Friday, January 28, 2011

My Journey to Atheism

I grew up in a Christian Orthodox family. My mother and her parents are Christian, whereas my father and possibly his parents are not so religious. Orthodoxy is basically an extremely traditional form of Christianity with three hour services, segregated parts of the side (female and male), no pope, married priests, and the like. It's very traditional in the sense that it's not particularly restrictive, but the Church is not the most modern. Although it is anti-homosexuality and anti-abortion, it doesn't enforce the "rules" as strictly as other denominations might (Catholic Church, I'm looking at you). 

Either way, I grew up with Christianity. My grandparents are extremely religious and my mother is a bit more relaxed, but still religious. When I was younger, I suppose I did believe in a God, but not with a necessary fervour. I believed in him in a more "Yeah, sure, of course I believe in God" way. I remember when the first grain of doubt was instilled within me. I have always had an obsession with angels, and when I was around ten or so, I asked my grandmother if I could ever be an angel. She said no, that humans could never be angels, that they could only be saints. I told her I would find a way to become an angel. I'm not sure how this story instilled a grain of doubt within me, but I was under the impression that it was unfair that God wouldn't allow humans to become angels. (Hey, I was ten, give my lack of logic a break). The actual impasse though came with my second question. "If people can be good without God, does he still send them to Hell?" My grandmother, the daughter of a priest, couldn't answer my simple question. I began to think that this whole business was really just extremely muddled. But I still prayed every night, out of habit, I suppose. 

I did talk to God. I actually talked to him. Prayers meant nothing to me. They were just formulaic words, and it seemed more efficient and much more "good devout follower" to try to have an actual conversation with God. During middle and the beginning of high school, I would talk and ask Him questions, hours on end. When I got myself in a situation that I needed his help for, I would cry and ask him for help. A sign. Anything. Anything to tell me that he was there and listening to me. He was basically my teddy bear. I would rage at him and have a one-sided conversation until I'd fall asleep from exhaustion. 

My father, being the atheist that he is, started asking me why the Bible contradicted itself. I didn't know, I hadn't read much of the Bible. Yet what he said made sense. Why were there so many errors if the book was the word of God? During freshman year, I would continually tell people that I was a Christian. There was one point in which I truly tried to believe I was one. But it just didn't stick to me. Sophomore year, I read Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho. The novel tells the story about a young woman, Veronika, who decides to kill herself. She swallows a bunch of pills and wakes up several days later in a mental asylum, to be told that even though the pills didn't kill her then, it would only be a matter of days until they would destroy her and she would die. Veronika has to will herself not to want to live for the next several days, but her plan kind of dies because of all the things she learns in that short amount of time. The novel deals with faith, God, taboo, sex, the will to live, the will to die, questions sanity and what the true meaning of insanity is. It is an absolutely incredible book and I recommend it to everyone. While reading the book, I had a revelation. God is Love! God is Beauty! God is Nature! God is all around us! God is not some guy with a white beard with his son Jesus, who died on the cross. He's everywhere here! 

For a short time, I was a pantheist. But there was still doubt. I realized that if I believed God was love, beauty, and nature, I didn't really believe in a supernatural God, I believed in the world. I could just as well believe in love, beauty, and nature without believing in a God. Equating Him with vague words such as those doesn't make him any more explainable or true. Did I believe some supernatural force controlled the universe? Not necessarily, no. I found it hard to believe that someone was supervising our actions and thoughts. I looked around me and saw misery everywhere. Where was the mercy? The goodness? Where was the love? God's will didn't seem like a very fair concept and everything that the Christians preached seemed hypocritical and nonsensical. It just didn't make sense with what I saw happening around me. 

But the real revelation came to me when I read Greta Christina's Why I Don't Believe in the Soul. I had started reading her blog a little while before and I thought she made very good, logical points. (All the while I was trying to figure out my faith, or lack thereof, I had no bad opinion of atheists. In fact, my best friend was a bitter cynical one who I highly respected). If you haven't read any of her articles, this one is a good one to start with. She mostly writes about atheism, sex, gay rights, and other miscellaneous interesting subjects. She's one of the best bloggers out there, so you should all definitely check her out. Anyway, "Why I Don't Believe in the Soul" explains why she doesn't believe humans have anything other in themselves besides their brains that makes up their morals, their consciences, thoughts, dreams, etc. and their bodies. I realized that I actually agreed with her. I didn't believe in a soul either. So then why should I believe in a God? The whole focus of religion is what happens on this world so we can go to the afterlife. The afterlife is always the one that's the most important, the one that's eternal. Life is simply a phase. Yet if I didn't believe in a soul, why should I believe in an afterlife, and therefore why should I believe in a God? On that day, I made a Livejournal post explaining my thought process. I'll post it here so you can read it:

-a god is defined as perfect, omnipotent, and all-knowledgeable
-the christian god is also good, merciful, and just
-i do not believe that such a god could create a world as flawed, unmerciful, and unjust as this one without there being a flaw in him (a perfect being creates a perfect work; if there are flaws in the work, there are flaws in the being)
-a god is not perfect if he creates; if he does so he must have a reason to do so; what would his reason be?
-if i do believe in a god, he is definitely not good, merciful, or just; he is distant, cynical, a major asshole, looking at this world and laughing his ass off...on second thought, maybe believing in no god is better than believing in a god like that
-a god has yet to be proven...or disproven
-however, there has been no evidence as of now to prove the actual existence of a god, nor has there been evidence as of now to disprove the actual existence of a god
-however, that's not the point of faith; the point of faith is to believe without having evidence or proof
-therefore, faith in a god is based solely on spiritual reasons rather than actual proof or evidence
-i'm not sure whether that cuts it for me...i think i might just have become an atheist. christ, that's frightening. O.o

-i don't believe in a "soul"; all of our morality and consciousness come from repeated observations and are based on selfishness (not necessarily a bad thing, though); our morality and consciousness are part of our body-brain
-if i don't believe in a soul, i don't think i believe in heaven or hell after death either; the concept of heaven and hell is that after you die, your body rots in the ground while your "soul" goes to either state/place
-however, i do believe in a heaven and hell on earth. also, they both are states of mind and emotion, rather than actual places. during life, one can go to both heaven and hell. they are not places where one goes to seek one's reward or one's punishment, respectively, they are simply states of mind and emotion in a certain period of time
-i also believe in angels and demons (on earth, again); we all have our angels and demons though i don't perceive them as having to do with anything outside life
-even if heaven and hell do exist, what matters is not the afterlife, it's what one does in life
-why? the afterlife is eternal while life is simply temporary. however, if the eternal afterlife is based on one's actions and/or beliefs during the temporary life, which one is more important? the latter.
-if heaven and hell don't exist, what one does in this life still matters; one's actions influence those around

-in the whole aspect of things, we honestly don't matter. if we dropped off the face of the earth, the universe would still continue. a bit hard to bear, no? we don't really matter all that much.
-however, we are alive now and we do matter now. in that case, why not live fully?

-still not sure about reincarnation. Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a really beautiful book and i absolutely love the concept in it. must read more on subject. 


After I had written this on January 21, 2010, almost exactly a year ago, I realized I was an atheist. (An edit towards the last bullet point--I don't believe in reincarnation). Did I feel any loss towards a belief in a God? No. I was strangely relieved. I had never felt that close to Him anyway and I hadn't truly ever been sure of his existence. Did I feel guilty for letting my family down? No. They still don't know I'm an atheist, yet they believe that I'm heading towards the dark side. Little do they know, that I've been long down that path, I just hadn't found the light yet. (The irony, it kills me.) I belive what I believe and I can't help it. I don't believe that I need a God to be good. I don't believe in a supernatural force that guides its hand over the world. It doesn't make sense. It just doesn't fit with logic. Do I feel uncomfortable around most of my family, knowing that if I told them I would probably be regarded as a black sheep? Yes. It's becoming harder and harder to deal with my family's religion and intolerance. Sooner or later, I'm going to have to come out and that will be that. I still go to church, granted, a conservative, traditional Episcopalian one. And every time I go, I feel unbearable anxiety and uncomfortability. I don't belong there. I'm an intruder. I cannot deal with these people and their God. But I don't feel on a wishy washy road anymore. I know what I believe in--no supernatural force at all. And life's very fucking beautiful even without the belief in a God. In fact, it's even more beautiful. This life is all we have, so let's live it for real. No wasting any time, no thinking we have an afterlife to make it up. There's wonder in the universe even without believing in something supernatural. Isn't the world enough? isn't it wondrous and beautiful enough without having to add another complicated factor to it? 

Because I'm an atheist doesn't mean I'll come to rape you or eat your babies. I have morals and they're not because Christianity has influenced my line of thinking. I believe that we are all inherently selfish, and from this selfishness comes morality. The example I use the most often is the one with the man and his neighbour's sheep: if your neighbour has a sheep and you want his sheep, you can just kill him and have his sheep (and his wife, his farm, etc). But if a natural disaster comes and you need his help, he won't be there, and you'll die. So it is better to let your neighbour live and not have the sheep (who knows, if you ask him, he may let you have it) and therefore, you profit also. Generosity and kindness from selfishness. Ta da!

Finally, I want to dispel a rumour about us baby-eating, wife-raping atheists. I have no issue with religious believers, as long as they don't stick it in my face or are overly obnoxious. I don't hate believers. I do think that religion serves a purpose, not as a moral ground at all, but as a good look into the history, background, and culture of the civilizations that believed in it. Religion can serve for good purposes, but it can be easily turned to do quite the opposite (as has been seen for centuries). The most interesting trend that can be seen as of today, though, is that people are becoming more spiritual nowadays than religious. There will always be fanatics, but as the awareness of atheism and agnosticism grows, the more liberal in their thoughts and actions people will be, the more spiritual and secular religions will have to become. Whether the major religions are flexible and popular enough to resist, we shall see.


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