The best benefit of atheism, if you have come from a religious point-of-view: You get to start over. You get to have all of your sins washed away in the waters of reason. You get to begin anew.
I use Linux, which means I use free software to drive my computers. Linux comes in all kinds of flavors, from a conservative tried-and-true approach to software (Debian), to a bleeding-edge approach (Gentoo), which craves the newest software updates and patches the day they are released. I come somewhere in the middle. The conservative approach yields a stable computer, but one misses out on the newest. The bleeding-edge approach gives all the newest stuff, but can destabilize a computer to the point that it no longer boots.
To be an atheist is to love science. I’m convinced of this, that most atheists just flat-out love science and the information it provides. I’m no different. Science, to me, is wonderful, and it provides me with the sense of wonder that I had when I was a kid, the feeling of not-understanding, but of trying to understand. Science hates ignorance and tries to get rid of it; the irony is that science couldn’t function without a truckload of ignorance driving the questioning. There’s a yin-yang there, a balancing act, a striving toward equilibrium that is never quite achieved because equilibrium would mean stagnation, the end of inquiry.
Inquiry is where it’s at, dear reader. Wonder. Not-knowing. Asking. Asking again. Ruminating. Reflecting. Loving. Hating. Looking for the right path.
I know how stupid I am. My intellectual shortcomings are fully in my view. Mostly, I dismiss them and move forward with what I have. What else can I do? I dated a girl in high school who had perfect pitch. She could tell you what note you just whistled. I lack that ability, and no matter how hard I try, I’ll never have that ability. I’m only good at anything because I have worked at it, but work only takes you so far, then the limits of ability stop the progress. I feel like my entire life is like that. I’ve worked, and I’ve hit the brick walls. I do the best I can with the meager resources I have.
So, for the bigger questions, I have turn it over to people who know more than I do. The big questions. The questions you discussed with friends over beers, in tents, across tables. Why are we here? What’s my purpose? What’s the meaning of life?
There’s a faith there, isn’t there? I have to trust that those experts are truthful, that they are operating in the spirit of truth. Since I have no way to gauge that in any kind of objective way, I have to put my trust in systems that show me who is being true and who isn’t.
Important about science is that it has built into it that truth-o-meter. Bad ideas are trashed. Good ideas are elevated. It has peer review. It has falsification. It has rigorous testing and retesting. It is the best we have. As human beings, it is the best we have, and it deserves our faith, our trust. Nothing else does. If it makes mistakes, it self-corrects, and gradually it whittles down to the truth.
I will say this, something I can say with 100% certainty: There may be a god out there, but he isn’t described in the Bible. You will not find him/she/it there. You have to look elsewhere. It is what it is: The Bronze Age scribblings of people who know much less than we do. They can be discarded. You, contemporary reader, know more than all of them combined.
Are you looking to your preachers for guidance? Those who make claims to truth without rigorous testing, without peer-review, but based on revelation or social mores or unearned authority? You are wasting your time. Preachers do not have the answers. They are just as clueless as me, as you, as all of us. They have no system to enforce the truth.
The central benefit of atheism is that it is the default position. It is the starting point. Understand that for me, and for many of you, that starting point was taken away from you from your earliest inkling. You were taught that God-belief was the default, and you went from there. You have to erase that. You have to go back to the original starting point, the point at which no one had taught you anything at all, the point at which the entire world was opened to you with possibilities. You start with no belief in anything, and you go from there. From there, you build your own system. You build your system according to the best information available to you at the time. You don’t rely on mom or dad, or preacher, or anyone else.
How do you build that system? To ask that question is to answer it. You look for expertise. You look for people who know more than you do. Further, you look at how they came to know. You look for systems that keep them honest. You look for the best humanity has to offer.
The sciences offer the best information humanity has to offer. It is the best we have. It is where a wise man or woman must cast his or her lot.
But I’m a middle-grounder, you see. I love science, and I love the arts. The arts have told me just as much about what it means to be a person as the sciences. To science, sex is just the act and the results. It is the sperm meeting the egg. The arts give us the romance, the love, the looking-into-the-eyes and feeling connection. Only the arts can describe that connection, can describe the experience close to the experience.
But religion, as an entity to be considered with the arts, the sciences, describes nothing of value. It preserves an old time, old ideas, old and useless morality. It fails to push forward and accept new challenges. It stalls. It stops. It is a dead end. I don’t need it, don’t want it.
You can stand on your own two feet just as well as I can. You can be who you are without people telling you about it. You can LOVE who you are without guilt or care. You can let it all go, put your trust in those who deserve that trust, and start from there.
If you do, I want to know about your discoveries. I won’t out you. I won’t say a word to anyone. Question with confidence, with impunity. You may come out differently than I did. But, it will be YOU who came to it, not someone else, not your parents, not your preacher, but YOU. If you do this, if you start over, choose to be re-baptised, I want to know about it.