Tapati (tapati) wrote,

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
Tags: atheism, cary tennis, ed sufferer, salon letters, since you asked

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