Why Wouldn’t I Want It?

Blog reader Caitlin writes:

II don’t know what story im replying to but that’s not why I am here. I need to ask questions, I need to know. What is it like to be an athiest? How can you feel fulfilled? i am a 14 year old girl, and never ahve felt so strongly in God in my life. I was always brought up as a catholic bbut I still didnt feel special because I really hadnt become serious about God. Then 2 years ago my life became more stressed and I had to face God Myself. I thought I’d “give it a shot” and talk to God. I was skeptikal because I believed a prayer would be wasted. But I prayed to God, and as minutes past and I continued to spill my problems to him, I suddenly felt lighter, my heart began to lift. I could’nt explain it I just felt like soemone lifted my head up as to say “I am listening.” And I kept talking to god all night long until I fell asleep finally. I wake up and I feel the same joy I felt last night. It felt like a dream, but It was so very real. I then relieazed I was happy. I felt fullfilled, because I was sincere about my relationship with someone and something. Over time I became stronger and to this day I feel the joy I felt that one night very morning when I wake up. I know it was the act of God because my life has been filled with only true acts of god. Recently my dad was deployed to Iraq, has been there for 6 months. He’s doing great and absolutely has had some protection from above.This Summer eevry time I think about my dad and bow my head for a quick desperate prayer, I feel a breeze against me. I just know it. God Exists. It seems that hes always listening.
Wouldn’t you want that?


(*sigh* I feel like I’m writing an antithesis of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”…)

Dear Caitlin,

Of course I would want a relationship with God. For that matter, I’d love to go to Heaven.

The problem is that I don’t think either is an option. When I think about God and the afterlife, my reasoning leads me to believe they don’t exist.

Part of the reason I put the eBay auction up and went to churches was because I wondered if there was anything I was ignoring. Did my own logic miss something obvious? I haven’t found that something yet, but there are more churches to come…

You said you felt happier, fulfilled, and stronger when you finally spoke to God. Strangely enough, I only had those feelings when I stopped believing. The God I believed in before was not an angry God, but I did think there were parts of my life that were out of my own control. When those feelings turned around, it changed my life for the better.

Discovering that I had the power to think about the world and figure out how it works on my own was a thrill. Our knowledge came through human insight, not divine scripture. I could do the research. I could perform the experiments. I controlled my own destiny. When I had problems, I had to work on fixing them myself. When accidents happened, they may not have been anyone’s fault. I realized we were mortal, so we needed to enjoy this life and not stop others from doing the same.

It’s not to say my life is perfect. Sure, there are problems. You mentioned that when you talked to God, your spirits were lifted. Anytime you can talk to a person you trust about problems eating you up inside, you’re going to feel better. It happens for me when I talk to close friends and family.

I’m glad your dad is safe and I hope nothing changes that. I don’t know your situation, but I always look first for natural explanations. Is your dad somewhere where he has protection? Does he have experienced colleagues? Is he in danger zones? Those answers may explain his safety. The breeze can be attributed to… well… wind.

I wonder if when you say your life is filled with the good acts of God, do you also consider God to be the cause of the bad parts as well?

None of this is to say you’re wrong. But I hope you can understand that even without God, I can have similar feelings and joy. I’m not any emptier when God isn’t with me.

Love,

Hemant

[tags]atheist, atheism, God, Iraq, Catholic, eBay[/tags]

  • http://julievw.blogspot.com JulieVW

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

  • http://chrisbenard.net Chris Benard

    Hemant,
    That is such an awesome letter. You put into words what I’ve tried to explain to so many people. Life is so much better when you stop believing. I really hope nothing happens to her dad, because she might think some overlooking deity did something on purpose to her dad and stopped “protecting” him. That would mess somebody up pretty badly, I’d think.

    Things made so much more sense after I dropped my irrational beliefs.

    Anyway, kudos to you sir. I found you through a convoluted path of Rational Response Squad -> Village Voice -> Off the Map -> Your blog.

    I’m going to add you to my RSS aggregator; I can’t wait to read more about your experiences. I haven’t been to church in 4 years, and unlike you, I don’t plan to start going soon.

  • Natalie

    When I was Caitlin’s age, I had what I would call a great faith in God too. And I felt like I had a very deep and meaningful relationship with him. As I left highschool and entered university and through my university years, I realized that I was letting my “faith” control what I believed, and answer my questions for me, instead of seeking out the answers myself. About three or so years ago, I prayed to God to make my faith sincere, and I started a journey of intense self-reflection and questioning. I decided to face my doubts and seek out answers instead of being afraid of them. My reasoning was that if God wasn’t big enough for the doubts and questions that I had, then he wasn’t for me. I don’t really have any conclusions for this except that I feel more fulfilled as a person and more genuine in my beliefs, whatever they may be, than I ever have before, even though now I wouldn’t call myself a Christian. I am still searching.

    I just want to encourage Caitlin that there is nothing wrong with being strong in her faith as a Christian. But I also want to encourage her that if she comes to a point where she feels there are doubts in her life, she shouldn’t be afraid to face them. What is wrong with seeking the truth?

  • Karen

    (*sigh* I feel like I’m writing an antithesis of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”…)

    Heh. Yeah, there is something of that to arguing reason with Christians who are so sincere in their beliefs. I almost feel reluctant to pop someone’s bubble at times, in presenting some of the logical arguments against faith.

    And since I know how personally wrenching it can be to leave a religion (though ultimately completely worth it), I suppose there’s a double dilemma going on.

  • HappyNat

    Very nice reply, Hemant.

    One thing I have trouble explaining to Christians is that that “feeling of god”. I was raised Christian and believed until I was 20 or so, when I prayed or was singing in fellowship I “felt god”.

    After I became an atheist I have had this same feeling, when I have a good talk, or when I’m struck by the beauty of nature. It’s so clear to me now that I was attirbuting this wonderful feeling to something that wasn’t there, the feeling was coming from within me. It is the way the body and mind react to certain stimulation, not the pressence of god.

  • Josh Kappes

    There seems to be a whole lot of talk about feelings and not a whole lot of talk about truth. Both sides seem to talk a whole lot about how it feels now that they’ve decided one way or the other… feelings aside… Is God real? If so am I accountable to Him? The whole issue of where I go when I die is a big one… I mean I’m going to be dead a whole lot longer than I’m alive so it serves me well to look for truth rather than what will make me feel good when I’m alive. I can’t hack it when Christians talk about God makes me feel so much better. God sent His only Son to die on a cross so I could feel better? Gotta be more to it than that. God could have done that without His Son being brutally beaten and hung on a cross. It’s gotta be more than that.

  • Name?

    Here’s my letter to Caitlin,
    I have never truly believed in God because there are better things for me to believe in. I believe that the world is full of good things as well as bad, that people are strong, that I am strong, that there are people who love me and that my most important ability is my ability to make choices. I have no pre-ordained purpose and meaning, which means that I get to create my own purpose. It does not matter where the universe comes from, or how it came to be, or why it happens to exist, and this lack of meaning frees me to live and exist any way that I can, any way that I choose.

  • http://www.xanga.com/drew85 Drew

    Haha, I’m going way back in time to post on this one. I wonder if anyone will ever read it?

    I had a very good imagination as a child. A large part of the reason I came to see religion for what it is, is a result of my imagination. I had stuffed animals in my bed. They were all imaginary friends to me. I formed an entire story around them, and I thought if I managed to believe in them my whole life, they would reveal themselves to me (you know, become animated, like a real dog or dinosaur or whatever the stuffed animal) before I died.

    I know, it sounds like I’m making fun of religion; I’m not. Honest, I believed this stuff. It might have been subconsciously patterned after what I heard in Church, but I sure thought it was original. This was before I ever gave religion serious though.

    Because my belief was such that the moment I doubted them, I could lose my chance of ever seeing them in their true form, this fantasy had a powerful hold on me. I believed it well into the fifth and sixth grade, far after a child should have abandoned this stuff.

    I talked to them aloud at night. I knew they were listening. It helped me immensely in dealing with my feelings. Of course, my older brother told people at school about this, and it contributed to my loneliness, but that only made my faith stronger. You have no idea how good it feels as a lonely, scared grade-schooler to lay in bed at night and wrap your arms around what you believe is a sentient, though silent, animal/being, that knows what you are going through, and wants the best from you.

    I even convinced myself that my stuffed animals helped me out in life. When I lost something, I’d ask them to help find it. If I found it, I’d give them credit. I thought they had a spiritual presence outside of their stuffed form, and could thus help me out during the day.

    My mom one day threatened to take me to a psychologist if I didn’t knock of this stuff. (Today she doesn’t understand how I can argue against religion when it’s not hurting anyone, but only providing people with comfort.)

    How did I get over my belief? It was a conscious decision. I didn’t want Mom to think I was crazy, and I was tired of not having any friends. Again, I am not exaggerating or making fun of religion, and I ask for some understanding here– I’m opening myself up to be made fun of, but these were my beliefs. I sat down on the bed, and tearfully told my animals what I was going to do. It was awful; I cried for hours. What was my plan? I said that I knew I could convince myself that they weren’t real, if I kept them out of my sight and out of my mind for long enough. But I knew as long as they were here, and I was exposed to them every day, I could never get over my belief. So I was going to put them in a plastic bag (they don’t need air, they’re spiritual in essense!) and leave them in the basement.

    And that’s what I did. In a sense, you could say I willfully suppressed what I actually believed, in order to get along in society. And a Christian could use this as an analogy to what many atheists seem to do with religion. But hopefully we can at least agree that through my actions, I arrived at the truth: I came to accept that stuffed animals weren’t alive. I had to accept that things that make me feel good, and things that I really want to believe, are not necessarily true.

    It was a long time after this that I gave up religion. But it was much easier when I understood the power that desire can have over our rationality. It was also much easier when I realized how much better it is to turn to real people and real things when I got upset, than to turn to things I’ve invented to help me cope.

  • Siamang

    Drew,

    What an incredibly sad story.

    Thanks for sharing it.

  • AnonyMouse

    Absolutely. I would want that. In fact, I wanted it so badly that for years I allowed myself to believe in it.

    The problem came not because I decided I didn’t want it anymore (I still love that feeling of comfort, though now it comes from other people), but because I was faced with a fact that completely contradicted my beliefs. Once I learned that Jesus was not the man that people hold him to be, I realized that I was actually getting very little “personal contact from God” — and that most of it was a psychosomatic experience. I suspect that mirror neurons were involved.

    I feel fulfilled because I have a full life ahead of me and it is mine to live as I choose. I may not have a God in my life, but aside from that small detail I am just like a Christian. I love my fellow men, especially my family. I do everything I can to help out those fellow men when I have a chance. I do things that I enjoy, and I do things that I don’t enjoy just because they have to be done. I have a very strict code of ethics regarding the way I treat others, and I follow it. Not because a God commands it, but because it feels right to me (another gift of mirror neurons). I do not steal, I do not murder, I do not commit adultery. I do not envy what my neighbor has, nor do I lust after her husband. I do not worship any earthly thing (though I do admire a few). And I have never boiled a kid in its mother’s milk, though I am highly partial to bacon cheeseburgers.

    Bottom line: Everything in my life that I thought was coming from God turned out to be coming from me and the people around me. So although I miss the promise of a blissful eternity after I die, I am very content with the life I have here on Earth.


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