Atheism is often seen as something negative. After all, if you reject faith, the idea of an afterlife and that there is a God out there who cares for you, your life must be rather hollow and devoid of meaning, right? Well, I will try to explain to you what atheism has done for me while also asking the question: “What has atheism done for you?”
For the majority of my life, I was probably what you’d call an agnostic. I hadn’t really thought much about religion except really early in my life where I simply decided that the Roman Catholic faith wasn’t my cup of tea. My parents weren’t religious and openly critical of the Roman Catholic Church so they didn’t indoctrinate me, leaving me to decide for myself.
Things changed when I started attending church. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who believed with all their heart that there was a divine creator who cared for them and who were very eager for me to join the faith. Slowly but surely, I came closer to the moment when I felt I wanted to embrace Jesus and eventually, I did.
And yet, in retrospect, it never felt really good. There was always this little voice that told me I was allowing myself to be deluded, even deluding myself on purpose. My faith quickly lost its shine and before long, I felt it was untenable. I’ve written a series of articles about that process which I won’t repeat here. If you are interested, feel free to browse that tag.
There I was, a fresh atheist embracing reason, logic and evidence to base my view of the world on. Yes, I had always been somewhat of a rationalist but this was a new experience to me because I had never made a conscious, reasoned decision not to believe in anything for which there was no evidence.
One of the first consequences of this was a confrontation with my mortality. Of course I knew that some day I would die. However, there being no evidence at all for an afterlife, I was forced to conclude that this one life is most likely all there is. That may sound like a ghastly realisation but I’ve found that it really isn’t. I don’t look forward to my death but consider the alternative. Consider that life goes on forever in the Christian heaven and there is no end at all. How many thousands of years of “hosanna” and “hallelujah” could you take before you lose your mind?
Instead, I know that this is my time. I live right now and it is up to me to make the most of the time that has been given to me. If I have to die, I will make sure that I have lived before that moment comes. I won’t spend my life waiting, biding my time in the belief that I just have to make it through the misery and drudgery of this Earthly existence to receive my reward after I’m dead. My life is my reward.
We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life
is rounded with a sleep.
— William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1
In a similar vain, realising that not just me but all people and in fact every living being on this planet must eventually die, I have received a lot more respect for life. Everyone I meet and every animal and plant is a unique individual, a combination of genes, experiences and a history that will never come again. Life is valuable and should be protected. Every living thing has a right to exist and does what it must to protect itself and pass on its genes to a new generation. I know that morally, these conclusions oblige me to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle and I am in fact contemplating this (but…bacon!).
This also has made me aware of all the damage and suffering we humans cause, with our seemingly callous and indifferent attitude to Earth’s “lesser beings” and the ecosystem. We are in the position that we have developed a consciousness that is apparently unique in Earth’s history so we ought to know better. We should be so much more serious in our care for each other, other species and the planet.
In a way, I think embracing reason and logic and rejecting superstition, have made me a better parent. I don’t lie to my children, I don’t indoctrinate them with unbelievable stories. Instead, I share with them my wonder about life and the universe. I try to teach them the respect I feel for other life. I hope they pick up on this and if they do, it will be part of the legacy I leave behind when I die.
In summary, I think I can say that embracing atheism has not been negative for me at all. I see it as a very positive influence in my life. This is what atheism has done for me but I’d like to close with the question: “What has atheism done for you?“.
Feel free to leave your comments below, please.