An Atheist’s Shrine

Atheist_ShrineIt was in the 1980s, while living in Asia, that I started assembling my own home shrine much like those I found in the homes of the Hindus, Taoists and Buddhists, with whom I Ived.  I have seen similar, multi-figured Catholic shrines in Mexico.  I enjoyed the shrine’s colors and symbols.  The humble bows and gestures of supplicants were beautiful.

Yet how was I, a nonbeliever, to have a shrine?  It was easy:  I liked the idea of having a visual reminder of the principles I hold dear. So I began my shrine with only the Nepalese Bodhisattva Tara. Then two years later I added the Hindu god Shiva. Five years ago I added Shakyamuni Buddha in the center. And the next year, Tara was the guardian of my I-Ching coins.  Ganesh’s pictures had always been in my living space also.

Baby Ganesh

Baby Ganesh

Though I certainly do not believe these statues represent actual spirits/deities, for me they represent different aspects of the mind — aspects of reality.

  • Tara has always represented the softer side of reality for me — surrender, forgiveness, trust, compassion.
  • Shiva symbolizes the harder side of reality — effort, discipline, discerning wisdom, justice, destruction to make place for the new.  I have long loved the way these two symbols capture these various aspects of our minds.
  • The Buddha hints at the unobtainable balancing between these two via skillful means: softness and hardness.
  • I also keep images of Ganesh around, for his playfulness (see my post on the little lad). Playfulness is a huge aspect of my personality — keeping in check all those silly ideals, abstractions and principles!
  • Finally, the I-Ching coins because I believe wisdom often escapes our discursive reasoning.
My Three I-Ching Coins

–My Three I-Ching Coins–

I occasionally bow to these statues in silence while remembering to go through my day with playful compassion, discernment and balance.  It is an outwardly religious appearing gesture, much like our family prayer where we say “itadakimasu” before eating, but as you can see, I claim the form, minus the spooks.

Do I do this ritual for good luck, maybe that is part of it, but I don’t care, I hold it all lightly.

Several Christians have noted these in my house and been bothered enough to never return. But some Atheists may also see it as weird.  I can laugh with them all of course, even when I value them highly. If only they could laugh too.

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Filed under Philosophy & Religion

11 responses to “An Atheist’s Shrine

  1. I claim the form, minus the spooks.

    To me this means “I claim the appearance without the substance.” What is the value of your objectless worship? What makes it “seriously important”? Is it just a frame-of-mind thing?

  2. Good question, LB

    My statement was meant for the Theist (like you) since that is how you’d see it. But for a non-Theist like me, there is substance — the human mind and human relationships.

    I do not “worship” these things by any means (my post makes no such mention), a use the images to remind me of that which I value.

    Similarly perhaps, if I may wager a guess, you do not worship your Bible (though that is a large potential pitfall for Christians), instead you use it to remind you of what you value.

    In my case, it is “seriously important” because I strongly value these principles. Indeed it is a frame of mind, as is your world of “spooks” (archangels, demons, spirits, gods …).

    Does that seem a little clearer?

  3. A lot of the world’s art comes from religion and I sometimes find some of it moving to me, at least aesthetically. I like your shrine and what it means to you.

  4. My own little shrine, atop my studio monitors: Ganesh, Buddha, Anubus, a couple of geckos, a nice gargoyle to guard them all and a peace pole. No specific meaning except to remind me that the world is a big place with lots of beliefs.


  5. @ Mike
    Thanks — wow, we share similar idols in our apostate shrines. We may be put into the same burning chamber in hell ! I look forward to seeing you there.🙂

  6. Ha! I’m sure it’ll be fun!😉

  7. Earnest

    The Romans (if memory serves me) had statues they kept in their homes or even carried with them called Lares. This has something of that feel for me. I like the idea. I don’t have anything like it in my home but as the stability of my Christian faith deteriorates this concept comes closer to reality.

  8. @ Earnest
    As the stability of your Christian faith deteriorates, may a healthy web of support develop to keep the good that your former web tried to maintain.

  9. Earnest

    You are my petros Sabio! LOL

  10. My grandparents, who are atheists or agnostic, I’m not sure which, have a good deal of Indian religious art in their apartment, including a (rather large and imposing) statue of Shiva, but I have always gravitated more towards Ganesh and I have a little one sitting around somewhere.

    And my former landlord, who is a largely nonobservant and openminded Muslim, has a hallway where he keeps all the religious doodads people have given him or that he has bought – an image of Kokopeli, sayings of the Buddha, a bodhisattva, an Eastern European rendering of a saint, possibly Peter, and little paper prayer flags (my contribution). He calls it the spiritual corner.

    I’m not sure I could have a shrine with images or statues on it, but I tend to group the books I own that I find the most meaningful together on the same shelf, and I think that holds some of the same meaning for me.

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