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Godless Solace


SairB
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One of the hardest things for me in deconverting has been letting go of the notion of an afterlife, and the idea that my life is given meaning through having some higher spiritual aspect that will live on after my body dies.

 

When I had finished reading The God Delusion, the one question I really wanted to ask was, "Where do you find hope in a godless universe?"

 

Does a lack of belief in gods mean that you also have to give up believing in some kind of spirituality? I don't know. I have yet to decide whether or not I believe that the universe has a spiritual aspect, whatever that means.

 

However, I'm growing towards a different understanding of what life is about. I am currently reading The Greatest Show on Earth, which I would recommend to anyone. The joy and wonder with which Dawkins writes about the natural world are palpable, and I find myself wondering - does life need any other purpose than just itself? And I kind of want to answer, well, no.

 

The idea of reincarnation holds a certain psychological appeal for me, and I suspect for anyone who thinks they've screwed up in life. The notion that we get a second chance is a comforting one, but it's not one that I can just make myself believe in, obviously!

 

However, in a rather more realistic sense, one could say that reincarnation does happen. If it's true that matter can be neither created nor destroyed, only rearranged, then it's reasonable to suppose that the molecules that make up our bodies will go to make up other bodies in due course. Doesn't matter if they're human, or even animal bodies, nor whether our individual consciousness carries on - the point is that all life is connected.

 

I've seen several articles now that say humans are hardwired to believe in something - the need to be part of something larger and more significant than ourselves is what drives many people to religion. But the thing is, we are already part of something larger and more significant than ourselves, and if only we can let go of the idea that humans are somehow separate and more special than everything around us, we can take great comfort in that fact.

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I really really like what you wrote here

 

I struggle with death - but I always did. Morbid fascination as they say. Whenever I feel frightened by it, it is comforting to remember that every part of me has existed as long as the universe, and will exist until time ends or physics falls apart. I have had to accept that whatever continues after death isn't human and isn't "me" but I have the idea that maybe its something. I hope by the time it happens I am ready to face it and find out.

 

Sometimes I think, wouldn't it be weird (and horrifying) if when we die Jesus is sitting there looking pissed? Is it weird that the smug satisfaction of Christians bothers me the most in this scenario? I think about all kinds of possibilities, oversoul, Valhalla, re-incarnation, nothingness. It will always drive me nuts that there is no certainty. Its not fair after the promises of my childhood.

 

I think I generally believe that something connects us universally after death but I admit that it is wishful thinking more than anything else. Sometimes I can stare into the vast emptiness of space and accept inevitable oblivion. We like to think of ourselves as our own end, but we are but a tiny step in an infinite process. Eventually this whole planet will be consumed and even our memory will be gone forever. But the universe goes on, and because we are a part of it, we will too. In some way.

 

Thats just the pantheist in me talking :D

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I found ;that since gawd was all in my mind, the answer is too. Change your thinking and you change your world.

I have a nasty habit of running past mistakes and current problems over and over in my mind.

My personal trick is when I start to dwell on unpleasant topics, past actions or present dilemmas, I think " what good is this line of thinking accomplishing?" If the answer is, as usual, nothing then I go on to something else.

It took a while to wrap my brain around there being no afterlife, but I figure I wasn't cut out for harps and clouds anyway.

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does life need any other purpose than just itself?

 

SairB,

 

I really appreciate your entire post. Your question about the purpose of life really distills the struggle about mortality and the afterlife into a profoundly simple expression.

 

I don't know that the universe itself has a spiritual aspect. To me the universe seems to be a frightful, hostile yet often times beautiful back drop in which the wondrous yet tragic drama of the human story is played out. I believe it is in the discovery,acceptance and exploration of our humanity that we find what in some sense could be called spirituality.

 

Admittedly this is a somewhat revised definition of "spiritual" from how many define the term. I don't believe in a human spirit, independent of our human bodies, that lives on after we die. I believe that our spirituality lies in the idea that we as individuals with all our experiences - our perceptions of beauty, meaning, significance, love and wonder in the world that surrounds us are significant.

 

As we ponder these experiences and enrich our ability to experience the world we have the chance to grow as individuals. Maybe that "growth" is increasing sensitivity to and compassion for people who are not like us. Maybe that "growth" is an enlarging perspective on the connectedness and interdependence of all people and all living things.

 

Perhaps that growth involves learning to perceive and appreciate each moment as the fullest and richest reality possible - to dwell in the magnificence of sentient existence to such a degree that words will never properly express the power of just learning to "be" in the here and now.

 

 

But the thing is, we are already part of something larger and more significant than ourselves, and if only we can let go of the idea that humans are somehow separate and more special than everything around us, we can take great comfort in that fact.

 

I think the degree to which this is a prominent and powerful reality for you indicates that you have grown or are growing into a level of spirituality that most , at least in the American culture, will never attain.

 

OB '63

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Random thoughts:

 

I suppose on some level, if life has any "purpose", it's to exist and to make more life. I don't think it needs to be more complicated than that. Anything else, any other purpose, is whatever you want to make of it. What do you want your purpose to be, if anything?

 

I don't think that being an atheist precludes being spiritual, it just means one's spirituality is not derived from belief in a deity or the supernatural. It derives from the real world, and from within our own minds. I don't think that makes it any less powerful or meaningful than theist spirituality; in fact I think it makes it more real. The universe is far more fascinating and awe-inspiring to me now that I no longer believe a deity had anything to do with it. It's as if using a deity to explain everything somehow cheapened the universe, like it was too easy an answer for things I didn't know. Reality is way more mindblowing on its own.

 

Once god is out of our lives, by no means do we lose the capacity to feel and experience things deeply. Theists don't hold the monopoly on joy, ecstasy, awe, wonder, or any other dimension of spirituality, though they might claim sole ownership of such things.

 

I like your thought that we aren't really separate from the rest of the cosmos, we're already part of something larger than ourselves. I've been watching old episodes of Carl Sagan's Cosmos lately and was reminded of a couple of mindblowing factoids during the episode on stars and elements: all the hydrogen in the universe came into existence within minutes after the Big Bang, and most of the elements in the periodic table were formed inside stars - carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, gold, iron, those sorts of things.

 

It totally blows my mind to look at my hands, consider what elements they are made of, and realize that the stuff in my body comes from the stars. It blows my mind even more to realize that pieces of my body are as old as the universe itself. And these things are true for every other being on the planet. Consciousness may be a product of the human brain, it may cease when I die, but the body is eternal, in the sense that its component parts have always existed and will continue to exist, in one way or another, until any end to the universe (if such an end comes).

 

Heh. Seems theists have it wrong: it's the material that lasts, not the spiritual...

 

But really, what do I know? As usual I could be full of it.

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I don't think that being an atheist precludes being spiritual, it just means one's spirituality is not derived from belief in a deity or the supernatural. It derives from the real world, and from within our own minds. I don't think that makes it any less powerful or meaningful than theist spirituality; in fact I think it makes it more real. The universe is far more fascinating and awe-inspiring to me now that I no longer believe a deity had anything to do with it. It's as if using a deity to explain everything somehow cheapened the universe, like it was too easy an answer for things I didn't know. Reality is way more mindblowing on its own.

 

 

 

I really like how you put that. At times it's also struck me that many religious people are in fact "cheapening" the glorious nature of not only the Universe and Nature, but what it means to be human. There's still a lot of mystery regarding our existence, and the functions of nature, and I kind of like it that way sometimes.

 

Our life doesn't really have a purpose. Not in the "I have to fulfill this and this and that" sense. It's something to be experienced. Appreciated, and shared. Maybe we would value human life more if we thought about just how precious our short time here is, and then it's gone. Sooner for some, later for others.

 

One consolation I have when I think about my mortality, and the high probability of nothing beyond that is that life will continue on. Even after I'm gone, somewhere a child will still stare at wonder at the night sky; just like I used to do. A cat will lounge lazily on the veranda in the afternoon sun. There will still be pain and sadness at times, but also joy, hopefully for many.

 

It's amazing how religion wants to exclusively link human joy to the total devotion of their God-concept. Sorry, I'm tired of this God, it's demands, it's smarmy superior attitude, it's shallow sense of it's own ego. Sorry.

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I really like how you put that. At times it's also struck me that many religious people are in fact "cheapening" the glorious nature of not only the Universe and Nature, but what it means to be human.

 

It's amazing how religion wants to exclusively link human joy to the total devotion of their God-concept. Sorry, I'm tired of this God, it's demands, it's smarmy superior attitude, it's shallow sense of it's own ego. Sorry.

 

In a very real sense, religion does cheapen human existence - to say nothing of the rest of nature.

 

I've often thought that if there really were a creator god, he/she/it would be deeply insulted by the creationists who think that everything in the world just came to be at the snap of god's fingers, more or less - how simplistic can you get?

 

Personally, I prefer the idea of god the scientist, who set the universe up as a giant petrie dish and has been watching the progress of the experiment ever since - without interfering, of course!

 

To return to my previous point, it's quite ironic, really, that Christians like to talk about the sanctity of human life and yet they believe that human life only has real worth through belief in Jesus, or because of our resemblance to god. Even amongst Christians who believe in evolution, many are quite happy to think that other animals evolved, but still want to cling to the idea that humans were specially created. And I won't even start, here, on the breathtaking arrogance of the idea that the rest of the natural world was made for human use.

 

So who has the greater value for life, I wonder? The Christian who needs a god to give them a purpose, or the atheist who prefers to just be?

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