18 April 2013

I just don't think god is necessary for living a good life.

In my last post I talked about how most conversations pertaining to religion with an atheist (this includes talking to other atheists) tend to be why we do not believe in the religions we were taught and/or the other available religions in the world. What aspect of each we find ridiculous, immoral, and factually wrong. In all honesty, those conversations are nearly always the same, and I'm sick of them. Why I do not believe in a god or gods is irrelevant to who I am. Why I do not need to believe in a god or gods, however, is an insight into the true depths of the kind of human I am.

So I want to try and explain why I do not need a god, rather than why I do not believe in any religion. Because this isn't a format that I am used to speaking in, or have ever heard/read, I apologize if it still comes across as why I do not believe in Christianity in many parts. I am most familiar with Christianity, so the examples I give will mostly be from that particular faith, though the claims are pretty universal when it comes to mainstream organized religion.

Here are six reasons I do not need a personal god. There are most certainly more than 6 reasons one would not need a personal god, but these are the first six that come to mind. They are anecdotal, yes, because they are about me and how/why I feel this way. They are not arguments for anything, or in any way trying to convince anyone to believe anything or not believe anything. Just a little insight into some of what makes me who I am.

1. I am happier and more confident without god. Growing up a Christian in West Bumblefuck, Georgia meant "knowing" from the moment I was forming cognitive sentences, that no one could be happy without god. No one could be happy, or as happy as possible (how people are capable of quantifying their happiness in order to compare it to other happy people, is pretty fucking pretentious, and beyond me) without knowing that someone with the power to create the universe is watching over you. Watching, judging, waiting to punish you if you step out of line, "reminding" me that I am born a sinner and in need of forgiveness for being born exactly as the god I need forgiveness from created me, and offering a form of forgiveness that is only given if you ask. A god, that for all intents and purposes, loves you. That love is supposedly the only way to be truly happy. You cannot reach peak happiness without feeling the love of that god.

Well, I find that idea to be a bit silly, and cannot express how much happier I became when I let that idea go in the trash along with all of the other bad ideas I gave into as a naive child. Including believing Hunter Ethridge in the 4th grade when he told me lemon pepper made for great cologne. Yeah, I spent a full day telling creepy strangers at the mall I had no idea why I smelled so delicious.

Something I've learned, that contradicts with needing a god's love to be happy, is happiness should not depend on other people. I've observed this and been taught this, and many of those that have instilled this in me have been strong believers in a god, without realizing the contradictions of the two ideas. It's clear the idea of depending on anyone or anything other than yourself for happiness is lazy. The key, for me, is to find happiness in myself through the choices I make and actions I take. As far as the love of others goes, my happiness is not dependent on them, regardless of how affected by it I may sometimes be. This is why I choose to surround myself with people I can be happy alongside rather than people that I depend on to be happy or that depend on me to be happy.

Not only do I find myself happier taking responsibility for my own emotional well being, but I find myself feeling so free knowing that I am not under the thumb of any deity. I am so very happy and proud of myself for still wanting to be a better person without the idea of reward after death. Actually, I find myself even more motivated to be a better person now that I have let go of the idea of heaven. 

2. Identifying right from wrong is easier without god. In every major theist religion there are rules for being a good person and making that god happy. Many of those rules are good rules, like not killing other people (though these kinds of rules almost always have loopholes). These "good" rules, however, are never more than common sense. The kind of people that need someone to tell them that killing other people is bad, are not very likely to A.) Care, or B.) Have the capability to live on their own and care for themselves.

Many of these rules, however, are silly and/or morally corrupt. Rules about the fabrics you wear, how you cook your food or related to food in general, rules about hairstyle, etc.; are just ridiculous and completely ignored by most sane people. There are those, though, that are morally wrong. Not a matter of opinion, but actually WRONG. Owning slaves is wrong. Owning women is wrong. Beating a child for talking back is wrong. Getting away with rape by paying some money and marrying your victim (which in Christianity says the victim must be a virgin, which seems to be encouraging rapists to go after younger and more innocent women) is FUCKING WRONG. The list goes on to include saying who you can love and how you are allowed to love.

So how does getting over the myth of god help me tell right from wrong more easily? Simple, it allows me to decide for myself what is right and what is wrong. I do not know anyone that openly believes rape is okay under any circumstance. Unfortunately, there are many people that look at the more ignorant and reprehensible rules/laws within their given religion and support it despite how they actually feel about it. I have family and friends that I love dearly, who are opposed to certain civil and human rights simply because their religion says they should be. They have no qualms with those their beliefs affect, and actually love and respect those people up until the point their religious beliefs tell them they can't. This is wrong. It is heartbreaking, and it brings me to my third reason why I do not need a god.

3. Love and Acceptance are actually easier without god. As a believer I was constantly at war with who to love and who to accept, who to judge, and who to reject. I was a Christian, so I was told to love thy neighbor. Love everyone, accept everyone, and judge no one. Only god could judge. Only, the faith I was following and the teachers that were "educating" me in this faith all acted as if the lessons did not contradict the lesson of loving and accepting everyone. I was taught to avoid people of certain opposing faiths (or lack thereof), restrict civil liberties and human rights to those that did not follow certain rules I was told I must follow, and the list goes on. It always goes on.

The thing I noticed the most during my first week of deconversion was how beautiful people were to me. Everyone was so beautiful. Every last person I saw or heard. I truly saw and heard people for the first time the day I realized I did not need a god. It was like having a filter removed from my vision and hearing that let me see people as more than rule followers and rule breakers. Let me hear more than just words wasting my time until it was my turn to speak. People are more than that. So much more. I was able to see the joy and pain in every face I passed, and realized how unimportant those religious rules truly were. People were not sinners; they were not good or bad based on what they believed, or who they loved.

Who they loved.

How could anyone ever think love a bad thing? I was a fool for ever thinking I could define love for anyone but myself. A goddamned fool.

4. I am a better person without god. Without the threat of punishment or reward, the good things that I do are more rewarding. When I believed, no matter how genuine my actions, I still had a thought in the back of my mind wondering if it helped or hurt my chances of getting into heaven. I was more likely to compare myself to other people. I felt the need to push my beliefs onto other people, and justified this with the assumption that there was no way their life could be fulfilling without god.

The fear of punishment was a little motivating as a believer, and was always brought up in church. The fear is always there, even for the most fanatical believer. Especially for the most fanatical believers. But it wasn't the fear that really takes away from good deeds. It is the reward of heaven for being a good person. The very idea of being rewarded for worshipping a god is greedy. It is greed of the worst kind, because it is fighting for a reward so amazing it prevents you from truly enjoying the present. It turns good intentions into brownie points, and clouds judgment to the point of making us feel as if we know what is good, regardless of what those we are affecting think. As a believer I would have voted to take rights away from anyone that did not fall in line with my faith, not because I hated them for not believing what I did, but because I honestly thought it was best for them and they just didn't realize it yet. That was so very wrong. I’m ashamed of having ever had those thoughts.

I'm even more honest without god. Most everyone has doubts of some kind, at least some of the time. My first serious doubts came around age 8 or 9, and I denied them until I was 20. During that time, I did a lot of lying. Which everyone does, I know. My lies, though, I feel now had a lot more to do with my denying my doubts than I thought possible back then. Once I admitted to myself that there was probably no god, I felt this feeling of relief and joy I had never felt before. It felt like what so many believers had told me the Holy Spirit felt. Only, the cause of my feelings was not caused by a placebo, but by me being completely honest with myself for the first time in 12 years. I openly admitted something I had been hiding for over a decade, and it felt amazing. Since then I have strove to be as open and honest about everything as I possibly can, and it has helped me become a better person. A much happier person, and the best Jason I have ever been.

5. I am smarter as an atheist. I know it sounds arrogant to say, and can be taken as a ridiculously pretentious assumption. It’s true, though. I'm not saying myself or any other atheist is smarter than anyone else that isn’t an atheist. I’m not even saying I’m a very smart person. All I am saying, is that Atheist Jason is smarter than Christian Jason, and Christian Jason would have never come close to obtaining the same knowledge, insight, and genuine curiosity that I have as an atheist.

It is my admitting to myself that there is no god that allowed me to admit that there are probably lots of things I did not know or that were probably not true, which eventually lead me to realizing that the amount of things I do not know is infinite. Realizing these things lead me to realizing all of my questions that had previously been answered with “god” no longer had answers. This is what lead me to reading more, learning more, and craving more knowledge in general. It pushed me to talk with more intelligent people about things I didn't know. It created discussions about things I would have never discussed, and that required me to do more than spout off a response that I thought sounded clever, but had nothing to back it up beyond my own misinformed opinion.

If you want to know the difference between Christian Jason and Atheist Jason, just talk to someone that knew me before I was kicked out of High School. I was not known for being very intelligent, at least not by very many people, and especially not by me. Today I am still no genius, but I'm not an idiot. I’m not known as an idiot. The friends I make and the women I date all mention my intelligence (don't even act like you haven't asked anyone the same thing) as the biggest reason for wanting to get to know me. Christian Jason was always told it was because he was "goofy."

Had I not let go of the idea of a god, I would not have had the same drive to learn and expand upon my knowledge. I know this is not the case for everyone, and being an atheist isn't going to make anyone instantly smarter or more driven. It did improve me, though. It took away my excuses for not learning. It took away my excuses for being lazy. It introduced me to people that inspired me to expand my mind, rather than shut my eyes to reality by telling me that everything that contradicts the existence of god is a lie by Satan that is merely testing my faith.

Being an atheist has taught me more about myself and the universe I live in than I could have ever learned in any religious text. Not because there is no knowledge within religious texts, but because there is no end to the knowledge outside of them.

6. There is no positive ideal/moral/value/philosophy that is unique to any religion. There really isn't much more to say about this one beyond that one sentence. There are good things within most every religion, be it a monotheistic or polytheistic faith. There is no denying that fact. There isn't  however, any one idea in any religion that would not or could not exist outside of that religion. People can debate what is positive and what is not, but I have yet to find anything positive in any religion that is not simply a quality of a good person.

So, that’s it. I could go on forever with this, but who really has time to read all of that? Who would really care? The bottom line is there probably is no god, and I am okay with that, because a god isn’t necessary for living a good life as a good person.

11 April 2013

Ask me about my wein -- errr... atheism. I meant atheism.

I am an outspoken atheist from a small town on the border of Georgia and Alabama. Because of this, the majority of those I know and care for have strong religious convictions that encourage them to talk religion with me. More often than not, those that I am approached by are Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses (I am not counting the door knockers). I am rarely approached by Jewish, Muslim, or Mormon friends/strangers (outside of door knockers, which I am not counting) that wish to discuss religion, and I am not sure why to be honest. I suppose I just do not know as many of them. 

In all of  the times that I have been approached by strangers and loved ones that hold a religious belief, not once have they ever wanted to talk about atheism. What it is like living without god. Why I am happier as an atheist, or even if I am happier. Often they will incite a discussion under the guise of curiosity about atheism, but the moment the conversation starts, they go from feigning curiosity to simply waiting for their turn to talk so they can say, "Well, you know the Bible says..." followed by some cliche line, common sense statement, or twisted interpretation they think will relate enough with me to say, "Hey! I think shooting children in the face is wrong too! Maybe I was wrong about this whole religion thing, gee golly pumpernickel pop," or do their best to convince me that I subconsciously believe and am only saying I don't because of traumatic experiences.

By the way, the assumption and accusation that I could only be an atheist if I experienced some kind of trauma that just made me angry is insulting in ways I cannot even begin to explain. If you are a Christian or any other believer in a higher power, and you think like this, stop it. Stop it right fucking now. You may not realize it, but you are basically telling us we are petulant children throwing a tantrum. Idiots incapable of independent thought or self discovery. It is patronizing, infuriating, and shows a total lack of interest in the truth or who we are. I have never, not once, met a single atheist that claims trauma and anger as their reason for leaving their religion. Some may have had trauma or mistreatment give them reason to question and research, but it was not the reason. A catalyst is not a reason. Remember that.

So, back to the point of this post, all religious discussions end up being me debating with the believer in ways that feel like a competition to see who knows the most about THEIR belief system. The thing is, I have stopped trying to learn more about their religion[s], because I do not believe in them. I do not want to waste my time trying to learn more about something I do not believe in, just to explain to other people why I do not believe in it. It’s ridiculous. I do not need to justify or explain why I do not believe a fantastical claim that lacks ANY actual evidence. On top of that, not once has any of them shown any attempt at understanding atheism. At most, there will be one or two that claim to have been atheists or agnostic at one time, and then attribute that time to being angry at the world or god or just following a fad. These people are often the ones that are the most positive that trauma is why we do not believe, while often stating that they found Jesus BECAUSE OF A TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE (What do you know? The trauma argument comes full circle).

Just once I would like to have someone actually show an interest in why I deconverted and/or what MY atheism is, and not because they want to try and reverse it. Someone with an honest curiosity. You know, besides other atheists. We seem to be the only ones interested in why and how we came to where we are, and our stories are mostly the same. We often come from different levels of previous religious belief, but almost all of us have an increased knowledge and understanding of our previous religion as the reason we stopped buying into them. A sense of truth over comfort, which surprisingly enough, is more comforting than the comfortable lie we were force-fed as children. But more importantly than why or how we got to where we are, is who we are now. What things do we believe? What motivates us? Excites us about life? Where does our passion lie? Instead of throwing verse after verse at us in hopes of proving we misread something, ask us what we feel is a better alternative to religion for gaining the same benefits you are telling us you get from your faith.

My name is Jason Caldwell. I am 30 years old and have been openly atheist for 10 years. I do not care about the things I do not believe in, and do not owe anyone an answer for why I do not believe outlandish claims. I do not reject truth to protect my ego, and I do not need to believe in a supreme being to be a good person. I do not believe there is anything positive for humanity that is unique to religious faith. I enjoy sharing and learning what others believe and do not believe, but I do not enjoy being denied the courtesies that I give in discussions about personal beliefs and ideals. I am open about everything, and I do not filter my opinions to coddle the beliefs of others, nor do I expect or want anyone to filter their beliefs to coddle me.

Go ahead, ask me about my atheism. Ask me why I do not need religious faith.