The Anxieties that Came with my Atheism

One thing that I’ve noticed since I realized that there’s probably no life after death is that I place a much higher value on my current life. This is probably all I get, so I want to stick around for as long as possible.

I find that whenever I get into a car now I go on high alert. I’m such a backseat driver, my heart starts pounding whenever I go through an intersection (I’ve been hit twice already be red light runners), and when I’m driving I don’t take any risks, not even speeding slightly. I suppose this is a good thing, you can’t be too careful, but I’m always exhausted after a drive because my heart’s been pounding and my life has been flashing before my eyes.

I also get a lot more emotional about other peoples’ deaths. I have a hard time watching the news or any kind of special about 9/11 or earthquakes or warfare, because I’m always holding back the tears. Life is such a precious thing, and I wish more people understood that this is all we get. I think life would be apreciated more.

If you’re an atheist reading this, how do you cope with the stresses of trying to hang on to and make the best of the one life that you’re given?

I don’t do so well with coping, but I recently came across something that Richard Dawkins wrote that makes me feel lucky to have been alive at all:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked — as I am surprisingly often — why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn’t it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?

I encourage you to read the whole thing, here, it really is beautiful.


6 Responses to “The Anxieties that Came with my Atheism”

  1. 1 makarios December 2, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    you can’t be too careful,”

    Actually, I think you can, and your pounding heart during a normal drive is probably evidence.
    I wish more people understood that this is all we get.”

    I guess there are quite a few people who believe in reincarnation, but by and large, most people, Christians included are quite aware that we get only one crack at life on earth.

    Good luck on your journey.

  2. 2 Shamelessly Atheist December 2, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    If you’re an atheist reading this, how do you cope with the stresses of trying to hang on to and make the best of the one life that you’re given?

    I don’t actually have any of that stress. I focus on what I can be doing with my life. And I’m the kind that has little respect for what are largely arbitrary speed limits. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you sound like the type with a low tolerance for adrenaline. I’m somewhere in the middle (I’ve been accused of being an adrenaline junky, but I think that is wrong. For me it’s the challenge of overcoming fear. I don’t like the feeling of fear.)

    Accomplish a lot in the one life you are given. Look to others for inspiration in regards to accomplishments in life, but never copy them. We are individuals after all. Concentrate on that one life, not on death. Leave that to Christians and their death cult. When it comes down to it, they are just as scared of dying as anybody else. If you are a recovering Christian, that is likely the source of this anxiety – the loss of ‘certain knowledge’ that there is something after this one life. You and I know better. If the anxiety is really getting in the way of life, therapy is an excellent avenue. No shame in it. Been there myself. That’s about the only advice I can offer.

  3. 3 kevinbbg December 2, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    My wife passed away last year on December 23 after a 16 year illness. That’s a long time to think about death and I can’t say I did very much. I’ve always been an atheist so the idea of not living on seems perfectly normal. I’m not frightened by it I just think it’s a crime against the universe that my consciousness should cease to exist forever, and a far greater crime that Darcy’s has ceased to exist.

    Here is one of my blog entry’s on it:

    More can be found by doing a search on her name.

    These days I’m even less concerned about death and feel only party attached to the world and I could let go easily.


  4. 4 EnlightningLinZ December 10, 2009 at 1:30 am

    makarios – I think my heart pounding is more about my anxiety than me being too careful. I’ve been hit twice in intersections, once by a drunk driver, and once by a guy who ran a red light. I’ve also been hit by a car twice as a pedestrian, so I have very little trust in other drivers on the road. You’re right, Christians and other religious people are probably aware that they only get one life on Earth, I know I was. But personally I feel that losing my belief in the afterlife has made me value my one life that much more.

    Shamelessly Atheist – wise words!

    kevinbbg – I’m so sorry to hear about your wife. It is sad that our consciousnesses can’t live on after we die, but I think it’s also very comforting that death means complete peace. We don’t have to worry about anything anymore, we don’t have to feel anything anymore. So after our lives are over, no matter how much we want to stay alive, we won’t mind being dead once we’re dead. Wow, sorry if that’s making no sense, I’m up late! I think it’s bedtime for me.

  5. 5 kevinbbg May 21, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Are you coping any better these days?

  6. 6 EnlightningLinZ May 21, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    Thanks for asking 🙂 I have mellowed out a bit since I wrote that post lol…I’m coming to terms with the idea that so much is just out of my control, and I have to let go!

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