Who are my spiritual ancestors?
I've been thinking about this question a lot recently. My self-identification as an atheist says very little about my spirituality. As I have said before, my lack of belief says something about me, but atheism isn't a philosophy of life.
The devout have a rich tapestry of thinkers and teachers to pull from. This deep and direct spiritual ancestry offers a history of thought and an evolving debate of meaning to explore. From this spiritual lineage, believers can learn to avoid the mistakes of the past and build a brighter future. That the faithful have figures to look doesn't mean that they are closed to the thoughts of others, it just means that their traditions have done some of the work of sorting out what it means to live.
As a nonbeliever, however, I used to feel adrift at sea. I can find fellow travelers throughout history, though their lack of belief was often obscured. Even when it is in the open, the spiritual side of it might not be. I felt that I didn't have anyone to point to and really say, "She is part of my tribe; she speaks for me."
I am no longer adrift. I realized that while we cannot choose our actual ancestors, we have the absolute freedom to choose our spiritual ones. The whole landscape of thinkers, doers, and dreamers are available to me.
Who have I chosen?
Whoever speaks to me. Whoever has something to say about the great questions of life. Seneca, the Buddha, and yes, even Jesus. J.K. Rowling and Pablo Neruda. Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. There are no barriers to join my fellowship. Those with something to offer are always welcome.
I am not adrift at sea. I am in the crow's nest, using every tool available. My spiritual ancestors each have something to say about navigation and I take their counsel seriously. I don't know where I am sailing to, though it has already been a beautiful journey so far and will surely continue to amaze and surprise me in the many moments ahead.