Atheists are often shunned. They’re portrayed as evil people who have lost their way. This belief is so far from the truth that it’s more likely that those who think this are evil – that is, if you want to name call.
Believers are often shunned. They’re portrayed as obnoxious people who think they know everything. This belief is so far from the truth that it’s more likely that those who think this are idiots – that is, if you want to name call.
With the name calling out of the way, what do atheists and believers “experience?” What drives and motivates them? I’d like to discuss two real-life examples, that, I hope, will clarify some of the mystery.
I was an atheist for several years. Why did I become an atheist? The short version is that I went to college to become a pastor, or some sort of academic icon (I was in my late twenties and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life). I loved God. I talked about him passionately. I saw and felt him working in my life.
However, I started to find holes in the “scripture” at an alarming rate. If you read religious texts with the hermeneutic of suspicion, you can tear them to shreds.
I found holes that did not get filled fast enough, either through logical counter arguments, or personal experience with God. I stopped believing. I replaced my former foundation of God, with academic logic and reason – empirical evidence, if you will. I wanted answers and wasn’t budging until something proved me wrong. Fortunately, several years later, God made it very clear.
Was I evil? No. I wanted the truth – no matter what the answer was. I was willing to die miserable, if necessary.
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with an atheist friend. I wanted to know how he experiences his daily life. I didn’t want to argue. I didn’t want to try to change his mind. I just wanted to get to know him better.
My suspicion has always been that atheists and believers experience life in much the same way. Here’s what I came away with.
Like me, my friend seeks the truth – no matter what. He came to atheism in part from the obnoxious and hypocritical behavior of those who were supposed to raise him. But he also possesses an amazing gift of logic, which he cultivated beyond what most have ever conceived possible. He has an incredible mathematical mind, and loves the sciences. People seek him out for advice because of his gifts and kindness.
Like many atheists, he relies on the scientific approach, which, he notes, must hold that “God” is a possibility.
For my friend, it can’t be anecdotal evidence. It must be empirical. But ultimately the proper atheist position is to be open and willing to change if the evidence supports it. What I love about my friend is that he’s taken logic to its end. He’s taken the journey – deep philosophical journeys that few endeavor – and found that they do indeed break down. While he does not admit belief in God, he does admit that there is more to be understood – there’s a side that logic can’t reach.
He has long since outgrown his anger at the religious, which is refreshing. He respects those for whom religious belief works. He would argue that “beliefs,” whatever you call them, are extremely powerful. He spoke of the Placebo Affect – but not in a negative or gullible sense, but rather to illustrate the incredible power of the mind. Modern medicine is still trying to tap the mind’s power.
What does he believe? He seeks perfection of the human mind. He wants to be happy. He wants a better society. He wants to be a better person, and to help others find their happiness. Clearly an “evil” guy.
My friend abhors hypocrisy. “Whatever you believe, it needs to be soul shaking!” Live it. He notes the struggle we have with this – the anxiety we feel in the quiet of our minds that we fill with noise in pitiful attempts to escape. Face it. Take the journey – no matter what!
He notes too that “life is not a problem to be solved. It’s a mystery to be resolved.” He doesn’t claim to have all the answers – also refreshing.
The above provides a great background of the belief structure behind this particular atheist. But I also wanted to see his belief system in action. He shared this story with me…
A few weeks ago my friend dropped his Mac-book. It had his entire business/life on it. He was not in a position to purchase a new one. What did he do? He wrote a letter to the universe explaining the situation, noting that it would be great if he could get a new one without too much trouble. Put another way, as a scientist, he opened himself up to the universe. By doing so he shifted thoughts of worry and anxiety into proactive, positive action.
His problem was solved the next day from a source he would not have expected. What did he do? He wrote a letter of thanks to the universe. I think this is more than many religious people do. I don’t mean to compare, but rather draw out the similarities in experience.
We’re all after the same thing. Some call it happiness, others nirvana, others God. The list goes on.
What we have then is two seekers. One turned to God, and continues the journey. The other strives to tap and harness human potential and continues the journey. Perhaps they’ll meet someday. Perhaps not. But he’s my friend. I trust him. I confide in him. I can’t say that about many people.
Two people who earnestly seek the truth – no matter what the outcome. You know what that is? It’s faith.
This is a journey. It’s a walk you take, alone. Or not.