I believe that we are responsible for creating our own destinies. I don’t believe that some outside force has predetermined my life goals. I never attribute anything odd or surprising in my life to fate because I don’t think that the idea of fate actually exists. I don’t waste my time wondering how and why I was put here on earth; I live my life on a day to day basis and experience life for all it’s worth instead of preoccupying myself with a question that will never be answered. Being an atheist does not make me a bad person.
Life as Atheist
Many people dislike my point of view because it implies that the world is ultimately chaotic and has no real meaning. I wish that other people would busy themselves with making their own lives worthwhile instead of worrying about why we’re even here. Nobody else is going to do that for them. Perhaps it’s comforting for people to know that they’re not just pointlessly here for no reason at all. I can relate to that. If I thought about it too much, I would find it very difficult to function on a day-to-day basis in a world that is ultimately meaningless and absurd to me. However, there are the diversions in life that enable me to continue to function. I go to school, I go to work, and I have family and friends to surround myself with. I immerse myself in literature, I write, I play video games, I go for walks in the rain, and I like to eat ice cream. It is these things, big or small, that give me reason to wake up rather than the promise of a heavenly afterlife.
When I was a senior in high school, my grandpa abruptly died from heart complications. This wasn’t somebody who I was especially close to but I went to his wake and his funeral despite how morbid those ceremonies are to me because I didn’t want to be disrespectful. It was the first real wake that I had ever been to, and I spent most of my time as far away from the coffin as possible. I didn’t actually approach the coffin until the day of the funeral, and I wish I hadn’t; the image of my grandpa in a coffin has been permanently burnt into my brain. He looked like he was made out of wax and so unlike the person I knew when I was a little girl. I started to cry—not because I missed him, but because I realized that one day I was going to be that person. This isn’t to say that I didn’t miss him. If anything, I felt even worse for thinking about my own mortality at someone else’s funeral. However, just being there made me come to the realization that I too would eventually be in a coffin for everybody to see. People will be able to see my waxy body, pay their respects, and say to themselves that I’m in a happier place now. I am legitimately envious of people who have something to look forward to after they die because I am stuck with the reality that I won’t be anywhere at all.
I had never put so much focus on death until I had been to this wake, and it enabled me to come to a better understanding about other people’s beliefs. I’ve sent myself into panic attacks over what it’s like to die. I’m most afraid that it’s going to hurt and that I will experience pain that I have never experienced before. My heart will begin to stop beating and I’ll feel like I’m suffocating. I’ll be completely helpless. The worst part, though, is the consequence of my own beliefs. I’ll be neither here nor there and it’ll be as though I never even existed. A lot of atheists snidely remark that the religious use their faith as a crutch, and that may be so depending on context and how one frames it, but it’s still a crutch that I wish I could bare.
It’s been difficult marrying my two different beliefs together.
That is, it’s difficult to hold such an existentialist viewpoint about life while having such a powerful fear of death. Existentialism and atheism aren’t always mutually exclusive, but they are in my case. However, just as I do not focus on the meaning of life, I try not to focus on the meaning of death either. I’m only human though, and at times I find myself dwelling on death more than I would like to admit. It is this conundrum that makes beliefs like mine look unattractive and unappealing, but I do sincerely think that so much good comes of what I believe in.
I like that I can define myself and operate under my own values without having to subscribe to what society demands of me. Many people place so much importance on what other people think (or what scripture suggests is the proper way of living) that they begin to forget who they are, or who they want to be. Human nature is nonexistent to me; the only things that we naturally feel inclined to do are eat, sleep, use the bathroom, and have sex. Beyond that, there is no such thing as human nature. It is the society in which we live that creates the social constructions around us that people take for granted and mistake for “human nature.” I believe that I am responsible for all of my actions and that others are responsible for the identities that they create for themselves. In my eyes, responsibility ultimately takes the place of human nature and allows us to bare the blame. I think that if more people held this belief, we would become more conscious and socially responsible about our own culture, as well as the cultures that surround us.
I don’t think that there are many universal values that any one culture can agree upon. However, we’re all brought up with certain values. These values can’t necessarily be justified by the whole world, but they are still “our” values. I believe that we are responsible for our own values just like we are responsible for our own actions and the identities that we have created for ourselves. I could hypothetically follow all of the values of one society, but choosing to follow those values would allow them to consequently become my own values, by which point I am completely responsible for. I could choose different values at any time. For me, the close relationship that freedom and responsibility share enables me to be more socially responsible in my society.
I feel like communicating with people is so much easier this way. I feel more compelled to treat people right at every opportunity because there is no room in my beliefs for repentance. All I can do is ask others for forgiveness, which I think has lead to a greater level of thoughtfulness in my interactions with others. By not believing in something, I have come to find that I have more room to believe in all of the things that make my life good and worth living. I can place more importance on the things that most would normally take for granted. I don’t need a religious belief to make sense out of everything because everything important in my life already makes enough sense for me to be content.