Death comes to us all in some form or another. The differences among humans in how we view this unfortunate circumstance is interesting. Religious people welcome death; it is their journey to the afterlife, their face-to-face meeting with God. They look forward to the end of this life, pray for the next life, and live so that they may receive the maximum benefit in God's kingdom. Oppositely, naturalists like myself see death as nothing more than the unconscious state we all experienced before our birth; it is the end of existence, the returning of our atoms into the purposeless vastness of the universe. So where does meaning come from?

The religious mind has no problem finding meaning; holy texts provide direction, guidance, and assurance that everything is under control. I must admit, it is a tempting proposition to feel as if the afterlife is certain; that our "soul" will continue on after physical death. Our consciousness as animals cannot contemplate non-existence once we have tasted life. The very idea of complete and total nothingness upon our death is foreign and disconcerting. But it does not make it any less true.

Since I cannot bring myself to believe in any afterlife, I am stuck with this life and this life only. The perspective that it gives me is one that I proudly and perhaps arrogantly prize above that of the religious... my thoughts are on making this life as good as I can, while a believer in the afterlife ultimately cares about his or her rewards in heaven. The view of the naturalist is to take action, while the view of the religious is to pray for action to be taken. This is a sour and reprehensible approach to consciousness, and one I abhor greatly.

While this view is not consistent in all religious minds (especially in those of moderate religious belief) it is common enough, at least in my upbringing, to warrant serious discussion and criticism, as I believe it leads to dangerous practices in our society that only serve to breed intolerance, hate, and division among our species. I have seen this view at work even in my own parents.

When I told my Christian parents I was an atheist, they hurt for my soul. They didn't hesitate to relate to me their extreme disappointment in my "decision" to live a godless, moral-less (according to their horrific Christian understanding) life, and they grieved for the loss of closeness that was bound to take place during this life. To me, this is an unbelievable and unacceptable conclusion. Simply because I believe differently than they do, they now view me as a lost cause and by default claim that I will not be able to relate to the innermost parts of themselves. Bull Fucking Shit. This is the problem of religion and belief. It segregates relationships through claims that have zero proof while arguing moral superiority and understanding of "truth". Since my parents are so focused on the afterlife, they are devastated that I will potentially not be there to share it with them. In turn, they think our relationship in this life must suffer since my worldview is diametrically opposed to theirs, and that is an utter shame, one that keeps me up at night in fact.

And to them, this ultimate conclusion is unavoidable; regardless of how much I choose to invest into a relationship with them, they won't be able to "connect" with me on a "godly" level where I will ask for heavenly advice and wisdom. They think our relationship is doomed to talks concerning the weather, sports, and whatever other small-talk takes place in day-to-day conversations. The funny thing is, I knew this would happen upon my unveiling of my atheism. I knew the religious mind extremely well, seeing that it was my own mindset up until age 23. I longed for Jesus' return and prayed for those going to hell. I kept Christian friends close and thought my secular friends just didn't understand the greater truth of this world. How badly I was mistaken.

To think religion can claim absolute truth, a life beyond this one, and a condemnation of all who dissent is complete madness. I see no way that this worldview can inspire peace and love. And although my parents say they will love me unconditionally no matter what I believe (and I really do believe them), their belief ultimately is causing division, awkwardness, and disappointment between us, to an irreconcilable extent. And that is bull shit, my friends. Arrogant, presumptuous, ignorant bull shit.

It saddens me deeply, especially since this life is probably all we have. We must live life with this perspective if we are to find meaning and purpose, and to concentrate so wholeheartedly on the afterlife is to lose contact with everything and everyone we hold dear. We might not want to follow Death and all of his friends, but it is unavoidable. Why not love each other as much as we can while we are here, casting aside our superstition and condemnation so that we may find true, close, and loving relationships in this life? Please consider this.

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Comment by River Otter on January 12, 2009 at 1:06pm
I am sorry to hear about the friction between you and your parents and I hope it gets better with time.

I am fortunate enough to have one parent who is Atheist and the other a non-practicing Catholic. My Atheim has never been an issue.

I have however, been dating a Christian for about a year. I told him on the first date that I was an Atheist. He had never know an Atheist before. Wow, did he have questions for me.

Question 1 was, "Do you believe in god?" My reply was, "No, I am an Atheist." I had to explain to him what that actually ment and why I didn't believe.

Question 2 was, "How do you keep from doing bad things?" My reply was, "It comes natural and life is easier when you do your best for yourself and others."

Question 3 was, "Do you believe in Heaven & Hell?" My reply was, "No" He actually cried when I told him that. He told me that he couldn't image not seeing his dead friends and family in Heaven. I had to console him. Poor indoctrinated, delusional feller.

A couple of weeks ago, he expressed concern about not being able to see me in Heaven. I told him that he might just as well get over it because he won't see me there, and he needs to enjoy the time he has with me NOW. He didn't say anything after that but, I could tell he was disappointed. He will get over it, I hope.

As far as death is concerned, most of my life I have known that it's the only guarentee I have. It makes life easier to just accept is as a fact and a part of the natural process. I try to live my life the best I can now. When I croak, that will be the end of my story. I can only hope that my loved ones will have a short greiving process, bring my ashes to the mountian, and then have a huge party on the river with lots of booze, marijuana & food to honor my memory. Damn, that sounds like fun, I wish I could be there. LOL!
Comment by Cara Coleen on January 12, 2009 at 7:05pm
Wow... I'm going through this exact same thing right now. I actually haven't "come out of the closet", as it were, to my parents or little brother. Fortunately, I my older brother and I are on the same page, but... once it finally clicked in my head that I didn't believe in Jesus; that I didn't believe in heaven or hell or Satan; that it was all (as you said) bull shit, it hit me like a ton of bricks that my relationships would be forever changed. It's almost like a bad dream, to be honest. I mean, I'm sooo excited to be free from religion... it's opened sooo many doors and has allowed me to live this one life to the fullest. Only now, I can't be open.

Just last night, I was on the phone with my little brother, and he was telling me all about his recent study of Calvinism. I just listened silently, but my insides were churning. He's still young so there's still hope (I was very much a Christian at his age, too), but it was so hard to hear him spout all that crap. And what do I do? I feel really strongly about wanting to throw OTHER people off their religious path, but... somehow I feel like it'd be wrong of me to do it to him. My grandfather is a Southern Baptist preacher, and all my family is uber Christian... I feel like my mom would be crushed because she's already "lost" her two older kids.

Doesn't it feel surreal, being on this side of it? And because I remember how submerged I was when I called myself a Christian, I know it's almost pointless to even bother. I'm just impressed you had the balls to tell your parents..
Comment by Kevin on January 12, 2009 at 8:58pm
Yeah, this is ridiculous, I was you a few months ago Cara. I even have a brother on the same page as me. It was great that he was there to share our "coming out" with to the family. He and I just started discussing a couple things one day and figured out we were both atheists. It made things so much easier. I'm also right there with you with my little brother too! He is completely head over heels into all sorts of theology and Christian philosophy and I feel if my other brother and I were to attempt to de-convert him or something, then it's almost as if we're stealing another one of us kids away from my parents or something. It's exactly the same circumstance..my parents "lost" their two eldest boys. I don't know if they could handle losing their last one. It's almost like "Ok Mom, you can keep my younger brother for your ranks...please don't be upset." I do hope, though, that he is skeptical enough to keep searching and come to other conclusions as he continues to read. I know his theology is already much more moderate than my parents' is, so at least that's a start.

Believe me, it took us a long time to agree to tell everyone, but as we spent hours discussing things, I realized the time would have to come sooner or later. What happens when we eventually would get married and did not have a Christian bride? When we did not include scripture about marriage in the ceremony? When we had kids and didn't want to indoctrinate them in the church? As I continued to think about it, there were going to be several opportunities throughout my life for my parents to realize I was an atheist, so the logical choice was to tell them NOW, reap the consequences early and then fully move on with my life and development being completely honest with my family.

It is indeed surreal being on the other side. You start to remember back to when you had all of these questions as a child that were just swept away via indoctrination or vague answers, and it's funny to see how these answers would become part of your understanding of God without any further question. Sometimes I almost want to go back to a church service and listen to the sermons and watch the congregation from my side of things now. Although I'm not sure I could deal with the contemporary worship music... blech. I didn't even like it when I was a Christian! :)

I'd urge you to tell your parents soon, but I do realize it's an extremely difficult decision and one that requires preparation, patience, and a willingness to accept any relational consequences that might follow with the family.

And RiverOtter, count me in for your funeral-after-party! I would just have to make sure to avoid the Darwin Awards nomination, what with all the booze and weed and deep, flowing streams of water in which to drown :) If I croak first, I promise you can throw me one in the fashion that you mentioned. You might have to deal with some very sad relatives and perhaps a few ministers though...
Comment by JustCurious on January 12, 2009 at 10:49pm
In defense of a few Christians, I know plenty who are very adamant that a lack of religious agreement should not make a relationship more shallow. In fact, it does seem to make relationships more fun, because you have so much more to talk about if your major life philosophies are polar opposites.
Comment by Frink on January 15, 2009 at 2:18pm
The problem, JC, is when it comes time to raise children.

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