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Archive for April 2013

What it Means to be an Atheist

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     In the starkest terms, it means there is no god, no spirit, no supernatural. There is no heaven, no hell, no wiping away of tears. You will not meet your dead parents, grandparents, Uncle Lou, or goldfish ever again.

 It won’t all be ok in the end.

 (Of course, you don’t have to feel guilty about drinking, eating pork, not praying or premarital sex. So there is that.)

      It would be simple to mock religion for claiming all those things to be true, for believing in a final justice where the slave is freed and the owner bound, where the weak are exalted and the mighty cast down, for claiming that somewhere there’s a friggin’ plan, and when the clouded glass is broken it will all make sense.  But I can’t- if believing in something supernatural makes you happy- go be happy, because that’s the best we can hope for.

        But if all that Atheism had to offer was guilt-free sex and teenage nihilism, it wouldn’t much attract anyone who wasn’t a horny teenager. So, what it really means is freedom.

     If things turn out well, if I find a loving partner and a happy life, it’s because I did it. Not because some immaterial being reached out and blessed my life. Not because I followed some ineffable plan that brings us all to our own best ends.

     I did it. With all my flaws and beauty I have created a life that is both flawed and beautiful, and for all my sins and failures, it is mine.

     Nothing irritates me more than someone who runs fifty yards for a touchdown and gives God the credit. It denies human agency, human awesomeness, and turns us into nothing more than toys of a capricious and unpredictable God, who dispenses gifts and grace with the petty whim of a drunk.

      Most religions have the same origin story- one time, in the far away and long ago, man was like the angels. We were in Eden, or one with the universe/Nirvana.  Whatever it was, we fucked up.  We sinned, we erred, we made some one fundamental mistake and were cast into an imperfect world to toil to our deaths.

     But atheism tells a different story:  In the beginning, we were animals.  We gnawed raw meat and spoke in grunts.   We are, says atheism, at root, not a whit different from any other animals. We have DNA and gallbladder and pheremones- we’re only about 10 percent different from a hedgehog.

 

     And we went to the moon.

 

       We’re as bound by the same immutable laws of darwinism as the smallest virus.  We’re still essentially driven by the urge to fight and fuck and feed and flee.   Our brains run off the same chemicals as a chimps, and we’re often just as much a slave to our passions. We kill in anger, we make war for land.

And we went to the moon. 

      The theory of evolution is the cold fact of the universe- uncaring and unknowing.  But atheism, like any religion, is a story.   It takes those blind laws of chance and breeding and speaks the truth- that is all we are. Apes with a few extra wrinkles in our brains and a cool thumb. 

And we went to the moon.  

     The Sistine chapel and Moby Dick.  The moon landing and the smallpox vaccine. Gandhi, for fucks sake. That was US.

     The narrative of religion says that we are fallen from grace, unworthy sinners making our own hell, and we can only be saved through some external force- call it Yahweh, Christ, Brahman, or Nirvana.  The only way to some salvation is through external agency. 

The story of religion is how far we’ve fallen. The story of atheism is how far we’ve climbed. 

     Of course, there is another side to this. When you are cruel, small, and unworthy- that’s you too. No devil tempted you except yourself. And when the world is cruel and strips you to the bone, there is no lesson being taught, no test being proctored. The world was cruel to you because the world is often cruel. We are often cruel, can the world we made be any different?

     So this is what you get, this is who you are. Some start from the depths and ascend the heavens, some start at the heights and plunge straight to hell.   The world is a tough place, a bareknuckle barroom brawl of an existence.

            And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

            Atheism means many things. It is freedom, and responsibility, and sometimes stark depression at this mad world with no meaning, kindness or grace. But what matters isn’t meaning- what matters is doing. And what atheism does is give me the courage to walk tall, stomp upon the terra and proclaim at the top of my lungs ‘I am that I am,’ sui generis and self-made, god help us all. 

Written by newscum

April 18, 2013 at 7:26 pm

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