Atheism – How did I come to it? What does it mean now?
I have what I feel is a very standard experience when it comes to my conclusions on atheism. In spite of that, I feel warranted to write about that here. What? It’s not like I’ve been away for 3 years working or anything, I’ve got nothing else to do!
I was raised as a catholic. I volunteered as an altar servant for the church I attended for a few years as well. The community was quite pleasant, and they’d have some interesting activities they’d host. I felt pretty welcome there even, and I hold nothing against them today.
So why turn to godlessness? A few problems arose with my religious beliefs. The problem of hell was something I had thought on even from an early age. A problem of eternity was another. Would a loving god sentence anyone to eternal suffering? It’s a question that’s brought up frequently by atheists, but still a valid one. And what of the alternative? Heaven itself represents eternal existence.
Well, why the fuck is that a problem at all? Because it’s incredibly boring. There’s an old saying about taking everything in moderation. You can’t worship a being for all of time and really stay sane. No, really, try mentally devoting yourself to a genocidal asshole for even a few hours and you’ll probably find yourself wishing you’d just watched paint dry or something. Eternity is terrifying in its own way, even more than nothingness.
My answers to these problems came initially in the form of deism. Deism is, in fairness to it, a way of deriving religion that avoids authoritarianism, so that’s pretty cool. It’s based on the belief of a God using reason and observation. It’s like science, but without any…er…science. So that’s kind of a problem. I had this phase for perhaps a few months before realizing that being a deist was just a waste. Maybe there is a clockwork deity who actually made the universe. That presents its own set of problems though. Why worship a being like that at all? Why even acknowledge its existence? If it chooses to punish and reward believers, what makes it any different?
Atheism was the conclusion to arrive at. But what of my own morality afterwards? If God doesn’t dictate what is right or wrong, then who does? What does?
I have not taken any courses in philosophy. What kind of morals could I possibly live by if I reject moral arbiters? Having empathy for others helps. Atheism doesn’t leave a void for me in terms of morality. On the contrary, the rejection of morals via authority allows for humanism and science to fill the gap. We are all that we have in this world, and thus, we each deserve humane treatment. If we lack an afterlife, we have a stronger reason to hold onto this one. We have a reason to respect the humanity of others, though not necessarily their views.
This can be taken further as well. Humanity at its core has performed atrocious acts throughout history, and disenfranchised many societies and cultures. Why doesn’t might make right? Aside from just being kind of assholish, not acknowledging the plights of those less fortunate doesn’t create a level playing field. Those who are on top have a huge advantage, and that advantage can help them steamroll.
This is why views like feminism, income equality, and civil rights matter. Letting all minds into the arena and giving a boost to those who need it is important. Sure, criticism is still useful, but so is keeping illegitimate authority from dictating what is or is not acceptable when it comes to humanism.
So, what does atheism mean?
Everything. For all of us. We are the masters of our own minds, the caretakers of our societies, and the ultimate arbiters of our own futures.