Yesterday I got around to talk with a religious person, a Christian. When I told her I am an atheist, she luckily didn't ask any questions about evolution, abortion, or hell. Instead, she was curious to know what I put my Faith in, where I get my Hope from, and what I think of Judgement and Forgiving.
Faith, as in having faith that things will get better? Well, the only thing I can put my faith in are the things I believe to exist. No powerful deity, no mysterious fate... My answer was that I put my Faith in people, in the human race. My own life is determined by my own choices to some extent, by the people around me to a bigger extent, by society as a whole for the remaining part. Everything is ultimately determined by people: war and peace, equality and inequality, poverty and wealth... Sure, natural disasters and things like that exist, but the way technology constantly strives to tame nature itself, all diseases, aging, it's really up to humans. There is no god to cure diseases. The cure comes either from your own immune system or from drugs designed by humans. There is no god to stop wars. The stop has to come from people. So when I hope for wars to end, do I put my faith in the people? Yes, because I have no other choice. While humans will most likely never find peace, I do not believe in any other force that could possibly do it for us. It's sad, it may be pessimistic, but in my eyes it's realistic.
Where do I get my hope from? That ties in with the previous. The only hope for me, the only thing that makes it worthwhile, is that I put my faith in people because I have faith in people. I have faith in that each person has at least a fundamental kindness and sense of responsibility for whatever they themselves care of. I have faith in that no person is completely "evil". My hope is that some people can unite. There's only us in this universe to take care of ourselves, and look how far we've come. It's a road of trial and error, but sometimes it works out and truly wonderful things happen. Often it doesn't. I can't put my hopes up for anything big, because the more people it takes to achieve something, the less likely it is that it will be achieved. But small things, yeah, I take pride in achieving them myself, with my peers, not with the help of some god. Funny thing, and take no offence, but I dislike the idea of a god making me do the things I do while believing myself to be an autonomous being.
What about Judgement and Forgiveness means? That was the trickiest question, and I asked for what Judgement means. In this case, for the Christian, it meant the sense of knowing that people who do wrongly get punished, but also, and more importantly, that even a flawed person (and we are all flawed in some ways) can be forgiven, if not by others, then by God. A Christian, I was told, is a person who has had their sins forgiven by Jesus. I wondered who would give me justice when I begged for it, or exert justice on me when I did wrong. I wondered where I could get my forgiveness from. I thought in what ways it mattered whether I would be forgiven. The answer once again: people. That all-mighty race. I am bound by laws made up by mankind, and I am forgiven by human beings around me. Whether as a collective society or as individuals (parents, friends, colleagues, strangers), the only forgiveness I care about is that which I am given by other people in this life, here and now. I believe in no gods, no afterlife, no concept out of this world. Which on the other hand means that if I am not forgiven by my friends or given justice by the law, there is nothing I can do about it, except from cursing towards the sky, asking why there exists no god that can help me out here. Still, what would I do with the forgiveness of god, if my friend has not forgiven me?
Having said these things I had had in my mind for quite a long time, having put them into words for someone else to hear, I thought of how chaotic the world is, and here I am, trusting that everything is determined by humans. My new friend laughed and said that I must have a bigger faith than her to believe what I believe. I guess so. But even as I put my faith in people and in the co-existence of people, in people's determination to strive onwards, I know that usually it takes a very long time to achieve anything in a big scale. Haven't people had enough time to eradicate diseases and poverty, to provide fresh water and education? Yes. Well, why haven't they happened already? It may be they will. It may be they will, but that we are not just ready for it yet. Who knows. it's just up to humans that these things will be done.
Our discussion went on for a while longer. We talked about how some people at their darkest moments start wondering whether something like god(s) exists to hear their prayer; whether Jesus really can help them out; what will happen to them in the afterlife, just in case the afterlife they have always denied turns out to be true. I didn't say it, but I though of how sometimes, occasionally, indeed only in the darkest moments of grief, I have wondered whether a god would listen to me if a god existed, whether Jesus would actually care about me when all I have done is denying his identity as a son of a god, whether my grand-mother can go to heaven even though I don't believe in it. A good god should listen to me, if I truly needed it. Jesus should accept me, since I have not denied most of his teachings. A heaven should exist: not for my own sake, but for my grand-mother's, who believed in it. But mark the modality! All these thoughs come with the doubt of ifs, woulds, shoulds and maybes. I just like to imagine what it would be if the things religious people believe in actually were real.
And that's when I know. That's when I know why people are religious. It gives them great security and comfort, explanations and purposes. Bad things in a world where a higher power can determine the outcomes are like taxes: not always fair, but something you accept because that's how it is. And it's not like I don't need security or comfort or any of that. Not like I have become an übermensch, too cool to admit I don't get it. It's just that in my head the existence of a god or of many gods, benevolent or otherwise, doesn't add up, so I can't believe in them and I'm not going to try to. I'm just going to stick around in the flow of time for some 60 years more, doing whatever I do, being a part of the humanrace. A humanrace that has created their gods because they know they themselves can't possibly take up the role of being a god, can't possibly be the ones whom everybody puts their faith and hope in and who are supposed to both do justice and forgiveness. And I know they can't. It's just that there's no one else, who could even try.
"Man created god in his own image." -- Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872)
((These are just a section of my thoughts -- I do not speak on behalf of atheists as a whole -- I have yet to label this philosophy. Feel free to quote or discuss, but do not do so believing these ideas are part of something bigger. Unless, of course, you're a philosophy major who can immediately label what school of philosophy this represents or something... (if you can, do tell me. I'm curious)... ))