14 July 2008

But, Isn't that Depressing?

While I was trying to digest the Catholic outrage against Webster Cook, I asked a Catholic acquaintance and coworker her opinion on the matter. She was unaware of the Cook Controversy. Her initial response was that it was extremely rude of Cook to take the Eucharist from Mass. She also thought the death threats and such were unacceptable. I tried to press her on the “turning into the body of Christ” bit and she pressed me on the “don’t believe in anything” bit.

As many people do, she asked me if I really am an atheist. A whole-hearted atheist, not just an agnostic. Yup, I’m an atheist. Through and through. “You really don’t believe in some sort of ‘energy’ in the universe?” Nope, I don’t believe in some controlling, over arching, created everything energy. “Really? Nothing at all?” Nope. Nothing at all. “You don’t believe in some sort of soul? Or a place that the soul goes when you die?” Nope. No soul. We’re dust. We live. We’re dust again. We don’t have a soul that goes somewhere for eternity. We are and then we’re not. That’s all there is. “So, you truly believe that you don’t have any sort of soul, or energy or anything that survives into eternity?” Nope. No soul. Truly, that’s what I believe. “Then what do you think happens when you die?” I die. My physical body rots and disintegrates and that’s all there is. Memories of me are all that survive, and eventually even those will disappear. “But, isn’t that depressing?”

“Isn’t that depressing?” It is a question atheists often receive from non-atheists. For those who live their lives with the belief that their souls will go somewhere fabulous (or otherwise) for eternity, the idea of not going somewhere, not having a soul, is anathema. It’s depressing, and horrible, and enough to make you question your existence. But, really, it isn’t so depressing at all. In some ways it is extremely freeing. I am, in the end, judged only by myself. I don’t have to worry about meeting the standards of some being who supposedly already knows everything about me. I actually find my belief much less depressing. I only have myself to answer to, I don’t have to worry that all my thoughts and actions are recorded by posterity so that I may be finally judged by a supreme being who is all powerful. (It’s nice to know that no one will remember all those times when I embarrassed myself.) The idea that I might be damned to hell for the simplest infraction is hardly heartwarming.

“Then what meaning does your existence have?” is the question that usually follows the “isn’t it depressing?” discussion. Apparently, for those who believe in God, they exist because God created them. Everyone created by God has a reason to exist. They may not know what this reason is, they may not be fulfilling this reason. But, they may remain confident that everything that happens in their lives happens for a reason, probably tied to their reason for existing. For those such believers, the lack of a creator means your existence lacks a reason. There’s one answer to this question: my life has whatever meaning I give it. I exist simply to exist. If I like to eat chocolate and sit on the couch all day watching reruns of M*A*S*H then that is what I exist to do. If I want to spend my day off scooping poop and scrubbing kiddy pools at the humane society, then that is what I exist to do. The meaning of my existence changes daily. I exist simply to exist. There’s no big question, nor is there a big answer. There just is. I enjoy the freedom to form my life however I want. I may not succeed in meeting my goals, but I am free to reevaluate them whenever I want. I am dependent on myself alone to create meaning in my life.

Contrary to popular belief, I am not depressed nor unhappy nor stuck in a meaningless existence. I am, instead, free. And in my freedom, I am happy.

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