Originally posted here in For Atheists, Getting through the fear.
(Aidans Pop @ Dec 1 2006, 03:12 PM) This post is meant primarily for ex-christian atheists. By atheists I mean those who do not believe in the supernatural whatsoever, even those ideas which do not necessarily entail a deity. I respectfully ask that for the sake of not bogging down the post with irrelevant material, only those who "fit the bill" respond, at least at first. Once a few substantive responses have been posted then we can have a free-for-all.
There have been a number of strong posts now so perhaps it is okay for me to enter. I'm not absolutely sure of my deepest identity at this point but I identify with a few of your issues and would like to respond.
The reason I am being so specific is that my logical rational mind tells me that without evidence of the supernatural that it is pointless to consider it with any serious regard in my life. The problem I am facing is that although my mind has no problem with lack of belief in the supernatural, my "emotional self" (I guess you would say) is scared to death.
My suggestion is to give yourself time. There is probably no deadline to meet, no baptism to go to, no testimony you're obligated to make. It was perhaps a year ago, possibly less, when I first confronted the idea of there being no god. The universe felt so "empty" with no god out there filling the vast empty spaces with love, power, presence, or whatever. I concluded that a different type of thinking is required for atheism than for theism. I had not been praying for quite a number of years because the conviction came on me very strongly that prayer was wrong. However, God was still there.
But the idea of atheism refused to leave me. I've been playing with it for all the months since then. Then I found an article about the "God spot" on the brain. That made it possible to explain "spiritual" experiences without the existence of God. However, as I said elsewhere some time ago, there are phenomena for which I know no explanation except that some invisible power exists. When I said that, I definitely identified as agnostic.
I still have no explanation. But my atheist feelings are growing ever stronger. Based on my own experiences and on the things people say on this site, I conclude that atheism requires far greater faith than belief in the Christian God. Why? First and foremost (for myself, at least) is the question: IS HELL REAL? We cannot disprove its existence until we are dead. And then it will be too late.
Then there's also the idea of me being just one tiny speck alone in the universe--no almighty God who knows the number of hairs on my head--to look out for me, to guide my life, to plan my future and make sure all the details come together just right. Perhaps the biggest item I had to face was this: I have made some drastic life decisions. If there is no god to credit, I must be an infinitely greater and stronger and wiser person than I ever wanted to be because things are working out. I guess I can file it under: Desperate situations call for desperate solutions.
I feel that by having had the courage to explore the possibility of there no being no supernatural realm, I now find myself in a bit of a bind. Let me explain.
Although I feel I have crossed the point of no return as far as believing rationally in the supernatural (given the overwhelming lack of evidence), I find this notion very unsettling. What's funny is that I have considered myself an atheist for a while, but I guess I was still holding on to the notion of the supernatural somewhat. I now feel that I cannot do this rationally, but it has taken me to the brink of fear. Realizing that life may have no ultimate meaning is very disturbing to me.
QUESTION: What does it mean to talk about "meaning of life"?
For me it is important to enjoy life and to be a morally/ethically good person. Beyond that I am not sure I ask for anything. Peace, joy, and liberty. These three came to me when I made my drastic decisions. As time passes and I move gradually further away from the religion of my parents, I am experiencing these qualities increasingly more. Accepting that there may be no god has been another step toward greater freedom, peace, and joy of life. For most of my life I did not know what people meant by the "joy of being alive." I am beginning to get a glimpse of it.
The reason I am directiing this post towards atheists is I am wondering if there are any out there who have experienced a similar situation and come out victorious. I do not know whether this unsettled scary feeling is an inherent part of being human (which could explain humanity's invention of religion in the first place) or whether it is simply traces of my childhood christian brainwashing.
I am convinced it is part and parcel of the brainwashing. "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it." That bit of folklore/sacred scripture is very accurate. What is indoctrinated into the infant brain becomes part of our deepest identity. This is proven for religions other than Christianity. In Irving Hallowell's Experience and Culture, a collection of essays about his work with Ojibwa peoples around Lake Huron in ca the 1920s, (or maybe it was somewhere else) I read about Natives who converted to Christianity. However, at the point of death they reconverted to their own religion. The person said he had seen heaven and there were only footprints of the whiteman. There were no moccasins. He did not want to be alone with white men. He felt better in the religion of his childhood.
If the former is true, then I am trying to find something that will allow me to be fulfilled emotionally as far as meaning in life. Without something, it's difficult to see how life is not depressing and empty. There were times I even considered trying to be religious again, but this to me is analogous to waking from a dream, only to try to close your eyes and dream again. Once you know the dream is not real, it's just not the same.
I appreciate any feedback on this question. To clarify, the qualifier in the first paragraph is simply meant to avoid irrelevant discussion.
I hope my discussion here has not been irelevant. As for the origin of religion, I like Max Weber's idea. In Sociology of Religion he suggests people had no way of knowing whether the spark came from rubbing together two items of from a supernatural being. It's been a while since I read it, so I may have the details wrong, but you may get the idea.
I mentioned the God spot above. In my observation, this part of the brain is not equally active in all humans. I can often pick out people who have a very strong connection with "the spiritual." However, some people whom I have thought to have spiritual experiences profess not to have them. All the same, they tend to be very respectful of people different from themselves, open to learning new ideas and to changing their minds when/if new information comes in. This suggests that there is a range of "spirituality."
My studies in anthropology also made me aware that not all people have the same level of access to the spirit world, not all medicine men are equally "powerful." This agrees with the OT where some men were considered true prophets and others were considered false prophets.
When I put all of this together, I come up with the idea that religion originated from these two facts:
- humans needed an explanation for why inexplicable things happened
- very spiritual people (in terms of the god spot) "knew" there was more to life than could be sensed via the five senses