There were a couple of threads on Reddit a little while back about how atheists should talk more about how great it is to become an atheist after being stuck in religious thought for so long. This is something that I think atheists should really advertise, because too often it seems that people who self-identify as atheists are perceived as always just living and thinking in opposition of something. Although it’s true that atheism is purely the rejection of theism, it also, at least in my experience, opens up a whole new world of discovery and possibilities.
As a theist I always had this sense that my thoughts were constantly being monitored, and that my actions were always being judged by big brother up there in the sky. It’s not fun to worry all the time about pissing god off. If I thought a bad thought about somebody I would immediately have this feeling of guilt and dread, and I would pray for forgiveness. I wasn’t actually sure if my religion taught that your thoughts are being policed, but at one point I scoured the Bible to try to find something that said that your bad thoughts don’t count against you, but just in case I made sure that I asked for forgiveness about anything that could count against me. I was scared of hell, y’all, you understand.
Aside from worrying about my own eternal damnation, I was also concerned about my friends and family going to hell. How could I guarantee that they all did the right things so that they could get into heaven with me? Did my grampa accept Jesus as his personal lord and saviour? Did my gay brother guarantee a ticket to hell just for being himself? In highschool a boy on my swim team died by suicide – I must have prayed every night for a year that he wouldn’t be punished for taking his life.
I also feel like I had less of a sense of wonder about the world as a theist. When I would see something like a photo of a beautiful nebula or a video of a coral reef, I would thing “wow, what an imagination that god has.” And the curiosity for how those things got there just didn’t exist. When I believed that god could just magic anything into existence, there just wasn’t that much mystery about the world.
For these reasons and more, the moment I realized that I no longer believed in my God or any other gods was one of the most freeing feelings I had ever experienced. Seriously! For that first few months I would get choked up reading about evolution or listening to podcasts about astronomy. There was this whole world of science out there that I had never allowed myself to absorb. The universe became a giant mystery and my mind was no longer being monitored so I had the freedom to explore questions like “what is the frickin big bang anyways?” and “how did single-celled organisms turn into that beautiful coral reef?” and “what is gravity anyways?” People, gravity is amazing!
I love being able to think whatever I want now. I don’t have to worry about offending sky-daddy with my thoughts, and I can entertain any ideas without worrying about consequences. I also no longer waste time with prayers. People often say that prayer is a nice way to look back on the day and get a nice fuzzy feeling even if it doesn’t work, and that was true for some of my praying, but truthfully I had a lot of anxieties about praying. At my Bible study they would pray so formally, but I tended to just pray as if I was talking to a friend – was I doing it wrong? Was I offending God? I also worried that I would forget to pray for somebody, so my blessings would go on and on until I would just say “and anyone else I may have forgotten” – what a silly exercise! I would also be really careful about what I prayed for, because I worried that if I prayed for something and it didn’t come true that it meant that I wasn’t faithful, or wasn’t a True Christian (TM). No joke – in order to counter this worry that my prayers wouldn’t come true, I would build an out into my prayers. For example, “dear God, please let so-and-so get better, and if he/she doesn’t please be with his/her family in this difficult time, in Jesus name, amen.” I’m so happy that prayer is no longer a part of my life.
There are so many fun things about being an atheist that I just couldn’t experience as a Christian. It’s not that I lost my moral code and I’m just going to run wild now and start trampling over people who get in the way of my fun. I still know what right and wrong is, that had nothing to do with my god-belief. But now I can break all those ridiculous little rules that religion imposes on you that have no reason behind them other than “because god wouldn’t like that.” For example, swearing! Swearing is a wonderful thing. When you stub your toe, screaming ”ffuuucckkkkk” is the best pain relief I can think of. Religion gives so much power to these completely harmless groupings of letters, and it’s not just the four-letter-word kind of swearing that I can enjoy now. I can also say “I swear to god” or “oh my god” now. I used to think that those were the worst things I could say, and I’m pretty sure it’s an unforgiveable sin to take the lord’s name in vain. I used to be so careful about not doing that, so it’s so fun to me now to be able to use those words without those silly worries. To give an example of how silly it got with me, my favourite band (The Tragically Hip) has this awesome song called New Orleans is Sinking, and there’s one part that goes “She says Gordie baby I know exactly what you mean She said, she said I swear to God she said” but when I sang along I used to go “She says Gordie baby I know exactly what you mean She said, she said hmm hmm hmm hmmm she said.” Come on, how ridiculous is that? As an atheist I even get to enjoy my favourite songs more!
It’s fantastic being an atheist, and no amount of badgering from a religious person is going to convince me that I’m not a hundred times happier now than I was as a god-believer. That’s why I think all atheist logos should look like this one: