Thursday, April 19, 2007

Atheism and Strength of Character

Although my parents did take me to a Unitarian church every few weeks (for social and educational reasons, I assume) until I was eight or nine, a God belief was never demanded of me, and I never grew one. This makes me one of the lucky ones, because I never faced any conflict at home about my atheism. My mother wanted to make sure I had made an educated choice, and we had a friendly discussion once about it, but other than that is never came up.

It doesn't come up now, either, but for slightly different reasons. My wife is accepting of my atheism, even though she doesn't share it. So we rarely bring up our religion. But during the few times we have discussed it, I have leared that she has two main problems with atheism.

First, she thinks it would be very sad to believe that death really is the end, and that there is nothing afterwards. I can't fault her for that, death is very sad. Although, I think that seeing death as non-final is disrespectful to those that have died. If a firefighter dies saving someone's life, they have given the greatest sacrifice. If you think that the firefighter has merely moved on to a better place, how could you fully appreciate the selflessness of their action?

She also wonders how we can handle difficult situations without getting strength from God. This is the one that bothers me. With no God watching my back, I had the chance to develop my own strength. Being an atheist has made me a stronger, less dependent person. In this regard, I have often thought of religion as a crutch. As Jon Nelson says,
The atheist is, or should be, a person with self-confidence and the ability to think freely, without the crutch of religious superstition.

Madelyn Murray O'Hair writes:
We solve our problems ourselves or they are not going to get solved, and you know it and I know it. .... An atheist accepts that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it, and to enjoy it.

Dan Harlow, in a post titled You Are Better Than Any God, relates a touching story of his mother and one of her friends. He observes:
Now I’m not saying that Christians (or any other faith) are babies who can’t run their own lives but I do feel that by giving yourself up to a “higher power” you loose faith in yourself and allow others to take advantage of you because you think it’s God’s plan to do so. A person should believe in themselves, own up to their actions and have the courage to run their own lives.

Without God actually existing, the strength people find from him is a placebo effect anyway. It makes me sad that there are people unwilling to recognize their own strength of character, and instead attribute their strengths to God.

They're not giving themselves enough credit. People are better than that.

7 comments:

Danon said...

"She also wonders how we can handle difficult situations without getting strength from God. This is the one that bothers me. With no God watching my back, I had the chance to develop my own strength."

Absolutely! I had the same conversation w/ my gf and she had the same response. Where do you get the strenghth? Well, from my toes if I have toe, I responded.

The Alpha said...

Sam Harris said something along the lines of "Faith is like a pickpocket who loans you your own money on generous terms. Your resultant feelings of gratitude are perfectly understandable, but misplaced." I think people's faith that God gave them the strength to get through difficult times is misplaced. They are simply attributing to a God what they already had to begin with.

Sacred Slut said...

Without God actually existing, the strength people find from him is a placebo effect anyway. It makes me sad that there are people unwilling to recognize their own strength of character, and instead attribute their strengths to God.

Have you pointed this out to your wife? What does she say to this?

David W. said...

Have you pointed this out to your wife? What does she say to this?

I don't think my point comes across at all, because for her the idea of God not existing and our strength being internal is ridiculous.

Maybe I'm looking at this from the wrong angle. Maybe it's not that Christians don't believe they have strength of their own, maybe it's that they don't want the responsibility that goes along with having strength. If you attribute your strength to somebody else, you're not responsible for moments of weakness.

Infidel753 said...

First, she thinks it would be very sad to believe that death really is the end, and that there is nothing afterwards. I can't fault her for that, death is very sad.

I've never understood why anyone thinks this is relevant. The fact that something makes people sad has nothing to do with whether it's true or not.

David W. said...

It is absolutely not relevant. But I can see how it is a deterrent -- not for the belief or unbelief of a concept, but for the contemplation of it in the first place.

Take really sad movies for an example. I normally don't watch them, just because I don't want to watch something that will make me sad. My lack of desire for watching the movie has nothing to do with whether or not it's a good movie or not. But it will keep me from finding out and making my own opinion.

Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God" had a really touching moment where she describes her realization that, without an afterlife, all of her deceased loved ones were really, really gone. She felt as if she were saying goodbye to them all over again.

Anyone who values the truth over an emotional anaesthetic will eventually plow their way through this roadblock on their way to reality. But for others, ignorance is bliss. Those who desire to spread atheism must not only spread the truth, but spread the concept of the value of truth.

eric said...

Sometimes I find life very difficult but as an atheist I refuse to allow myself or others to impede upon my choice not to believe in some fictitious God. As a gay, hiv positive man, my troubles have been many. And my anger at life's problems is persistent, but my will to survive is stronger with each passing day. My mom is religious but has not condemned me for what I feel or believe. And I guess that in itself is strength for me.