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Aug 16 2012

Why I am an atheist – Jim Phynn

Some days, I question how different my path to atheism differs from other people’s paths. About a year before my bar mitzvah, I began asking what the point was of religion, but I can’t honestly say I did any real follow-through on that question at the time.

Six months after my bar mitzvah, though, everything changed.  I was named for my maternal grandfather, who died about two years before I was born (this is consistent with Jewish tradition, where you name children after the deceased).   The sister of the grandfather whom I only knew by name, died of a massive stroke.   And her death happened during the ten days of repentance.  According to what I had been taught in my Jewish upbringing, these ten days (between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) are the only days when we have any control over our destiny.  

That got me to thinking: why would god (or, as I wrote it at the time, G-d) do this at a time when he should only be observing and not acting?  What else doesn’t make sense about Judaism?

It really didn’t take much thinking or reading to realize that the answer to this question is:  most of it.  I concede that I do kind of like certain traditions, like naming children after the dead: it reminds us to enjoy life and attempt to normalize things after such a dramatic change.

So if Judaism isn’t the right religion, I decided, is there another one that is?  Between then and when I graduated from college, I tried other religions: more Christian denominations than I might care to list, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Wicca.  By the time I was done, I came to the conclusion that, if god and the supernatural do exist (a huge “if”), there’s no such thing as a religion that adequately defines them.  

This conclusion made me somewhat angry.  At this point, the question of god’s existence became by and large irrelevant: why should I care one way or another if god exists?  But seeing all of the people in the world who have clearly been misled by their religion over some piece of an inane theology… Let’s just say it increased my degree of scorn for religion itself.  To this day, I vacillate between the titles of “atheist” and “anti-theist”.

God can’t possibly exist.  If he did, he would destroy all of the religions that claim to teach “his word.”  

I am a huge fan of the music of Harry Chapin.  One of my favorite songs of his is “I Wonder What Would Happen to This World”.  The song begins by pondering, “if a man tried to take his time on earth, and prove before he died, what one man’s life could be worth, I wonder what would happen to this world.”  This sentiment ought to be an expression of how we can take the short time we’re going to spend on this rock, and make the most of it.  

Interestingly, later on in the song, he asks, “If we say that no one’s out there, if we say we’re going nowhere, can we avoid the question: is this all that it means?”  I say no one’s out there and that we won’t go anywhere otherworldly after we die.  If someone then asks me, “is this all that it means?” I will smile and say, “So what if it does?  Let’s let our actions ring true far beyond our own lives.  Be good examples for our children.  Lead the world into a place that’s more just, less cruel than anything a religion might want, teach, or expect.”

We can keep the harmless traditions of all faiths, maybe even teaching our children about the mythologies of the faiths themselves.  (With caution since they are as true as the ancient Greek or Roman mythologies.)  I kept the “name children after the deceased” one: one of my children is named for Harry Chapin and the other is named for my great aunt who died when I was 13.

Jim Phynn
United States

2 comments

  1. 1
    allencdexter

    I like your approach. There is nothing wrong with honoring our ancestors and passing on truly humane and sensible traditions. We can even preserve mythologies but make certain they are treated as entertaining myths.

    All this certitude about fairy tales and just plain ridiculous lies has to end before the human race can settle down to anything approximating world peace. It is maddening to see the world hatefully divided over plain old dumb mythology.

  2. 2
    busterggi

    I’m sure there are at least 8,000 Christian sects you haven’t tried yet but I doubt they would change your mind at this point.

    Nicely written though.

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