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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
My name is Steve Shives, and I’m an atheist 
Tuesday, March 30th, 2010 | 03:49 pm [childhood, commentary, personal, religion, science, writing]
Steve's Atheist Userpic
Around age four I began experiencing a recurring terror at the thought of death. It was the certainty that made it so awful. With anything else, you at least have the option of wishful thinking. Sure, Mom says you’re going to get it when your Dad comes home and sees what you scribbled in permanent marker on the wall, but there’s always the chance that Mom will clean up the mess and decide not to tell him, or that Dad will see the wall but not get mad afterall, or my personal favorite, that he won’t get home until after you’re in bed (I wagered heavily on my father’s consideration of my need for sleep as a child). But with death, there’s no way out. It’s inevitable.
 
When I would run crying to my mother, clutch her around the legs, plead with her that I didn’t want to die, she would hug me and put on her most optimistic smile and say, “Oh, honey, you aren’t going to die for a long, long time.” This only made it worse, knowing death would always be up ahead, waiting for me. I knew someday I would be an old man. The “long, long time” line wouldn’t be so reassuring then.
 
“Mom,” I often said through sobs and tears, “I’ll miss you when I die.”
 
I always died first in these morbid death fantasies of mine. I’d picture myself up in Heaven, which was about ten feet above everyone’s heads, peeking over the edge of a cloud, calling down to my family. Mom would mix up a glass of chocolate milk and toss a spoonful of it up so I could have a taste. God was around, too. He dressed in brown polyester slacks and a crisp light blue shirt, and looked like the Professor from Gilligan’s Island
 
Going to Hell never frightened me. My parents, particularly my mother, are Christians, and brought my brother and I up in that tradition. But, except for a few months when I was in first grade, we never attended church. And they never stressed the prospect of eternal torment and damnation much. It wasn’t dying before my loved ones that scared me, either. I told Mom I would miss her when I die, but what I was really afraid of was not being able to miss her. This article is the first time I’ve ever publicly, explicitly identified myself as an atheist, but in my heart I’ve been one since I was a child. I’ve always known — it’s this life, then oblivion.
 
God is a story we tell to make ourselves feel better. We made him up when we were in our infancy, when the world was a frightening and incomprehensible place, to explain the inexplicable, and to soothe our fears. He made sense of things, and he told us it was possible to survive death. He told us there was a place to go after this, a world where suffering and death would never be able to find us, a place that was everything this one wasn’t: just, peaceful, and eternal. It’s a beautiful idea, and a comforting one, and one I’ve never been able to believe.
 
I’m not angry at God. I just don’t tell myself the comforting story anymore. It’s not that I’m any more comfortable with my looming nonexistence now than I was as a bawling child. I just don’t imagine another world to soften the deficiencies of this one. I’d rather come to terms with the universe as it is than waste my life pretending it’s something else.
 
And, shit, it’s not all weeping and howling indignantly into the void. Theists paint a picture of the godless universe as this bleak, hopeless place where joy and meaning are impossible, and of atheists as these dour mopes who sit around sipping coffee and quoting Sartre and Nietzsche back and forth at each other. That isn’t my experience. When you live with the assumption that the natural world is all there is, your meaning, your purpose, your worth aren’t handed down to you from authority; they’re derived from your life, the people and things you love. When you look around and realize that all this wasn’t constructed by a man in the sky, that it — and you, and everyone and everything you have ever known — is the result of a process that unfolded according to natural laws, and is still unfolding at this very moment, the universe becomes a place of overwhelming wonder.
 
No religious myth has even approached the true magnificence of the world. The cosmos is greater, and older, and more mysterious than our priests have told us, or our ancestors could have imagined. Think of the vast, ever-expanding universe science has revealed just in the last hundred years or so. 
 
Think of the hundreds of millions of galaxies and other objects within range of our telescopes, some so distant that to look at them is to look back almost to the beginning of time. Think of the cosmic microwave background radiation, the echo of the big bang, distributed evenly across the sky, detectable no matter where you look.
 
Think of the cells that constitute your body, the DNA molecules that you share with every other living thing on the planet, descended, gene by gene, from a shared ancestor. Think of the atoms that comprise those molecules, that were forged in the furnaces of stars.
 
Consider that everything in the universe, from the farthest quasar to your cat, is made of the same stuff, and then see how profound the supposed truths of the Bible, or the Qur’an, or the Vedas sound.
 
I’m still afraid to die. I still wish there was a God, or at least an afterlife. But there isn’t. And there are times when I look up at the sky, or out across a field of trees, or into Ashley’s eyes, and I think, “What more do you want?” None of this is owed to me. To even be here is an unfathomable privilege. I wish it could last forever. But the fact that it doesn’t only makes it more important to cherish it, and enjoy it, while I’m here.
Comments 
Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 | 02:27 am (UTC) - tmi
Anonymous
This is probably way to much information, bwth..
God bless you, Steve! That’s writing from the heart, right there.
It’s hard to publicly admit doubt in God.
So, here is mine.
My parents are not religious; I never went to church when I was a kid. But, in the neighborhood I grew up in, it was all around me. As an only child (for the most part), I spent a lot of time in other kid’s homes and so I can say I witnessed first hand everything the Midwest Bible belt has to offer.
Then, in my early twenties, I found myself down on my luck, with nowhere else to turn. I reached for the bible. I read it. Every word. Then, I had one of those experiences you always hear people talk about. God touched my life and all was well. I look back on it now, and I have a hard time denying that I must have had help from above. My life changed.
Time passed and I went on with my life, not giving it much thought. I considered myself a Christian in my own sense of the word. My own sense meant that I read the bible when I had time, I prayed, and I did my part to keep the communication lines open between Jesus and me.
Then, I had my first son. I brought him home from the hospital and within a few days, all the family and friends made their visits, and suddenly, my son and I were all alone. There we were, in a rocking chair, just me and the tiniest, most beautiful baby I had ever laid eyes on. I was in love. And then it all hit me.
God could take him away. God could snuff him out at his whim. I have never felt so small and insignificant before in my life. I knew instantly this precious little life in my arms depended completely on my competence, but more importantly, I could not protect it from God’s will. Everything about the whole relationship seemed unfair. Why give me this precious gift, if you can just take it away? Babies should not die. But, they do. I knew my son was no exception. I turned away. If God can be that heartless, I wanted no part of it.
My oldest son is 8 now, and I don’t feel a whole lot differently. I feel a bit of guilt sometimes, as if by doubting God’s goodness, he will punish me. Ecclesiastically, I take comfort in knowing I’m not the only one who has questions.
Something far more guttural tells me to always question my faith.
If you can remove yourself from religiousness and replace it with science…good on you. Either, I’m not there yet, or I will come full circle with Christ.
Or worse, God will smite me, and I won’t have a chance either way.
-k
Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 | 04:06 pm (UTC) - Re: tmi
I love your point about the lopsided relationship between man and God. God has all the power, man just has to do what he's told. Why is this something people want to be a part of?

Not only that, but Christianity (and Judaism, and Islam, and other faiths, too, but let me stick with what I know best for the moment) tells you that your highest purpose in life is to be a servant to authority. I don't want to worship a god that only created me to serve him. I'm just glad that, as Christopher Hitchens says, there isn't a shred of evidence for any of it.

And one more thing: God called Abraham a righteous man and rewarded him for being willing to murder his own son at God's command. If God told you to kill your child, I think you'd tell him to go fuck himself, consequences be damned. So would I, so would any parent worth his or her salt. No God that would order a parent to kill his child to prove his obedience is worthy of worship.
Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 | 04:07 am (UTC)
Welcome to the club, Steve.

I remember a lot of ridiculous things being said on the Goss back in the day [note to others: the Goss is a defunct chat server; don't concern yourself about it], but one that has always stuck with me was the claim that atheists were making the easy choice, that atheists are somehow avoiding making the tough choice.

I find that completely backward. I remember asking, not a direct quote, "You believe that the universe is created by an infinitely benevolent being (real-life evidence notwithstanding); that the ultimate power in the universe is one of pure good; you believe that at death the good will be rewarded and the evil will be punished, inevitably, inescapably, ultimate justice beyond what we can provide on Earth; you believe that death is not the end and the friends and family you lose will be waiting for you upon your death, so you never truly have to accept the loss; in fact, there is no true death, because existence will continue beyond mortal death... You have ready-made answers to the very nature of the universe and the important, deepest, most profound questions we ask during our lifetimes prepared for you and handed to you on a silver platter, with every answer positive and uplifting and reassuring--and in a nation where the majority believe that if you don't believe in god the way they do that you are not even fit to serve in public office--and you actually have the nerve to tell me that I, who do not have these answers and must find my own meaning, my own relevance in an ultimately transient existence, am taking the EASY way out?"

Atheism isn't easy, and I found it prefaced with a stretch of nihilism that I eventually worked through, thankfully. But in the end I find it more rewarding, because in accepting atheism, you admit that you have to find your own way, and the answers to your questions come from you, not from ancient ancestors' words, translated a hundred times over and cherry-picked for the desired message.

Also, we don't have to feel guilty about enjoying porn. Nice, that.
Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 | 04:14 pm (UTC)
Right, we only have to feel guilty if we do something that is actually wrong. That's easier, at least.

As for the rest, yeah, I don't get that "atheists are selfish" or "atheists take the easy way" argument, either. I believe that we evolved via a natural process on a planet orbiting an average star in an ordinary region of an ordinary galaxy in an unfathomably vast universe. Theists believe that our planet, or maybe even the whole great big cosmos, was created by a personal god who loves us and takes an interest in the details of our everyday lives. And I'm the self-centered one? I need to see evidence of something, or at least hear a strong rational argument in favor of it, before I accept it as true. Theists have an all-purpose explanation for virtually everything (that doesn't really explain anything, but nevermind that for now). And somehow I'm taking the easy way out.

Yeah, I don't get it, either, my home-owning good buddy.
Thursday, April 1st, 2010 | 09:39 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Steve, I will pray for you. I hope you will come to realize the truth before you face eternal damnation. It's all so clear. You see, there is an island where a man named Jacob is at war with a man who dresses in black. The island serves as a cork in a bottle that keep wine from spilling out.

Think about it.
Friday, April 2nd, 2010 | 03:17 am (UTC)
You're right . . . it's all so clear.
Saturday, April 3rd, 2010 | 01:13 am (UTC)
Was that sarcasm? That sounded like sarcasm. I'm pretty sure that was sarcasm.
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