While driving around the other day, my brother commented in passing that he could not understand how atheists could live their lives without the hope of something greater afterwards.
I’m an atheist. Although, I chose to not get into that topic of discussion with my Christian brother at that moment, I have had other Christian friends and acquaintances state similar queries to me in the past. What they fail to realize, and what may be the widest unbridgeable divide between believers and non-believers, is the fact that atheists and agnostics often wonder how intelligent, educated individuals could actually believe in the fairytale stories on which most of their religious beliefs are based.
I don’t usually discuss religion. It’s a poisonous subject almost guaranteed to alienate someone in the crowd. Better to avoid it altogether to maintain a peaceful environment. Rather than talk negatively about the beliefs of others, I prefer to explain my own… or lack thereof. Helping others to understand why I think the way I do may be a better way to span the divide between us. A little auto-biographical background is in order here, I s’pose.
I did not grow up in what you would consider a very religious household. My father was a baptized Catholic, but was only seen inside churches for weddings or funerals. I believe he probably didn’t think too much about the afterlife or his place in it. From things my mother told me after he was dead, I believe he was leaning toward atheism himself, without really knowing the technical term for it. What small faith he may have had he lost when his mother died, I believe.
My own mother wasn’t very religious either when I was a child. She did get more involved in religion and church around the same time my brother and his family were born again. She was never Mother Teresa in her devotion, but I do believe she loved her god and was somewhat confident that there was something after this life to look forward to. As for me, when my mother died in ’99, I lost what tiny little spark of any kind of faith I may have ever had at that time.
I spent 11 years in Catholic schools during my youth and early teens. That experience did more to turn me against religion than anything else could have, I believe. I felt as though I was being inculcated, brainwashed, indoctrinated, etc. It didn’t take too well with me. It did lead me to an era of serious study and learning in my early adulthood in the subjects of religion and philosophy. After an intense few years of study, I came to the conclusion that I could not buy into any religions or faiths of this world.
If I were forced to choose one, though, I’d probably go with Buddhism. It’s more of a philosophy and framework for living than a religion, in my opinion. But that’s neither here nor there. I don’t plan on becoming a monk any time soon. What I believe is this….
Man is just another animal; a fluke of nature and environment, a confluence of one-in-a-million conditions and raw materials. Life, in all its amazing diversity on this little planet, is just a sequence of fortuitous events. When my heart stops beating and my blood stops flowing to my brain, that amazing blob of cells, my life ends. I won’t see a bright light in the tunnel. I won’t hear my mother’s voice calling for me. I won’t see old friends who’ve gone on ahead of me. It will just be lights out. The individual components that made up my body will return to that from which they came… stardust.
I’m am a child of the stars, and happy to be so. I don’t need to spend my days here on this earth worrying about how I’m going to get to that joyful afterlife. I prefer to spend my days enjoying this life. The only one I’ll ever live. It doesn’t depress me to think that way. It actually inspires me and encourages me to live this life as best I can; to be happy, joyous, helpful, productive, loving, caring, and passionate, while knowing all along that I’m also fallible and imperfect.
It is what it is, folks.
Oh, and in case you never realized this… you don’t need religion to be moral. You need loving parents (or guardians) who raise you to know right from wrong, respect for others, love of life, etc. An atheist may be godless, but not necessarily evil.