The freedoms of atheism

Many believers regard atheism as a doomed, nihilistic project which misses out on the sense of freedom afforded by worshiping God.

Even though I was a Christian for many years, I can’t say I ever really felt free. There was always that feeling, sometimes tucked away in the subconscious, that my actions were being watched and assessed by an ever wakeful, ever vigilant God. Don’t get me wrong: I never felt that I was being subjected to some sort of Big Brother surveillance, because I believed that God was good and wanted the best for me. But there was still that element of tension that comes from believing that one’s every move is being monitored.

True freedom, then, only came to me when I realized there was no Watcher. There was no invisible camera tracking and recording my every move. I could finally experience a true sense of internal privacy.

The second freedom I encountered was the letting go of apologetics. I no longer had to strain to seek compatibility between my beliefs and my growing understanding of science. I could face the natural world with honesty, and stop coming up with reasons why it should be ignored or reshaped.

The third freedom I discovered was the ability to set my own course through life: to decide my own purpose. Many young people remember clearly the exhilarating feeling of being handed their first set of car keys, of getting behind the wheel, and thinking to themselves, “now I can go wherever I wish”. Atheism made me feel that way again. Instead of being destined to fulfill someone else’s purpose (and having to do so without even knowing for sure what that purpose was), I could plot my life’s course as I wished.

I know that some believers see this as arrogant. How can atheists be so full of themselves that they think they can chart their own course through life, rather than being obedient to the will of their creator? Yet this claim to independence is nothing more than the freedom of autonomy which every slave in history has yearned for, and which all people are entitled to.

Christians are slaves of God. This is not an incendiary remark of my own devising: it is written in the Bible.

So, while I look back on my years as a Christian with much fondness, I can find no freedom in those days that matches what I currently feel. In some ways, I think of my deconversion from religion as a lucky escape. Like a person with blinders who is unaware of his handicap, I caught a small, unintended peak of the bright outside world. I slowly tore away at the impediment – and freedom is what I found.

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6 Responses to The freedoms of atheism

  1. Oscar Rivera says:

    Overall, I really liked this post. There truly is a sense of freedom which internally manifests once one goes down that path of deconversion.

    However, I should urge some caution as to your attribution of theists – or, in your specific case, Christians – as slaves. If I may play devil’s advocate (I still love using that term), a Christian would readily counter with the assertion that you have it all backwards; that, in fact, the depraved sinner is the one bound in chains, hopelessly enslaved to his own carnal and sensuous desires. The Christian would say that it was Christ’s death on the cross which provided the necessary penalty in which we can finally be freed from our shackles. The laws, edicts, and tenants, are not something which we are forced to abide by, but rather are the conditions by which we are able to achieve everlasting peace. Given the autonomous nature of our free will, can one really say that the Christian must abide by whatever law God decrees?

    • kpharri says:

      Oscar – thanks for the comment, I appreciate it.

      I did think of the free will issue when I penned the post, and here’s the problem I see. Many people (myself included) grow up being told that they have only two alternatives. Either they worship the god that their culture happens to believe in (and follow all the conditions that this god imposes), or they face some sort of punishment, usually of a vicious, eternal kind! In this sense, then, many cultures do not really offer their people a truly free, uncoerced choice about whether to believe. When your only alternative is to burn in hell, you cannot say that the choice is free and uncoerced, any more than you can say that the choice to hand over your wallet to a gun-toting mugger is free and uncoerced.

      Ideally, then, young people should not be indoctrinated into a particular faith from a young age, but should be educated, in an impartial manner, about all the religious traditions available to them, and allow them to assess these choices critically on their own, without pressure or coercion. Only in this case can we say that they will have a free choice concerning belief. And even then, if they choose to believe in, say, the Christian God, then in a sense they are no longer offered free, uncoerced choices about their belief, because the threat of hell becomes real.

      • Oscar Rivera says:

        I’ve heard the “gun-toting mugger analogy” a few times, but I don’t think it is very good. It does not address ‘free-will’ proper, but rather only addresses the ethics of a choice (or, in this case, the ethics of the one giving the choice). I will agree that imposing the choice between either Heaven or Hell is a morally bankrupt one, but we still have the capacity to choose either one.

  2. Hmm. Interesting, kpharri.

    For me, from early childhood, I have never desired to be free of God. Even when I didn’t know what it/He was .. I knew something was there and that it was benevolent; I didn’t wish to be free of it. In fact, I turned to it instictively in several times of intense trauma and need. It didn’t let me down.

    Time eventually taught me who “it” was. As I grew to know Him, I find Him ever faithful and don’t feel anything short of the great desire to be found pleasing to Him; I feel great mercy when I feel I’m not. I say “when *I* feel that I’m not pleasing,” because the guilt that I’m not pleasing always emanates from me or in other words, it’s my cross to bear. I never feel from Him that I’m not good enough — quite the opposite is always the case, even when I don’t see how I could be found pleasing in my “anything but saintly-ness way of being.”

    The unconditional love I feel from Him makes me a willing slave, a grateful slave of Him.

    I guess we’re all built very different internally. I don’t want freedom from God at any cost. Ever.

    • kpharri says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Warrioress. Indeed, when I was a Christian I had many of the same feelings, and felt that I could rely on God in times of need. From what I understand now, I was simply relying on myself without realizing it!

  3. By the way.. I appreciate so much your honesty. You’re a nice atheist. As so many aren’t, I find you to be intriguing.

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