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An Atheist Embraces the Camino

BombayBill

Still Learning
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
I think some people may avoid the Camino as they feel it is a religious or spiritual journey that they can't participate in. I am a lifelong atheist and this is what I learned.

Those long days walking forced me to reflect on things in my life where I could have done better and what was important. It gave me time to look around and reflect on all I observed. I saw how some pilgrims instinctively knew how to reach out and befriend those who walked by themselves. They put aside the tendency to be guarded with strangers and took the risk of reaching out. They invited the solitary walker to join them at their table.I admired their behaviour and tried to do the same.

At first I thought the path would be strewn with rose petals as the onlookers urged me on. I was affronted by the ugly industrial areas as you approached towns. Wasn't this supposed to be a glorious nature walk? Shouldn't they keep everything in picturesque decay for my amusement? Then I did a reality check. Those ugly industrial areas were where people worked at good jobs making the things I needed. Did I expect people to endure high unemployment just so I didn't have to look at factories? We demand jobs and factories at home and so should they. The tiny picturesque villages that we love to walk through don't provide a future for most people. If we want to sustain those villages then we should be generous while in them.

There were tough stretches along highways that spoiled the views. Ugly walks strewn with trash. I stopped resenting them. This is what we've done. We demanded the roads, we created the trash. Pick up the trash and make it better.

It's not just another hike. The Camino forced me to confront the good and the bad in me. I thought hard about the realities I saw. Not just as the occasional stray thought as you go about your normal routine. Long contemplative periods to think about everything around us. Complete strangers shared their most personal stories without inhibition. I learned to embrace the beautiful and the ugly, the surly and the kind.

I grew to understand the Camino spirit. It's why I keep returning because I continue to learn more each time.

Forty days in the wilderness amongst others who are also seeking to figure things out is a wonderful thing no matter what your faith or lack thereof. You're not religious / spiritual? Go try it anyway, you'll come home a better person.
 
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Martin Cole

Love being a pilgrim walker
Year of past OR future Camino
2015-2019 French x3 Portugese x2 Primitivo x1 English x1, Muxia x1 Cancelled 2020!!
Thank you for that lovely statement, I stand from a similar point of view so enjoyed it all the more that I am not the only one entrenching on a trail as a charlatan.
I learnt things, I made friends, I listened and was listened to, I spent time thinking; life changing.
Cheers
 
Year of past OR future Camino
CF- Finisterre-Muxia 03/17; Camino SK 10/17; Norte 03/18; Ingles 11/18; Augusta 03/19
I think some people may avoid the Camino as they feel it is a religious or spiritual journey that they can't participate in. I am a lifelong atheist and this is what I learned.

Those long days walking forced me to reflect on things in my life where I could have done better and what was important. It gave me time to look around and reflect on all I observed. I saw how some pilgrims instinctively knew how to reach out and befriend those who walked by themselves. They put aside the tendency to be guarded with strangers and took the risk of reaching out. They invited the solitary walker to join them at their table.I admired their behaviour and tried to do the same.

At first I thought the path would be strewn with rose petals as the onlookers urged me on. I was affronted by the ugly industrial areas as you approached towns. Wasn't this supposed to be a glorious nature walk? Shouldn't they keep everything in picturesque decay for my amusement? Then I did a reality check. Those ugly industrial areas were where people worked at good jobs making the things I needed. Did I expect people to endure high unemployment just so I didn't have to look at factories? We demand jobs and factories at home and so should they. The tiny picturesque villages that we love to walk through don't provide a future for most people. If we want to sustain those villages then we should be generous while in them.

There were tough stretches along highways that spoiled the views. Ugly walks strewn with trash. I stopped resenting them. This is what we've done. We demanded the roads, we created the trash. Pick up the trash and make it better.

It's not just another hike. The Camino forced me to confront the good and the bad in me. I thought hard about the realities I saw. Not just as the occasional stray thought as you go about your normal routine. Long contemplative periods to think about everything around us. Complete strangers shared their most personal stories without inhibition. I learned to embrace the beautiful and the ugly, the surly and the kind.

I grew to understand the Camino spirit. It's why I keep returning because I continue to learn more each time.

Forty days in the wilderness amongst others who are also seeking to figure things out is a wonderful thing no matter what your faith or lack thereof. You're not religious / spiritual? Go try it anyway, you'll come home a better person.
Happy to hear that a fellow (Canadian 😉) pilgrim, despite being an atheist, had such a rich Camino experience. I’ve traveled, worked and lived abroad many years yet the Camino is a unique, unmatched life experience found nowhere else. I will walk the Camino for as long as I can because it’s a wonderful time in my life when I can be totally and unselfishly there with no outside world distractions, for another human being. Take care, stay safe and never stop believing!
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances(2006) Portugues(2013)
San Salvador (2017) Ingles (2019)
@BombayBill, thanks for sharing what you learned. @Martin Cole, you say you stand from a similar viewpoint.
I am happy that each of you has found a place, a way, of learning and continuing adaptation and widening of experience and understanding. I really do appreciate your posts, and they will keep me on my tippy toes, shaking up my sliding into ‘normal’ mode. There is no normal. Everything is beyond normal, beyond labels. I care nought for your affiliations. I value your wish to share in the experience of each and every pilgrim.
 

Camino Chrissy

Take one step forward...then keep on walking..
Year of past OR future Camino
Frances 2015;
Norte/Primitivo 2016;
Frances 2017;
Le Puy 2018;
Portuguese/FishermanTr. 2019
I care nought for your affiliations. I value your wish to share in the experience of each and every pilgrim.
Kirkie, I so agree with you. I am a Christian, but after living a somewhat sheltered life, the Camino and this forum have opened my eyes and way of thinking to embrace and respect the varying beliefs of those I meet, both "on here and out there". There are so many good people to rub shoulders with and I've enjoyed all the many differences we have...the Camino is our common denominator.
 
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Year of past OR future Camino
Camino June 2018 from Leon to SdC. Plan Frances 2022, Porto Central-Finisterre 2023, LePuy-SJ 2024
Being an Atheist and Marxist I felt no contradictory feelings on the way. Initially
my primary reason was to support my partner but before I knew it I was on 'my Camino' experiencing all those inner reflections that bubble to the surface. I arrived at the other end positively impacted and eager to experience it all again and again much to my partners amusement, but still an Atheist and Marxist.
 
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Juspassinthrough

in our minds, we're vagabonds, you and I
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances (2017)
Camino Inglés 2019
Leon-Sarria, June (2019)
Camino Aragonés (2023?)
I think some people may avoid the Camino as they feel it is a religious or spiritual journey that they can't participate in. I am a lifelong atheist and this is what I learned.

Those long days walking forced me to reflect on things in my life where I could have done better and what was important. It gave me time to look around and reflect on all I observed. I saw how some pilgrims instinctively knew how to reach out and befriend those who walked by themselves. They put aside the tendency to be guarded with strangers and took the risk of reaching out. They invited the solitary walker to join them at their table.I admired their behaviour and tried to do the same.

At first I thought the path would be strewn with rose petals as the onlookers urged me on. I was affronted by the ugly industrial areas as you approached towns. Wasn't this supposed to be a glorious nature walk? Shouldn't they keep everything in picturesque decay for my amusement? Then I did a reality check. Those ugly industrial areas were where people worked at good jobs making the things I needed. Did I expect people to endure high unemployment just so I didn't have to look at factories? We demand jobs and factories at home and so should they. The tiny picturesque villages that we love to walk through don't provide a future for most people. If we want to sustain those villages then we should be generous while in them.

There were tough stretches along highways that spoiled the views. Ugly walks strewn with trash. I stopped resenting them. This is what we've done. We demanded the roads, we created the trash. Pick up the trash and make it better.

It's not just another hike. The Camino forced me to confront the good and the bad in me. I thought hard about the realities I saw. Not just as the occasional stray thought as you go about your normal routine. Long contemplative periods to think about everything around us. Complete strangers shared their most personal stories without inhibition. I learned to embrace the beautiful and the ugly, the surly and the kind.

I grew to understand the Camino spirit. It's why I keep returning because I continue to learn more each time.

Forty days in the wilderness amongst others who are also seeking to figure things out is a wonderful thing no matter what your faith or lack thereof. You're not religious / spiritual? Go try it anyway, you'll come home a better person.
Well said @BombayBill. As a fellow Humanist, I experienced many similar discoveries.
 

Rex

One Step at a Time
Year of past OR future Camino
SJPdP to Santiago (2013)
Lisboa to Santiago (2018)
via Francigena (1st Half ~ 6/2021)
Thanks for the generous thoughts and insights. As someone who grew up sheltered and privileged, I had certain dogma etched into my being. A couple of wise professors (theologians, no less!) helped open my mind to other ways of thinking and an older priest who often spoke of being a Zen Buddhist as his way of practicing his Roman Catholic faith further confirmed that my small mindedness needed expansion. It took years, but the Camino experiences over the past eight years have provided additional insights and enriched my journey, as fellow pilgrims have shared their stories and their lives. While the Way may have started as a religious pilgrimage, it is now a Way of enrichment for all, each on our own journey. May it always be enriched by those whose beliefs are as varied as humanity.
 

lt56ny

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
CF(2012) Le Puy/CF (2015) Portugues (2017) Norte (2018) CF (2019) VDLP?
I can't put a label on what my religious or spiritual beliefs are. Often I am offended by the strict religious dogma that to me is really racism, sexism or hate masquerading under the guise of faith. On the camino I have met some of the most deeply religious people I hav ever encountered in my life. Virtually each and every one of them walk and try to live with the true meaning of love, fellowship and caring that their faith preaches and teaches. I so easily learned to love, respect and even admire their faith. One of my best camino friends is this type of person. When he says oh gosh I say F#$K you. He speaks with eloquence and I speak like where I come from, the streets of a working class neighborhood in the Bronx. We all find our spiritualism, faith and comfort in our own way when we walk. Maybe it is taking me longer as I have to construct one from scratch, especially because I have been slightly on the judgmental side most of my life. So for very different but for the exact same reason that Bombay Bill walks and wants to walk again and again, as do so many of us, I can't wait to get back out on the VDLP for so many reasons. One of the most important is to walk in silence and peace and keep constructing that walking meditation that hopefully one day I can carry forward after a camino is over. Buen Camino and happy holidays to all no matter how you celebrate it. Whatever type of "faith" works for you is perfect for you.
 
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Original Camino Way markers made in bronze. Two models, one from Castilla & Leon and the other from Galicia.
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lt56ny

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
CF(2012) Le Puy/CF (2015) Portugues (2017) Norte (2018) CF (2019) VDLP?
Being an Atheist and Marxist I felt no contradictory feelings on the way. Initially
my primary reason was to support my partner but before I knew it I was on 'my Camino' experiencing all those inner reflections that bubble to the surface. I arrived at the other end positively impacted and eager to experience it all again and again much to my partners amusement, but still an Atheist and Marxist.
I can't call myself an Atheist as I believe there are many manifestations of a conceptual god. (whatever the heck that means). I am not a Marxist but I am a card carrying member of Democratic Socialists of America. I know exactly what you mean.
 

Sandra R

New Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Plan to walk Camino Frances May (2020)
I think some people may avoid the Camino as they feel it is a religious or spiritual journey that they can't participate in. I am a lifelong atheist and this is what I learned.

Those long days walking forced me to reflect on things in my life where I could have done better and what was important. It gave me time to look around and reflect on all I observed. I saw how some pilgrims instinctively knew how to reach out and befriend those who walked by themselves. They put aside the tendency to be guarded with strangers and took the risk of reaching out. They invited the solitary walker to join them at their table.I admired their behaviour and tried to do the same.

At first I thought the path would be strewn with rose petals as the onlookers urged me on. I was affronted by the ugly industrial areas as you approached towns. Wasn't this supposed to be a glorious nature walk? Shouldn't they keep everything in picturesque decay for my amusement? Then I did a reality check. Those ugly industrial areas were where people worked at good jobs making the things I needed. Did I expect people to endure high unemployment just so I didn't have to look at factories? We demand jobs and factories at home and so should they. The tiny picturesque villages that we love to walk through don't provide a future for most people. If we want to sustain those villages then we should be generous while in them.

There were tough stretches along highways that spoiled the views. Ugly walks strewn with trash. I stopped resenting them. This is what we've done. We demanded the roads, we created the trash. Pick up the trash and make it better.

It's not just another hike. The Camino forced me to confront the good and the bad in me. I thought hard about the realities I saw. Not just as the occasional stray thought as you go about your normal routine. Long contemplative periods to think about everything around us. Complete strangers shared their most personal stories without inhibition. I learned to embrace the beautiful and the ugly, the surly and the kind.

I grew to understand the Camino spirit. It's why I keep returning because I continue to learn more each time.

Forty days in the wilderness amongst others who are also seeking to figure things out is a wonderful thing no matter what your faith or lack thereof. You're not religious / spiritual? Go try it anyway, you'll come home a better person.
Thankyou- I love this post. The reality without rose colored glasses. I am yet to do my Camino- was meant to happen this year- but hopefully the situation will improve for everyone and we can walk and support the villages and each other along the way . It’s still my dream to do
 

Margaret Butterworth

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2013 (Pamplona to Burgos)
2014 (Burgos to Villafranca del Bierzo)
2015 (Villafranca to Santiago)
2016 (Le Puy to Conques; SJPP To Pamplona)
I miss the Camino. When we are able to return, my legs will probably not allow it...but I might come along on public transport. For me, the most important thing is to live in history, to think of all those pilgrims who have gone before on the road.
 

pac1952

Author of "An Impossible Dream"
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances (2015); Portuguese Camino, Coastal Route (2018); Via de la Plata (2022, hopefully)
What a wonderful thread, and thank you @BombayBill for starting it.

I have trouble with labels (and the judgement which people attach to them), and after a lot of thought, upon my return from the Camino in 2015 I described myself as a "non-believer", that being a softer and I thought more socially acceptable label. It then took me another 15 months or so to process and then write down all that I had learned.

Add to this the reality that I am a very introverted person, which makes the expected social side of the Camino Frances incredibly challenging (communal meals with a group of strangers are my idea of a living hell). So reaching out and befriending, as you say @BombayBill, is another barrier to push through, irrespective of one's religious beliefs or not. (And all being well, when I walk the VDLP in 2022 I'm sure all sorts of boundaries will again be pushed.)

And yet I did. I made some close friends as a result of the Camino ("friends" is a tricky concept for us introverts). I live in south-west Australia, and yet I've travelled to Miami and spoken in the church of one of those friends, and others, who live in Sacramento CA have come to visit us here. And there are others.

So as you say @BombayBill, I think I'm a better person for it, believer or not. Thank you.
 
Camino Way Markers
Original Camino Way markers made in bronze. Two models, one from Castilla & Leon and the other from Galicia.
2021 Camino Guides
Most all Camino authors have decided to use 2020 guides for 2021, with free PDF files with updates coming in the spring. Get yours today.

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