FROM JASON’S EPIPHANY — It took a huge philosophical earthquake to shake off my early religious indoctrination. But every once in a while an aftershock will catch up with me.
There was one in the car today.
I wasn’t thinking about epistemology, or god, or the meaning of life, or whether there is an afterlife. Some subconscious mechanism just clicked as I rolled down the highway. I felt a deep peace. It was like the four corners of the sky scrolled back and I could see the entire sweep of the universe, and my small situation against its infinite span.
“It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” – Carl Sagan
I felt small and frail.
For those of us who were conditioned like dogs at an early age to believe there is an almighty and judgmental force in heaven, it is very difficult to surrender all that Christian guilt of original sin. Even after you grow up and realize there is no creator god and no eternal reward, there is still a child inside hoping to avoid punishment the whole snake-and-apple fiasco.
“All natural institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.” – Thomas Paine
The dam holding back those worries broke a bit more in my car today. They washed out and dissipated. The release was sudden. Convictions are processes, not states.
I suddenly embraced — not just intellectually but intrinsically — the idea that I am a passing nothingness, in no way special. I will not make a mark on the life of the universe. I was disparate matter and energy for trillions of years before I was born, and in another 50 or so years I’ll revert to that dust and heat again.
And that’s just fine. Who the heck am I, anyway?
“There is no other life; life itself is only a vision and a dream for nothing exists but space and you. If there was an all-powerful God, he would have made all good, and no bad.” – Mark Twain
I grew up in the church, surrounded by people who would tell you that without god there can be no peace of mind. I heard them repeat time and again that non-Christians were constantly searching for something greater than themselves, searching for a god to relieve their tensions, their worries, their anxieties and loneliness.
That’s not true.
Real freedom is knowing that no fickle god is keeping a tally. It’s knowing that you have a few decades to be kind to your fellow humans without the threat of a zealous god standing over you with whip in hand. It’s knowing that your choices can be based on enlightened self-interest, not an ingrained fear.
“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”- Albert Einstein
Real freedom is counting the gods that have fallen by the wayside: Jove, Odin, Freya, Gaia, Zeus, Hera, Horus, Ra, Snoopy, Apollo Mithras.
Even now, the number of Americans who self-identify as believers in the Christian god is sloping off. The number of people who think the United States is a Christian nation has dropped to 62 percent (John Adams wrote in 1796 that “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”) Only 48 percent self-identified as being both “religious and spiritual.”
Atheism is slowly growing as the old religions become impotent. The pious pray into empty air and receive no answers, but science yields computers, cheap food, sanitary homes, electricity, cars, men on the moon, and defibrillators.
Nearly 12 percent of the world’s population now calls itself non-theist, though only 2.3 percent call themselves atheist. American Atheists claim that 50 million U.S. citizens do not claim believe in a higher being.
“Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.” – Thomas Jefferson.
The old ways are fading away, to be replaced by a beautiful humanism. The reasons are obvious.
People are finding that religion does not offer tangible solutions, but in fact cause strife, war, infighting, division, poverty, and ignorance. Christians are generally just as unhappy as anyone else, enjoying the same divorce and suicide rates. American moderates continue to identify religion as their culture, not their actual belief systems. And nebulous theological feel-goodery is no substitute for real happiness.
Child-molesting priests haven’t helped the believers’ image. Nor have cotton-candy-haired shyster televangelists. Conservative homophobia in the 21 century is coming to be viewed as equivalent to the open racism and sexism of previous centuries. And the more people actually read the bible, the less they are impressed with its open promulgation of violence, oppression of women, and outright prejudice.
As time passes, the testaments become barbarous relics.
“My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.” – Abraham Lincoln
I’ve been called a pessimist once or twice, and when I was ensnared in the web of Christianity as a child I certainly felt more jaded toward those with whom my views did not align. I was even contemptuous of other Christians whose doctrines did not match mine. There was a certain proprietary jealousy there, and an eagerness to be right all the time at the expense of others.
That was back in my dark ages, and it’s an embarrassing past I’ve been trying to escape.
These days, I am more optimistic, more willing to forgive. Isn’t that ironic? By shedding the trappings of religion I’ve seemed to achieve everything to which the devout aspire. I look more kindly on my fellow man. I am a much better listener, let me tell you. I have found logic — the tool of Satan, many god-fearing folk would say.
Just think what would happen if we traded the words of Jesus for the words of John Lennon. Maybe our collective human mantra should be: “It doesn’t matter how long my hair is or what color my skin is or whether I’m a woman or a man”
Or maybe those of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.: “We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.”