I remember the moment of my epiphany, the moment I became an atheist. I was 20 years old. I had read the oscillating universe by George Gamow & the origin of species by Charles Darwin.
Then, suddenly, I realized we homo-sapiens are just a kind of animal like other animals on this spinning rock we call Earth. Whatever purpose we feel we have is one we devise for ourselves; it’s not handed to us from on high. We are on our own; there is no deity holding a net under our feet as we go about our days, ready to catch us in case we stumble even a little. Our desperate hopes about living after death and seeing our departed loved ones, again gets dashed into dust.
It was disconcerting, to say the least. But then I could see the positives of it.
Slowly I realized that there was never a net under our feet at all – we just thought there was, and really it’s worse to have a false sense of security than no safety net at all.
Slowly I realized that nobody was handing us purposes in the first place–we just thought someone was, and really it’s worse to have a false purpose than one we arrive at ourselves based on our interests and aptitudes.
Slowly I realized that quite a lot of our worldview was based on denying the reality before our eyes – we were just really good at compartmentalizing and managing cognitive dissonance, and really it’s worse in the end to turn away from reality than to find some way to live with it.
Slowly I realized that there has never been any evidential support for the idea of life after death in any way whatsoever – we just let our wishful thinking and desperation get the better of us, and really it’s worse to fool ourselves into thinking that we have forever than to cherish the brief time we have while we have it.
This epiphany has occurred to many a non-believer in the history of mankind. I was not the only one. With this, there comes a slow but definite transformation in our lives.
Slowly we figure out how to build our own safety nets, and once we construct our first reality-based net we feel that sudden sparkle of achievement that comes from knowing that we aren’t counting on a capricious supernatural being to do what he promised repeatedly to do in the various scriptures, but rather we start taking care of our own business.
Slowly we figure out what our purpose really is–and we see how that purpose changes as we change, and how we can accrue multiple purposes at once, and once one purpose is done, then we move to the next project. Gone are the days when we agonized about what a capricious supernatural being might want from our lives–and that exultant rush of knowing we are responsible for our own achievements is something more real than any number of platitudinous prayers.
Slowly we start learning how to tell what’s real and what isn’t, and we learn to live with reality as it is rather than what we wish it was. That’s harder than it seems, but it’s part of what it is to be human in the modern age. We learn to value truth over lies, objective facts over wishful thinking and blind hope.
Slowly we start to cherish this life more and more and more–all the more because we know beyond doubt that it is fleeting and brief and that we don’t have the faintest idea how much of it we’re going to get. We love our friends and neighbors more, and learn what family really means.
Slowly we start to build our identity as ourselves, to cherish our own lives and care for our own needs. As someone said: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”.
That’s how I discovered what it was to feel like an eagle floating above the earth, autonomous, without feeling like a slave to man created religions & gods.