Because I am an atheist: James Croft

Today’s contribution comes from James Croft, vice-chair of the Humanist Community at Harvard.

Because I am an atheist…

…I know we’re in this alone, and that any change for the better in this world will be the fruit of human endeavor. There was never a eureka moment in which I realized there is no God: I was raised in a happy atheist household, and religion – except for the music, the art, and the architecture which my parents introduced me to – played no part in our lives. I only began to fully understand that other people weren’t atheists when I hit my teens, and began to have heated discussions with religious friends.

There are many things I can understand, even appreciate, about the best expressions of the religious impulse. I value narratives which frame our lives, strong moral communities where we can develop our commitment to each other, artworks which express our highest ideals, experiences of solidarity and transcendence, and I want to find ways for Humanists to enjoy these social benefits.

But I have never understood the belief that the miserable situation of some human beings must be due to the whims of an inscrutable Authority. I have never understood the belief that that real human needs – real suffering, inequality, oppression – might be alleviated through the correct propitiations to a magical being. I have never understood the belief that there must be “more than this”, that this life is not enough, and that it will be followed by something better, something more important.

The belief in a celestial overseer and a happy hereafter too often leads us to put off to a hoped-for tomorrow those things we ought to do today. Some waste time and effort trying to please the Creator instead of working to raise humankind. Many overlook the achievements of our species – achievements for which we should be proud –crediting the harvest of their own industry to the Lord.

Because I am an atheist, I reject these beliefs. My atheism doesn’t provide me with my moral compass or my social conscience, but it does provide a spur to action. I know that this life is our only life, this world is our only world, and that our only hope is each other. I know that we must seek our own salvation. I know that if there is a hell, it is the hell we make for each other, here, on this world. And if there is to be a heaven, it will be a heaven of our creation.

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