Time for the atheist
We’ve been writing on this blog for over a year, and I have yet to discuss much about being an atheist, other than saying I am one. There have been multiple times when I started posts about it, such as after I finished reading Richard Dawkin’s “The God Delusion” last year. But, oh, I don’t know. I seemed to run out of steam, because really, there’s just so very much to say.
I thought I’d give it another stab today, and see how it goes. How about a look back.
It’s simple. I am an atheist. I lack belief in any sort of deity or other type of supernatural being. I cannot prove or disprove the existence of these entities, therefore, I have no cause to believe. So I don’t.
I don’t think I ever have believed, not really. At some point when I was a child, God and Jesus fell along with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. There was no lightning moment, no critical event or thought that triggered my lack of belief. I simply stopped believing.
Saying I stopped is rather misleading, since I don’t actually recall thinking much about God or Jesus or Mary or any of the things I was taught in Bible school. Santa Claus was far more real to me, what with those presents appearing under the Christmas tree every year.
I remember my paternal grandmother told me that rain was the tears of angels. I gave it plenty of thought, though I couldn’t have been more than seven years old at the time. Why should the angels cry? And how, exactly, did my grandmother know this? It made no sense to me.
I remember being creeped out at the thought that there were people, or some sorts of beings, up in heaven watching me all the time (more creepy than Santa Claus checking in to see if I had been bad or good; why that should be, I don’t know). I remember singing “Jesus Loves Me” with other children in our church (Methodist, by the way, a very laid-back church). I remember vacation Bible school and making paperweights and other crafts, all with the loving Jesus theme.
Only empathy can truly restrain. People who have none, we call evil. People who have an abundance, we call saints.
The rest of us live somewhere in between.
Then I just remember not believing any of it. And I didn’t go to church anymore.
My father was an atheist. He likely influenced me, though not as much as one might think. My father may not have believed in the Christian god, but he believed in all sorts of other supernatural events, beings, whatever.
An example. It was the 70s, and there was much talk about the “Missing Link” in regards to the chain of evolution of modern humans (before the discovery of Lucy, and the plethora of early hominids in the chain today). My father believed that in ancient times, a spaceship crash-landed on earth. The people on board were unable to fix their craft or find a way to communicate with their off-world fellows. Eventually, they settled in to live here, and being horny aliens, they had sex with the nearest relatives they could find on the planet — apes. The offspring of these dalliances became modern human beings.
Ancient aliens, my father believed, were the missing link.
Seemed pretty nutty to me. As nutty as angels crying rain. So, when I say that my father probably influenced me, the statement must be qualified. I would say the way he influenced me most was that he was an example that it was okay not to believe in gods. No one else could have done it. He was the only atheist I knew, or would know, for the entirety of my youth, until I went to college.
All of this aside, I still wanted to believe in something. Buddhism, fortune telling, Oija boards, Tarot cards, spirits, Wicca, etc. — I toyed with these from time to time. Ultimately, I couldn’t believe in any of it.
Why can’t I believe? The shortest answer would be that it makes no sense to me, that such things are in opposition to my sense of reason. The long answer … well … those would merely be personal proofs, which can have little meaning to anyone but myself.
I have been asked by theists if I don’t believe in God, then what do I believe and how do I know what’s right, or what’s wrong? What questions these are. My answers have changed over the years. Today, it is the following:
I believe that the scientific method is an ingenious system for understanding the mechanics of our universe, far more useful than any other system devised by humankind. It puts all religions to shame in its ability to better our lives in purely concrete ways. Its fault, like so many others, is that it can be manipulated. With the careful scrutiny of inbuilt requirements of repetition, however, it can’t be manipulated for long. I find its logic exquisite. But it cannot ultimately decide what is right, or what is wrong; it can only inform those decisions.
I believe that empathy is the most powerful tool humans possess in regards to morality. With this tool we do not need anyone or any system to tell us right from wrong. We already know. Whether we choose or do not choose to use empathy to guide our actions is independent from law. Humans will do as they wish, regardless of threat of punishment, worldly or otherworldly. Only empathy can truly restrain. People who have none, we call evil. People who have an abundance, we call saints. The rest of us live somewhere in between.
That’s my answer. It has taken me over 40 years to find it. And I’m satisfied with it … for now.
As I child, I didn’t think in these terms. I only knew what made sense to me, and what didn’t. It was natural to me and required no arguments or discussions of biblical passages or proofs. It was what it was.
And today, after countless hours of thought, it still is basically what it was. It’s comfortable. Though it wasn’t always, particularly in my young adulthood, back when I was stupid enough to think I had all the answers for everyone. But that’s another story for another time.
Like I said, there’s so much to say.