What’s it like to be an Atheist?
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about living a non-religious life. Many of these are due primarily to what believers are taught about a life lived outside of “God’s will”. It is often depicted as something very scary, where one is beset on all sides by struggles and difficulty. Sometimes it is depicted as sad, hollow and meaningless, where every day is 24 hours of drudgery in a pointless life.
I’ve been living as an Atheist now for about three and a half years. I can say with utmost confidence that these depictions are completely wrong.
A Day in the life of an Apostate
I work a Monday through Friday job. Most mornings I wake up, have breakfast, get ready for work and drop my daughter off at school. I go to work and do my best as a teacher to help people learn. I find this very rewarding, as I get the opportunity to give people in difficult life situations a chance to improve their lives. There are few things as rewarding as seeing these folks grow, learn and become more than they ever thought they would be. If I’ve done my job right, they will be better at their jobs than I was when I was still in the field.
When I get home I usually make dinner for my family. I love to cook. It’s almost a form of meditation for me. It involves all of my senses, gives me an opportunity for creativity, something on which to concentrate, a skill to build and yet another way of serving others. One of my favorite things is to cook a multiple course dinner for family and friends.
After dinner I like to spend a little time with my family. My relationship with my wife is the stuff of dreams. I’m not kidding either. There is a level of mutual respect and affection that very few couples ever get to experience. We never fight, as we always try to think things through rationally, not make assumptions and consider the other’s feelings and thoughts before acting. We’re a great team, capable of solving almost any problem we put our minds to. She is an amazing woman, strong, capable, talented and could do perfectly well on her own without me. I love that about her.
My daughter is doing well in school. For the first time, most of her homework is done without us having to say a word. She has developed a strength for math and only rarely needs to ask me for help. Sometimes we play an adventure/make believe game called “Amazing Tales” that’s like Dungeons and Dragons, but much simpler. She is creative, thoughtful and loves to help people.
Then perhaps I engage in one of my many hobbies or interests. I might work on a software project, or soldering an old computer in an attempt to get it working. I may also spend a few hours reading, possibly even the Bible! It’s no mystery that I’m fascinated by the Bible and its history, even if I don’t consider it the word of God.
My life is, well… pretty much normal. And I think it’s pretty good.
How Things are Different
That’s not to say that some things haven’t changed after leaving Christianity. But for the most part, the changes have been positive.
You know what I get to do on Sundays? Anything I want. It’s like we discovered a new day in the week. We can use it to catch up on laundry or cleaning, visit friends or family, work on personal projects or the home, spend time together or even just relax and let ourselves heal from what may have been a tough week.
“I get to sleep in on Sundays” is almost a trope among Atheists, but I think the value of this simple fact is underestimated. It’s not so much the sleeping in, but the removal of an obligation. I don’t HAVE to be somewhere on Sunday morning. There’s no pressure to be at church or a meeting. In truth, I rarely sleep in very much. There are just too many things to do, both mundane and interesting. We have a limited amount of time in this life, and I’m very happy to have regained 1/7th of that life back. The amount of time you get back by leaving the Watchtower is even more significant. Some scarcely know what to do with all the extra time and energy.
I no longer have any expectations of an afterlife, but I’m surprisingly fine with that. In some ways I find it comforting knowing that when I die, it will be the ultimate peace. Imagine that. There is nothing that could ever harm me in non-existence. Just like the 13.8 billion years before I was born. I have accepted death as an inevitable part of life, and one that I need not fear. The only thing I might fear is the way I go out. But once I’m out, there is no greater peace.
I am very fortunate, however, to not have been a JW. I was very close, as I mentioned in my About page. I was a Protestant Christian, so when I shed my religious belief, my family was not obligated to shun me. Since I was never a baptized JW, my JW family can still freely associate with me, despite the fact that they may not associate with my apostate cousins. This is such a sad situation, a complete distortion of the concept of “love”.
I know that for many JWs who are having doubts, this is among the greatest fears: losing family, friends or an entire social support system. I have to admit that I can’t blame some of the JWs who stay in the organization just to maintain a relationship with family. I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same. I just don’t know. My best advice for those in that difficult situation is to start forming friendships and a supportive group before leaving. You’re probably going to need somebody if you decide to leave. I’m always open to emails myself, and there’s also the Recovering from Religion organization that has a hotline you can call.
One major difference is that I am finally free of cognitive dissonance. I no longer have to try to reconcile bizarre stories like a “water canopy” enveloping the earth, for which there is zero scientific evidence, or a global flood designed to kill all of humanity, or talking donkeys and snakes, or how Jesus could have simultaneously been born in 4 BC (the death of Herod) and 6AD (the year of the census under Quirinius). I enjoy a far simpler explanation for these stories: they are just stories. Yes, they had value for the ancient people who wrote them. They were tales meant to explain things for which they had no explanation, or to inspire pride in a nation or even just to get people to buy into the laws of the land by ascribing them ancient, divine origins.
The world is much simpler when you no longer have to find an explanation for how these things could have actually happened. It is a tremendous relief.
It’s also a tremendous relief to love and accept my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender friends just as I would anybody else. It’s a relief to know that if my daughter ever came out as LGBT, I wouldn’t have to have any problem with it. It’s a relief to accept my wife as a strong, independent woman who doesn’t have to submit to my authority, and it’s a relief to not have that kind of authority. I don’t want it. Neither does she. We are equal partners with no assigned role. We live how we want, and we have a marriage that has reached the pinnacles of marital success to show for it. It is amazing.
I’m not scared any more. I’m not scared of Hell or Armageddon. I’m not scared of displeasing an immature, vindictive god who has to have his way or he’ll destroy me. I’m not afraid of him any more. Just like a woman who finally leaves an abusive spouse, I don’t have to fear any more. I’m not a slave any more. Better yet, there is very little chance my former master even exists. I don’t have to issue a restraining order. He simply vanished, like the boogeyman we stop fearing when we are children.
I am free.
What to do with Freedom
Ahh, but surely, with this freedom I must be sinning like a madman. I no longer submit to an authority so I must feel like I can get away with any nefarious deed I want. Extra-martial sex, drugs, theft, deceit, excessive pride, feeding my ego, leaving the weak to fend for themselves, hoarding material wealth, asking for the heads of people on a platter on my birthday. I can do all of that I want, right?
Yeah! It’s actually true. I do all I want of those things. Every day, I indulge as much as I want in stealing, raping, murdering and amassing wealth and possessions.
And I want exactly zero of any of it.
I have a wonderful relationship with my amazing wife. Why would I jeopardize that by sleeping with someone else? I don’t even want to. There isn’t a woman alive who could temp me. And I mean that.
I have no desire for drugs. I see what it does to people and I don’t want that. I don’t steal anything, because I have everything I need. I value humility as among the greatest virtues. None of us has reason for excessive pride. I’ve seen far too many of the foibles of humankind to think I am some great exception. I find great reward and value in helping others. I have had multiple opportunities for making nearly triple the salary I get now, but I refuse because where I am now, I get to help people in my community who are struggling and looking to start their lives over with a new career and education.
I have no desire for material wealth. It wouldn’t make me any happier than I am now. They’re just things. Dave Ramsey, a popular Christian personal finance advisor, once bragged that “God brought a Jaguar” back into his life. I, on the other hand, have been cured of thinking that a Jaguar is any more desirable than the simple 10 year old Subaru I already have. Status symbols mean nothing to me. I’ve outgrown them.
Not Without Misfortune
I still experience misfortune. Bad things still happen. There are still doctor’s appointments, surgeries and scary emergency room visits. Family members still die. So do pets. Cars break down, water heaters die and insurance premiums rise.
We are all equally beset by misfortune. There are some things that we can do to decrease the odds that it happens, but some things are simply beyond our control. There’s no god making these things happen or allowing them to happen. There are no demons or Satan behind it either. As the old saying goes, shit happens. It’s just life as a human being on this earth in the 21st century.
The “Serenity Prayer”, written by theologian Reinhold Neibhur, is a well known response to misfortune:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”
I find this to be remarkably good advice, though one need not appeal to god for this serenity, courage and wisdom. The Stoic, Cynic and Epicurean philosophers have embodied this position since before Jesus was discovered in the Old Testament.
Bad things are going to happen. When we get angry when it happens, we’re being irrational. It’s almost like we’re pretending as though it should not have happened. Unfortunately, the universe does not obey our command. The sooner one accepts this, the easier it is to accept misfortune and simply deal with it as well as possible and move on with life.
Don’t Be Afraid
If you’re having doubts, do not fear. Life without religion can be wonderful. The transition can be painful, like the pangs of childbirth, but living without the shackles of religious slavery is a freedom that is worth having. It doesn’t mean you have to become a selfish, crazed, lunatic serial rapist. You are free to be the best person you can possibly be, without being trapped by the rules of a governing body or doctrinal creed. You’re free to find your own meaning and value in life. You’re free to get whatever education you want and go for any career you desire.
Spirits, demons and Satan dissolve into the pages of the ancient myths and legends that spawned them. There are no more boogeymen in the closet or monsters under the bed. There’s also no spiritual father figure to take care of you.
So let’s take care of each other. Life can be a bitch, there’s no doubt about it. But being there with each other, and enduring it together makes it tolerable and even wonderful. If you lose your family, make a new one. I’m a firm believer that the true family in our lives are those whom we choose. There are plenty of people in this world who would welcome you.
Thanks for reading.