Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why I'm an Atheist, Part 1: The Emotional Side of Things

*Trigger Warning: self-hating thought processes*

“But if Religion makes people happy, and helps them function…does it really matter if it’s objectively true?"

As a religious, fairly reflective individual I used to firmly adhere to this reasoning.  I was about 17 when I first started to deeply doubt my cosmology. We were learning about the brain, and I was in the process of deciding to take medication for Depression and Anxiety.  Suddenly, my understanding of what makes me, me completely fell apart.  I came to the conclusion that I would never be able to tease apart the randomly firing chemicals due to disease, from randomly firing chemicals due to being human, from what was my spirit.  In the face of this confusion, I figured it couldn’t hurt to pick the understanding I could most live with, and go with it. I decided I had a spirit. I decided that I believed in God, a spiritual world, and the influx from both.  I decided that I was something more than just a disease.  Needless to say, that last was a pretty important conviction for me to hold, especially at the particular time in my life.  Everyone is more than their disease, so I will give credit where credit is due: thanks, Belief, for that brief moment of clarity.  I also, however, would use this line of thinking in my pretend mental debates with atheists, to try and convince my imaginary opponents how much happier they’d be if they would just let God in.  Since then, I’ve seen it employed in similar ways during many real-life debates between atheists and theists.  

I find it important sentiment to address.  Especially given that I am still rather sympathetic to it.  I have some pretty serious problems these days with accepting anything that I'm not sure of for myself, but generally I’m pretty cool with accepting other people’s reasons for remaining religious or spiritual in the face of doubt.  It’s difficult being human, and I would not begrudge anyone their harmless comfort. The problem is that although I find it an acceptable explanation for someone being religious, I do not find it a persuasive argument as to why I should be religious or spiritual.  It has no place in debates. It has no place in my life. It is so far from my experience I have deemed it a completely irrelevant notion. 

Here’s the honest truth, that I mean from the depth of my knowing: Religion is my drug. 

Maybe it’s a medication that works for some people, but I’m a recovering addict and for my own safety I can’t touch the stuff.  Mix in a dash of chemical imbalance? Disaster. 

Religion no longer comforts nor inspires me.  The spiritual high was fabulous - I felt deep, connected, transcendent.  But it got to the point that if I weren’t “working” on something about myself, I didn’t feel alive.  I thought that must be how atheists felt constantly: Dead. Worthless. Numb.  I would frantically start digging deeper and harder, searching for the next thing I could ‘examine’ in the name of regeneration.  Funny how often the incentive to “shun evils and do good” got stuck at the shunning of evils, scribbled in a numbered list spanning page upon tear-stained page. Because do you know how hard that stuff is to change?  You can’t just decide “today I will not be selfish”, check that off your list, and get a gold star.  The perceived lack of change quickly gets added to the long list of faults. Anything good you might have done? Well, that doesn’t really count.  Because it wasn’t really all that good. It came from God anyway. It wasn’t enough. I could have done something even better. And attributing goodness to myself? That is the way to becoming a selfish, self-serving hell-dweller, don’t you know!? So, instead, I would just look at the list, hate myself, and cry. Cry, cry, cry, and cry, until a wave of relief swept over me - a catharsis interpreted as God’s influx, as an angelic community surrounding me.  Maybe if I beat myself to that state of exhaustion enough times, some of the things I hated would actually change.  So, I would make another list, look for another high. 

Although I try to actively employ empathy at all times, whenever someone tells me that they rely on God to get them through, that they would feel hopeless without religion - I can’t help but wonder if they are also addicts. At my most arrogant, I think that religious thinking really doesn't do anyone more good than harm.  Almost all of the religious people I know suffer an incredibly dark sense of worthlessness at some point.  When I’m being a reasonable human being, I understand that my situation is just that: my situation.  But, when I see so many people hurting, whether they are pining after a dwindling sense of God or singing His praises, I wonder. I wonder. 

Mainly, though, I bristle at the insinuation that as an atheist I can't be as happy as a theist. I am the happiest, and healthiest, I have been in my entire adult life. 

As an atheist, I can just live and have that be enough. 
It’s not exciting. 
It’s not glamorous. 
It is helping me heal. 

Am I blaming religion for my own mental failings and fixations?  Probably.  But I ask you: if blaming my religion makes me happy and helps me function…does it really matter?

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