Though I’ve been an atheist for a number of years, it’s not something I usually think about. It doesn’t come up in conversations much. It doesn’t influence my day-to-day life, my job, my choice of clothes, my choice of friends. There are no churches to go to, no holy books to read, no rituals to perform. In a perfect world my lack of faith in deities wouldn’t be any more of an issue than my lack of faith in space aliens or Santa Claus. But this is not a perfect world, and I think there is quite a bit to say about faith, and lack thereof.
The bottom line is that I don’t trust faith as a way to know the truth, about gods or anything else. Faith is easy; lots of people have it. Lots of people following lots of different religions and spiritual paths, each believing with equal sincerity, and for basically the same reasons, that they’ve got the right one. So out of all the mutually exclusive belief systems out there, which should I choose? And how? It seems all anyone has to go on are tradition, hope and fear and wishful thinking. That’s not enough for me, though: just because it feels good doesn’t mean it’s true—no matter how much I might want it to be. So until I know the truth for sure, with something more reliable than my heart, I’ll just have to withhold belief. Simple as that.
This is not a bad place to be. I’ve been told that I need spirituality to have hope, give my life meaning, or be happy. However, I don’t agree. It’s true that, once upon a time, I used to wish for some kind of transcendental experience, something that would have brought to life the fantasy worlds I loved so much, and blessed my everyday existence with a little of their magic. But the truth is, there’s plenty of magic and wonder to be had right here in the real world. Not the cheap magic of theology and superstition, with their shallow stories and simplistic moralities, but the much richer awe and inspiration that comes from facing the world and investigating its secrets. There’s no need to dream of an afterlife when there’s so much to see and do in this life. The fact that it won’t last forever doesn’t make it any less special. Quite the opposite, in fact: here and now, I am alive, and this is my only shot at being alive, so I should make the most of it. That may not seem to be a terribly comforting philosophy, but it’s enough for me.
I’ve grown stronger since I lost my beliefs in gods and mysticism. Maybe it’s not the only factor, but I believe it’s been an important one. I don’t waste my energy on false hopes or irrational fears, and so am free to focus on who I am, where I am, and what I really need: to live and learn, and find meaning to life, unburdened by gods or demons. This is what atheism is to me.