The X-Files is one of my favorite television shows. In fact, any show that delved into the fantastical, otherworldly, and supernatural was generally on my list of programs to watch. The Dark Side, The Outer Limits, and even Tales from Crypt were all shows that I thoroughly enjoyed. X-Files, though, was at the top of my list (at least until it jumped the shark) because of the main characters Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.
In my evolution from believer to non-believer, I see myself transitioning from being a Fox Mulder (who has a deep belief in the supernatural after being exposed to it) to being a Dana Scully (who constantly looked for rational explanations for the unexplainable). I have a pretty vivid imagination which has made the transition from one end of spectrum to the other rough and zig zaggy rather than a smooth straight line.
Unlike other atheists I’ve met and spoken too, I didn’t just wake up one day and decide that I was an atheist. I didn’t think about it for an hour and suddenly realize that believing in god was the same as believing in the tooth fairy. Even though I’ve worn the label of atheist since I was about 26, it has only been in the last year or so that I’ve been able to accept the full reality of what being an atheist means.
There is no supernatural being looking down and controlling things on this planet. It’s just us. The responsibility for our survival rests fully on our own shoulders. Our rise and fall is determined by the decisions we make and the actions we take, not the whims of some invisible, bipolar sky being.
This thought is both liberating and scary. Liberating because I now feel free to live life as I want to live life and scary because there is no safety net. There is no afterlife; there are no second chances or do-overs. When we die, life is done (as far as we can tell anyway). It is also a depressing thought. I get why many people cling to their beliefs, religious or otherwise. When I fully accepted the truth, I distinctly remember thinking, “I just wasted the last two decades of my life on stupid shit.”
It is an uncomfortable feeling to realize that you wasted precious time on meaningless things. I wonder how many people resist giving up religion simply because realizing that they wasted the last X years of their life is just too horrible to face. Even though they are dangerous, supernatural beliefs are seductive. The afterlife brings with it an opportunity for renewal, to start over and maybe get it right the second (or third or fourth) time around.
Supernatural beliefs also tap into our deepest hopes and fears. People believe in a vengeful god who will right the wrongs because secretly they want the people who wronged them in this life to “get what they deserve”. People believe in heaven because they can’t stand the thought that they may never see their loved ones again or they are suffering and must believe that something better awaits them somewhere.
Atheism only offers facts in exchange for giving up that fantasy world. For many, this is cold comfort. Facts may explain how the world works but they don’t make me feel better when pedophile priests are getting away with molesting children.
Some may say that people should just put on their big boy/girl underwear and accept that this is the way the world is. I agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, most people do not have the emotional maturity needed to flip the switch because they never exercised those muscles before. I certainly didn’t. I had to start small and build up to it. Like me, they have to redevelop their coping skills and retrain their brains into the new way of thinking.
Years after leaving religion behind and being an atheist I find that I still hold supernatural beliefs about some things, like ghosts. Even though I know, on an intellectual level, that ghosts are most likely the manifestation of an overactive imagination, the belief is stubbornly persistent. I suppose partly because I have had what I think are ghostly encounters. I also realize this means I still believe in a ‘soul’. However, both beliefs are subsiding slowly as I read more about neuroscience and the brain but that’s another blog post.
I am a person who enjoys learning about new things but not everyone is self-motivated in this manner. All rambling aside, my personal experience has shown me that, like Fox Mulder, people want to believe. This is probably because they feel there are no acceptable alternatives to their current worldview or, very simply, they don’t know “How” to be an atheist. Therefore, they resist reality checks or attempts to educate.
So what is the solution? I think in addition to more people coming out of the atheist closet that there should be some type of counseling program offered to people who are struggling with leaving behind the fantasy world. The program would help them make the necessary mental adjustments as well as provide them with skills that will help them to live in a world that is still entrenched in supernatural dogma.I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t done any Google-fu to see if such programs already exist. If they do, then we should probably be promoting them. After all, there is medication and psychiatric help for people who are clearly delusional (like some schizophrenics). And what are supernatural beliefs other than a globally accepted delusion?