Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Being a Tolerant (and Honest) Athiest

So I read the following article a while back:

Where Are All the Honest Atheists? by Damon Linker

And as I read through the article I found I disagreed with pretty much everything it said on a fundamental level.

So, here's the thing. The article states that to believe there is no God is a tragedy, and to deny that is to be dishonest. Now, these days I consider myself agnostic/borderline atheist. And I can say, with 100% honesty, that it is not a source of tragedy for me.

I find it very reassuring that if I am suffering, it's not because God has chosen not to spare me for some reason that I don't understand. I find the idea that it was just a bad roll of the dice much more comforting. Oh well, bad luck. Could have happened to anyone, and often does. Everyone's turn comes eventually, this one's just mine. Roll again.

And to me the concept of an afterlife in any form is frightening. I find the concept of nonexistence much more comforting. This idea that losing my self is something tragic just doesn't make sense to me. Really, why should it bother me? How it can bother me if there's no me to be bothered by it? If I don't exist, I won't be there to notice the difference!

To my mind, death is much harder on the survivors. The loved ones left behind who now need to find a way to go on living without the person they've lost. All the things you didn't get to do or say together when they were here, and now never will. Knowing you will never see that person again for the rest of your life.

Which is where religion comes in. For many people, the idea that once your life ends you will be reunited with those lost loved ones gives them hope.

And really, what's wrong with that?

And that's why I'll probably always be "borderline" atheist. Because the atheist movement can be so damn anti-religion. When I first started accepting that part of the reason why no religion has ever stuck with me was because I was too skeptical, I started looking in to atheism. The animosity and vitriol I found there just turned me off. Comments like "for every one good thing you can name that religion has accomplished, I can name five bad things."

Yes, religion has been the cause of a lot of atrocities and really bad stuff. But here's the thing I feel the atheist movement misses: That's not their God's fault. Did Jesus lead the Spanish Inquisition? Did Allah hijack a plane on 9/11? No, that was all human beings doing that. Oh, sure, they did it in the mistaken belief that their Gods wanted them to, but here's the key: if you went back in time and removed all religion for the timeline of the human race, those events (or others on a scale with them) would still have happened anyway.

Because basically, haters are gonna hate. Take God out of the equation, and those people will do the same thing in the name of Homer Simpson.

Is that tragic? Hell, yes. (Pardon the pun.) But is religion to blame? Not in my eyes, it isn't.

I guess because I've known too many good religious people, people who actually got the message of "help everyone you can, and don't hurt anybody" that seems to be at the base of all religions. People who lived really messed up lives until the Bible helped them turn their lives around. People who were lonely and found honest comfort in the church.

So if religion can bring some people peace, hope and comfort, and cause them to reach out and help their fellow human beings, why should I consider that a bad thing just because I don't believe there's some supreme deity out there watching? For me to automatically assume that they're selfish, self-serving hypocrites just because they believe in God is being just as closed-minded and selfish. To ignore the good that's come from religions because they've failed to produce only good things strikes me as unfair.

Which brings me back to the "Honest Atheist."  The idea that I should somehow be upset that I don't believe in God anymore is like wishing my exes never got over me, that I was The One Who Got Away that they regret breaking up with for the rest of their lives.  Sure, losing one's faith is never easy, and I spent a lot of time being wrestling with it when it was happening to me. There was a period where I mourned losing my God. But once it was over, I found myself much more at peace with my beliefs.

I don't find the concept "that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter" tragic, I find it inspiring; we, as a species, struggled, persevered and grew until we became the creatures we are today. We rose above those non-animate clumps of matter, and then we invented the concept of dignity. That's incredible. Linker finds tragedy in the concept that "our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense." Again, I couldn't disagree more. If our lives are all we'll ever experience, if all we've got is the here and now, then the love we share becomes the greatest thing in the universe as we know it. That's huge.

So I can't speak for other agnostics/atheists out there, but I'm being completely honest when I say I don't find the concept that there isn't a God tragic. I think it puts the responsibility for all the terrible things we've done squarely on our own shoulders, and at the same time makes all the wonders and achievements we've accomplished that much more astonishing and something to be proud of.

The important thing to remember is that as individuals, we're not all going to be comforted by the same things. Everyone's got their own belief system that makes the most sense to them. That diversity is what makes us such an interesting people.  As long as what comforts you brings you peace, then you believing it works for me.