I often hear the argument that atheists believe in nothing and therefore have no purpose in life. It’s really a transparent lashing out by those who cannot fathom purpose without a god. The truth is that I found a freedom and renewed zeal for life once the boundaries of religion were broken. To be fair, I was part of the extreme version of Christianity. My life was nothing but rules and fear of harming my relationship with god or losing it completely. The messages and lessons taught in the church and my Christian college classroom constantly reminded me that I was no good and only gods grace and mercy made my life of any value. Those who had turned from god had lost their purpose and fellowship with them would ultimately harm my purpose. I became obsessed with a never ending pursuit of imperfect perfection (because true perfection can never be achieved but damn you if you don’t hopelessly strive for it).
Even once I accepted that I was an atheist, I did not believe there was measurable evidence of a god or creation, I still wondered if my morals would suddenly tank. The book Origins of Virtue by Matthew Ridley helped me immensely in the beginning. The book detailed how humanity has created and evolved the morals of thriving and compassionate societies. It really comes back to survival of the fittest and and the way in which the human race has become the dominant species. Empathy was developed as our ancestors realized that by working together we succeed. By seeing how morals evolved with the evolution of mankind, I could trust that religion was not necessary for morality.
Of course some of my ideas about what was and was not moral changed. Many views about sex shifted to amoral, while I adopted human rights as a value over biblical demands of obedience. I found that my relationships with people mattered more. In the past, I had no problem abandoning a friend who had strayed from my beliefs, today I enjoy the variety of perspectives and lifestyles my friends lend to my growth. The biggest gain I have found is the drive to enjoy this one life and my one moment to leave an impact on my world.
When I believed in an afterlife, I spent my time worrying about that life instead of this one. Was I doing everything right? Was I doing everything wrong? What happens to my loved ones if they get off our path to heaven? Now I find immense joy in living today with no worry of a judgement day or eternal damnation. I can prioritize what is important to making life count instead of building my life around the guidelines of a fairytale.
The other day a woman on my Facebook thread, a Christian, admitted she was finding inspiration from different versions of the Bible. If you know anything about fundamental baptists, they believe the King James Version is the ONLY authority from god. So for the entire day I watched this woman get shredded by her Christian friends for veering away from gods word and I thought, what an awful way to live. For a person to spend their lives living in past beliefs or obsessing over a future afterlife, how frustrating and depleting. Atheism allowed me to live in the now and I’m incredibly grateful for this new perspective on life.