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I'm an atheist. There, I've said it.

It's been a while since I've posted on the subject, but I continued my soul-searching and found that my faith slowly evaporated in the face of reason. While I'm always open to reassessment in light of new data, I now consider myself an atheist.

It's been a gradual transition, driven more by introspection and research (religious history, cosmology, emergent behavior, AI, quantum physics, etc.) than by any traumatic "I've-now-lost-my-faith-in-God" event. Interestingly (to me, anyway), coming to the conclusion that I no longer believe in the Divine was less of a personal journey than learning to accept the fact and integrate it into my world view has been. It wasn't long ago that I strongly self-identified as a Catholic (however errant), and I still feel a certain fealty to the Church even though I no longer subscribe to most of its teachings. To watch my entire concept of the universe and my place in it collapse has been disorienting to say the least, and at times outright stressful. I used to consider atheists to be the bad guys, after all!

On the plus side, I've found that my overwhelming sense of awe and wonder about the universe and those who inhabit it hasn't diminished one whit, and I take enormous comfort in that.

To be clear, my belief system (or lack thereof) does not constitute an admonishment of anyone else's beliefs. To the extent that others' beliefs don't infringe upon me and mine or inhibit progress I welcome them and the color they add to the human experience. I could be wrong. I don't know everything, but I do know that it's wrong to force one's beliefs onto others. Discuss, debate, and educate, but in the end it's up to every individual to decide for themselves what the universe means to them and where they fit into it.

I also hold no grudge or vendetta against any religious institution or practice (again, so long as it doesn't stand in the way of human progress). I'm not planning on changing the way I celebrate any holidays, `cuz religious significance aside they're still an integral part of my culture. I still say "bless you" when people sneeze and I still truly wish them well. I'm still willing to go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, though admittedly it's not at the top of my list. I guess that last part isn't really a change. ;-)

I think the hardest part of this all has been dealing with the question "what if I'm wrong?". Christianity preaches a dire outcome for non-believers, after all. Again, in light of research and reason the threat of Hell has largely lost its validity. I did some historical research on the concept of Hell, and was surprised to find that as a meme it has been continuously evolving since some of the earliest European mythology, often incorporating concepts taken from known works of fiction, and later espoused as Truth.

After that it's been a matter of transitioning my entire ethical structure from one with an external focus to one with an internal focus. Though I never really spoke of it with anyone (I found myself ill-equipped to even begin a conversation on such subtle and abstract concepts while simultaneously processing them without getting lost in my own thoughts), this was an uncomfortable journey that ended with me in pretty much the same place I started. I find that in the end my concept of what's right and what's wrong isn't significantly different now that it's no longer informed by divine providence. I'd say now that my ethical paradigm fairly closely follows some subset of Utilitarianism as its ideal, while in practice there's a good handful of hedonism thrown in as well 'cuz, 'ya know, I'm still a lazy hormonal meatbag and all. (BTW, that Wikipedia entry is great stuff. I highly recommend it.)

Building one's own ethical framework provides an opportunity for a lot of granular introspection and philosophical self-discovery that might not happen when subscribing to a ready-made ethic. For example, it allowed me to realize why I've always reacted so negatively to the idea of selfishness as "the only real virtue," or why I wish Ayn Rand was still alive so I could punch her in the nose. ;-)

Anyway, enough of the rambling. You all get the point. I'm still working out a few minor details, but I've gotten to the point where I'm now comfortable with the world I see around me again. Feel free to comment, congratulate, or condemn as you see fit. Feel free to debate as well, if that is your wish, but unless you are one of the 3 people who gave me detailed responses on LJ waaaay back when I was actively soliciting them (my eternal thanks if you are), or the handful of people who spoke with me in person (again with the muchas gracias) expect my first question to be "Why didn't you speak up when I was looking for counsel?". ;-)

*whew* There. That didn't hurt a bit. :-)


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 15th, 2006 04:45 pm (UTC)
Why did you expect that to hurt? I suspect that if I were to outline my religious beliefs, I would have said almost the same thing you did. I think my thoughts on being a non-believer are worth mentioning? *really* briefly...if you follow an ethical path because you believe in "doing the right thing", isn't that worth more to an omniscient deity than following out of fear or to get a reward?

Oh...my excuse on "Why didn't you speak up" is that I am not an avid LJ reader. Guess it never came up in converstation when I've been in town!
Mar. 15th, 2006 08:46 pm (UTC)
I think my thoughts on being a non-believer are worth mentioning?

For me it's the change that makes it post-worthy. It's a non-trivial milestone in my life.
As to the "why didn't you speak up" thing- it wasn't meant to come across in a defensive or accusatory way. It's not something that I discussed much in person, mostly because my thought processes on the subject tended to proceed slowly and cautiously, which lends itself more to writing than a conversation.
Mar. 15th, 2006 04:49 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful journey you have been on :)

One of my favorite athiests once gave me this piece of advice: Instead of saying 'Bless you' or 'God bless you' when someone sneezes, he thinks that an athiest should instead say 'Die, Bitch, Die!'.

Fritz and I do this all the time now, and it's quite a bit of fun.

Oh, and the proper response back, is to simply say 'Fuck you!'.

Mar. 15th, 2006 08:49 pm (UTC)
LOL! Funny thing- I've been trying to adopt "SHUT UP!" as an appropriate response to sneezing among the Smoosh (not for any theological reasons- just 'cuz it's funny and would shock outsiders). I haven't gotten much buy-in, but Janet has said it a couple of times when I've sneezed and it's always made me laugh.

As always, leave it to you to take it to the next level. :-)
Mar. 15th, 2006 05:09 pm (UTC)
know what, if youre wrong youre wrong. just live a good life and enjoy it. thats what i think the meaning of life is. which is all the divine/god/creator really wants, at least thats what i think
Mar. 15th, 2006 08:52 pm (UTC)
Can't argue with you there, bro. I think that the obligation to be a good person is incumbent on all people, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Mar. 16th, 2006 12:13 pm (UTC)
i dont want to be a good person, i just want to be me
Mar. 16th, 2006 02:40 pm (UTC)
I would hope that the two go hand in hand! Given the likelihood that they don't, however, I have to suspect that maybe Trogdor is right about you after all. :-P

Mar. 15th, 2006 05:56 pm (UTC)
Welcome, friend. Guard that open mind well, and know you're not alone.

You mention Utilitarianism, linking to an article; by reflex I mention and link to Raymond Smullyan's classic article "Is God a Taoist?". I recommend it if you haven't already encountered it; it find it quite entertaining, and perhaps even a little illuminating. How much you may want to absorb or simply sit back and laugh at is, of course, up to your own free will. - ZM
Mar. 15th, 2006 08:59 pm (UTC)
Ooh! I hadn't read or heard of it. I'll definitely check it out.

Many thanks.
Mar. 15th, 2006 09:38 pm (UTC)
Wow. Just... wow. That's brilliant. Thank you so much. It's both entertaining and enlightening. :-)
Mar. 16th, 2006 07:19 am (UTC)
My pleasure. - ZM
Mar. 16th, 2006 09:46 am (UTC)
Heh.. it's the wiggle explained in the Socratic method! Excellent! :D
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 15th, 2006 10:01 pm (UTC)
And if not, well, there's always Alcor
It never hurts to have a backup plan!

I agree that there are definite benefits to forming one's own ethical framework, but at the same time I wouldn't discount the idea that more "classical" religious institutions can, if not misused, be enormously beneficial. Like all things there are potential boons and potential hazards. Like you I hope that everyone finds whatever works best for them and to the greatest overall benefit.

I know I felt much better once I decided what I truly believed
I couldn't agree with you more! (and I'm happy for you!) The friction created by dissonance between one's espoused ethical system/world view and what one reasons/feels to be right and true can be painful, and possibly even damaging. By "outing" myself here I think I'm bringing closure to my own internal conflict.

This is not to say that I never had genuine faith in my religion (Catholicism). I very definitely did for a significant portion of my life. The gulf formed slowly, and grew to where I could no longer in good conscience claim that my faith was based on anything other than fear of letting go or being wrong. As I said in a post a long time ago, if there is a God then I think that he would hold in higher regard someone who was honest about their contrary beliefs than someone who went through the motions duplicitously. Put another way, I can choose my actions, but I can't make myself believe in something. Either I do or I don't.
Mar. 16th, 2006 07:25 am (UTC)
...if there is a God then I think that he would hold in higher regard someone who was honest about their contrary beliefs than someone who went through the motions duplicitously.

"Companions the creator seeks, not corpses, not herds and believers. Fellow creators the creator seeks - those who write new values on new tablets."

- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Mar. 16th, 2006 02:32 pm (UTC)
Hmmmm... I'm guessing you've thought all this through long ago? ;-)
Mar. 16th, 2006 06:28 pm (UTC)
Pretty much. Well, that and I just really like the quote. It's used in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, which I'm presently addicted to. - ZM
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Mar. 16th, 2006 02:31 pm (UTC)
Death is a useless loss and I want to stop it! I think you reached that conclusion long before you even started your journey.
True enough.

I just wanted to share that with you and let you know that I love you.
Thanks, sweetie. Despite our having discussed this topic at some length I still posted with a bit of trepidation over the possible reactions from my smooshlings.
Mar. 16th, 2006 06:29 pm (UTC)
Okay, I'll bite: could you provide a definition of 'smooshling'? I want to know if I should start using that word. - ZM
Mar. 17th, 2006 05:28 am (UTC)
lol! Probably not. :-)

As you're probably aware from reading my LJ, femetal, redheadlass, zensidhe, and I have a "polyfidelitous quad" relationship. We needed a shorthand to refer to ourselves in conversation. We considered calling ourselves "Clan McNulty", but it was taken and besides, none of us are actually named McNulty. ;-)

We settled on referring to ourselves as "The Smoosh". It's cute, implies a certain cuddly affection, and fairly accurately describes the situation of squeezing four adults into a bed together that we deal with most weekends.

If collectively we are The Smoosh, then individually we would each be smooshlings. (I'm not sure if that should be capitalized or not.)

Now you know! :-)
Mar. 16th, 2006 07:23 am (UTC)
I still say "bless you" when people sneeze and I still truly wish them well.

I tend to stick to "Gesundheit", as it carries the wish for health with no religious significance whatsoever. =)

Congrats on finding your path.
Mar. 22nd, 2006 03:03 pm (UTC)

You'll find very few athiests who are intolerant of your religious background. But you will also find many religious believers who are intolerant if not hostile to athiests.

So it goes.

However, I still think your whacky for doing crionics.
Mar. 22nd, 2006 07:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I've already seen just a taste of that.

However, I still think your whacky for doing crionics.
Is that the only reason why you think I'm wacky? Wow!

Then again, I do recall you pushing weirdness to Beeblebroxian levels from time to time. ;-)

Either way, I'm always ready to discuss/debate cryonics. I've got a post brewing in the back of my head on the subject, Hopefully I'll post it soon.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )