As I was poking around the world of internet news a while ago, I discovered an article about some dudes who wrote a book about what to do once you decide you’re an atheist, and then created a contest for people to send in what the ten commandments, or “10 non-commandments” as they call them, should be for those who choose to live without religion. They got quite a few submissions.
“A lot of atheists’ books are about whether to believe in God or not,” one of the dudes says. “We wanted to consider: OK, so you don’t believe in God, what’s next? And that’s actually a much harder question.”
I agree with the author here. If one doesn’t believe in a power beyond the natural, physical world, it can be hard to construct meaning. If everyone is headed for death and oblivion, what really matters? Why labor for success, fight for justice, or help other people if we are all just a tiny, accidental blip in the vast expanse of time?
The answer that I have heard that most resonates with me is “because we want to.” If nothing really means anything, we can invent our own meaning as we see fit. So we construct our own concept of what is good, and seek after it.
But is that enough? What about when we aren’t successful? What about when it’s really hard to fight for our fabricated idea of good, especially when we are faced with the understanding that nature doesn’t agree with our idea of good (the strong prey upon the weak, after all – violence is rampant) and that we are nothing more than a part of nature? How do we then motivate ourselves to labor on behalf of other people? What about when we face a chronic illness or become depressed? What about when our idea of good begins to look more like what is most convenient for us? When I look inward, at myself, or outward, at society, I am not convinced that we don’t need something more to make life meaningful and good than our own desire.
But that is simply my reaction. There is plenty of substance out there for anyone looking for scientific, historical, or philosophical debate on the topic of theism, some of which I have read but on none of which I am an expert. I am only an expert of my own experience, a bit of which I’d like to share now.
I grew up in a Christian home with a clear belief in God and the Bible. But like countless other young people, I began to come across what I viewed as contradictions and things that made me uncomfortable with religion as a teenager. This happened gradually but at some point I decided I no longer wanted to be a Christian.
This worked out well for a while, but as I became more nihilistic, I became more depressed. I surrounded myself with secularism and stopped seeking answers to my questions about Christianity. I struggled with feelings of worthlessness, because if life is meaningless, why should anyone have any worth?
I want to quickly interject here that I do not view depression as simply a spiritual problem. Research has clearly shown that it is a medical problem for which medical treatment is effective, with a variety of complex causes, and it can happen to the religious and non-religious alike. But I do believe that there are times when our spiritual state can affect our mental health, and this period of my life was one of those times.
I began to see myself (and everyone else) as a collection of chemical and environmental responses, and as such felt that I had very little control or responsibility for my actions. Predictably, I made selfish, irresponsible, and hurtful decisions, and ultimately become rather apathetic about what happened to me.
By the grace of God, I came back from that period of my life to a much deeper understanding of what I believe to be true about God and Jesus and life, and why. I never had a breathtaking conversion or re-commitment experience, but instead encountered a gradual pulling, a step-by-step letting go that was quite painful at times and ultimately freeing and life-giving. That doesn’t mean I never feel depressed or have questions about my faith now, but it is different. Underneath the challenges, like the proverbial river, runs peace.
People have many very different experiences that inform their beliefs, and I am interested not only in sharing mine, but in hearing about how others see meaning in their lives. So if this is a topic of interest for you or you’d like to share your views, drop me a comment, write me an email (MercyInTheMadness@gmail.com), give me a call, knock on my door, throw rocks at my window, etc. Except don’t really throw rocks at my window – my husband might try to come at you with a baseball bat.
Anyway. My next post will be a quick response to each of the 10 non-commandments. I’m writing this not because I have any interest in attacking atheism, but because I am interested in questioning the validity of some of our very prevalent cultural ideas that I think inform the 10 non-commandments. You may like it, you may hate it, or you may think I need to get a life, but in any case, I’ve tried to write thoughtfully and I hope you’ll take a look. As always, thanks for reading.