Sunday, September 6, 2009

Benefits of Atheism: Never Having to Ask, "Why Me?"

It was a number of years that I spent dabbling with the idea of becoming an Atheist. There were times when I spent some days as a Christian and other days as an Atheist, to notice what if any difference there was. Yet there was one day in particular, one moment to be precise, when I decided to finally abandon my religious and spiritual beliefs altogether, and I remember that instant clearly. I had just finished a conversation with a teacher who meant a great deal to me. He was very intelligent and kind and I remember him telling me that he was an Atheist. He said so much that rang true for me, gave good questions to answers I posed, and I respected him greatly. I remember leaving his office and walking outside. It was a beautiful fall day. The air was cool and as I looked up into the sky, I saw clouds and the sun in a new way. There had been countless times I had looked up into the sky before, as if I was stretching and trying to reach or get closer to God. This time I looked up and thought, "There really is no God" and the beauty and wonder of the world was still there, unchanged. At that moment, I felt a sense of happiness, excitement, and peace that I never had before and I realized it was because for the first time, my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs were congruent. This was the first benefit of Atheism I noticed and it was wonderful. What I had no idea of at that time was all the benefits of Atheism yet to come.

Now, after a number of years, I have discovered so many positive benefits of Atheism which I never imagined before and never heard about from anyone. Looking back, I feel a sense of sadness about this and wonder if someone had talked to me sooner about these benefits, then my path may have been easier.

With this in mind, I am going to start a series of articles about the benefits I have found through being an Atheist. Ideally, my hope is that these articles will help other people who are going through the same struggles I did, letting them know that there is more light at the end of the tunnel than they are aware of.

When one works as an Outpatient Psychotherapist, one learns a lot about people. People come in and talk with you about things they never share with others. Not their friends, family members, or spouses. To a large extent, what they say in unfiltered and they reveal their deepest secrets. The social mask is off. By social mask, I mean the image we present to others which is not always genuine, such as answering, "Good." after someone asks, "How are you?", when things are not actually "good".

After many years practicing as an Outpatient Psychotherapist, I can say that my wife and I would not have to discuss finances as much if I had a dollar for everytime someone has asked me, "Why me?", after revealing some tragedy or horrible experience in their life. The experiences are different, such as the death of a loved one, an accident involving permanent bodily injury, or childhood physical or sexual abuse, but the question is always the same.

I've always had a soft spot for the underdog, or people caught in situations where they are truly the victims of their circumstances. This doesn't happen a lot. I think most adults have some amount of responsibility for things going wrong in their lives most of the time, but there are times when people have no hand in their own demise. This is especially true for children. Yet for these adults, the pain that they are going through is made worse by the meaning they make of it, such as asking, "Why me?", because for many theists, God is at work in their lives. Of course, no clear divine answer is ever given to them, so I hear people either blame themselves and search for things they did wrong to explain these situations, or I see them angered or upset at their God for the tragedy happening to them. Some people spend a lot of time and energy wracking their brains, trying to find out "why" something bad happened to them.

For these people, I truly feel genuine sympathy. They were probably taught at a young age that "Everything happens for a reason." Hate is a very strong word, but I must say that I hate that tired canard, especially because of the work I do. Tell that to the young children I have seen who have been repeatedly raped by some cruel and depraved adult. Tell that to the children I have seen who have had empty beer bottles thrown at their heads by drunken parents. If some god allows these things to happen for a reason, then I think it has a lot to answer for.

Yet now as an Atheist, I find great solace in never having to ask, "Why me?" when tragedy strikes. Sometimes bad things happen and I am responsible for them happening to some extent. However, when bad things happen which are out of my control, I can know that it happened by chance and not because some god is trying to teach me or others some lesson. The bad thing happened and that's it. Period. There is no "why". "Why" in this context is a misuse of the word, like asking "Where color is the pen?" instead of "What color is the pen?" So bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people by chance alone and with that knowledge comes great serenity.

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