The journey to Atheism is not an easy one. It involves a lot of careful reflection, discussion and even meditation. Pondering letting go of belief in God means turning away from societal norms and embracing an alternative way of thinking about the world- thoughts based on science rather than mysticism; concrete evidence rather than the supernatural; reason and logic instead of faith. Far from being a simple decision, for many, becoming an Atheist is fraught with emotion and difficulty. While the path to Atheism may be a rocky one, finally arriving at the destination can bring peace and enlightenment through the realization of non-belief.
Many Atheists are raised in religious households, and embracing Atheism means rejecting their family’s wishes. Atheists who grow up in Agnostic or Atheist households obviously don’t have to deal with family pressure, but they still have to face society at large. While attitudes about Atheism are shifting, polls show that the majority of religious people do not trust Atheists and some even have hatred against them. In many countries, Atheists face life-threatening dangers if they “come out” about their non-belief, and many have been murdered for being open about their Atheism.
While most people in the United States do not embrace Atheism, the number of non-believers has grown dramatically in recent years. A PEW study revealed that 20% of Americans now consider themselves Agnostic, Atheist or unaffiliated with any religious group- a staggering increase over past years and the largest percentage in the history of PEW research on the topic.
Many Atheists predict that those numbers will only continue to increase as distrust in religious institutions grows and people become disillusioned with the hierarchy inherent in organized groups of the faithful. Whether or not Atheism will expand in the coming years, many current non-believers feel that accepting Atheism has allowed them to become more peaceful, calm and happy about everything from the fear of dying to how they live their lives day to day.
Monica Young, 33, of Houston, TX talks eloquently about how Atheism has allowed her to let go of her fear of death: “As far as death, it is pretty much, by definition, the end of all pain. Once the physical is gone, the emotional is kapoof. Completely gone. All that is left of you is what people remember,” she says, and explains how Atheism makes her feel that life is just a little better because of her way of thinking: “Days are a little more worth living when you can do something nice for someone else. That grateful smile is a true reward… I believe in people, the human spirit, and that weird thing we have called ‘Hope’.”
Her views on death echo the late Roger Ebert’s sentiments:
I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state.
Tim Myers, 34, of Petoskey, MI prefers to use a different term than Atheism to describe how he views his outlook on life- “I don’t like to use the term ‘Atheist’ because it has drawn so much negative press in recent years. I prefer a little bit kinder term: secular humanist. That really describes my views towards life in general and what my Atheism means to me. In fact, I am an Atheist, and a proud one at that. I do everything and anything I can to aid my fellow man, from volunteering at food pantries to regularly donating blood. That is what Atheism means to me: caring more for my fellow man than some fairy tale.”
Indeed, many Atheists say that by letting go of belief in God, their fellow human beings become much more important. It’s the idea that “this is all we have, so we must make it great.” Believing that includes embracing philanthropy to help humankind, extending goodwill to others and working toward the betterment of society. In fact, studies reflect that Atheists are generally very charitable and that they are more motivated than religious people are to give to charity due to compassion. In an article published in the journal Live Science, researcher Robb Willer explains: “Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not… Overall, this research suggests that although less religious people tend to be less trusted in the U.S., when feeling compassionate, they may actually be more inclined to help their fellow citizens than more religious people.”
Such compassionate giving delivers a great sense of happiness and joy, which can in turn lead to a more peaceful existence and enlightenment. In turning away from belief in the supernatural, the world becomes more concrete, more alive and more real than ever before. People become sacred instead of God, and the “here and now” becomes the single most crucial idea in the mind of the non-believer. That “here and now” thinking leads to treating every person, every interaction and every moment like the most beautiful, delicate and perfect thing imaginable.
Far from feeling disconnected to other people and the universe, many Atheists feel what some would classify as a spiritual integration with the world around them and the cosmos. Neil deGrasse Tyson says:
Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically…It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.
This idea of interconnectedness is very calming to many Atheists, who enjoy reaching out to others with kindness and compassion, and believe that true grace can be achieved in the absence of God.
By: Rebecca Savatio
Source: Live Science
Source: The Week