I’ve never been much of a believer. My relatively liberal Christian parents did attempt to walk me on the path of God, but they have never force-fed me religious dogma. My beliefs, interests, what-have-yous have been my own –i.e. not coerced into bearing– since I turned sixteen, all thanks to an understanding pair of mother and father. They had also supported my early interest in science; answering questions or providing materials for inquiries the likes of “how did the world come to be,” “how did we get here,” and so on. Though beginning with the innocent and odd question of “why are bubbles round?” my sense of curiosity have led me to doubt the existence of God, and then throw all possibilities of His presence out the window.
I now stand as an Atheist. The views I have I keep private for two simple reasons. One, in Indonesia, yelling “Allah is a LIE!” on the streets is a surefire way to have your head caved in. Two, there are many believers around me, who I care about, and those who I’d rather have never existed at all. Perhaps the two spheres into which I divide the religious are a tad too extreme; what I mean is that there are individuals whose rights to adopt whatever faith they so choose do no harm unto others, which are the ones I care for, and then live the few who’d behead others for sexing things up before the couple bought a matching pair of rings. My first reasoning is out of the necessity for survival and general well-being, though the second might demand further elaborations.
As I have said, my parents are Christians. They don’t go to church all that often, –usually only on Christmases, Easters, and the rest of the holidays– but they do believe in Yahweh and the nicer things He preached. These two people have obviously been a large influence on my life, and have assured my survival up to this point. The two of them have led quite unorthodox lives, and have suffered losses that would lead other men into doubting the so-called love God has for His children (out of respect for their privacies, I shall not write of these events). And they have had doubts, yet continue to believe. I cannot say for certain what that reason might be, but I can offer a hypothesis: The promise of an afterlife.
Heaven is a much better alternative to outright non-existence. It is the promise of a continuation to our story, with the added benefit of it no longer having risks to our own well-being. Life without fear, regrets, pain, suffering, exists in the imaginary plains of Heaven. Hell, or equivalents of it, exists in all sorts of beliefs, promising an eternity of nothing but misery to the sinners and wrongdoers. Though a never-ending life sentence of torture is a possibility to the religious, I’ve never met anyone who sincerely thought the house of fire and brimstone is where they would ultimately end up in. The less familiar afterlife of reincarnation provides some comfort to our fear of death as well. You may not be who you are, or even still be a human being for that matter, but oblivion is not where you will be.
I understand that people value their lives. I might not appreciate mine as much as I should, yet I do abhor plummeting myself into an abyss of nothingness. It is likely that no one can conceive of such a state as nothing, for imagination is a conscious process which requires life to happen. But even the idea of it, of blinking right out of the everyday joys and sorrows of our lives is unsettling enough to give way for horror stories. The avoidance of death is an instinct that exists throughout all forms of life on Earth, and without it we would not know the meaning of ‘danger.’ The idea of an afterlife provides comfort for a species that can grasp the meaning of death, and it persists to this day for perhaps that very reason.
However, wanting to live for all eternity might sound too pretentious to instill compassion for the Theists. Wishing to live forever does sound a bit egotistical, and shows no form of altruism for others at all. Why should creatures who care naught for the good of others and only for themselves be loved? If the assertion of this question is true, then I would have no answer at all. Truth is, this dimension of self-preservation is just one part of an afterlife’s appeal.
Think back and remember all the men and women you’ve met. Some of them may have turned into casual acquaintances, others friends, a few into romantic partners, and from them there would be those who’d call you “mom” or “dad.” At any point in time, each of these individuals will leave you, or you’ll be the one doing the leaving. Either way, there is a certainty that your time with the ones you cherish will end. And there is nothing you can do to determine when their presence would be snuffed out from your life. When we devote the time to contemplate on the temporariness of it all, especially when we have suffered loss in our lives, maybe we’d like to have a second chance. One moment of mercy where we could meet them again, to relieve ourselves from longing, or to right past wrongs.
The death of a loved one is never easy. However long we’ve known the person, however many beautiful memories he has given us, they are never enough. We’d give and do anything and everything for just one glimpse of his living, breathing face, to hear a single utterance of “I’m okay, and I’m having the time of my life.” Although I reject almost all of the teachings of God, if there is one thing I wish could be true, it is Heaven; a plane of existence where those who I can no longer hug, kiss, talk to, are alive and well –and, if they would be so kind, be willing to impart a few words of forgiveness.
Part of abandoning faith is realizing that there is no afterlife. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, merely darkness. I personally imagine death would feel like the dreamless sleep we never wake up from. I have no idea whether this assertion is true or false, but it serves as a comforter for facing this realistically cynical view of losing every single thing I have. Even then, there is still no hope of seeing my long gone loved ones, and that is a thought that has driven me to depression and a failed suicide attempt. The atheistic view can sometimes be unbearable. The figurehead of Atheism in the Western world, Richard Dawkins, have said that atheists value life more due to acknowledging their mortality. While that is certainly true, an existence without any hope of ever meeting the ones who were taken far too quickly from us may not be for everyone.
When we preach of the nonexistence of God, we are essentially attempting to rob the religious of hope. We Atheists see the world from a secular pair of eyes, and are still able to grasp the beauties that abound around us, but should they? Should he who has been indoctrinated into believing promises of eternal love and warmth suddenly be forced into accepting that all he’s heard are parts of an elaborate lie? That the rules and instructions he’s obeyed and followed have been for nothing? That his mother, father, wife, and children will not be waiting on him in the other side? In some cases the answer might be yes, though –if we are as noble and compassionate as we perceive ourselves to be– clearly not in all circumstances.
I am not trying to defend all bearers of faith. The extremist groups of Al-Qaeda, the Westboro Baptist Church, and other scums of the earth must be extinguished in one way or another. Those I am defending are the ones whose faiths do no harm, who believe for their own sake, and do not feel the need to force the people around them to support their views. These people are guilty of nothing except hope. Why should we mock them in the same way we spit on murderers, hate mongers, and rapists?
Collateral damage is a part of all forms of warfare. And in this war against ideological extremists, innocents are caught in the crossfire more often than necessary. An intolerant atheist –like many on Reddit’s /r/atheism section– may ridicule the faiths of people who go to Churches or Mosques through jokes, without paying the slightest attention on who might be exposed to these potentially hurtful slanders. If we atheists tolerate the aggressiveness of certain members of our coven, who feel the need to ‘enlighten’ all he sees, a splinter group of extremist atheists might just pop up (though this has never happened in history, there has never been a high level of tolerance for atheism as there is today, stimulating an increase in numbers and the possibility of collaboration).
Atheists have seen how innocent little ideas and minor preachings turn to fuels for warfare and bigotry. Should we not be more careful in the spreading of our ideas? Or peacefully continue down this path of pretentiousness and intolerance? I suggest we take a look back, see in detail the consequences of our actions. Yes, we have done a great number of good things in promoting education, scientific literacy, and more tolerant eyes among the more open-minded religious persons. Unfortunately, we have promoted intolerance within our own group, one which could lead to catastrophes we cannot yet foresee. Skepticism has always been part of our repertoire, and before we fall into holes we can never crawl out from, I advise us to use it on ourselves.