A lot of theistic religious people think some pessimistic, condescending, and/or outright villainizing things about what it is to be an atheist. Many of them talk as though our lives must both be meaningless and feel meaningless, and that morally we must both think and/or act according to the most extreme mixture of selfishness, hedonism, moral anarchism, moral relativism, materialism, greediness, lustfulness, vanity, narcissism, domination-worship, sensible knavishness, nihilism, etc.
Some theists think of these problems as primarily abstract. They recognize atheists are (or can be) as generally moral or live lives with as much sense of purpose as they do, but they just do not think atheists have as good philosophical justification for their morality or for meaning as theists do. Others go further and outright assume that it just naturally follows that this supposed lack of philosophical justification for morality will lead us to actually either immorally, or indifferently to morality, or as though nothing really mattered, or something similar and on that account turn us into bad people. Or, more crudely and possibly more commonly, they assume that human nature is such that anyone who doesn’t believe in an omnipotent and omniscient enforcer of morality will do even the most heinously immoral things wherever they happen to feel like it and can evade earthly consequences.
Such dreary and socially threatening interpretations of the implications of atheism obviously serve an agenda of scaring people into staying within the confines of their faith beliefs for they perceive to be the sake of morality and purpose in their lives. It also conveniently stigmatizes atheists so that people dread being one or being seen as one. It makes for fantastic propaganda that stifles and mentally cages people.
Now, if you have lived your whole life in this mindset, what happens when one day you no longer believe in the existence of the kind of god that you thought was crucial for both the justification and the motivation to be moral or to live a meaningful life? Unfortunately, many deconverts (and even some lifelong atheists!) buy into the false Christian choice between theistic meaning and nihilism and become professed nihilists. But does that affect how they behave and value on a practical level?
I want to ask the former theists out there, did the kinds of Christian prejudices about the possibilities for non-belief that I have outlined above affect how you understood yourself or what was moral or best for you post-faith or whether you felt obliged to be moral anymore, etc.? In the immediate aftermath of deconverting did abstract ideas about what non-belief supposedly must entail influence your practical thinking in any tangible ways? Did you feel either any greater license or any greater motivation to be more selfish, more apathetic, more relativistic, etc., etc.? Did you reason that “if there is no god all is permitted” and if you did did that change your behavior or effective mindset in any specific ways?Did any other theistically or religiously formed beliefs about non-believers affect serve as a negative or a positive influence on how you saw yourself and in turn behaved? It’s a wrenching thing for many of us to go through losing our identity shaping beliefs and communities. We can cast about for role models. Sometimes, conformists as we are, we can regularly be influenced to behave like people we understand to be doing bad things if only we think they are the normal things to do. Casting about for role models when one knows few non-believers, were any of you inclined to follow the examples set by the imaginary non-believers of whom you had heard well-poisoning rumors?
Finally, a little different but still related and interesting, did any other habits of thinking that you would now repudiate but which were forged religiously linger into your non-believing days? Did you hold on to religiously formed sexism or reactionary moral or political attitudes, etc.?
For just a few of my ruminations on how I dealt with these kinds of issues, see at least the following few installments from my deconversion series: