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(Reblogged from The A-Word)
I got a new follower on Twitter a few days ago. “I was atheist too,” he tweeted me, “until its inbuilt purposelessness overwhelmed me.” He then proceeded to tweet the following: “My atheist phase was a dark place, a deep pit, a place of no hope; I was empty, the grave loomed large. As an atheist I was without purpose, there was no point to anything! I hedged my bets on accidents and random events, I cared least.” Then he posed the question, “If life has a purpose, what is it to an atheist?”
The first thing I thought of was this poem by Richard Coughlan:
Atheism offers nothing to me,
It never has and never will,
It doesn’t make me feel good or comfort me,
It’s not there for me when I’m sick or ill,
It can’t intervene in my times of need
It won’t protect me from hate,
It doesn’t care if I fail or succeed,
It won’t wipe the tears from my eyes,
It does nothing when I have got nowhere to run,
It won’t give me wise words or advice,
It has no teachings for me to learn,
It can’t show me what’s bad or nice,
It’s never inspired or excited anyone,
It won’t help me fulfill all my goals,
It won’t tell me to stop when I’m having fun,
It’s never saved one single soul,
It doesn’t take credit for anything I achieve,
It won’t make me get down on bended knee,
It doesn’t demand that I have to believe,
It won’t torture me for eternity,
It won’t teach me to hate or despise others,
It can’t tell me what’s right or wrong,
It won’t tell anybody that they can’t be lovers,
It’s told nobody where they don’t belong,
It won’t make you think life is worth living,
It has nothing to offer me, yeah, that’s true,
But the reason atheism offers me nothing is because I’ve never asked it to,
Atheism offers nothing because it doesn’t need to,
Religion promises everything because you want it to,
You don’t need a religion or to have faith,
You just want it because you need to feel safe,
I want to feel reality and nothing more,
So atheism offers me everything,
That religion has stolen before.
Here’s the thing: atheism is NOT a religion. It is not an organization or a club or a community. It is merely the state of not believing in any gods. If you are looking to atheism for purpose, you’re looking in the wrong place.
Here’s my answer to the gentleman that tweeted me:
It seems to me like you truly were depressed and in a bad place. Your reasoning is that this was because you didn’t believe in a god. However, blaming your depression on atheism is a cop-out.
I’ll give you an analogy. Say there’s this guy who’s going through a rough spot in his life. He feels like he has no purpose. Then, a friend of his introduces him to the game of golf, and he discovers that he likes it. A lot! He plays almost every day, and suddenly his life is changed. He discovers his purpose in golf. Now, in all fairness, was his depression because he didn’t play golf before? Was it lack of golf that brought him all the problems in his life? The truth is, golf really had nothing to do with it. Lots of people go through life having never touched a golf club and turn out perfectly fine.
I don’t mean to be presumptuous, because I really don’t know the truth about your situation, but here’s what I think: the church (and consequently, Christian God) came to your life at a very strategic point. You were vulnerable, and here was this god who loved you unconditionally and could make everything better. Now, I don’t doubt that things did get better when you became a Christian. You probably talked your problems out with somebody, maybe a pastor or church elder, and the feeling that somebody great and powerful (i.e god) cared about little ol’ you did wonders for you.
But that’s the thing about churches and gods (Christian God is especially notorious for this)! They prey on your weaknesses as a human being. We all want a happy ending. It’s a really good feeling to pray and believe that something’s going to change. Talking to someone about your problems always makes things better, even if the someone in question does not exist.
If you are truly to think of this objectively, I’d have to ask you to think of why you became atheist in the first place. Bitterness or anger at a god isn’t a good reason to become atheist. “A bad thing happened to me! I hate god! I shall now become atheist!” is a very immature type of reasoning. Atheism should ideally be borne out of a hunger for the truth, and consequently out of reason and logic. That way, no matter what you go through in life, whether you are up or down, happy or sad, your point of view doesn’t change because it was founded on reason.
Now to answer your original question, as expressed in the title of this blog post. Atheists are different, from all walks of life, therefore the things that they live for are bound to be different. I’ll speak for myself and tell you some of the things that inspire me to keep living. I may not believe in any gods, but I believe in love and kindness, in making progress and developing my country, in having a fulfilling career, in having lots of fun, in starting a family of my own someday. I love travelling and learning new languages, I could spend literally hours writing songs at my piano, and I live for fantasy novels. Watching a beautiful sunset, laughing out loud at a funny sitcom, going through tough times but knowing that the sun will shine again, these are some of the things that make life worth living. And the best part is that I never have to worry about going to hell, and so none of my decisions are based on fear.
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