Well, why not? Does your religion have an unwritten law that you can’t entertain any doubts? Is even thinking about such a thing guilt-provoking? Don’t you wonder why that might be?
Are you apprehensive because every time you’ve heard the word atheist it was accompanied by a severe look or a negative claim? Does the word sound like something that you should avoid? Well, I felt that way once, too.
I was a member of the Catholic Church from birth, and for all I know, they might still think that I am. I attended Catholic schools and obeyed the few rules that were necessary, such as not eating meat on Friday, attending Mass on Sunday (usually), and saying prayers all the time. In Catholic schools, each class began with a prayer, and every day we had a religion class.
So why didn’t it take? Why didn’t they have me for life, or, as the Jesuits are reported to say, “Give me the child and I’ll give you the man.” I suppose that as some people cannot be hypnotized, some cannot be religionized, at least not permanently. By the last years of high school, I was already asking the questions that couldn’t be answered. By the time I was seventeen, I looked back at the church I had just walked out of and I said to myself, maybe there’s a God, but it isn’t there.” I remember that phrase from those long years ago as though it was yesterday, because I never lost that conviction.
But even as a very young boy, I accepted religious belief conditionally. I knew I was too young to understand it, but I thought that one day I would – and there was no sense rushing acceptance or rejection. I suppose I must have been different from others. I don’t think that every young person realizes that there is so much more to know than they possibly could at such a young age.
But I also thought, in those younger days, that older people had wisdom. I realized that everyone didn’t but I assumed that there must be a lot of it. After all, what immense knowledge must politicians have to run entire countries? It was mind-boggling to a seven-year-old. I suppose that if I’d known just how mind-boggling it really was, I would have had no confidence whatsoever in the idea of politics. And confidence isn’t a word I’d use to describe my current views of those not-so-wise men.
Why would anyone want to be an atheist? There is so much to lose. You can cite Pascal’s famous wager asking why it wouldn’t be fine to just believe, just in case. You would also face the shock, anger, and grief of your family when they discover that you’ve condemned yourself to eternal torture in their eyes. (This assumes Christianity – for other religions just insert your preference of punishment.) You face being shunned by them, disowned in some cases. And what if you’re wrong? Would it be worth it to anger God?
What is it about your life that is so bad that you’d want to abandon Christmas, Easter, penance, grace, fellowship, communion with the divine, a loving creator-father who will watch over you in your darkest hours? How could you give up the font of knowledge from that Holy Ghost? Where would you be in a world without Jesus?
And how would you know right from wrong, good from evil, truth from illusion?
What sort of world are you living in now?
Does God watch over you while you’re having sex? Peeking while you’re moving your bowels? Condemning you for acts that you aren’t even aware of? Who can know the mind of God? Who can know if God has a mind? For God isn’t like us. This is a being who can speak a word and a universe appears, though there seem to be a few flaws regarding that . . . speaking never worked quite so well for the rest of us. Usually the creation of most anything required some mechanism, some hard work, some planning. What could this mysterious God be like? Does it have breasts? A belly button? If so, why? Is God a mammal? Who are God’s mommy and daddy? Does he have brothers and sisters? If not, why not?
So many questions, so many flaccid answers.
Without trying to sound like a military recruitment poster, I can urge you to stand up, to try to understand what you believe and face it head on. As an atheist, you must live your life from the standpoint of your own knowledge, no matter how it conflicts with your belief. It is always wrong to assume a conclusion first and then to prove it. There’s a wise saying that applies here: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” To be an atheist, you must be willing to kill off your old ideas when you realize that they were never really true, not really. And you already suspect that, don’t you? Or you probably wouldn’t have read this far.
The trash heap of gods has been growing as long as humans have been inventing them. What you believe depends upon where you grew up. But over much of the world, what people believe is beginning to crack, unable to stand up to the onset of scientific discovery. Believe what you like, but realize that you are believing, and realize that belief, knowledge, and certitude are independent of each other. If you know something, you have knowledge, and you don’t need to believe anything further than the idea that you can know things. If you are certain, well, so are a lot of people, and certain people are proven wrong all the time. But if you have knowledge, you can build upon it, question it, understand it.
“Nothing is always absolutely so”, reads Sturgeon’s Law, and that may be the most difficult part of non-belief to accept. But we aren’t what we think we are. Our conscious minds aren’t, always, and our perceptions are so easily fooled as they attempt to understand that which they do not understand and fill in empty spots. We are creatures of pattern and habit and we see salamanders in the grate, gods in the stratosphere, fairies in the garden. And those of us who are or were religious are only ever a step away from relieving ourselves of the burden of belief. Science forges ahead, sometimes two steps forward and one step back, but ahead. Human knowledge grows exponentially, and has been doing so for a long time. We can never know everything, or even something about most things – it’s a flux, a change, and we have to be willing to change a little bit every day. We must understand that our knowledge of the universe is malleable and that it isn’t written in stone, no more than those fabled commandments – every day the fresh ink dries and we see a little further into the tunnel of the universe. It’s exciting and full of wonder and delight and it can make a life worth living – not by rote, not by the dreams of ancient goatherds, not by blind obedience, but by thinking and growing and moving just that little bit further ahead.
Are you considering atheism now?