Allow me to apologize in advance, for I plan to keep this letter brief and to the point. I've already written two especially lengthy letters to you today, but neither of those sent due to technical mishaps on my end. So, here's hoping that the third time will be the charm.
I'm a sixteen year old asexual agnostic. I only loosely identify myself as agnostic, and lately, I've been having some thoughts that have tempted me towards atheism, which is quite a taboo where I live. Though I plan on keeping this letter somewhat brief, I feel that a little history is needed to make my question clear and clarified...
I don't consider myself a spiritual/religious person. I've only been to church a handful of times, and those few times were usually at the request of my mother. Recently, I've been growing increasingly skeptical of religion, specifically the concept that a single, omniscient deity is perched on a cloud in the sky. In fact, the main force leading me to try and cultivate my faith when I was younger was the fear of what lay after death; an eternal damnation being ample incentive for me to try desperately to find god. Regardless of how hard I tried, I failed. Thus, I'm here, seeking advice.
I'm torn over the concept of faith. What irks me so badly is that I can understand it. It makes sense that a god would only reward those who put the very well-being of their souls into his hands with no evidence. That's also what leaves me feeling unsettled. One of my major fears in life is living a long life confident in my beliefs, and then finally slipping away, and realizing that I thought wrongly. On the other end, I believe that no pious, benevolent god would damn someone's soul to an eternity of suffering simply because they did something he forbade. A truly kind god would love all, regardless of their actions or thoughts, and any god but that wouldn't be worthy of worship.
If my question has gotten a bit muddled over the course of the letter, please, allow me to reiterate it. Is it truly a bad thing to not believe in god? I've been raised my entire life with the concept of atheism being a detested, shameful thing to be. It is possible that I'm fretting for nothing, if there truly is nothing that lay beyond death.
Thank you in advance, PB. I don't know if I should be embarrassed or humbled that I've received more advice from a stranger over the Internet than from family or friends. Nevertheless, I appreciate that you do what you do.
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If you’ll indulge me a moment, your letter reminds me of an old Steve Martin routine. Paraphrasing a bit, the skit goes something like this: “Wouldn’t it be weird if you died and went to Heaven and it was just like they always told you? You know, with pearly gates and angels with wings on them playing harps? And you’re like, ‘Oh, shit! Really? Are you kidding me?’”
That traditional concept of heaven with cherubs and seraphim flapping around on dove-like wings (I always thought dragon wings were cooler) and God being a big guy with a white beard sitting on a throne with his Son on one side and Holy Spirit on the other and all the other angels and saints standing around being holy and not noticing that the cherubs’ pink butts were hanging out.... Yes, it’s lame. And if you mean that you don’t believe in that type of God, the one who also throws people into Hell for not following His commandments, then I would applaud you for your good sense and perspicacity. Just because you don’t believe in that kind of God doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be an atheist, however.
When I ponder the existence of God, or Great Spirit, or Grandfather Bear, or Ultimate Being, I think of that in terms of my being by comparison. I know that if I were God, I would have enough love in my heart, as well as sympathy and compassion to not want to see anyone tortured in Hell for all eternity. And if I can feel that way, and I’m just a little spec on a tiny planet in a vast universe in comparison to God, then I think God would be infinitely more compassionate and kinder than I. Furthermore, I would think that He would know how to help people with cold hearts and heal their blackened souls. Therefore, Hell would not be necessary.
So why do religious people such as Christians talk about Hell and threaten people who don’t believe as they do with eternal damnation? Why, to get just the kind of reaction they have gotten out of you: fear that if you don’t behave you will be punished with unending misery. But if you’re a good little boy you get to wear a robe and walk on puffy clouds for eternity (which actually sounds incredibly dull).
I, personally, do not believe in Heaven or Hell. These were created by humans as an award/punishment system to keep the masses in line; that’s all. The concept of God is also an exercise in anthropomorphism. The Bible says that God created Adam in His image. Some interpreters of the Bible say that this shouldn’t be taken literally, but that what is meant is that we have a soul while other creatures do not. Even this kind of anthropomorphism is an indication of great hubris on our part. Personally, I think humans think far too much of themselves and of their importance as a species in the grand scheme of things (remember when we believed the Sun and all the universe orbited Earth?) The epic hubris of religious institutions, however, is even more outrageous. No one on this planet knows—genuinely knows—the solution to the mystery of life and death. The Pope does not comprehend it any more than you or I do. People who tell you they understand fully what life and God are all about are either self-deluded or lying to you.
I would not worry if I were you, Nick, that someone else’s concept of life after death and of God is correct and yours is wrong. They are all wrong because no one knows the correct answer. When we die, there are two possibilities: 1) Death is truly death, the end of your being, your consciousness, your existence, in which case it will be like going into a dreamless sleep and never awakening, or 2) there is some kind of existence after death, but the nature of what that truly is will be a surprise to us all. Hopefully, a good surprise, but I, for one, could only speculate as to what that might be.
This is why people came up with the concept of Faith. Because we don’t truly know what or who or if God is, we take it on blind faith that He is and that He is a good and kind God. That is what many of us hope even though we cannot prove it (pointing to the Bible is not proof, it is notable to point out).
We have Faith because it is a great comfort in a scary world, and we obey religious leaders because it is easier than thinking for ourselves.
Another option, as you noted, is to be an atheist. Science has shown us that the universe behaves according to logical mathematical and other principles in a very elegant and beautiful system that can explain everything from the formation of galaxies and planets to the emergence of life and evolution. Perhaps, then, God is unnecessary and science is Lord.
There is a third option, however, which is the one I have been exploring. It lies, in a sense, somewhere between the two options above in which God is not a perfect omniscient and omnipresent being but instead is an evolving being that is coming into existence and that becoming is experienced through the evolving consciousnesses of living beings such as ourselves. Part of that becoming is an awakening in which God must decide whether or not He really exists. This is completely within the Becoming God’s power, and if He concludes that He doesn’t exist, then the universe disappears and we start from square one. But if He does conclude that He exists, then he becomes a Fully Awakened God, in which case all things are possible, a true nirvana.
Just a theory. Take it with a grain of salt.
This long-winded response to your question, Nick, will conclude by asserting that, no, it is not an evil thing that you are considering atheism as a possible model for explaining the nature of existence. But I predict this will not be the end-point of your personal exploration of life and meaning. You are 16 years old and have a lot of time to explore and consider your life. As you live your days in this iteration of your soul, your philosophy and theology will likely evolve, too. This is the noblest of pursuits, and the best thing you can do is not worry about what other people think of your personal quest.
I applaud you for not mindlessly aping what your friends and family tell you to believe and how to behave.
As for your concluding remarks, I see no reason for you to be embarrassed or humbled for reaching out and talking to someone else about your feelings. I feel that it is healthy, and I hope that my words will continue to help you. Don’t disregard family and friends, though, as everyone in your life will have something to say and advise you on, but trust your instincts and your own judgment. Consider the words of others, speak less than you listen, and weigh others’ opinions against the realities of the world that you experience first-hand. Continue to question everything you see and hear as you have been doing and you will do well in life.
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