Lately, I’ve been in several online debates about religion and spirituality vs atheism and science. There seems to be this overall misunderstanding about atheism supposedly being somehow bleak, depressing and empty. That we are lacking something that is intrinsic and necessary. I really feel the need to address this, as it is simply not true.
Atheists have the exact same depth of emotion that any believer has. Why? Because we’re human, and emotion is something we have whether or not we believe in “something else”. We love just as deeply. We hurt just as hard. We get the same sense of wonder and awe in nature. If we see something truly beautiful, it can bring us to tears. We don’t just throw out our emotion and our compassion when we discard a belief in a deity. We’re still human.
If we are in nature, we feel a sense of home. We feel a connection. Nature is what we genetically evolved from and it is literally and physically and genetically our family. Of course we feel something there. It’s where we belong. The animals and the plants evolved from the same ancient genetic ancestors that we did. Go back far enough and we are cousins to all life. That connection is in every cell. No belief of any kind alters this.
We have the same love for our families, spouses, mates, etc. that any believer has. We love them no less. We savor our time with them and when they are gone, we miss them just the same. Since we find it unlikely that they continue in some form, we cherish our time with them even more.
We are not less compassionate or kind than a believer. In fact, I feel that I am far more compassionate as an atheist than I ever was when I was immersed in spirituality. Back then, I believed that everyone chose to be in whatever situation they were in and that they would simply reincarnate, so whatever happens here is really no big deal. Now, when I see a person suffering, I wish to help. I wish to see if I can alleviate their suffering, because why let them suffer just because “Hey, reality is whatever we perceive, and they could just choose to perceive differently. I mean, they’re just not spiritually evolved, and if they were they’d know better.”
I was such an arrogant asshole. I was indifferent and felt like this is all just an illusion, so whatever happens here, so what. Plus, I could always get out of owning up to how I affected others by saying that I was “processing my stuff” and they should understand that. Yet, how was this being understanding of others? I was so focused on “my path” and the idea that I had to focus on myself to that I could be a better help to others “later on, when I’m more enlightened.” Of course, self-improvement, spiritual or not, is a never-ending thing, so I could just be an asshole indefinitely. After all, we’re all one, so they’re me and it’s okay that this other part of myself is suffering as it’s teaching some other part of myself a lesson somehow. In the end, their suffering is ultimately beneficial to all, right?
Now, when I hear of some tragedy somewhere, it inspires more compassion and caring than it did before. I never gave to charity until I started losing my belief in all that. When I was just starting to really question my spiritual beliefs, Hurricane Katrina happened, and I thought about all those who were displaced and who lost loved ones and the suffering they must be enduring. It got right into my heart. Rather than chalk it up to “it’s their lessons,” I donated money to Oxfam to help someone, somewhere, get food and medicine. It’s befitting an adage I now hold dear to my heart: “Hands that help are better than hands that pray.” All the lofty words in the world aren’t going to fill their bellies or heal their wounds.
An atheist’s life is full in every way that any believer’s is because we also have friends, family, lovers, and there will always be more to learn about the fascinating universe we live in. Heck, we’re still learning a lot about our own planet. Scientists are not lacking in imagination or creativity. They simply apply their imagination and creativity into discovering more about how things work. They, more than most, have retained their childlike wonder of the universe. They still jump for joy when they make a new discovery. They delight in the fascination of nature. There is more than enough in the “mere” physical world to provide endless inspiration and self-improvement. We non-believers lack for nothing in these areas.
Ours is not a cold, bleak, grey, emotionless world of logic and robotic rationality. We are human too. We are all just as human as anyone else. Whether one believes some creator is behind all this or not, we still inhabit the same universe. If we eventually find that we are able to demonstrate “something else”, then cool. If we never do, we are no less human and no less capable of the full spectrum of experience life has to offer.
After all, in the end, there is nothing a person with a belief in a deity can do in this life that a person without such a belief can’t do. If such beliefs bring comfort, strength, fulfillment or whatever, then fine. However, the person without those beliefs is no less of a person and is no less capable than a believer of all things good or bad. If the way we live is ultimately a choice between love or fear, the choice is still the same for everyone. A lack of belief is nothing to fear. A person who does not believe is still full of love. Same species, same planet, same potential, no matter what.
© 2015 William Suphan
- Belief vs. Evidence
- Born-Again Atheist