How atheism has changed me (and how it hasn’t)
For me the concept of changing oneself remains a difficult one to try and grasp at, and I can think of at least two reasons why. One, being a determinist and a nonbeliever in free will, I find it difficult visualise the way I am in a sense that it could have turned out differently to exactly the way it has. So in a way, thinking about me “changing” is a little nonsensical, because I believe that the way I am is the only way I could ever have been – it’s the only me I can be. Philosophy aside – two, I sometimes find it difficult to decide what changes within myself should be attributed to – whether it be my atheism (which is a negative belief that I often joke means nothing to me) or rather myself embracing concepts such as naturalism, humanism or determinism, or is it just natural maturity with age? I think it’s worth realising that I would never have had the opportunity to embrace such concepts as humanism and determinism if I had remained a Christian, as my religious thinking previously blocked me from thinking in this way completely (those all-effective antidotes implemented by by religions ).
So here is my top 10 list of ways in which I think my atheism has, directly and indirectly, changed me and my life.
10) Freedom to accept science
Atheism gave me the opportunity to accept science, which has changed my life. Not being able to accept or trust certain science and having to accept confusing and often contradicting religious claims/morals previously caused much inner conflict in my life. Letting go of this was indeed very liberating. To be able to fully accept science and scientific thinking has provided me with an inner peace I had never previously experienced.
9) More appreciation for/understanding of nature
This ties in to my previous point about the ability to accept science. I have in the past 6 or so years, been able to dive fully into discovery of the wonders of nature and the universe (something that now interests me exponentially more than before). I guess it has been the closest thing to what others would call a “spiritual” journey (although I despise the term because of the mountain of baggage it carries). This is something I would very highly recommend for any member of the human species who has the resources to access such information. It’s life-changing and continues to be an inspiration to my life.
8) Greater concern for/more humane approach to animals
This is another one that came as a result of my acceptance of science and appreciation of the natural world. When you no longer have to believe that humans are somehow superior to animals and instead focus on their own lives as living beings who, in many cases, feel emotions and suffering similar to the way we do, the only conclusion you can draw from this is to approach them more humanely.
7) Ability to forgive and understand others more easily
I feel tempted to say that this is an almost direct result of my recent embrace of deterministic thinking. If there is no free will and people are a direct result of the laws of physics acting on matter (including brain matter) then that does kind of change everything. This has caused me to strive to be more forgiving, and less arrogant (It’s still hard! But at least a little easier).
6) Learning that I can be wrong… about anything
Science has also taught me to be very aware of confirmation bias. Though I’m not claiming to be immune to it now, it helps to be very aware that it exists and that everyone including myself is prone to it. Finding out that the entire ideology according to which you have been living your life is based on lies is a major eye-opener, and it changed me by making me both open-minded and skeptical.
5) Inspiration to find the truth… about everything
Having realised that I was wrong (about like, everything) consequently set me on a journey of truth seeking. As a Christian I was never a truth-seeker, at least not in the same sense. I took Christianity’s claims on face value and I believed that I knew the meaning of life, which blocked me from searching for and discovering truths about life and the universe. Truth-seeking in everyday life is another happy change that I took on and started pursuing fervently.
4) Finding solidarity in the human race
After exiting my religion I did feel a loss of community. I was no longer part of my church community nor the global Christian community, whose members can be found all over the world. However, being an atheist inspired me to embrace being a member of the human species and our journey though life, death and long-term existence. And if we want to collaborate effectively to protect our home planet – the only home we currently have – I think we better all start changing our thinking in this way.
3) Higher awareness of responsibility
Becoming aware of the fact that I am solely responsible for my life, my safety and cause has changed the way I live my life. I am especially more aware of safety, whereas previously I had been very irresponsible in this way, because I thought God was protecting me. Also, now that the meaning of life is no longer getting to heaven and trying to convince others to do so, I can focus on my life here on earth, which has shifted my focus towards doing more with my life on earth as well as thinking of the long-term effects my actions will have on those who will be inhabiting the planet in future.
2) Ability to accept myself
While I was a Christian I remember having constant feelings of guilt. I never felt good enough and I was constantly disappointed in myself for not being able to follow the rules in the Bible or those taught in church or by my parents, and many times I felt like I was going to go to hell for being that way. I had to do constant conscience- killing exercises, which really didn’t do my self image or stress levels well. I remember feeling this way even in primary school. Becoming an atheist wiped all of this away instantly. I am happy to say that even though I’m still constantly working on my weaknesses, I no longer have trouble accepting myself.
1) Ability to embrace human rights and equality (can I get a woohoo!)
This was really a massive change for me! In the past ten years I have on average at any one moment, had more gay than straight friends. I have numerous close gay friends who are my favourite people on earth. Being able to chuck out all the contradictory bad feelings I was supposed to have for gay people really changed my life for the better. I am also more aware of equality issues, such as gender equality, marriage equality and equality for LGBTI people.
Atheism did NOT change the following about me:
- My personality – I am fairly confident that becoming an atheist has not altered my personality. My strengths and my weaknesses are still the same, and the way I treat people in everyday life remains mostly the same also.
- My overall happiness – Becoming an atheist has not made me a happier person. I think that a person’s happiness / depression / overall mood has a strong heritable component and is dependent more on one’s personality, upbringing and brain chemistry than your worldview. I would say that atheism has given me more inner peace, but since it has also affected some relationships in a bad way, I think it mostly evens out.
- It has not made me smarter – I don’t think that I am smarter than others because of my atheism. I think I am less capable of cognitive dissonance. I think my brain has a larger inability to host conflicting ideas within itself than some religious people, and I think that’s one of the main reason I’m an atheist. My atheism has not made me smarter, rather applying my brain in a reasonable way has made me an atheist.
So what has atheism changed about you? And what stayed the same? Let me know in the comments!