I want to tell you a story about how we can change the minds of those around us by being ourselves.
My friend Sarah (here’s her blog!), who does the camera work for all of my Youtube videos, came to me a few months ago and told me she’d been thinking about death frequently, concluding that no life after death exists.
I responded with, “Oh really?!” since Sarah has been a theist her entire life. She and I have been friends since high school, and she’s changed her religion so frequently that her waffling became sort of a joke in my circle of friends. She’s been Protestant, Jewish, Wiccan, Catholic, Lutheran, etc. I never really thought about it much, though I’ve come to realize now that she based her religious affiliation entirely on what would make the people most important in her life happy: boyfriends, family, etc.
Sarah and I have at times had a mother-daughter sort of relationship. She looks to me for advice. A lot of our friends have accused her of parroting me. This time though, she decided she didn’t want to look only to me. She didn’t want to be accused of simply doing whatever I happened to do – so after telling me her conclusions about death, she reached out to Christopher, my husband.
She told him that not only did she not see any evidence of life after death, but she was pretty sure she didn’t believe in god anymore, either.
Guess who he sent her off to read: Greta Christina, of course! He sent her to this post on the top ten reasons not to believe in god, and this post on making atheism welcome for the deconverting, this post on atheism and hope, this post on atheism and meaning, this post on atheism and mystery, this post on atheism and death and… oh science, just go read every word she’s ever written. Sarah dove in.
Of Greta, Sarah says:
I was realizing that what she was saying was true. She was talking about living in the moment, but not referencing some guy or some fictitious being to force happiness. She was just being happy.
Before this, I had avoided long-winded chats about atheism with Sarah, or devoting any significant time to talking about atheism with her. Even when she became hyper-Christian along with her husband, I just let her do her own thing. I didn’t think becoming Christian for the sake of someone else was a good idea, but she was a newlywed and when people are in a new relationship, they tend to get defensive when you tell them that something they do in the relationship might not be a great idea.
Sarah had a lot of questions. One day, she asked me if I feared death, and the “nothingness” that comes with it.
Christina helped me understand why I was afraid of nothing. The nothing that was after death would be same nothing that would happen before birth. No hurting, burning or being tortured for eternity; there would be no hanging out with Buddha or Jesus, and certainly not coming back in a new body to “try again”. I realized that it must be true, the brain stops functioning within 20-40 seconds after the heart stops functioning. Even when people come back from the dead they only speak about the moment that they went towards a light, then there is nothing else they can remember. So with this information I have gathered that after the light happens there is nothing.
Weeks later, she started using the “A” word, coming out as an atheist on her blog.
Metaphorical wasn’t going to do it for me anymore. I was growing out of my magical phase. The phase where unicorns, spells, and dancing naked for a moon goddess was fading. How can I prove that god exists, that GOD exists? I can’t. Miracles are explainable, if not now, then with research and that isn’t proof of a singular being of pure awesome.
“Look to the Bible” was a response I got from a lot of Christian friends, the bible only made me think that god was a figment of a lot of people’s imaginations. He was angry, wrathful, all-knowing, peaceful, loving, caring, and well he kept killing his people constantly. Why would a being tell us that we shouldn’t kill, then go off and do it himself? I think that is the definition of hypocrisy. Beyond that, he was just mean.
I can’t be gullible anymore, I have to look to reason and logic. There isn’t logic in religion, there is a word called faith. “Have faith” means to me give up reason, logic, and all science.
What do I believe in then? Well, I believe in myself, my pursuit of science, my happiness, and “finding the joy in being wrong”. Games are fun to play, but now I have to be an adult. I have to grow up and know what is true to me. Does this make me less of a nerd? Oh, hell no. I still love games, but I have a responsibility to my happiness and to my life to know that I am looking for proof in things, that I am researching before I take in anything as “gospel”. I also feel logic, science, and math have always been a reasonable guiding light, something I should have known or considered all along, but I am only Homo sapien.
I was happy. I love when people come to rationality. However, I didn’t quite realize how much an impact we had.
Later, Sarah explained to me in deeper detail how she came to think so intensely about death. Her thoughts went beyond depression: Sarah wanted to kill herself. She was suicidal. She’s tried to kill herself three times earlier in her life, and was poised to make a fourth attempt. She thought of suicide as a way to get to the afterlife quicker.
I’ve been suicidal before and probably will be several times again, but in this case I was close to death again. That is what I wanted to know more about. So if I killed myself where would I go? Where is my aunt? Where will my dad go? I was baffled. I wanted to end my life but I didn’t know what would happen to me afterwards. I wanted to know before it happened. I started to look at the afterlife and I wanted proof that it was there. But neither my aunt nor any of the people I knew, such as my grandmother who loved me more than her own children, came back to talk with me. I hallucinated when I was younger that I was seeing dead people all the time, but not once was it a loved one. I looked at what Heaven was, or what Summerland was, or any of the afterlife hang outs were. I couldn’t find any definitive proof that they existed, just stories of people wanting to explain it or see it for themselves.
Atheism saved my friend from suicide. Reading Greta Christina, talking to us, made her realize that killing herself will rob her of the only life she has – no afterlife exists to come home to when you end this one.
Let that sink in.
Because of our community, a life continues.
I’m going to continue to support her in her search for help for depression – becoming an atheist didn’t cure her, but at least she has a supportive community where we don’t shun people with mental illness.
Of course, the non-atheist community has not been so supportive. Her husband, a very devout Christian (who is in prison for 5 years, which complicates matters) is angry. He vowed to spend the rest of his life trying to convince her to believe in his god again. If only she and I could make him understand.
Her co-workers found out, resulting in a conversation that went something like this:
Co-worker: You’re an atheist? Does that mean you worship Satan or something?
Sarah: Um, no. That’s Satanism.
Co-worker: So, you’re the anti-Christ then?
Sarah: Still no. Do you know what the word “atheist” even means?
Her co-workers proceeded to say, “Satanist!” to her in passing while she worked.
Her sister-in-law blamed her for her co-worker’s behavior, saying, “well, what do you expect?”
However, she is hopeful. She’ll learn to take her minority religious status in stride, and wear it as a badge of honor. She’s ready to make her life better without religion:
If I was told that there was only one life earlier on and I realized that I needed to work harder at this life, I would have been more successful. Not that I want to reminisce on just my past but atheism has really saved my life. The idea of an afterlife and possibly the rebirth allowed the thoughts of suicide to cloud my mind. The chance to relive this life or to hang out in the afterlife with people that are related to me or love me; it was a way to get out of this life: the life of being fat, ugly, hated, abused, and looked down on.
Since there is’t an afterlife or rebirth to happen, then I have to make this life count. I plan on turning it around the best I can. One thing that I want to do for sure is let my children know that there is only one life to live. I need them to step up and learn better and try harder than I did and I want them to be better people than I am. I can only let them know of my ways and how long it took me to get there, in hopes that they take this knowledge and become something brilliant.
We make a difference.
Follow Sarah @TheNerdChef