America and Atheism

If you were offended, I could lift your burdens of associating with (in this case, reading an account by) an atheist and call myself non-deist, not religious, human secularist etc. It’s really semantics, though. I am deeply rooted in Buddhist and Confucius beliefs since that is embedded in my parents’ cultures. Toronto was a different story, but when I got to America, the South more specifically, it became very difficult to tell people this fact. It almost felt like I was telling an American that I was a Communist in the 1950s. I’ve read somewhere that statistically America is 90% “religious.” I agree that the two lifestyles are driven by different motives (the religious one being guilt, and the non-religious one being personal betterment) coming from different value systems (selfless act of commitment to god vs. selfish act of fulfilling one’s goals).

This alienation of atheism became evident once more in one of my class discussions today. While discussing Freud’s “Civlisation and Its Discontents,” I was astonished at how disgusted people were by not only the obvious things (describing the only natural human happiness originating only from the genital etc.), but more so of Freud’s “pessimistic” view of religion. I was a little surprised at the responses. The discussion got me thinking about something else however–the system of beliefs that people follow, whether or not it carries a single label, doesn’t not mean the same for everyone, as a word like “happiness” may carry a different connotation of meaning.

Yes, Freud does not cover up the fact that he is trying to belittle religion, but we cannot say that he is completely incorrect in his analysis. Even before I read Freud, I had an inherent disposition to stay away from religion because it kept me from being an independent thinker. I do not believe in fate or the afterlife. You can always try to control your life, but there are many variables that may deter you from getting to your goal, so one must do everything in one’s power to get closest goal by working hard. In other words, I believe that world is quite chaotic. Life events are quite unpredictable as natural disasters are random (not controlled by a “higher being.” This naturally leads me to cling to science (as an imperfect measuring tool) and civilization (the preventing tool). The State must have strict laws that plays a similar role as religion–impose sanctions aimed at unmoral activities, such as murder and theft.

I may be too young to finalize and concretize my beliefs but I think it’s rather mentally unhealthy to depend on one’s imagination such as religion. For example, when one fails at one’s endeavors, one can easily blame a higher power for one’s failures from not working hard enough. I also think that creation of afterlife intensifies the fear of death rather than alleviating it. If we can assess the fear as the finite end, (i.e. not waking up the next day and experiencing life,) there are other ways without religion one can assuredly rest in peace by leaving a volume of work behind. The work, even after the author or creator’s death will live on as the next generation will (or will not) continue to read the name of the person in history.

Everything we do is essentially selfish, one way or another. We help the starving poor in Africa, and we feel good about doing so in the end. The word “selfish” itself carries a bad connotation, but the context of the civilized world, that is perfectly fine, because we have internalized (I hope,) what should make us feel good, such as helping the less fortunate, for it gives us joy.

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