Fear Eats The Soul
It’s time for a statement of principles. Let’s get to the bottom of me, finally and firstly. Let us define me and then start from that. I cannot have a direction until I have a standpoint. Let me let you know me, and let me say aloud what I’ve always meant you to hear. (Mother, look away.)
There is no God, in any sense. There is no Christian or Jewish God or Allah or any of the Hindu deities. And before you chime in with your surety, first define which God you mean, and allow me to ask you why a somewhat larger group believes something totally different, and why there is little solidarity even within your own group.
I was indoctrinated as a Catholic from birth. When I began to define my own beliefs, I became an agnostic, which is to say I no longer believed in the same God I used to, and I didn’t know what else there might be. Recently, I applied an afternoon’s thought to the subject and decided my ambiguity was a weakness. I had to stand for something.
I am an atheist. There is no God. If there is a God, there might as well not be one, because it has no influence upon me or the universe. I shall live out the rest of my life as though once the universe exploded from a very small thing, and all the stars were born, and all the other rocky bits came from the stars, and on one rocky bit there were very small things that moved against the wind, and they kept doing that until they were much bigger, and they multiplied and moved on, so that one became a marmot and another a nightingale (just as one of my litter went to Philadelphia and became a nun and I came to France and became an atheist), and some started to use tools, and they liked it, and kept messing about until they knew how the tools worked, and so on, and some thought God and then thought war, and all this was called history, and what it all was for was not me or anyone, and I am here and caught up in it, one wave in a great sea, up and down and gone forever.
I live life as a kid in a candy store. I don’t care whether God or the masons made the shop, or whether it was St. Augustine or the Starlight Co. that invented peppermints. I will enjoy my time here and what I am privileged to know. I have instinct and instruction to guide me; I shall not steal or engage in malfeasance, lest I have some bad thing delivered on me. This is not fear for the punishment of sin or even karma. This is common sense for social beings.
I am in a much better position than Mother Theresa was in, as she devoted her life to serving God and for most of it couldn’t even believe in Him. She accomplished many wonderful things that I do not think I could do, but she was so unhappy. She might have done the same things for herself only (that is, for humanity) and been more content. Why did she struggle for so long with a God who was not there? When we were here? When all the ingredients for happiness and enlightenment were here?
(And I should mention that I am not a Buddhist, and Buddhism is not a religion, but I do believe in many of its tenets. It is as sure a path to contentment as anything; I may someday travel on it.)
I speak mainly about Christianity, which is the only religion I have any real experience with. What I know about Judaism makes me feel that it loses the bright things about Christianity—mainly, the teachings of Christ—and is too grounded in the mess that is the Old Testament. Islam is foreign to me, and, sadly, stigmatized. I have heard some good things about it (Cat Stevens’s eloquent explanation of why he converted) and will someday read further. I do not believe it can win me because I am not looking to be won. I am content in my faith. Hinduism is exotic and beautiful, though I am ignorant of a great deal of it. It seems quaint with its multiple Gods and incompatibility with science (something the monotheists try to include). It is something that should be as extinct as the ancient Roman and Norse beliefs, but it thrives.
If I have an affinity with anything, it is with pre-Christian animistic pagan beliefs (Celtic, aboriginal American) in a spiritual correspondence with the natural world. There is an energy that moves through things, layers that have yet to be explained. I don’t believe in any of it as conscious entities, but I do recognize a connection with it and an ability to harness it.
Here is more ambiguity. I am not a pagan and I practice little of it, except in a reliance on medicinal herbs over pharmaceuticals and a certain bolstering of spirit I receive when I enter a forest, which I recognize as a transference of energy. I do not equate any of this with true religious beliefs. It is an opinion that there are things we cannot see but can someday be measured, which is opposite of a belief in God. If I feel a life-shaping connectedness with starlight and trees, it has more to do with the history of our evolution than with mysticism.
There is a stigma attached to atheism. Some equate it with nihilism, that I believe in nothing and life is meaningless. In fact, it is entirely opposite. Life is everything and there is nothing beyond. We are here now and we should not waste our time fearing the unknown or believing the unfelt. Atheism is an affirmation of beauty in existence. I live now. There is no past I can recall and no future to influence the present. If the Christian God is real, then I shall go to Hell, which the Christians define as the absence of God. What changes? I shape my life here and hereafter.
That is another stigma, that atheists take themselves out of the race, that they idiotically discard their chances of being on the winning team. If there are four major religions (not counting Buddhism) and as unlike each other to be totally different, the majority of the world will lose the game. In this case, I reject God. Let me go with the losers, who are more diverse and interesting. And if Christianity is the winner, which sect? Do Mormons share Heaven with Catholics and Quakers? And if I am not there and my mother is, what will her Heaven be like without me? It is a fun game, but it’s a little silly to devote so much energy to it.
I have shed God as I would a bearskin coat in the tropics. I feel the sun and the breeze and suffer nothing for the fear of a winter that will never come, though some men some years ago (and a relatively short while) convinced us it would. I am lighter, happier, better for it.