There is a school of thought which says that atheism offers no comfort to those who hurt, who mourn the unfairness of life, the proverbial “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and cling to religion on the chance that the next life will be a marked improvement on this one. I submit that this is a mistaken concept, that there can be comfort in the absence of a deity and indeed, a demonstrably better existence in the one life we have. The four points listed below give some expression to just where this comfort can be found.
One – No Judgment: If you’ve been a bad boy (or girl) or even if you’ve been a good one, but simply not a believer, you’ve nothing to fear from an angry Yahweh who would send you to everlasting torment in hell. Being able to live your life day to day without worrying about the celestial judgment of an unseen god can certainly lighten one’s load.
Two – No Interference: With no deity there’s no interference, no meddling supernatural being who can frustrate your actions with a single careless move. Your actions are your own, though this is no defense against Murphy’s Law or the well-worn maxim: shit happens.
Three – No Favoritism: It’s pretty clear from the bible that god plays favorites, even though he dumped on the Hebrews as much as he helped. Still, without a god taking sides, there’s no chance that either the Sunnis or the Shia will have an unfair advantage in the Middle East, or the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland (though that conflict is largely resolved), or Jews and Muslims in the vicinity of Israel.
Four – No Fate But What We Make: The fictional character Sarah Connor of the Terminator series of films made that proposal, and it’s an important one. There’s no divine plan, no hidden long game for humankind to uncover and conform to. Our lives, our planet, indeed, our reality is in OUR HANDS. We can take it and improve on it or screw it up beyond all recognition or take a third, fourth of fifth path, but we are the actors. We are the choosers of those paths and the authors of any plans.
Granted that there may be a problem with accepting the above propositions of comfort: they are all predicated on a person WANTING to own themselves and their lives, taking pride in their contributions to the world at large and not wanting to defer or shift their responsibilities onto someone else. This is obviously the one stumbling point, because there are plenty of people out there who want their god to take the reins, to either guide or direct their behavior and be either the copilot or pilot of their lives. For such people, the weight of having to accept culpability is too much for them. They want unearned forgiveness or a scapegoat, if not bluntly someone to blame for their mistakes. It seems as though such slackers have been a part of the world’s populace since Homo sapiens first emerged, and what can be done about them remains an unanswered question.
For myself and most if not all of us, I’m glad things are laid out as they are. Certainly, cause-and-effect is muddled with a hundred-thousand external variables which can skew the results we want and frustrate goals and desires. At least in the real world, as opposed to that of the bible, failure is not always immutably coupled to a death penalty or an afterlife which we cannot prove, foresee or control. We can try again, change our minds or our approach, innovate a new strategy and with that perhaps find success. We neither need nor want a god as a buffer or an excuse when things go south, any more than we require such a being to kiss-ass on when success is ours.
We own our failures. We own our successes. We own our lives … and that is what counts.