Friday, October 28, 2011

Before and After My Atheism

Lately I've been observing more closely the ways in which my life has changed since I've become an atheist. When I was researching belief systems and realizing that nothing made enough sense, and that it all seemed so transparent and man-made, the idea of atheism kept nagging at me. I kept trying to ignore it. Atheists, after all, were evil, irrational, sinful baby-eating monsters. So I want to share how life has changed for me, in an effort to offer a realistic view of a day-to-day atheist perspective (and hopefully a positive one).

Result of my Atheism #1: Freedom

This is a fun one, because time and time again theists accuse atheists of rejecting God claims only out of a desire to do all that fun sin shit. Holy hell, would you guys give that one up already?!

I am a truly free person today (well, other than having to pay taxes). What this means for me is that I am not confused and bound by the shackles of religion anymore. I don't have to abide by pointless, arbitrary rules that have no actual consequences if they are broken. I can eat meat on Fridays. I can have sex without being married. I can use birth control. I don't have to tithe. I can be accepting of gays. I can think for myself instead of running to the Catechism/Magesterium for answers. And this is a biggie--I am completely accepting of the possibility that I may be wrong about things, because I know now that learning is an ongoing process, and I no longer expect neat, pat answers from my religion. I have learned to stop and examine everything carefully, and find justifiable reasons for believing things.

Theists, pay attention to this part: my freedom does not mean I am free to violate the rights of others. My rights end where yours begin, and yours end where mine begin. Because I am an atheist does NOT mean that I have a right to rape, murder, steal or otherwise disrespect other humans and animals. It certainly does not mean that I want to do those things. I don't, and I don't know any atheist who wants to either--and I've done a lot of research into the matter. Atheists are social humans just like all humans are social humans. This means that we generally prefer to live in harmony with others and not be violated, and in turn don't violate others because that would give them a free pass to fuck with us. Much more on morality to be posted later, but for now, I just want people to understand that atheists are generally peaceful, kind people who do not want to violate others.

Result of my Atheism #2: Humility

Now that I don't believe in a god, I've become a lot more humble. I used to believe that as a human, I was extremely special, and had dominion over the earth and other animals. I used to believe that God was behind every mundane detail of my life, and that he had a special purpose for me, and I would be able to glorify him (and myself) by following his will. If I was late for work and thus avoided a car wreck, I took that as confirmation that God was protecting me (and, to be logically consistent, God would have had to be out to get someone else that day, i.e., the poor schmuck who died in the wreck--but I guess I was more special). I tried not to get a big head about it, but it was hard not to when you're constantly trying to translate God's signals (and interpreting them however you want to, but convincing yourself it was God).

Also, understanding that I am simply another animal was humbling and empowering at the same time. It was humbling because I realized that humans' superior brain powers are the only reason we have become what we are, thinkers and doers and problem solvers/causers in society. It has made me much more respectful of animals because I no longer have an Us vs. Them mentality. I was always taught that God put animals on this earth for our use and enjoyment (but don't ask what the hell was God thinking when he made the mother fucking mosquito--God works in mysterious ways). I don't treat animals differently necessarily but my perspective has changed. It was empowering because I could understand myself better and everything makes so much more sense now. Nature makes so much more sense. I never before understood why God made mosquitos, or sharks, or poisonous snakes? Why did he bother with the complex systems of the earth like plate tectonics that result in mountains and earthquakes and volcanoes, why make a world plagued by blizzards and hurricanes and tsunamis? Couldn't he just make everything safe and benign? I could come up with a better world system in mere moments! For an almighty creator, God sure did overcomplicate things.

Result of my Atheism #3: Reliance on Reality

There are a lot of things I wish were true. There are a lot of things I have felt were true. But I've come to disregard all things that are not reasonable, and are not grounded in reality. There very well may be flying spaghetti monsters, or gods that impregnate virgins, Xenu the intergalactic warlord, spirits and souls and angels and demons... but is there real evidence for these things? Could you imagine using these things as admissible evidence in court cases? Hah! There's a good reason we don't. All these things are based on faith--they're intangible, inaudible, invisible, and thus indistinguishable from nonexistence. If you can't tell the difference (and no, ancient religions and texts don't count as "evidence") between nonexistence and faith, what is the point? How is your faith any more factually true than the faith of another? You can't tell the difference! We can believe things because we choose to just to choose to, or we can believe things because they are reasonably demonstrated to be true. Personally, I prefer to believe in as many true things as possible. If you want to stick your head in the sand, that's fine, but I don't want to. It's much better above ground.

I enjoy seeing things for what they are. I enjoy the freedom from having my thoughts policed over frivolous things. I enjoy dealing with problems and solving them with real solutions in reality. I accept that some things just plain suck, and some things are beyond horrible, but I don't believe in a fairy tale of cosmic justice for the world's maladies. If it's true, great! But I can't see any reason to accept it as true. I can't find good reasons to accept any religious or spiritual claim as true, and so sometimes I have to say, "I don't know!" but that's ok. I am finally honest.

Result of my Atheism #4: Scary Movies

Scary movies are fun! I used to believe that demons, evil ghosts and hell were real and I would break out in a cold sweat just thinking about them. I thought that if I watched scary movies or otherwise thought about those things, it gave them a power to "get" me. I've never been one for gore because it's just damn stupid and boring. But I love scary thrillers like the Ring, the Number 23, 1408, things like that. I love scary movies that have plots, and give you something to think about. I can even watch them by myself late at night. No nightmares!

Result of my Atheism #5: Life and the Environment

Everything is precious now. The universe is glorious and mysterious and I get lost learning about it. Before, I thought God made everything and believed that when I got to heaven I would have the rest of eternity to learn everything and explore the universe. I recognized beauty but didn't go searching for it; I figured I would get my fill at some point no matter what. If I was confused by something, no big deal; God would explain it all after I was in heaven. Now, one of my biggest regrets is that I won't live long enough to acquire all the knowledge that ever was and ever will be. I want to know everything! I want to explore! I have accepted that I'll never be able to know everything that the future holds (*sigh*), but the next best thing I can do is learn and dream as much as possible here and now. I have an itch to travel like you wouldn't believe. In my free time I watch science documentaries. It's like being a child again where I am curious about everything! Lots of fun. I explore different religions and authors instead of sticking to only those who agreed with me.

What's not so fun, though, is finally understanding that the Earth does have finite resources and us humans are consuming it all. We are nearly at 7 billion people now. This is becoming an increasingly serious problem, and will lead to much death and suffering if we continue on this path. I used to think that God wanted more and more babies (After all, "a baby is God's sign that the world should go on") and if you believed in him, he would always take care of you. God never gives you more than you can handle, I was fond of saying.
"That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life, whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn't life more than food and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them" (Matthew 6:25-27).
I took that very seriously. I knew God wanted me to be responsible, of course, but I floated through life believing that God would guide me and provide for me as long as I was faithful to him. I suppose it was good that I did not worry very much even during some very tough times, but I also was pretty purposeless. I made life decisions based on whims and feelings and experiencing "calls" to this or that from Jesus. *facepalm*

Now I realize that Jesus isn't going to swoop down and provide us with food and water, especially if we've had 18 children in his name. We have to take care of ourselves.

Result of my Atheism #6: Gay Rights are Everyone's Rights

I admit it, I used to be a homophobe. I never openly said anything rude to a bad person or treated them any different, but internally I looked at them with disdain. That is, until I got to know one. I was very careful to not get close to anyone I found morally incompatible with my beliefs. My first semester at art school was difficult. I came very, very near to quitting. Everyone around me seemed to be tattooed, pierced, gay and had hair every color of the rainbow. And most of them smelled like pot. But I held on and over time, as I got to know and befriend these people, I realized that--hey!--they are people too. They were no better or worse than me. We are all just different, and the differences are interesting but not negative. They don't really matter, and shouldn't be a big deal. I have dozens of gay friends and acquaintances, and do not DARE say something derogatory about being gay around me. I will set you straight. Art school was the reason I stopped being a judgmental, prude bitch. I wasn't born like that; it was taught to me.

Sadly, there are many idiots out there who think that homosexuality is a big deal. A very big deal. A deal worth beating people over, discriminating against them in utterly horrible and asinine ways. They try to restrict these peoples' rights, and spread lies about them. I don't give a damn if you are gay, straight, black, white, whatever--we should all be equal in the eyes of the law (and of course I'd rather that culturally we are equal, too). I think we're getting there and it's getting better, at least in many countries, but it is not where it should be. That people even have to take two seconds to debate whether or not homosexuals should have the right to marry, or have kids, or have the same jobs.... it blows my mind. I can't fathom why people are so opposed to it, any more than I can fathom how anyone actually mistreated people because they were black. How the fuck can you justify any of that?

Homosexuality is natural, and even if it weren't, that would be ok too. If straight people suddenly decide to become gay, that's totally cool! The nature vs. nurture argument really means little to me in terms of it determining someone's rights. Anthropologically, it's very interesting, and I can't tell you how much it rocked my world to find out that there were gay penguins. I used to firmly believe it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. *sigh* HOW was I so stupid?! Gahhhhh. The sad thing is, not once did anyone correct me or challenge me. Not once.

If religions, society and the law can discriminate against gays or blacks, they can discriminate against anyone they dislike at a particular time. Law should not be so arbitrary, obviously. Law should not be a tool to control those you hate and reward those you love. The rights of individuals must be protected at all costs. If one of us is unsafe, then none of us are safe. An attack on gay rights is an attack on everyone's rights.

The religious bigots who fight so hard to have prayer in schools and forbid gays from their civil rights need to think really hard about what they're doing. I'm fine with Christian prayer in schools, as long as Islamic prayers, Jewish prayers, and Satanic prayers get equal airtime. Oh, that's not what you want, bigots? Perhaps you should separate church and state and thereby protect the people's rights, including yours.

If God is real, he has to be a real lame son of a bitch to care about whom people love and with whom they have sex.

Result of my Atheism #7: Carpe Diem

Seize the freaking day. Be as happy as possible. Don't put up with crap if you can change it. Accept that life isn't perfect, but it can be damn amazing, and enjoy as much as you can. Respect others' rights, and demand yours be respected. Don't do stupid shit because it just wastes the little time you have and hurts everyone. Don't worry about others' opinions. Be strong. Be independent. Love. Live. Laugh. Learn. Give. Explore. Dream. You only get one shot. This is it.

There are things that haven't changed, but mostly I am an entirely new person. The world is a new, exciting place and I feel reborn. I feel free. I don't waste my life with senseless dogma and drama. I live. My family has disowned me, and that experience has been probably the worst in my life and I'll never be over it, but I wouldn't trade my life for the world. I am happier than I've ever been. It was worth it because I am honest, for the first time in my life.


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