Archives For March 2013
[A guest post by Justin Acuff]
I’ve been an atheist in the pure defined sense of the word for as long as I can remember, despite being raised in a very conservative household by devout Mormon grandparents. When I was baptized at the age of eight, I distinctly remember everyone talking about the incredible “spirit” (the Lord’s presence in Mormon vernacular) in the room as I, irritated, coughed water out of my throat that had gone up my nose.
I don’t believe in any deity. I never have. Not only do I not, but I honestly don’t understand how any person could, and that lack of understanding is so complete that I don’t even dislike religion. I simply don’t understand it at all, or the people buying into it. Simply don’t get it.
That lack of understanding, however, led to a very different type of understanding altogether; not actively disliking religion or the religious allowed me to look at the institution of churches with objectivity, both seeing the bad — mythical stories that replace scientific fact, institutionalized child molestation, divisiveness, genocide (I’m not saying these are all caused by all religions, just that they are all problems of religion) — and the good.
And make no mistake, atheists, there is good. If you’ve ever been inside of a church congregation joined in song, or if you’ve ever had a feel for the sense of community that shared religious beliefs can have, you’ll know that aspect of the religious community, the sense of belonging and community, is extremely positive.
Atheism doesn’t have that. Well, not in a wide-spread manner. Instead, atheists define themselves based on the lack of belonging, based on the lack of belief. Atheism simply means the lack of belief in any deity, and leaves it at that, but there is so much more to every person, even just that particular facet of each person, than that. I don’t call myself an atheist anymore when people ask what my religious beliefs are. I’ll say I’m nonreligious, or that I don’t care, or if I think they’ll know what I’m talking about, I say Humanist.
When I say Humanist, I mean it in the Greg Epstein borderline-religion sense. A “lifestance,” as certain countries would call it. More than a philosophy and less than a religion.
I don’t have the solution. I don’t know that “atheist churches” are, if only because my experiences in the atheist community indicate that would be looked at generally unfavorably. Other than that, I think it’s a great idea.
Instead of speakers on the Bible, speak about philosophy and scientific advancements. Keep the scientific literacy of the general population higher. Have supplemental classes for kids that encourage working together to solve problems, academic and otherwise. An atheist pulpit would address nothing but social issues and mind-expanding education. Maybe a weekly TED talk on a large screen.
We should celebrate human achievements instead of deity-inspired myths and punishments. There are no miracles; only statistical anomalies. And even if there were, there is no evidence and thus no reason to let it govern our actions. Instead of living to get to heaven, we should cultivate a desire to live to better the world for each other.
The basic point is this: atheists, I agree with you. Yet what are we offering that offers similar benefits?
Justin Acuff is a political writer and editor for Addicting Info,where he has been read over 1.4 million times. He also writes a blog from his website. Visit his Facebook fan page or follow him on Twitter.
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This month I played pallbearer for the fourth time in a little over a year. I grieved with family and friends as we all came to terms with the fact this world would never be the same. The most recent funeral was for my cousin, a sweet mother of four. She was only nine years older than myself. So young. Too young. She had her whole life ahead of her. It really made me think. It made all of us think.
From the beginning I was always consumed with the idea of time. In Sunday School I would asked, “How was God always around?” I’d asked, “How can Heaven last forever?” Eventually I took an existential step backwards. I focused on the more pertinent issues like how much longer until I could get my driver’s license, or how much longer until I graduated from high school. Sometimes I’d retreat back further. “How much longer until this class is over?”
For me, life was always about waiting. Nothing is exactly how it should be at the present moment. Something was missing. Something was incomplete. Life came to represent something I had to get through, survive, endure. What was there to cherish? Who wants to be a kid? Who wants to bum money from their parents? Even after my teens, who wants to work at a dead-end job forever? Who wants to pay these minimum payments on credit card bills forever? Who wants to scrape by? There has to be a better future, a better tomorrow in the horizon.
As a Christian, it was engrained in my psyche from a very early age that “one day” things would all work out. After all, that is the Christian hope, is it not? One day all will be made right. We will find our purpose fulfilled. We will have all that we need. Nothing will be lacking. While this hope would appear to be an optimistic one, it has a troubling side-effect.
A certain procrastination of the soul.
Many take the Christian hope as a free pass. Heaven is forever, so there will always be enough time. Whatever doesn’t get done during this lifetime will be satisfied in the hereafter. We get to catch up with our loved ones. We get to finally resolve our bitterness. We’ll finally be able to forgive everyone who ever wronged us. We’ll probably live next to their mansion anyways (and why should we stay mad? We’re in a mansion).
My adolescent preoccupation with the concept of time caused me to develop a certain anxiety about eternity. I simply could not find peace about it. Eternity? No. I’m sorry. Way too long. It was almost unnecessary. I mean, 1 trillion years of anything is terrifying. Actually, ten thousand years of anything would be plenty eternity for me. After that, blow me up. When I came to realize I didn’t want eternity, it made me slowly come to understand our mortal fixation with the afterlife. Why does humanity demand more than this life?
We don’t feel we have enough time.
There’s never enough time. One hundred years doesn’t seem long enough. Eternity is way more than enough. I suppose we’d rather have more time than not enough time. I think that if we entertain the idea that this life is all there is, we’d have to get off our asses and actually change things. We’d have to take a long look in the mirror. Some would find a certain freedom emerge, while others would see the prison they had constructed. What would you do if today was your last? Scratch that. What would you do with twenty more years? Is that long enough?
The beauty of our life is that it is an opportunity. It is an event. It is happening now, not later. Later is just “now” happening later. Play with your kids. They are kids now, but tomorrow they’ll be a little more grown up. Hug your spouse. They need your affection now much more than tomorrow. Mend that broken relationship now, or you may miss a fleeting miracle.
Get up. Live. It’s about time.