Sunday, December 7, 2014

the baby in the bathwater

While there is a proliferation of books about the intellectual dimensions of atheism, there is a shortage of resources that are about actually shaping a life around atheism.  There is little value in intellectual consistency if it is accompanied by an inadequate set of skills that contribute to a successful life.  While we may find it useful to be able to defend our intellectual commitment, even more useful are strategies for living that are both consistent with our beliefs and productive of lives we want.  At the end of the day, we don’t actually have to convince anyone that our beliefs are not ill-considered or crazy; the quality of our lives doesn’t ultimately depend on what other people think of us.  What does matter though is whether we can put together a good and reasonably happy life on our own terms. 

The vast majority of Christians believe, not because theological arguments make sense to them, but instead because they have never had sufficient reason to reject what they have been taught, because they want to continue enjoying the benefits that come with being a part of a community that happens to be religious, and/or because it is easier to just go along with the crowd.  Intellectual arguments are largely inconsequential.  Embracing atheism does not depend on disabusing anyone of beliefs that they find helpful.  The reason most atheists reject belief in God are not that we are just defiant or arrogant, but instead because we find such belief to be implausible.  It is simply not possible for us to accept what would be a lot more convenient, comfortable, and sociable to believe.  Many of us used to believe and remember the emotional and social benefits that came with religion.  On the other side of a deconversion, former believers often find their social environment to be suddenly inhospitable.  Much of what they previously took for granted is no longer available to them.  They have to find other ways to intersect with the human community and to get what they need out of life. 

There are significant and very real benefits associated with religious belief and practice.  For millions of years, religion has been a vessel for the transmission of important understandings about living fruitfully.  Many of those understandings evolved organically and have stood the test of time.  We need to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  A godless approach to recovery needs to be at least as productive of good results as anything theism has to offer.  We can identify what it is about the religious approach that works so well for some people and find sounder ways of getting the same or similar benefits. 

Some of the most obvious benefits of religion that can be arrived at through other means are:

  • Not feeling alone in a cold and capricious universe
  • Having a perspective that is grounded outside the self and that operates independently from the ego
  • Finding meaning, purpose, inspiration, fulfillment, satisfaction, and happiness
  • Believing that I am loved, appreciated, and accepted for who I am
  • Finding relief from feelings of affliction, fear, bondage, and oppression
  • Doing together what we can’t do by ourselves
  • Having the strength and courage to do what needs to be done no matter how difficult or frightening
  • Having a common point around which community can form
  • Letting go of what can’t be controlled
  • Accepting what can’t be fixed
  • Feeling reasonably optimistic about the future
  • Peace
  • Humility
  • Removal of the desire to use

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