Saturday, June 16, 2007

On atheism...

Religion never really hit me on a spiritual and emotional level when I was a kid. It was a collection of stories, sometimes interesting, but still just...stories. I never felt that it was more than that, and I was always confused by people who thought it was true and a key part of their lives. I went to dinner with just my brother (also an atheist, but more closeted than I am) when I was in middle school. Somehow the discussion turned to religion, and he explained to me that he was an atheist, and that he saw god as a human invention to make people feel better. God can be used to explain ANY unknown--and isn't the unknown humanity's greatest fear? That conversation stuck with me and is really what made me first examine religion and my own beliefs.

I see myself as an atheist, a moral person, a humanist, a scientist, a skeptic. I do attribute my skepticism (at least in part) to the way my parents raised my brother and me. I can't remember a single time that they blew off a question or clearly made up an explanation--it was always "go look it up" or a true explanation followed by "go look it up." Our parents (and Montessori school) instilled a love of learning and questioning in me that defines a lot of who I am. I've pursued my education, written a thesis, and plan to do my Ph.D because I want to KNOW. I want to know just to have the knowledge. I don't have any goal, I don't see a finish line, I just want to know and understand. That gives me more joy and wonder about the world than any kind of faith could.

Morality has always been very important to me. Over the years, I've developed my own moral code--what is right, what is wrong, when things can be bent and when I must stand by my convictions regardless of the consequences. Because my morality is based on my own experience and intellect, I feel that (in many ways) I am more moral than the majority of believers. This may be presumptuous, but since I was not handed my moral code, I feel like mine is more true. I examine my morality and beliefs regularly--they are not static, but rather a work in progress and a vital, dynamic part of my life.

My atheism does not mean that I do not believe in anything, contrary to popular belief. I believe in many things--the power of science, the potential of all people, the intrinsic goodness of humanity (I'll explain that in a moment), the wonder and beauty of the natural world as created BY the natural world...the list goes on.

It took me a long time to come to see and believe in the intrinsic good of humanity. Looking around at the horrible acts committed every day, it's hard to see how people can be good. I realized, though, that (with the exception of sociopaths and mentally ill/incompetent people) that people universally do things because they believe it is the RIGHT thing to do. Distasteful as it is, if you look at many of the most brutal dictators in history--men and women who are responsible for atrocities--most of them committed horrifying acts because they thought is was the right thing to do. They were horribly misguided and caused unknown tragedy, but with few exceptions they did what they did because they thought it was for the greater good. I can't bring myself to believe that humanity is bad or that people are evil--I think that people want to do the right thing, but that intention is sometimes the reason for atrocities. Does that make sense?

Hmm....this seems to be running a bit long, so I'll stop here. I hope that this does provide some insight into my atheism, my morals, and what I do believe in.

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