All’s well with the red pill

Am I happier as an atheist?

A recent conversation made me wonder. If I could go back, would I re-take the red pill? It’s a loaded question—it assumes that my happiness is measurable and that I used to believe. Let’s grant those assumptions. While I don’t remember when I turned towards atheism, or at least skepticism, I’m sure I had faith sometime. I hated religious rituals, but I did talk to god as a child—I don’t know why I spoke to god in English and not Tamil or Hindi—and made deals where my end of the bargain was to give up meat or watch less TV—If god kept records, I had a crappy credit score. I was sure that giving up pleasure was a way of pleasing god. I also remember refraining from some things for fear of divine punishment. So, call it nebulous if you want, I believed.

"You take the blue pill – the story ends,...

If you haven’t watched the Matrix, please do. Seriously, everything else can wait (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Growing up, my room doubled as the prayer room, an antithesis if there ever was one, and had pictures of many Hindu gods. I remember sitting cross-legged before them to pray. But I didn’t feel like the people in those pictures were there for me despite the super-anthropomorphism characteristic to Hindu deities. I would rather defer to abstract divinity than the mythological characters and their entertaining stories. Even when I did believe, I never crystallized in my mind a deity who protected me and cared for my betterment. Perhaps my self-esteem was so low that I was wary of the wrath of god more than I anticipated his bounty, or I naturally feared bad things more than I looked forward to good ones. Either way, the simplistic connection of unhappiness after an external driving force or safety net disappears didn’t apply to me. It probably applies to fewer people than we imagine, and a tinier fraction of them are permanently scared after leaving religion.

Becoming more or less happy after rejecting god might be just a coincidence. People who reject god after deep thought and analysis might turn that microscope inwards and, depending on how their life is going, experience mood changes. If we analyze the question temporally—am I happier now, and is being an atheist simply a coincidence?—I don’t know. It’s possible that my twenties have brought an introspection that is correlated with depression or mental malaise, and that the same introspection couldn’t let me remain an honest believer. I have no way to rule it out or even apply a realistic probability to it.

Why I am an atheist is answered by science. God as a hypothesis is untenable. But while that explains why I don’t believe, it leaves room for future belief—as all evaluations of scientific hypotheses do—and of my liking and respecting god if his existence is proven.

If god wasn’t a totalitarian megalomaniac, I might ignore the scientific evidence in my eagerness to praise and propitiate him. If god didn’t create so much pain, I fear I wouldn’t care that his existence is unlikely, because I’d be lost in all the beauty and the pleasure in the world. In truth, I sometimes wish god was real, so I can have an object for my contempt—because it is unsatisfying to hate abstract concepts like poverty, wretchedness, malice, and—ironic as it is—hatred.

But that doesn’t answer my original question—am I happier as an atheist? I think I am, in a Eudaimonic sense, because accepting that a lot of the world’s injustices are random is the first step to making one’s peace with them.

I’m not shaving until you accept that we came from monkeys

The opposite is true to a lot of people; many feel lonely and abandoned when their brains reject the god hypothesis. Happiness is irrelevant to truth, but not to the discovery of truth. We sometimes choose not to investigate matters where one of the answers might destroy the axioms upon which our lives are balanced. But if truths make you happy as absolutes, because you discovered or learned them, and not only when they confirmed your suspicions or disproved your theories, losing faith is a step out of the blues. It helps to realize that your successes and failings are a product of chance and effort and not divine planning.

As an atheist, am I no longer afraid of death? I fear dying—I don’t want to experience cancer or being crushed under a car or fading away as someone dials up my morphine—but the idea of not existing some day doesn’t steal much of my sleep. I’ve done it before. For most of time, I haven’t existed. In fact, my existence is but an aberration in the time continuum, which has done fine without me.

I won’t miss me when I’m gone.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Unbridled blasphemy

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10 thoughts on “All’s well with the red pill

  1. Atheism itself is a ‘theism’, even Einstein (patron saint of Scientists!) preferred agnosticism (he said combined with a bit of humility). Those anthropomorphic figures you grew up around were (or are intended to be) more of a doorway to really introspect and wonder at the magic of life and approach it with humility. Some end up spending too much time with the figurines and never transcend the symbols and rituals. It is analogous to one who would stand at an elaborately constructed doorway and keep arguing and questioning the need or dimensions of the doorway and never walk into the vast room (which is within) to simply get to know one’s own self. Its a journey, and it takes time. As a trained molecular scientist, having the power to clone and create model animals in experiments, I used to stand at the door and discuss the merits of and the necessity of etc.. and at some point walked through that entrance and am discovering fascinating aspects of the room. I wish you that journey in due time and when you are ready to step away.. from that door.

    • Atheism (lack of belief in a god) is a theological stance while agnosticism (intellectual position that the existence of god is unknowable on a scientific basis) is an epistemological stance. They aren’t points on a number representing degrees of faith or lack thereof.
      Getting to know one’s self is profound, but it seems circuitous to go through gods for that experience.

  2. Well, I’ve fought the same battles of faith and belief and come to the same conclusions as you have. In fact, I was even more of a servile believer than you seem to have been. I was absolutely sycophantic, God’s bitch, if you will! But categorizing myself as an ‘Atheist’ or ‘Agnostic’ or calling myself by any other name, for that matter, has its own sectarian undertones, don’t you think, however rationally and scientifically predisposed as I may be? I’ve always had that battle to fight too. I don’t believe but I don’t want to be ‘classified’ as belonging to one group or the other. Am I being too idealistic in believing that we humans can do better without factional classifications, whatever they may be? Do point to flaws in my chain of thought.

    PS: i. Noticed the Out Campaign label. Glad to be a part of it.
    ii. Also a huge fan of Dr. Dawkins! Watched almost every video I could of his lectures and read four of his works. Huge influence!
    iii. Another major, earth sized influence were Jonathan Miller’s videos titled ‘Atheism Tapes’ and ‘A Brief History of Disbelief’
    iv. Apologies for eating up so much of your space!

    • Calling yourself an atheist doesn’t mean you subscribe to the views of every atheist. Also, I agree with you in that I don’t want to become part of any faction. If freethinkers started uniting, they won’t think as freely. Thanks for visiting. Long time since I heard from you.

  3. Hi Liberalcynic,

    I am coming to your blog for the first time and felt like writing in to tell how much some of those thoughts echo with mine. I guess most kids in India start off in the folds of religion but then as they grow and think, things change depending on how honest they are with themselves and with their past. I guess, I must declare that questioning religion and customs for several years brought me to a situation where i consider myself an atheist or a pantheist at best. I am a scientist so I guess science is a big part of me and that also plays a role in my choices or vice versa. But even from where i stand today, I do sometimes wish that I could believe. It feels easier to believe that there is more than randomness at play in our lives and that good and evil serve a greater purpose in the world. But such unquestioning belief without sound rationale is difficult to sustain for a thinker and that has landed me to my current state. At the same time, I understand where the sthithapragnya is coming from when he says he doesn’t want to be a part of another faction. I have seen many people being ardent fans of schools of thought and factions – to an extent that at some point their ability to think and tolerance is compromised again. I see a lot of merits in Dawkins case but i also think that he is being intolerant in “The God Delusion”. This could get me in trouble, but i have seen many rational, Dawkins fans losing objectivity when he is criticized.

    Anyways, i guess, I’ve used a lot more words than needed to say what i needed to.
    It was a good internet accident of sorts to end up here. 🙂

    • Thank you very much for visiting.
      Regarding Dawkins—he can be rude at times and quick to judge. So, I’m sure he has earned some of his criticism.
      I agree that sometimes the randomness and the insignificance of our lives vis a vis this universe is depressing. It might even force some of us to want to believe. But that we don’t believe in spite of such randomness is a sign of rationality.

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