I love living in this world. Yes, there is a lot of suffering, but across infinite space and billions of years, we get to be alive right now – an amazing opportunity. My favorite hobby is long meditative walks in the woods, similar to Theravada Buddhist forest monks. Once a week I spend several hours walking very slowly – covering at most 1 mile - through the Portland forests. With each step my mind slows, I breathe in the surrounding vastness of nature and let go of my ambitions and desires. The walks help me appreciate the emptiness of my endeavors and the beauty of being alive. I believe I can feel an energy that permeates the forest and our universe. Sometimes I bring a book with me, something on philosophy, anthropology, or religion. Reading about humanity and consciousness helps me build understanding and compassion for others. I enjoy examining how religions change over time, a study of why we humans believe what we believe. I admire religions. Despite religious extremism, religions bring many people happiness, build supportive community structures, and provide service.
So, what is my religion? Humanist? Compassionate? Naturalist? I don’t know what to name it, but I know what not to. Please do not call me a non-believer - I just explained the very positive things I believe in. Likewise, don’t call me an atheist – I’m not against belief in god. You are welcome to decide if my beliefs do or do not meet your definition of god, but either way, non-belief in god should not be the defining feature of my religion. Atheist does not suffice, nor does agnostic (again defined in the negative), spiritual (not into spirits), or secular (not a religion). Whatever the name, similar religious views appear to be growing in popularity. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, I would be classified as a “None”, the fastest growing religious group in the United States, increasing from 15 to 20% of the population over the past 5 years. Although an enjoyable play on “Nun”, “None” is also not an ideal descriptor. Our religious group probably does not need a name at this time. But if more formal organizational structures develop, the religion should be defined for what it is, not what it is not. In the mean time, I’ll be in the forest walking and believing.