SECULAR: The “why” of Atheism
People like having answers to questions, and we often feel frustrated when we don’t find them.
Think of the hours dedicated to solving “Serial,” “Lost” or “Inception.” And one of the biggest questions we can ask is “why?” It’s an existential search wanting to know why we exist, why we die, what it means to be a good person — the “Big Questions” philosophers, artists and religious leaders have sought to provide answers for millennia.
Religion has the most popular answers for “why,” but it doesn’t really answer much. Why else would religious people say “God works in mysterious ways?” If we knew why, they wouldn’t be mysterious. The lack of answers is why the Bible says “(God’s) thoughts are not your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). It tells God’s followers not to expect answers. People are supposed to have faith in God, regardless if it makes sense or not. That’s the total opposite of reason.
Christianity, especially Catholicism, is rather unique in that it claims to be rational and philosophically justifiable. Most religions don’t emphasize logical underpinnings, but instead try to use moral authority and social pressure to keep followers. Despite all its philosophy, Christianity probably has more believers due to habit than any logical argument.
But at the core of religion are “truths” which exist outside of reason. For example, try to explain the Christian Trinity only rationally. You can’t, and that’s their point — you have to have faith. But as for giving people people a satisfactory answer to “why,” it fails. It can’t help anyone who doesn’t already believe. Religion’s claim to have answers for “why” explains its popularity — people are comforted by the easy answers, regardless of whether they are true.
We are questioning beings wanting answers that may not even exist. Atheism’s lack of easy answers is a virtue, not a vice. Finding answers then requires more rigor and thoughtfulness because we have to blaze our own trail. Much contemporary philosophy is concerned with finding answers in a universe that refused to provide any. The most famous is existentialism, which says we have to create our own meaning through our actions.
I find my answers through other people — my friends, my family, my children. Life is tough, and I resolve myself to helping them through it, just as they help me. This is the essence of humanism. It’s looking out for each other, practicing empathy and compassion simply because that’s the helpful thing to do. We don’t need to be prodded into it by any gods, nor do we turn to them for answers, nor do we blame devils for when we are wrong. We take responsibilities for ourselves and take control of our own lives.
I know I am not unique in asking these questions, nor am I the only one frustrated with easy yet unsatisfying answers. So don’t listen to them. Throw off old dogmas that are forced upon you. Use philosophy to explore these questions because the rewards of thinking for yourself can last a lifetime.