for larger ritual practice might not be available.
There are a lot of folks who don’t see religious practice this way. They engage in what I consider “spirituality” - intuitive perspectives based on “feeling” a certain way. These folks prefer to correlate their life experiences to their religion/beliefs. There’s is nothing wrong with this at all - but I’ll confess I do not relate (as I suspect they likewise don’t relate to my approach).
“Praxis” is a non-negotiable pillar of my belief system. This is a reflection of the way I see the world, and the way I see myself - I want to be continually reminded that my beliefs are in a perpetual feedback loop with my actions. Ritual practices are a method humanity has used from the beginning of our existence to access deeper psychological landscapes, and maintaining ritual practice as an obligatory aspect of my religion honors that.
I’m still working on a lot of this. I would like to further incorporate and codify structures around differing forms of religious expression - what would my religion’s funerary rite look like? Or a liturgical calendar? But I feel like I’ve begun to find the things that work for me, which has been wonderful.