Religions deny the finality of death, promising eternal paradise or a punishing hellscape depending on the lives we led. A supreme deity decides our ultimate fate and often dispenses rewards and penalties during our lifetimes. In moments of worry or fear we can pray for mercy, allowing that our requests may be ignored—who are we to question the will of our maker?
In this respect we are no different from age-old cultures. What the ancients could not comprehend, they assigned to a god. Bounty or calamity, the gods took credit for it and man, awaiting his fate, cowered below.
We can now explain thunder and rainbows and the moon’s effect on our tides, but most people still adhere to the notion of an apocryphal godhead to whom they pray, even if these prayers go unanswered. Perhaps this behavior is ancestral: the desire to belong, to be in a club, to sit shoulder to shoulder with like-minded brethren. Maybe this sense of belonging is amplified, validated, in the new mega churches swollen with righteous believers. How could so many be wrong?
If the world’s religions were self-contained, there would be no problem. Unfortunately, religions bleed into one another. Throughout human history, religious differences and dissension have led to untold atrocities, and the hostility is not ebbing. The more adamant the believer, the more intolerance he cultivates. Warring faiths, with their stringent dogma and divisive rhetoric, will not teach us how to be good.
Atheism is defined as a lack of belief in gods. Atheism is not nihilism, nor denial, nor is it contentious. It is simply a way of living without belief in deities. One may wish to have faith in a god and still be an atheist.
As I find atheism such a peaceful ethos, I have a hard time fathoming its relative lack of popularity—the most recent survey reveals that 80% of Americans believe in God. Christianity encompasses the largest demographic, which is another surprising fact given its bewildering foundation: one god split three ways, the immaculate conception, a contradictory and often savage bible.
Unable to accept the presence of a preeminent deity, I have no trouble seeing the holiness in everything from a tiny pebble to a blue whale. I am free to love whatever my eyes land on. The world is mine to worship.
When disasters occur, I don’t have to struggle with my faith; I don’t need to reconcile a beneficent god with a catastrophic hurricane, the suffering of children, birth defects or the Ebola virus.
And as for the fear of death, so what if there is no heaven or hell, no god pointing a damning finger? When the body fails and the brain goes offline, we lose consciousness. If we slip into nothingness, which seems the most likely scenario, what is there to fear?
Some cite “life after death” experiences as evidence of a divine dimension waiting for us. These accounts are not incompatible with secular views. Given the mind’s love of stories, flashbacks and images of loved ones strike me as perfectly reasonable. As the curtain closes, why wouldn’t the whole cast of characters be summoned? Why wouldn’t we see once more the people we loved the most?
Consciousness is the awareness of our existence. Being both subject and object, we cannot explain consciousness, we can only tune in or out of it. Many people near death have spoken of a mesmerizing white light which they are compelled to follow. Perhaps that tunnel of light is the trail of our consciousness, flaring one last wondrous time before darkness falls, in soft velvet folds, taking us back to the realm of pure possibility, where all that ever was begins and ends.
5 thoughts on “The Solace of Atheism”
Brilliant insights. I was reared catholic but left all that dogma and pageantry behind me when I was a teenager. A trip to the Vatican (the Holy See – as if!, laughable now) and seeing chalices bejeweled with rubies and emeralds yet children go without food?, a blanket? Seriously. Organized religions are convenient malls for people who take comfort in what they can’t fathom imho. Simply that. Thank you for your well presented and articulate primer on atheism. Brava!
I am a theist, but I enjoyed reading your blog. It was so authentic, similar thoughts I have had when doubting God, and was clear and concise for me to comprehend. Have a great day!
Thank you so much!
You had me at “finality of death” – but I did continue all the way through to the last bright flash of consciousness.
One explanation of our post death lack of existence that really helps me understand that eventual state of nonbeing was provided by Sam Harris. He wondered why people struggle with the idea of not existing, as we all did not exist prior to our births. This concept is what I apply in reflections of where I was prior to conception in my mother’s womb, prior to her berth and the existence of all those eggs in her ovaries (of which, I was one, but hardly a thinking or feeling being). Going that far back in time, I was absolutely nothing. Things happened all around the world – and I was completely unaware of any of it. That part of history illustrates perfectly where I will be after my last breath: nowhere. Sure, a lifeless corpse will be left behind, and I’ve made arrangements for that thing, but my awareness of everything will cease, my awareness a.k.a. consciousness will be as nonexistent as it was before my life began. Completely easy to comprehend, understand and accept. Namaste.
Thank you, Thomas, for your thoughtful comments. I very much admire Sam Harris. His views on death and free will are compelling, as is his belief that no one should accept ideas based on “insufficient evidence.” Namaste to you.