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11 July 2007 @ 09:42 pm
Another Salon letter  
I often check Salon's Since You Asked advice column by Cary Tennis. Today's letter is from an atheist who is now having doubts and feeling fearful of the future. This was my response:



Are you there, God? It's me, E. D. Sufferer

As I read your letter, E.D.S., I am struck by the widespread notion that if one believes in an afterlife that is automatically more comforting than if one believes in becoming worm food. Indeed, one of the accusations made against believers is that they are so because they fear nonexistence.

I've never bought into that notion. Personally I choose to err in favor of belief due to my experiences in meditation and life that have produced a sense of being in touch with someone or something not explained by science. However I freely admit that I could be interpreting the data incorrectly, being a scientific-minded sort of person.

But the fear of nonexistence doesn't affect me at all and here's why: if you no longer exist, there is no "you" to suffer!

You won't be missing your nonexistent relatives--you won't exist either!

I suppose the lesson in this possibility is to really "be here now" and love like there's no tomorrow because there may not be. For those relatives who have already passed on, perhaps you might turn your mind to writing about them or otherwise memorializing them--a commemorative park bench, a planted tree, and so on.

Cultivate spirituality only if you find it within your heart to authentically do so. Others have suggested meditation and other such practices. Explore them and see if anything happens for you after a sufficient trial. Try praying for a sense of connection to the Divine, if it/he/she exists. Sophy Burnham has a good book on prayer, and I don't mean the kind where you ask God for a raise. Or explore pantheism--there are organizations of atheists who find meaning in connecting with nature. It can't hurt to read up on a number of spiritual paths to see if something makes sense to you.

Whatever you do or try, stick with it only if it genuinely fulfills you, not out of fear. There are lots of ways to find purpose in your life and spirituality is only one of them. Being of service to others is another. Personally, I can't imagine a God that would punish non-believers who have led a good life and helped others unselfishly.

As others have pointed out, your depression might be clinical. It is worth checking into. The symptoms you cite are typical of depression of the non-existential variety. A good therapist can also help you explore how you respond to fear and find a way to coexist with or even overcome it.

I'll close with a quote:

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama
 
 
 
Mari Adkinsmariadkins on July 12th, 2007 01:00 pm (UTC)
:applause: Well done.

I've never understood fretting over the "afterlife".
labrys6 on July 12th, 2007 02:44 pm (UTC)
I would rather be an atheist, I'd prefer to believe in oblivion.
Unfortunately, I cannot maintain that belief. I certain don't find religion or spirituality particularly comforting---I find it duteous and often difficult and tiring (not to say 'tiresome'...I am NOT bored) to manage day to day. It seems anytime I get to the "Hey, maybe I CAN jettison religion." point, someOne comes along and re-taps me on the shoulder. And you know what, it is freaking irritating the majority of the time. I feel like a draftee!

I have never understood why anyone who really did believe in no gods would entertain the idea of taking them up, so to speak. And as you say, I don't believe in a god who punishes unbelievers---lol, for me that would only create rebellion!
Mari Adkins: bonesmariadkins on July 12th, 2007 03:00 pm (UTC)
I would rather be an atheist, I'd prefer to believe in oblivion.
Unfortunately, I cannot maintain that belief.


I hear you. Sometimes it seems like it'd be saner, more peaceful to believe in "nothing". But I've had too many experiences that tell me there's "more" out there. And that "more" won't leave me be. LOL

point, someOne comes along and re-taps me on the shoulder. And you know what, it is freaking irritating the majority of the time. I feel like a draftee!

Oh, I know I'm a draftee. I was dragged to where I am kicking and screaming. Trust me. I tried to walk away from it in 1998, to find something else, something different, but no. I was implicitly not allowed. hhmm Maybe that's a topic for someplace else...
labrys6 on July 12th, 2007 03:26 pm (UTC)
You know, I don't respond to my life events "religiously" as some would phrase it, out of fear of punishment. But the intense "need" sensation I get, now THAT does frighten me. I mean, come on, there are 6 billion people on the planet. I am, basically, a housewife----fairly well-read, yes, but with no particularly stunning qualifications. And if I am NEEDED in this apparent ongoing what the fuck EVER it is....holy cats, we MUST be in deep shit.

I do what I seem to need to do with a sense of dire need driving me and the uncomfortably constant feeling that I haven't learned enough to do what needs done right. And you know what else? REading Paulo Coehlo books made it worse...when a returned to the fold Catholic writes compelling novels embracing many new age AND neo-pagan elements and speaks of a "war" not only here, but "in heaven" ONGOING NOW...it makes the hair on my neck rise.

Mankind is at some kind of turning point. I am NOT a millenialist, I do not believe in the apocalypse. But I do believe in turning points where humanity has to DO something right or whatever train ride we are all on doesn't go well, takes longer and causes more suffering. That staircase of being that I theorize about gets longer and steeper....and my legs don't get any less tired.
Mari Adkins: bonesmariadkins on July 12th, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC)
And if I am NEEDED in this apparent ongoing what the fuck EVER it is....holy cats, we MUST be in deep shit.


I've said the same about myself. ;)
labrys6 on July 12th, 2007 04:52 pm (UTC)
And IF I ever get to some other plane of existence (if such exists as I theorize) and find out who is responsible? Well, my next personal goal just might be becoming one such as can "rain fire and destruction" on deserving parties. Cause...arrrrgh....color me pissed. Not merely in a huff, but sincerely, deeply angry at the level of pain, suffering and unmitigated shit I see people going through.
Mari Adkins: dork in a bonnetmariadkins on July 12th, 2007 04:57 pm (UTC)
In my case, I know the who...:sigh: Not a lot I can do about it. LOL

Oh wait, you mean about all the shit and stuff. ;) whoops.
bitterjesusbitterjesus on July 12th, 2007 06:33 pm (UTC)
File this one under "The Grass is Always Greener . . ." As a life-long atheist (it was a decision I made for myself at a very young age for reasons I can't readily explain), I used to have a smug certainty in the rationality of my own beliefs (the irony there should be apparent). As I grew older, I came to examine my own belief that religion is a human construction designed to satisfy certain very basic needs. I am sufficiently convinced of the truth of this belief that I still hold it. Entirely apart from that fact, however, is an awareness that it would be more comfortable to believe in a universe that is constructed entirely around me, or at least my species, and which cares deeply about what happens to me. As things stand, I give myself credit for my own achievements (instead of thanking one or more deities), but I am denied the capacity to believe in some larger pattern that might ameliorate the pain of failure or misfortune.

In addition, I confess to a certain jealousy of the community which automatically springs up around religion. It provides a unifying cultural force that's hard to match through any other means. Atheists do not tend to form groups in the same fashion, not least because atheism tends to be reached individually, so every atheist has a different belief structure. There's more to it than that, obviously, but putting together a whole psychological analysis of an atheist would be time-consuming.

At any rate, I suspect the point is that life itself can be burdensome, and questioning one's life choices is inevitable, assuming that one is given to any degree of self-examination.
labrys6 on July 12th, 2007 06:49 pm (UTC)
DAmmmit, forgot to log in...so here we go again, in case the other didn't take. (Tapati...if this is a dupe, feel free to delete)
My goodness Tapati...look what a fertile seed you have sown!

Bitter Jesus,

Yes, the community aspect is one of the things I envy from time to time in more routine religious groups. But so far as the belief in a pattern, a universe constructed around my species, lol...well, that I don't have and never did. Even in my early efforts to be Christian, I simply could never convince myself of that little bit of dogmatic fluff. If the phrase "first among equals" really held any force, I would say that is closest to how I think of humankind in the universe. And the 'first' part...well, that is largely because that is where we commonly see ourselves. For all I know, if deities exist as I postulate whenever my personal world gets rocked by something I cannot explain without resorting to theism, they may very well like hedgehogs better! I know I certainly like hedgehogs better than some of the people I have met! ;-)
We are on this rock, it is our pie to plunder or share and regardless of my tentative and resentful belief in gods, I think they DO leave that to us. I expect no rescue, but do get told what to do to mitigate the construct from time to time. I WISH I thought it was all me and all my idea. Dammit all.
Tapatitapati on July 13th, 2007 06:29 am (UTC)
"Entirely apart from that fact, however, is an awareness that it would be more comfortable to believe in a universe that is constructed entirely around me, or at least my species, and which cares deeply about what happens to me. As things stand, I give myself credit for my own achievements (instead of thanking one or more deities), but I am denied the capacity to believe in some larger pattern that might ameliorate the pain of failure or misfortune."

There are religions that don't posit a personal god or that the universe was designed for the benefit of our one little planet and its dominant species. There are also religions that place the responsibility for misfortune or happiness squarely on the shoulders of each individual rather than the whims of a Deity.

In addition, I confess to a certain jealousy of the community which automatically springs up around religion. It provides a unifying cultural force that's hard to match through any other means. Atheists do not tend to form groups in the same fashion, not least because atheism tends to be reached individually, so every atheist has a different belief structure. There's more to it than that, obviously, but putting together a whole psychological analysis of an atheist would be time-consuming."

There are such communities available to atheists...there are pantheists which have an atheist-focused point of view, there is the Unitarian Universalist church which welcomes people of all or no beliefs and often has atheist and agnostic members. I am sure there are others that I am not even aware of.

"As I grew older, I came to examine my own belief that religion is a human construction designed to satisfy certain very basic needs."

I agree with this, having studied the anthropology of religion. At the same time, I am aware that part of what some of the creators of religion were trying to do was explain that sense of the divine or whatever it is that I and others have experienced. With that in mind, I believe that if that...presence...is something or someone of divine origin, such an entity is unlikely to care which cultural vehicle we use to commune with him/her/it, and so any religion that works for the believer to feel connected is the right one for them to practice. Or not :)
Tapatitapati on July 12th, 2007 06:52 pm (UTC)
I was so amused by this letter:

"Good lord,

people, how tiresome it grows reading atheists' laughably hubristic proclamations -- soundly defeating the concept of God most typically envisioned by a 7-year-old -- peppered with occasional interjections from believers anxious to preserve their intellectual cred.

I refer to this thread, yes, but to so, so, so many others, as well.

The Universe was formed without the benefit of our opinions and someday will run quite smoothly without them. Better we should hold forth on the subject of Paris Hilton. We can prove she exists, and yet have a nagging feeling deep inside that we wish she didn't.
-- Godmonkey "