My de-conversion has been a decade long process that only recently ended with the final realization that I am an atheist. The mental struggle to overcome religious indoctrination was arduous and eventually deserves an article of explanation. But now the difficulty is dealing with the reactions of those around me, friends and family, concerning my "being out".
In a recent discussion about my "doubt" with a close friend he very offensively asked "Are you ready to give up on the human soul and the eternal being?". His question was obviously subjective in nature and presupposed his position, but I had no ready response. I feel as though I am beginning to see the world as it really exists but am very unsure as to how to convey that in a positive way that sounds better than life everlasting in heaven with streets of gold.
It is not my intention to de-convert my friends or family, nor to cause divisions in my relationships. I never set out to be an atheist, but rather my love of science and my life experiences and observations brought me here. My final realization was a relief, and I am excited about this new perspective. However, I can see some difficult situations on the horizon.
Sadly, be prepared to get a number of such questions from people who either have misunderstandings about atheism, or are genuinely unaware of how one can live a life without believing in some kind of deity.
As time goes on, and you get asked the same questions (or similar) repeatedly, you'll start to have the answers ready to hand, from having answered them before.
Unless the person asking is being overtly offensive in their attitude, or shows themselves to be incapable of listening (like asking the same base question repeatedly, just phrasing it differently and ignoring my answers), I tend to find such conversations interesting and enjoyable. They get to learn more about atheists (at least this one), I get to refine my answers, and who knows, maybe I'll plant a little seed of doubt in their minds. Or maybe they'll come up with an argument I haven't heard yet.
@Dave, it does seem to startle those around me to know I feel this way. Most are certain that I am angry with God.
In general I need to work a bit on how I discuss this topic with my piers. Many people seem to get instantly offended when they realize I no longer share their beliefs. And then when I try to explain the thought process that lead me to this realization, they get even more offended because that process sounds rather condescending.
You can't give up on something that never existed in the first place, and nothing you believe can change reality.
As for the truth; well, it's the truth. Fiction will always have the edge on fact when it comes to making something sound appealing, it's why honest second hand car dealers aren't as successful as dishonest ones.
Freedom of thought, your not trapped by a belief that an omnipotent omniscient being is watching your every thought; you realise that your mind is your own and can enjoy that freedom. You can explore and learn without self-censorship.
For one, what you are doing is seeing the world as it really is. If there is some sort of thing in the body that lives after the body dies, we'd like to know about it.
Where's the evidence for it, you ask him. And ask like you really want to know and you find the notion exciting. Then when he fails to give you any, act all disappointed.
So that's main point number one. Without evidence for such, there is no reason to bother believing in a soul or an afterlife. So you aren't giving up on anything that won't fail you anyway.
Second, and I'm speaking personally here, but I found the idea that there is no afterlife When I was a believer, I always had a nagging doubt in the back of my mind. How do I know this god is the right god? What if it's the wrong god and Vishnu is the real god? Every day I'd be pissing off the real god by worshiping this other guy. Many religions give you eternal pain for betting on the wrong horse. So how do you know? Really, really know?
When I gave up on that, it was like a great weight lifted off my shoulders. I don't have to worry that anymore because that was a facet of human life that no longer existed for me. It would be like finding a way to live without eating, and still be healthy obviously. Imagine if you didn't have to eat anymore. You would never get hungry. You wouldn't have to spend so much of your time eating or finding food. It's would be discarding something that used to occupy a good deal of your time. Like it never happened.
I don't know about you, but I find not believing to be much more comforting than believing. Especially when it comes to an afterlife.
@antithesis, I know what you mean. Years ago in church I remember trying to understand that if we needed to be "saved" to avoid hell, then what about those with severe disabilities or those that pass-away very early in life? The notion of Heaven/Hell or being Saved/Lost is very black-and-white but I never felt I could fairly apply it to reality.
It was a relief to stop worrying about hell or fretting over whether I was worshiping the right god in the right way.
It used to scare me to contemplate 'non-existence'.... Hell it used to scare me trying to comtemplate 'eternity'... Shit what the hell would you do after a couple of billion years? LOL
But then I really thought about it.. We don't exist in eternity.. We exist in the moment.
If you can handle 'now' ... you could handle eternity. If you can go to sleep you can handle 'non-existence'.
Does is bother you that you can't remember before you were born? Then it shouldn't bother you that you won't be around after you die.
Your 'living' only exists right now in the moment. Live it to the fullest. Appreciate what you have and do the best you can while you can. You don't have time to dwell in guilt or remorse or might-have-beens. Start from right now LIVING your life. This is your moment. This is your time.
AND... if somehow there is some type of receptacle for consciousness other than the brain that survives physical death.... then I would be completely stoked and eager to explore it if that turns out to be the case.
One thing I'm certain of... is that I will not waste my life in worry over the warnings and fears of any human created religion.
I think this is an interesting thought exercise, even for theists. We have no memory of before we were born and this was not a problem. It is certainly intimidating to begin to realize that there may not be an afterlife, but for me this has made me much more appreciative of the NOW.
It's such an unimaginative question. Well, to be clear, it comes from such an unimaginative place.
Why do you have to give up on the human soul? If there was a particular sensation, concept, or thing that you previously identified as a human soul, it doesn't suddenly vanish just because you realize that it's not supernatural or magical in nature. You are simply looking at the same thing in a different light.
God, soul, Santa Clause (etc.) are all things I consider to be entirely anthropogenic, but concepts such as these are quite useful to work with highly abstract notions -- things that may be entirely conceptual, but nonetheless have properties in a separate dimension.
My favorite response to this sort of questioning is that a lack of belief in the hereafter solidifies the relevance & importance of NOW. We don't get to just apologize away our mistakes at the end, and feel like we go off to happy land. We deal with the consequences of our actions in our life NOW. We appreciate our loved ones NOW, because we won't have any other chance to.
Not that theists have any other experience, but we see life for what it is, and don't tell ourselves fairy tales to try to reduce the meaningfulness & validity of THIS life.
There does not exist a permanent, essential self for 1 second, 1 minute, 1 hour, 1 day,..., 1 lifetime. Only the easily debunked teleological self or soul can support "eternal life" [sic].
Our minds reside in brains that are constantly reacting to the environment and being modified continuously over time. When "you" wonder why "you" just did something that "you" cannot explain, "you" get a glimpse of the process. Our minds are story telling machines and the story comprises multiple drafts. Our brains are plastic and are not the same from moment to moment.
A static self/mind/brain is a dead self. In a sense, that final moment of self does last forever. It's still in the atoms that quickly disperse - it's just not accessible to anyone else for any useful purpose since it has stopped operating as you.