Please set aside a few minutes of your time and let me tell you a story.
Every few years I look back and am amazed at how differently I look at the world. Even looking back at some of the stuff I submitted here, I just don't think the same way anymore. I may be wrong; I have been many times before, but I feel that dA reinforces an unproductive view of oneself. Honest criticism is met with bitterness, and the view that it is okay to wallow in your own pathetic unhappy world is fostered. There are a lot of people on this site who need help, and not in the form of artistic ass pats.
However, this is not what I wish to discuss. I want to talk to you about superstition. I have recently adopted an atheistic view on life, and I would like you to experience the freshness this new take on the world has brought to my life.
There were always parts of my belief system that didn't add up for me, but I chalked it up to the notion that God was "beyond human comprehension". I figured that religion couldn't possibly be wrong if so many millions of people had trusted it for so many thousands of years. I had role models who to this day I still have a great deal of respect for who made a very positive impression on me as believers. However, there were a few incidents in my life that gave me the environment and opportunity to reconsider why I believed what I did.
This story begins at a camp I once attended. I understand now that when you're surrounded by people who all share the same views as you, they don't seem that strange. I participated in encouraging young children to adopt a world-view that was massively beyond their comprehension at that age. It takes a great person to be able to admit how little they know, and although I won't be bold enough to claim greatness, I will insist that I knew very little then, and am just beginning to open my eyes now. You see, I was fired from this camp for a mistake I made. I was let go, and rightly so, because I broke the terms of my employment. What struck a chord with me though was the split between how I felt the situation would have been dealt with from a religious perspective and from a work/job perspective. I could understand firing me as an employee, but I couldn't understand the unforgiving coldness, the way my coworkers spoke about me after I left, the way those people I knew cut all contact with me and treated me like I had become a villain overnight. I had always been taught how Jesus offered his cheek to his enemies, how God forgave anyone who asked, and how even the tax collectors and prostitutes could find peace by turning to God, and here I was rejected by that very community for a silly trivial slip up. I didn't understand why. Strike 1.
The next major step on this road to rationalism happened a few years later. I entered university where I fully intended to become a doctor, only to almost flunk and rediscover my true interests in ecology and psychology. It was in this little niche of biology that I encountered a method of thinking known as the Scientific Method. Here was a process of deduction by which you could propose an idea, devise a method of testing it, revise it, and obtain greater knowledge about the world through it. It was okay to be wrong, it still meant a greater understanding and the advancement of knowledge. I really liked this line of thinking, and I could see how it had generated great advancements in modern medicine, technology and warfare, understanding the human mind, and so on. I was still religious at the time but I could see how this process had become so useful for explaining our physical world. I am not a person who likes to contradict themselves, but I didn't feel any cognitive dissonance holding the views of both science and religion at once. I told myself that Science explains the HOW questions of existence, and Religion explained the WHY. But it did plant more seeds of doubt in my mind, because I knew there were those out there who considered religion to be an explanation of both the how and why, and I knew we couldn't all be right, especially since so many religious people were insistent that they were the ones with the correct system of belief. We'll call that Strike 2.
That's when it all began to unravel. I'm not sure what started it, but I think what finally convinced me to take a closer look at religion was actually religious people themselves. All around me in the media were examples of very opinionated people of faith, making decisions about the world based on their religious views. I read about radical Christians protesting at the funerals of gays, and I thought back to reading about Jesus having dinner with lepers. I learned about abortion and put myself in the shoes of a raped young woman. I tried to understand the suffering of a terminally ill cancer patient. I read about the rapture and wondered why we would bother to care about the environment if it was true. I heard about creationism and its insistence that the world is 6000 years old. Amidst these and many other issues, I began to wonder how much of a Christian I really was. These certainly didn't seem like the believers I knew, but yet they were quoting lines from that same book I was taught Sunday School lessons from. So I began to investigate. I took a look at these "WHY" explanations for our universe, to see if they really had some merit. I read and I researched, I wondered and I considered possibilities.
What I found was that my world view had more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese.
I couldn't explain why there was evil in the world. I couldn't wrap my head around why a perfect God felt the need to create us. I didn't understand why we only followed some rules in the bible and not others anymore. I looked in the Bible and found that the God I believed in was, to use someone else's words: "arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully." (R. Dawkins). The dissonance was starting to add up. I was never a big believer in fortune-telling, astrology, fate, or anything else that is "beyond this world". Why was I making an exception for this one thing?
What I came to realize is that as humans, we are very uncomfortable with two things: major change, and being proven wrong. Even worse when the two happen at the same time. I was bending over backwards to explain away the inconsistencies of my belief system, trying to hold on to the benefits of the group membership that came with calling myself a member of a specific sect of Christianity (including a job as an organist). If someone had come up to me and said "Sorry Roo, you're wrong. This is the way it really is." I would probably not have changed my mind, and perhaps made even more elaborate explanations for what I thought I knew. But I didn't. I took a very important lesson from science, and that was that it was okay to be wrong. I was wrong. I saw that there was no more evidence for the religious explanation for why we're all here than any other explanation... none had any documentable physical evidence. I came to the realization that we know nothing at all toward answering the question of "WHY" we exist. I knew that religion couldn't explain the how part, but now the bottom had fallen out of my why question too.
We hate not knowing why we exist. Our brains were built to function in a cause-and-effect world where one action results in another, and you can ask the question 'why' something happened very easily. Our brains are only now beginning to comprehend the world on a cosmic scale, a scale where we know so little and where that simple cause-and-effect reasoning doesn't always work. Maybe asking 'why' isn't even an appropriate question regarding the universe. When you begin to comprehend just how infantesimally small our existence and little slice of the universe is, it only raises more questions. Why would God have created all that wasted space? Why would a perfect God design an imperfect world? Why would God only reveal himself to specific members of our race in cryptic whispers instead of just telling it to each of us straight out? What about people who live their whole lives and never even hear of God? The possible questions are endless.
We each have our own reason for believing or not believing in God, and the stance you had before reading this is not going to be different by the time you finish reading this. I'm not going to be able to sway you one inch. For some, God fills a niche that we can't fill any other way, such as having a person there who is always listening, who always loves us, and who will forgive us no matter what we do that is wrong; but that in no way reflects back on the legitimacy of His existence. To this day, I've never told my parents or grandparents about how I feel about this; I may never do so. But I thought I would share with you the path that I have recently taken so that you might stop and take a second look before settling back in to your cozy and much more comfortable already established belief system.
There has never been a more exciting time to be alive, and I intend to seize every moment of it. People often talk about Pascal's wager, believing in God because if you're wrong, the alternative is much worse. How about this: if you DO only have one life here on Earth, and you spend your life anticipating what is to come in the next, and are wrong, you have wasted the only life you will ever have.