Guest Author - Jenna Sawyer
We've covered the first thing I want to say here- what atheism is. But since it does seem to need repeating, atheism is the belief that there is/are no God/gods. That is all. There are a few additional points to be made, of course. The first is an expansion on the assertion that the definition I've just given is the total possible one. Atheism does not, once again, come with any further specifications for a belief system. The second point is that a lack of belief in God/gods does not equate a belief in nothing. People and life do not amount to nothing. Beauty and science and intellect do not amount to nothing.
I've heard often enough in my life that believers are in sole possession of hope. But which is actually the more meaningful- hope based in the possibilities of life, though it is sometimes difficult, or hope based on an unprovable judge and place? My hope is, of course, rooted in my imagination, as all hope is, but that imagination- where expectations are concerned- is bound by what is observable, by what I know to be real. It isn't less beautiful for being based in actuality. It is more beautiful. I can look forward to the things I hope for with true conviction, which is extracted from knowledge.
Of all the atheists I've known, the only ones who could claim to believe in nothing were the angry, bitter ones (who, as I've said before, I do not consider true atheists). And even they were not without belief. They could only be so angry by having their beliefs shattered, likely because they were misplaced beliefs to begin with. For those who care enough to look, to examine, to put in the effort of being wise, life is full of reasons for hope. We can't escape the desire to believe in something- it is a healthy desire- any more than we can escape the necessity of proper perspective and discernment. (Someone in the forum mentioned Satanists worshipping themselves. I say that as long as one has worked to deserve the worship, and as long as that worship does not interfere with one's objectivity about oneself, that is as it should be.)
What I hope for in writing these articles is to finally, in some small way, move against the descriptions, and even accusations, I have been asked to claim because I am an atheist. This includes everything from thinking life is horrible and not worth living- which I do not- to being a Communist (yes, I'm big on that example)- which I most certainly am not. If those who ascribe these labels were less serious, the charges might be funny. But these are gross and self-perpetuating fallacies that keep us at senseless distance from any kind of understanding and acceptance of one another.
I had a conversation this past week about compassion and generosity- two more things I've heard I can't have a part in without God. Though this may well only sound like bragging because I have no way of proving it here, I would place myself, in either category, above a great many people I've met. (And some people I personally disqualify by my belief that compassion and generosity are only admirable when the object is deserving. I have been wrong in that area as well, and sometimes been generous when I should not have been.) So often, I see people allow reasonless stubbornness or petty internal rebellion to keep them from small moments of kindness- in the kind of situation where obstinacy achieves nothing but softness would accomplish so much (and here I must reiterate that I would never advise placing mercy over justice). And why? When confronted with unpleasant, but true, observations about themselves, most people are immediately defensive. What good does it do? It doesn't make the observation less true for the moment, and it certainly doesn't work toward making it less true in the future.
I don't believe in humility as a constant course of action- it is most often false and irrelevant, but people often react instantly with no more motivation than 'I don't want to be bothered'. True, I'll never say anyone is obligated to anyone else, except where the person has extended the obligation, but in the realm of human relationships, a moment of considering why we are speaking or behaving as we are can mean significant accomplishment not only in the relationships, but also in our own moral, and, if you like, spiritual understanding.
So that is what I mean by acceptable humility- a moment to be sure we are not acting outside of what is actually reasonable and justified behavior. A moment to put aside instinct and the first flair of emotion to be sure that we are not about to be (the simplest word is best here) mean, and for no reason. After all, a sincere apology is a great thing, but it is much better to never have brought about the need for one.
It's one of my great wonders how much damage people do to themselves and one another by repeating what they've heard and accepting labels they didn't create without ever considering what they actually mean. Do those people who call atheists hopeless actually mean it? Do they really think atheists believe in nothing at all? That God is the only thing a person could have pure, honest belief in? It's difficult for me to imagine. But it isn't my position to tell them what they must think. All I can do is say that as long as I'm here the idea that no atheist has strong beliefs or experiences devoted hope can never be true.