Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Atheism Offers Nothing

Due to recent conversations, I've been challenged to provide an answer to the religious-based question: "What could atheism ever provide?"

I can only answer this question for myself, because there are no tenants to atheism.  It’s not a structured worldview, a philosophy, or a religion itself.  It has no creed or set of values.  It is simply a rejection of theism.  That said, what has atheism provided me with?

An afterlife?
Nope.  Not for me, anyways.  Like I said, the only thing that it takes to be an atheist is a lack of belief in gods (just like all it takes to be bald is to lack hair).  After that, anything goes.  Some people who don’t believe in the existence of a god still hold to the idea of an afterlife, either through reincarnation like Buddhists, or by some other supernatural means.  But atheism doesn’t offer that to me.

A sense of security?
Nope.  I’m secure in the idea of reality; I no longer fear death or other natural processes.  I don't become wracked with moral turmoil when a loved one experiences a life-threatening illness.  Religion offers a false sense of security…the idea that God is watching over you and will protect you from harm, and has a grand plan for your life.  It can be scary – but humbling – to understand that there’s no ultimate creator being that has the whole world in its hands.  Like Julia Sweeney said, it’s terrifying to realize that the earth is just spinning around the sun all on its own…you wanna run outside and catch it.  I do, however, feel secure in reality.  It’s comforting to know that all is “as it should be” more or less, and that you’re not some chess piece or plaything.  There's no script for you to follow, with consequences good or bad for failing to follow it.  It’s nice to know that death and suffering isn’t caused by the will of any all-powerful consciousness.  I think I would find it more frightening to think that a God neglectfully lets bad things happen to good people.  It can be scary to lose that false sense of security, but it makes you stronger when you open your eyes to reality.

Absolute morals?
Nope.  That’s another thing that religion offers, not atheism.  Without a god to give us morals, we come to them on our own.  We realize that as social creatures, humans must be cooperative and beneficial to survive.  We also have brains that evolved the power of empathy.  Therefore, any society that contains members who act against the general welfare won’t or even can’t function properly.  It's obviously more complicated than a few sentences, but the end result is simple: we don’t need a God to be good – we just need each other. 

A sense of community?
Nope.  At least, not in a formal, structured sense.  Atheism isn’t a religion, but as a collective group (grouped only by our lack of theism), atheists can create communities on their own.  There are several online communities and several physical organizations that promote atheism and give the nonbeliever that sense of community that is often lost when they reject their faith.  We can still be social and have meetings or events together, and share in the fellowship of like-minded people, but this is something any individual can achieve for any reason they desire; it's not granted by atheism.

Ultimate answers?
Nope.  There are no answers given simply by rejecting the demonstrably false ones of others.  Too often I'm asked what boils down to, "if not God, then what?".  And a great deal of the time, the answer to that question is, "I don't know".  Whatever the answers to life's ultimate questions, it's probably not a supernatural father-figure that cares about what cloths you wear.

Removing the Cancer

Atheism isn't meant to "provide" anything.  I often liken it to asking: after you remove a cancer, what do you replace it with?  While religion was a disease I carried for many years, when I left it behind, I suddenly realized that my pre-packaged beliefs all had to be re-examined and re-evaluated.  Here’s what learning to think for myself made room for:

Since becoming a nonbeliever of any gods, I've been able to see the world for what it truly is.  All aspects of nature and natural processes shine brighter than if they were just “made” by some powerful creature.  I have more of a respect for the universe and my place in it than I ever had thinking it was all made for me or my kind.  I no longer hold to a false sense of security or a false sense of knowledge.  What I observe and experience is no longer colored by a religious worldview.  When I see a mountain, I think about the natural processes and all the time it took that led to its formation, about where it's been and where it will go...I don't think about Matthew 17:20.  I see reality as it really is.

Respect for Life
I no longer think that I will survive my own death.  I do not believe in an afterlife, and therefore every second I spend alive becomes infinitely more valuable and precious.  I can't afford to waist time on silly ideas such as prayer or religious rituals.  I have a greater respect for all life in general.  I am no longer afraid of death.  I cherish every breath I have to spend with those I care about and to learn about the universe around me.  I have to make amends to those I hurt now -- I don't get a second chance.  I have to say what I need to say to people, and spend time with those I need to, now.

Hunger for Knowledge
It's funny how thinking you have the answer is vastly less fulfilling than actually honestly searching for the truth.  When the hollow-feeling “knowledge” was gone, I began to fill the void with real knowledge.  I started craving an understanding of how the world works (if God isn't holding the world up, what is?), and I started to actually understand science.  Religion sought to provide me with an answer to everything, and I didn’t even have to understand the answer to accept it.  I sought knowledge backwards: first accept something as “truth”, then go and find evidence to support that conjecture.  After truly understanding what knowledge is and how it's obtained, I began to crave the answers of the universe.

Higher Standards of Love
I once thought that I was loved by people in my congregation out of the goodness of their hearts, but after denouncing my faith, I find that some people only "love" someone if they think God tells them to.  Obviously, God doesn't want his disciples to listen to the "lies" we apostates spew, and therefore we are not to be trusted or cared for any longer.  And I was guilty of the same thing.  I claimed "love" for my fellow believers simply because they believed like I did, and didn't conflict with my ideas.  It was more of an in-group, tribal thing than actual love.  Many religious people claim a feeling of absolute love from God, but it turns out that it's more a projection of what they hope to have -- a sense of being looked after and cared about.  Since leaving the faith, I've felt a love greater than any God could grant.

True Peace and Happiness
Being a believer carried a lot of baggage with it.  I was expected to be oppressed by nonbelievers and stalked daily by the Devil.  I was expected to always struggle to live "in the world, but not of it".  I had to ask God for anything and thank him for everything.  I had to rationalize any event to either be a work of God or a plan from Satan.  My life was full of tests, tribulations, and leaps of unquestioned faith.  I had to pray for others, as their lives (and after-lives) were my responsibility.  I had to feel guilty for being human, guilty for thought-crimes, and always subject my worthless self to a Supreme Judge and beg for pity at the throne of my Master.

After throwing off the shackles of faith, I realized that none of that was true.  Feelings of guilt and torturous thoughts were burned away by the light of reason.  I learned to let life in -- to experience it fully and completely, the good and the bad.  And I am happy.  No longer do I lay down my faculties of reason in the place of blind obedience to anything.  After you are brainwashed and mentally abused by a mindset as vicious as religion, you realize after it all just how bad it really was.  I’m sure we can all relate to being young, then getting older, looking back and realizing just how dumb you were.  It’s similar with religion…I can’t believe I believed some of things I used to.  I know now that I should have known better, and I’m happy that now, at least, I do.  I’m truly happy.

Atheism didn't provide me with anything, but it opened the ways that were blocked by the dogma of theism.  A lack of belief cannot provide you with positive beliefs -- you can't get from "I don't believe in any gods" to anything else without adding some new facet.

Each atheist must decide on their own about everything.  We're not handed a prepackaged set of beliefs, morals, arguments, or tenants.  In short, atheism offers nothing, but it opens the world up to you.  We each must make up our minds about life, the universe, and everything.


1 comment:

Grundy said...

The notion that something needs to provide something personal to be true is flawed anyway. Desire doesn't dictate reality.

Although, atheism does provide me some relief over most religions in terms of the afterlife, at least I need not worry about anyone going to hell.