Basically, I am an atheist because for me, the idea of a God, a ‘higher power’ or even just the universe being conscious and deliberate raises more questions than it answers. We all have the flaw of believing that because a question can be phrased, it can be answered. We ask ‘Why?’ and at first God seems like an easy answer, until you realise that you can always ask “But why?” one more time. Instead of torturing themselves asking ‘Why?’ to infinity, lots of people stop asking the question just after inserting God into the equation. I stop just before, because for me, the idea of a creator, or conscious universe adds nothing to my understanding or enjoyment of life, so it seems like an unnecessary step.
I haven’t always been this way. While I never followed religion as such, I certainly had my moments of “What does the universe have planned for me?”
I have been told that there were arguments over what I should be christened as it was expected that I should be Catholic because that’s what my father was (is that a convention? The children get christened what the father is? I don’t know.), but my mother had a vehement dislike of Catholicism, not only because of the beliefs, but also because she had had conflicts with Catholics in the past. I don’t think my parents would have bothered at all but for this social pressure, so it was decided that I would be Anglican, so I was christened (by a priest who later turned out to be a pedophile), and never went to church again until school. I spent my first two years of primary school at a Catholic school, because that’s where my cousins went. We had mass every Friday, and I remember sitting on the seat in church, swinging my legs, picking my nose, wriggling around thinking “Why does everyone keep saying stuff back to that weird guy up the front and why are we sitting down and standing up and singing and this sucks lets go outside and play.” I believed in God because I was told he was real, but for some reason I kind of thought that he was everyone else’s God, and that it didn’t apply to me. I changed to a normal public school afterwards because the Catholic fees were too high, and apart from some scripture classes and Anglican Sunday school (which I only wanted to go to to get the nice biscuits at afternoon tea), I never had anything to do with the church again. What sealed the deal for good with me not really believing in a deity was my innocent 6 or 7 year old cousin saying “If god put us here, who put God there?”. At the time, I believed in God as I said because that’s what I had been told, so I kind of just thought she was naive to ask (how wrong I was!), but it definitely got me thinking. While I don’t know what her beliefs are now, I certainly have to thank her for planting the seed.
The belief system I had after that was generally less “god says do it or you’ll go to hell” and more “karma, the universe, energy, spirits and ghosts and meant to be, that’s just their path, its for a higher reason which we’ll understand after we die” type stuff. I simultaneously believed in an afterlife as well as reincarnation, and had to do some crazy mental gymnastics for that to make sense to me. I had some superstitions, like if you hear the same song or something 3 times in a row, its significant somehow. I believed in ghosts and tarot cards, and that “the universe’ cared what I did and thought and that what I did now would be setting the tone for my soul’s afterlife. I believed that the universe had lessons and plans for us all, and I used to desperately search for some good reason why the universe wanted my life the way it was. I spent a lot of time confused as to why certain situations would come up over and over again, believing that the universe thought I hadn’t learned a certain lesson properly the first time or whatever. The thing that used to cause me the most trouble in my beliefs was not being able to come up with a good reason why the universe would care what I did. I got a lot of explanations of “its part of a bigger plan” but I could never understand why the universe needed or planned anything. Pretty much the non-deity version of asking “Does God ever wonder why hes there?”, really.
I honestly can’t remember why, but one day I just started researching religion and atheism and how it relates to politics and morality and things. I wish I could remember what made me look it up. Knowing how my interests get started, I probably read one line in a newspaper or something and sparked it off. I came across lots of atheist blogs which I still read regularly, and it really made me bother to sit and think seriously about why I do the things I do. I began to see that a lot of beliefs and attitudes that I had didn’t stand up to reason. It was a bit of a struggle at times. I came up with all the same questions that all theists must wonder about atheists, and for once, I had to answer them for myself instead of assuming the universe or God or whatever would take of it for me. I remember, with a bit of shame, reading a post on Hemant’s blog, The Friendly Atheist, about a woman saying that because atheists don’t believe in an afterlife, they must be amoral and just do whatever they want, and at the time, it seemed reasonable. I wondered, “I know now that I don’t believe I will be punished after my death, so why don’t I want to go out and steal and kill and do whatever I want?” It took a lot of reflection for me to realise why I’m not an evil person. If theists don’t commit evil (which we know some do, but just humour me) to avoid hell after death, then I don’t commit evil because I don’t want to be in hell now. Simple as that. I believe that we are capable of a happy, well functioning society without reference to any eternal punishment or reward, and I resent the hell out of the idea that me wanting to live in a nice world is somehow a less moral motivation than “God said don’t”.
As for my destiny or whatever, I have pretty much come to the conclusion that the universe doesn’t give two shits about anyone. I don’t believe that finding meaning in something that happens to you means that a higher power intended it that way. I believe it is up to us to give our own lives meaning and purpose, because we are ultimately in control. I don’t mean to say we are gods unto ourselves or anything, because we are at the mercy of nature and always have been, just that it is our job to try to understand our world in order to make the best of it, not to accept that it is part of a plan and we are mere pawns. Some people find it extremely off putting and lonely to think that we are really of no importance in something bigger, but I have actually found it quite liberating. Being an atheist has made me take more responsibility for the quality of my own life. Knowing that I exist in this amazing universe against extreme odds absolutely floors me at times, and knowing that this is my only chance has made me more proactive than I ever used to be.