Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Unaffiliated Idealism

Originally posted on October 7, 2011

If I had to give a name to my “religion,” this would be it. I realized only recently that I did indeed have a spiritual path as a teenager: “unaffiliated idealism.”  (I had no name for it then, though.) As a lad I collected and cut out nickel-priced used copies of Readers’ Digests, and similar little magazines, “Coronet” and “Pageant.” All three had idealistic little quotations, stories, passages, photo-poems, uplifting bits that inspired me. I read in books of popular poetry and memorized inspirational pieces. So one might recognize that a fairly broad and diffuse theme in the culture involved this trans-denominational idealism. Even as I felt alienated from any traditional religion I read about, I was bolstered by the writings of many thinkers and writers throughout our own and many other cultures—believers, agnostics, atheists—but all spouting noble sentiments. It was clear that one could be filled with idealism without having to be bound to any particular historical, religious or mythical traditions.

I suffered from an odd affliction: Part of me was agnostic bordering on atheist—if only in the sense that I doubted that the popular image of a patriarchal controlling and judging god was what lay at the source of life; yet, another part of me found certain elements in the realm of religion attractive—especially relating to the themes of idealism and enthusiasm. The actual dogma or literal beliefs I found to be implausible, and the consequences of imposing them on others obnoxious. My response was to become interested in the history and other aspects of religion and I made this my major during my undergraduate years at U.C. Berkeley—with a pre-medical set of requirements as a minor.

While medical school and residency took up much of my attention, I found that specializing in psychiatry (for me, and at that time in history) allowed me to explore the wider cultural context of the modern human predicament—and that included issues of alienation, meaning, and even alternative ideas not yet in the cultural mainstream. Fun and fascinating! And this taste for digging around in the consciousness-underground, questioning our collective basic assumptions and illusions, continues to express my slight rebelliousness from adolescence—the sense that there was something phony going on, but early on I couldn’t easily identify it.

Over the years I have enjoyed a series of insights into the misleading nature of many cultural assumptions that I think operate at a largely unconscious level and are clung to for many reasons: It would require some thinking, which isn’t easy; and perhaps a more widespread change in general social mores; it might require a new type of schooling that prepared people to be more active and engaged rather than passive, and to exercise critical thinking skills. Oh, many things might need to change. We should not underestimate the political power of those who have a vested interest in the status quo, also. But still, I am a little hopeful that circumstances will evolve so that more fundamental advances in culture match a process of consciousness evolution.

So without falling into denial about how difficult the challenge, I’m giving myself to optimism as the most constructive alternative. Others would say I’m keeping the faith, even though the faith I’m keeping is not particularly sectarian, but in favor of the general society and its advance.

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