When religion is lost, more life may be found.
In fact, it should be. But in the process of turning away from belief there is usually a fear that the opposite will happen.
I have a Kurdish friend in Iraq who has been moving further away from religion every day, and so we’ve talked about belief and the difficulty of beginning to walk away from it.
Unable to believe the stories and explanations in the Qur’an any longer, he recently raised a concern that’s been echoed by almost every person who, from Kurdistan to America and everywhere in between, began to leave religion.
That is, if religious claims aren’t true and there’s no higher power, then there must be no point to life. While this can come in the form of either a question or a statement, at the heart of both is a fear of nihilism and that unbelief may necessitate it.
This is the ostensible impasse most people come to at some point, but a little thought and creativity is enough to break the deadlock.
“Meaning” comes from whatever makes us feel connected with the world and emotionally full; what makes us feel alive. If “purpose” is anything different, it comes with the add-on of what we think we can and ought to do to impact the world.
No supernatural belief is needed to find either of these, and in fact it devalues them. To say God has a plan for you is to deny your own freedom. It’s the belief that someone else has decided your fate for you. We’re also told by the Good Books that if we have any common purpose, it’s to secure our spot in the dubitable hereafter.
For this, the one requirement above all others is to accept astounding propositions on no evidence or expect an eternity of torture. This is neither very meaningful nor desirable.
My own view is that rejecting faith opens a door to a more appreciative and meaningful life.
Dismissing religion often means rejecting the idea of a greater plan, which puts the determination of your own purpose in your own hands.
You and I get to wake up every day and decide how we want to impact the world and leave those around us feeling after each interaction. We decide who we are going to be by the end of the day. We can even change our minds, too.
Atheism also generally brings a disbelief in an afterlife since there is no reason to think we survive after our brain stops functioning. Many worry that this sucks the meaning out of life; what it should do is make you keenly aware of your own mortality.
Rather than despair at this thought, it ought to fill us with an increased appreciation for every day we have to take in the heat during our brief moment under the sun.
Do you have sex, a favorite food or a conversation with your best friend any less because you know it must end? Of course not. The experiences only become more cherishable.
In atheism, we’re forced to recognize the transient quality of each fleeting moment and how celebratory it is that we are here to live through it.
Awareness of death and deeply understanding that we’re always a breath away from it gives us a special opportunity to really live as if each day might be our last, because it may well be.
Most people would give anything to know they were having their last kiss with a loved one while they were having it, or to know, as Andy Bernard said, “that you’re in the good old days while you’re still in them.”
Every day is one of the good old days, and each kiss may well be the last. This obvious yet elusive fact can transform your attitude.
The moral implication of this comes from recognizing that your own impermanence is shared by everyone else. Everyone can feel ecstasy and extreme pain, and their experience as a sentient person is just as real and important as your own.
Anyone who approaches their mortality as I described is certainly able to extend that sentiment to the lives of others. Wanting to build the best possible existence for ourselves while we are here, any feeling person must then extend this desire to the well-being of others too.
This was expressed well when Sam Harris implored, “Consider it: every person you have ever met, every person will suffer the loss of his friends and family. All are going to lose everything they love in this world. Why would one want to be anything but kind to them in the meantime?”
The approach of the nonbeliever to purpose is more liberating because it puts the creation of that purpose into the hands of each individual.
You choose, or perhaps discover, what your purpose is from what you are passionate about and how you feel you can impact the world in what you think is the best way possible, whether on the large or small scale. You are your own architect of meaning.
Life without religion only seems unfulfilling while one is still in the midst of doubting and unsure about leaving the only construct they have always known.
But as you move further away from faith, the exit from Plato’s cave only brings into view expansive landscapes and a heartwarming light that makes every day afterward all the more profound.
You may even feel, ironically, born again. There’s a saying that life is two dates separated by a dash.
Knowing that the second, final date is always just around the corner, you’ll treasure and make the most of that dash.
Brandon Langston is a third-year student majoring in biology with a minor in history. ✉ BL882717@wcupa.edu.