The point of this post is not to try and convert you; that’s something I need to state from the start.
The point of this post is to get off my chest what I believe; I doubt you’ll agree with everything I say.
The point of this post is to let you in on something important about myself; I am an atheist.
If you’ve read any of my other posts, that may not be a surprise: I take a very liberal and secular view on the vast majority of things. Not that that’s exclusive to those of us without a deity in our lives.
I was raised a Catholic, taught at Catholic schools by good people who felt it was more important to educate than indoctrinate. That said, they were people of faith, and it was assumed that I was one of them. For such a long time, most of my friends were people from similarly Catholic backgrounds.
People, to me at least, seem to split in to three groups: Believers (not thinking too deeply; assuming there is a god); Agnostics (not thinking too deeply; not caring whether there is a god or not); Atheists (not thinking too deeply; assuming the idea of a god is too silly to be true). Hard-line devotees aside, that’s how I cut it. Personally, I chose to think more deeply about faith, the silly boy that I am.
I understood that I didn’t believe in god, that to me it was just too outlandish a notion to enter in to. However, I didn’t want to let go of the superstition: that there was someone keeping an eye on what I was up to, who knew that I was feeling the right things, regardless of my actions, and who would be disappointed if I felt or did anything bad. Always that idea of someone being aware of my intentions.
It’s a tough thing to let go of; I wasn’t even particularly indoctrinated, at school or at home. It was comforting to feel that somebody knew that my intentions were good, and I was a decent person.
The moments came in church. I always liked church. The ecumenical mission of Catholicism is one of the only things I miss from Christianity: atheism doesn’t have, doesn’t perhaps want, a community in the same way. It’s too big and much too clever to get together for a sing-song. It’s missing out.
One day I was sat there in those pale wooden pews in our 70s new build church; the left wall a huge window on to a car park. I realised that I didn’t believe a word of it, but that was OK, because he’d understand. Hang on, if I didn’t believe, who was “he”? Ah, that would mean going it alone, then.
The superstition persisted. To an extent it still does. Only the big beardy guy isn’t in the sky, he’s in my shoes, in my chair, looking back at me from the other side of the mirror. As Marilyn Manson put it so well: “I went to god just to see, and I was looking at me”: yes, I’ve always been that arrogant.
Over the years I have tried, both consciously and subconsciously, to fill that gap. The void of being part of a club of people I usually didn’t agree with. You may have already read my views on friends and friendship; it didn’t suit. I even immersed myself in music – heavy metal as communion – but that’s a solo pursuit; not for everyone, but for me. The ecumenical gap narrowed, but was not filled.
I knew that I understood the absence of god, but I struggled to unpack what I meant by that. I felt that those with faith were stupid, but I was being reactionary and cruel. I found myself in rambling conversations, trying to shock with my atheism, trying to be as offensive as possible. It took a long time for me to see it: that the notion of science as the opposite of faith is lazy. Science is not an anti-serum: Faith is feeling; it is not thinking. Faith is what remains after all the thinking has been done.
In the end, it came to me one night in the darkness, surrounded by noise of traffic and revelry: what I had was faith in the absence of god. It’s a bullshit statement, but it’s my bullshit statement, and I’m sticking with it. Thinking about the fact that there is no god makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
It’s not very English to eulogise about that which makes you happy. It feels uncomfortable writing any of this down, and believe me that it has taken me a lot of time, a lot of editing, and a lot of soul searching, to show this to anyone, let alone posting it for public consumption. But here we are.
I need to reassure you that this is not a joke: this post is a true and honest reflection of my beliefs, and the way in which I view the world. I no longer think that people with faith in the divinity of a higher power are stupid. I’m not about to sit and pray with them, but I don’t think they’re stupid.
Superstitions are difficult things to overcome, but their foundations can be picked away over time, until all that remains are vestigial marks; impressions of times passed. I still feel the odd desire to be judged fit to live by a higher power, but I accept myself in that position now. Perfectly healthy.
I don’t care what you believe in, and I don’t care why; I had to let you know what I feel and where it came from. To describe my flavour of atheism as faith will be distasteful, disrespectful or just plain unnatural to most of you. That’s fine; that’s good; that’s healthy. It really is. I just couldn’t care less.
We are but children, alone in the universe; the adults are never coming home. There is a wet rock hurtling through space, upon which something unpleasant grew and blossomed; the chance of that happening are so rare that it is almost beyond comprehension. There was no unseen force: we grew.
There is no guiding hand in the dark to see us through to the light; there is only the pain and the suffering of a pointless existence. We are cold, we are shivering and we are alone; and that is our greatest strength. That we have endured is purely due to our own endeavour and determination.
I no longer have need for fact; no need for argument; no need for reason: I have faith. I do not write this to mock, but to offer insight. My faith nourishes me, as the religious are nourished by theirs. The only difference is that my faith is in that of an absence, and that absence is full of infinite wonder.