I consider myself to have been an atheist for almost five years now (with a brief flirtation with Deism a couple of years ago), and before that, someone who knew in the deepest part of my being that devout belief of my former kind is both no longer present and no longer possible. I do not want to enter into or entertain the debate on whether or not atheism is right or wrong, for the moment, because this is a deeply personal issue. And besides all the debates on both sides, with all the victories, all the defeats, all the grief, all the comfort, all the pleasure, all the pain, we remain what we truly are: real people with real desires, real feelings, real hopes, and real fears. We quantify ourselves with our words and our actions in a very discrete, increasingly materialistic world (so it appears to me) while simultaneously attempting to qualify and express our deeper feelings of hope and desire and struggle and accomplishment without betraying our rather abstract emotions and components of our underlying personality. Achieving individuality has never been a struggle for people such as myself, but somehow a deeper need to connect with the whole of something greater than ourselves presents itself in our minds as both more rewarding and more elusive, and therefore more precious and rare. As I have now reached middle age, perhaps now is the time for deeper reflection on my own sense of identity, sense of purpose, and view of life.
I struggle often with thoughts and desires to believe in something greater than myself, anything beyond the rather bleak atheism that defends itself in my mind as the most logical conclusion for a world devoid of any overarching rationality, organizational purpose (for good or ill I suppose), or hope of the individual life beyond the dutiful grind of the collective in the machinery of humanity in its imposed will and structure upon everything within its reach. Strictly speaking, atheism is not a world view, though it has been at times accused of such, and actually expresses little in the way of belief except for the kernel of its truth that the individual holds no belief in any deities, of supreme degree or any lesser inherent nature, in our reality as best as we know it. I could perhaps argue that it does not even restrict from itself the possibility of the existence of a god or gods, but then that departs from atheism as it is defined and as I have known it and becomes something else, which could merit reference to agnosticism but I lack the proper knowledge of philosophy in order to create and defend the proper distinctions between my thoughts on these concepts. Besides, it is not really philosophy, at least not in its formal sense, that I intend to be writing now about anyway. But on the other hand, I am not sure why I even bother writing this or know fully what I can hope to accomplish by creating this entry, other than to try to “quantify” my thoughts to some extent for later “qualitative” review.
What does it mean to be an atheist? More specifically, what does it mean for me to be an atheist? What does atheism mean for the people for whom the concept is important, especially enough that some choose to include this label with their basic public personality? For a little while, I have toyed in my mind with the phrase, “Atheism as a hobby” because increasingly it (atheism) has diminished as a symbol of identity and rather increased as a cognitive expression of my knowledge and experience and ultimate rejection of religion in its formalized, organized sense at the very least. Atheism seems less who I am as a person, and more what I do as a functioning human, especially in interactions with other humans. Formerly, I was a very devout, Baptist, Calvinist Christian who belonged to the Southern Baptist Convention and even possessed (at the time) ordination and licensing credentials which I have since surrendered to my ordaining church in order to maintain full integrity. I also blogged for a time at my other blog, Isaiah 8:16, on all topics concerning Christianity, but only for a rather brief period, which has not only ended naturally, but has become in my mind a kind of time capsule of former beliefs, former struggles and victories, a now alien understanding of the world I live in, and perhaps more strikingly, a representation of the identity of a stranger comparing my past self to my current self and almost undoubtedly to my future self. I have not wanted to blog there again because I am no longer the same person as the one who created and purposed the blog into existence, but more than that, because anything I have to say now can only serve to oppose and tear down what I expressed before. Wholesale repudiation and avoidance of interacting with what I wrote before and trying to merge two strangers, in the form of my prior and current selves, back together again in one blog as a sensible whole with some ongoing purpose for existence, is simply more than I feel I can accomplish. I created this blog too, though I do not remember if I created it before or after, but its purpose was always (after the creation of Isaiah 8:16) to be secular-oriented and specifically computer-centric with perhaps general humor or life events expressed here. Then both blogs died, with my consent, after a brief hospice period as it were. And now I am bored, and up late at night, and need something to do, so here I am.
I have been considered by someone whose judgment I trust to be much less than a convinced atheist and much more a disillusioned believer, and I actually cannot help but agree with this assessment and find it to be more appealing than the hard-core militant atheist persona which I have developed yet never deeply identified with, which makes me, quite honestly and bluntly, a hypocrite on some levels. Though I can honestly say that I no longer believe in the Christian God and His Jesus which has sent His spirit of my evangelical faith, and can with some confidence assert that I will never again return to organized religion at least of the fundamentalist variety (with apologies to those who consider evangelical and fundamentalist to be an unnecessary and unhelpful conflation of terms), I have no real desire to be or maintain my own atheist identity as such. I would rather believe in some ambiguous, loosely or vaguely defined Higher Power in a very non-committal “let’s just be friends” sense of things. But I lack even the evidence to do that. And I have never liked the argument suggesting that I should just have and use faith, to the point of demand, and I have never handled faith all that well, despite my own expired devout belief in my religion. So I am left in a slightly miserable state of not believing in anything, not being able to find a foundation for my own identity, and lacking an understanding or ability to create and embrace a meaningful, rational spirituality, assuming that such a thing can even exist (I think it can, and should?). In short, it is very difficult, sometimes to even realize, that you are busily engaged in searching for something that you do not even know if it exists or if it does, that you could even understand and appreciate its nature in a way relevant to your modern life and the more fundamental question of your own identity that you ask of yourself in a way more deeply than anyone else can, realizing that the deepest relationships you form with people very much depend upon not only the answer to this question but your own understanding and appreciation of it. My gift for thinking outside of the box sometimes fails me at the most inopportune times, and I feel this might be such a time, but I also hope to discover something, perhaps that I can share, about what humanity means to me as an individual with all its relevant concerns and motivations, but also to me as a member of a larger collective of humanity, our shared existence, and perhaps I can reach some higher understanding of our reality which certainly, as I have learned, does not depend upon me to apprehend it or attempt mastery.
Well, if you have read this far, then thank you, but I still have no answers forthcoming. Maybe I will get to that part about a digital clock and its metaphor for my life at a later time. Until then, at least I am still seeking for answers, which is probably just as important as actually finding them.