Paradise Lost

Recently, I experienced an epiphany. Well not really an epiphany. More like a shift in reality. I am an atheist but I hadn’t explored all that that meant beyond the realization that I no longer believed that God exists. For awhile, coming to terms with this startling revelation was really all I could handle. Imagine the feeling you had when you learned Santa Claus was a myth and the fact that your parents used that myth to bribe you into being good all those years. Now multiply that by a hundred and you’ll get an idea of what it is like to “lose faith”.

For the last two months, I’ve been spending a lot of time on the other side of the railroad tracks with the good folks at Internet Infidels and American Atheists. I’ve visited a myriad of atheist’s blogs and forums trying to get a handle on “our” issues. I’ve learned that Christians and Muslims are united in their hatred of atheists though Jews tend to be more tolerant. According to a blog by a Jewish atheist, Judaism has the highest rate of defectors to non-belief. I think it has to do with the fact that they encourage their members to think for themselves even at the risk of losing them.

We are also discriminated against just as much if not more than women and minorities. In America, the general consensus is that atheists are unpatriotic, immoral, mean spirited, delusional, subhuman baby killers. Even the President of the United States doesn’t think atheists should be considered citizens.

So being an atheist in our current theistic flavored culture is tantamount to being a witch in Salem Massachusetts in the 1690’s. But even if I wanted to, I cannot go back to being a God believer. It would be like trying to convince myself that Cinderella was a true story and if I wished hard enough my fairy godmother will appear and hook me up with a better life.

Instead I choose to move forward and reconstruct that part of my identity that had been shattered when I realized all I had believed in was false. Now that the worst of the emotional storm has passed, I am left with the unenviable task of examining my beliefs and discarding those that make no sense whatsoever and using the rest to come up with a personal code of conduct that will help me navigate through life.

My paradigm shift was inspired by the sudden awareness that I was hanging onto a belief in an afterlife. Christianity teaches that as long as one believes in Jesus Christ and tries to follow the tenets of the religion, then one will be rewarded with a place in Heaven where everyone looks like Jessica Simpson, you can eat all the chocolate you want without consequence and Futurama was never cancelled.

But the concept of Heaven is a byproduct of a belief in God (and a benevolent one at that) and since I no longer believe God exists there is no reason to believe that when I die the essence that make me ME will separate from my physical form and ascend to some palace in the sky. Nor is there evidence that we reincarnate into another life as the Buddhists believe.

Buddhism, which is an atheistic religion in the sense that there is no God figure, believes that when we die we are reborn into another life to work off all the bad Karma we incurred in our current and previous lives. But something the Raving Atheist said, however, underlines the point I’m about to make.

“But I do believe that my genetic, mathematical identity was set at conception. That is not some fantasy or superstition. To have destroyed that clump of cells would have destroyed me, forever, and my only chance at existence.” Source: Raving Atheist.

He goes on to say (paraphrased by me of course) that never will this specific combination of cells reoccur and he’s right. People are like snowflakes. From a distance they all look the same but close examination reveals that each one has a unique construct of physical, mental, emotional and chemical characteristics. Even if my “soul” was released at death and infused into another body, I would not be the same person. I would be born to a different set of parents in a different time period and under different circumstances. All of those characteristics that makes me who I am would be changed.

Not only that, it is highly unlikely that I would retain any memory of having lived before. Therefore this life is the only one that “I” (meaning this unique set of variables) gets. When the fat lady sings, it’s over.

I realize that that is the appeal of religion. A finite existence is a terrifying thought. To believe that you only get one shot at life has been known to induce psychotic episodes in some people. It is also very painful to think that when a love dies, we will never see them again and it is unthinkable that a person who commits a crime and is not caught will never be punished for it. So we invent these stories of Heaven where we meet up with old friends and lovers and we get to do all of the things we wanted to do on Earth but never had the time. And for our enemies we dream of a place called Hell where they are judged, sentenced and eternally punished for their crimes.

Like a skilled magician this sense of infinite tomorrows lulled me to believe the illusion where the lady balances precariously on the tip of the sword. But the fact is there are hidden wires keeping her afloat and one slip could be devasting. There is no evidence that there is life after death and it really is an act of mental masturbation to subscribe to the belief that there is in that such a belief, in my humble opinion, serves no other purpose than to make the believer feel good.

For me, the thought of a finite life is liberating and motivating. Liberating because there is no reason for me to wait to do the things I want to do and motivating because, if I’m lucky, I’ll get 75 years. In the history of the world, that is nothing but a blink of the eye. Much too short and precious to be mired in irrelevancy. I commit to living in this life for in the words of the immortal Porky Pig, “That’s all folks”.