It’s Hard To Be An Atheist

March 17, 2011

There are many wistful aspects in being atheist.

There are times in all lives when you are afraid, and seek courage.

When you are sad, and seek comfort.

When you are lonely, and seek companionship.

When you are angry, and seek revenge.

When you are misjudged, and seek atonement.

When you are happy, and seek to share.

When you are grateful, and seek to give thanks.

When you are confused, and seek a way to act.

When you are helpless, and must accept there is nothing you can do.

This crisis in Japan, and all like it, are times of trial. For those actively involved, it can be life or death. For those of us who watch, it is an emotional turmoil compounded of sympathy, horror, gratitude that it’s not us, and an overwhelming need to help, and to understand why people must suffer.

Religion offers an easy way out. Give it all to god. Do what you can or want to, then let god take over. You’ve done your part. You needn’t try to understand, to sympathize, to question your own life, your own values and choices. No – give it to god and you can let go.

This is not to say religious people don’t care, and don’t help. They do. But behind it all, they have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s all some ineffable plan, and they needn’t hold themselves accountable.

This is a great comfort. I know. I’ve been there. But as I realized that there was nothing more than our culturally inherited and genetically predisposed myth behind that comfort, I lost the ability to let go.

How does an atheist ever feel they’ve done enough? We know there is no larger scheme that will make things right in the end. An atheist has to have the courage to face life without illusion. We have to understand and accept our limitations with true self-knowledge, not with future promises of divine knowledge. We have to live in the world as it is, not as we want it to be. That gives us the power to make the world something better, but it means we recognize that we are all we have. There is no plan, no help, no comfort. What we give is of ourselves; how we live is through our own self-discipline and awareness, not through commandment. We see the best and the worst in humanity, and seek to be the best we can for humanity, not for an illusion of heavenly reward.

Religion is a lens that focuses the good and ill of being human. It can teach charity and it can teach hate. You have only to read the news to see both in action.Yes, religious people are kind. They give. They help. But it is the human in them that makes them do it. They’ve learned that people need to be shown, to be taught charity; they use their religions to that end; but they’ve given up their individual accountability. One prayer, and all is forgiven. This makes them safe and, all too often, intolerant. Too easily convinced that they can live in complacency, and ignore the need to change themselves and their world.

For good or ill –

We are all we have.


7 Responses to “It’s Hard To Be An Atheist”

  1. Mat Says:

    I started out afraid that this would be just another annoying bit of smug, religious, anti-atheist treacle. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. Very well put. Uplifting and ecumenical. Thanks for this.

  2. erbdex Says:

    “Religion offers an easy way out. Give it all to god. Do what you can or want to, then let god take over. You’ve done your part. You needn’t try to understand, to sympathize, to question your own life, your own values and choices. No – give it to god and you can let go.”

    But the baggage that it brings along is tediously heavy.

    If you cut out the crap, and the “…leaving it to god…” then you get the core philosophy of Zennism; which is more of a philosophy than religion.

    • mhilm Says:

      Zen is, at heart, a very pure philosophy. While I’ve always been drawn to it, I fear I’m a tad too hedonistic; Zen approves of tea, but what about chocolate?
      Seriously though, it requires personal responsibility for one’s own actions *and their consequences*, which is something most religions would do well to emulate.

      • erbdex Says:

        Thats THE biggest myth.

        “Before you study Zen, a bowl is a bowl and tea is tea. While you are studying Zen, a bowl is no longer a bowl and tea is no longer tea. After you’ve studied Zen, a bowl is again a bowl and tea is tea.”

        Whatever i have come to realise by now (i am a computer science student and heavily into the western way too) is that ALL that you need to get conscious is a mind, period.

        All sutras, masters and mountains are means to an end.

        “The only zen that you find in a monastery at the top of the mountain is the zen that you bring along.”

      • mhilm Says:

        I shall not get anything done tonight if I keep reading your blog, so I’m stopping for tonight. I have, as you see, found it very thought-provoking. Love things that make me think!
        I hope that you are not an aficionado of microsoft: I was watching a video of a very brief talk on consciousness. The researcher got onto silicon-based consciousness. He ended that brief section by saying, “Imagine the horror of becoming conscious only to realize you were a microsoft program.”
        I think the biggest problem we have is that our lives are at once too long and too short. We get caught up on these two extremes. “There is never enough time, I have to do it now, I can’t lose this chance” – and then, again, “I’ve been here so long, I never get anywhere, I can’t wait 5 more years to start doing what I want.”
        Not the balance of stasis, but of opposing forces constantly adjusting.
        Not at all an easy thing to attain.

  3. […] posted about what it means / to be a skeptic /, and / to be an atheist /. Both require abandoning ideas of superiority or of having all the […]

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