Is Atheism Both True and Terrible?

I consider words like ‘sad’ and ‘happy’ to be sloppy language. If someone tells you that they’re sad, what leaps to mind? Tears, frown, depression, wretched, dejected?

The truth is that all of us experience sadness differently. That becomes obvious to me when my girlfriend and I watch a sad movie together. She will immediately begin to cry (or sob) and I might get a lump in my throat or feel empathy but not a whole lot of emotion. If someone were to ask me what sadness feels like to me, it would probably differ greatly from what it feels like to her. The word ‘sad’ is merely a blanket term without specifics of any kind.

Today, while I perused the news, I came across an article titled: Where are the honest atheists?

It was pretty interesting because the author admits that atheism is probably true due to lack of evidence, but then goes on to say that the atheistic worldview is ‘terrible’ and quotes Nietzsche as saying it was an ‘awe-inspiring catastrophe for humanity’.

Here’s a bit of that article:

If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we’re alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.

“Honest atheists understand this. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed the death of God, but he called it an “awe-inspiring catastrophe” for humanity, which now faced the monumental task of avoiding a descent into nihilism. Essayist Albert Camus likewise recognized that when the longing for a satisfying answer to the question of “why?” confronts the “unreasonable silence of the world,” the goodness of human life appears to dissolve and must be reconstructed from the ground up.

“In our own time, physicist Steven Weinberg admits that he is “nostalgic for a world in which the heavens declared the glory of God” and associates himself with the 19th-century poet Matthew Arnold, who likened the retreat of religious faith in the face of scientific progress to the ebbing ocean tide and claimed to detect a “note of sadness” in its “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.” Weinberg confesses to his own sorrow in doubting that scientists will find “in the laws of nature a plan prepared by a concerned creator in which human beings played some special role.”

I think where the author goes wrong is assuming that all people think or feel the same way. Maybe some atheists do feel that way. Maybe they wake up feeling bleak and alone. I find the idea comforting in many ways. To me, the idea that my life is planned out for me; that there is a deity in the sky listening to every thought; that this deity will not only punish me while alive, but will do so for eternity once dead is oppressive, frightening and evil.

Religious people often go on about being humble, but then many believe that there is a deity who values them so much that what they do (and their souls) will live on for eternity. I don’t find that to be a humble thought. I don’t think I’m all that special.

I find science beautiful. I have no need or want to live on forever. I try to make each day something to remember and a God doesn’t play any role in any of that. I agree with the author that some of the music and rituals religion offers are beautiful. In fact, I did a project recently on Catholicism and found myself spending a few hours listening to Catholic hymns because I found them hauntingly beautiful.

However, I feel that way listening to other music and I can get the same spiritual feeling some get through rituals by meditating or even working out hard at my local gym. God has no part of any of that. I’m comfortable waiting for evidence of the divine.

I also want to point out that many things are true and terrible. That doesn’t mean we should make things up so we don’t have to face it. From my perspective, religion doesn’t make anything easier to handle. For example, if I attend a funeral, I find the ‘they’re in a better place’ or ‘it was part of God’s plan’ sayings to be both ridiculous and condescending. It’s one of those ideas that make me shiver – the idea that the suffering of that person and the grieving being done by the family was somehow part of a divine plan is abhorrent to me. That’s the best plan a divine being could come up with, especially one with unlimited power?

No, I don’t find atheism terrible or catastrophic. I find it to be evidence based and it’s up to me to deal with the realities. I don’t wake up feeling empty inside, bleak or angry. I’m just thankful to have the opportunity to live for a short time and try to make a small difference in the world around me while I’m here.

I understand that some people may view it differently and feel they need a deity, but that’s not me. I don’t experience the world the same as the author of the article, and I’m cool with that.

No all-powerful deities required.

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8 Comments

  1. First off I'll preface my comments here as I suffer from long term – low grade depression. So feeling “sad” is a way of life for me. I've gone from contemplating entering the ministry – to being agnostic – to being deist – to being atheist.

    I don't know if this applies in this topic or not, but it could I guess, but here is a true story. Quite some time ago I was having a lot of difficulty with my depression. Divorce (with a very young kid) and job loss were the biggest issue. During this time I was going regularly to a local Evangelical church. I had been there for over a year and between my family and friends I took stock in the middle of that maelstrom of misery and remember thinking that if I were to kill myself it would take weeks for anyone to miss me.

    I went to church that Sunday and told myself if something – anything – uplifting were to happen I'd take it as a sign from God that I was worthy. Worthy of what is up for debate…lol. Well I did go to services that day and sat in the back with no one saying so much as a word to me so I went home and ate a bottle of sleeping pills.

    A few years later I'd accepted myself, my beliefs and the whole of my life. I'm much happier now with that acceptance. I find inspiration in the smell of a simple autumn night, a sunrise over the lake, the laughter of a child. I don't need religion or God to give me meaning.

    My guess my point is that religion did nothing for me. Acceptance of existence, acceptance that I only have the present to do the best I can was the only thing to help me out of depression. I now have my own business that's doing well and I'll be celebrating 14 years with my fiance this week. I did that. While I had some help along the way, it wasn't some divine plan or answered prayer.

    – Evil

  2. Hi Evil

    As a clinically depressed person myself, I can sympathize with you. I also found that religion if anything was making my depression worse, as you were meant to just be happy. Glad you became an atheist, I think its the best rememdy for depression as you face it and see it when it starts creeping up behind you.

    Keep well
    Christian

  3. this is a different anonymous. I am not clinically depressed, but my best friend has refractory depression. it is not a psychological condition, it is a neurological disease. It is the most devastating disease I have ever seen, and my mother died from cancer. It destroys your sense of self. I get so sick of comedians making light of this disease. Anti-depressants do not make you happy, they merely tamp down the symptoms, often with unpleasant side affects.

  4. Hey there, Anonymous… I was on Prozac for years. It took me from a normal 4 to a 6 on the 1 to 10 mood scale. The side effects were minor, had issues reaching orgasm during sex (my gf thought that was a good thing) and some nausea.

    Doing a little bit of research on the subject reveals most side effects are during the first few months of use and then tend to subside. Each med effects individuals in different ways. While Prozac worked very well for me it didn't work for one gf I dated shortly after being diagnosed. The worst issues happen when changing meds because each med works in a different way and everyone should keep good communication with their doctor(s) and councilors when being put on any medication.

    My issue is a result of how sugars in the brain are metabolized. Prozac helps with that process. It doesn't tamp down an any symptoms.

    – Evil

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