You can achieve the benefits of Christianity without believing in mythology
Go to any Christian church and ask the congregation what the benefits of believing in God are, and they’ll give you a long list. You’ll hear testimonies of how their relationship with God turned them into better people and even saved their lives from the path of self-destruction they were going down. These testimonies may sound powerful enough to make you believe in God, but there’s a fundamental flaw in their premise. The flaw is that, regardless of whether or not God actually exists, the Bible wasn’t divinely inspired. Christianity is a primitive mythology.
When a person’s life is improved by Christianity it’s not because they found a way to tap into the power of the creator of the universe. Their life was transformed by a simple change in their perspective, which was inspired by words they read in a man-made book. Since all of those changes happened within their own mind, independent of God, that means you can achieve those same results by tapping into the same secular processes that were actually responsible for the transformation. And you can do that without experiencing any of the negative consequences that come along with believing in mythologies invented by primitive, chauvinistic, slave-owning, blood thirsty tribal theocrats.
We’re all born so lost that we don’t even know we’re lost. By default our minds are set on auto-pilot, operating on mental shortcuts that allow us to navigate through life without fully tapping into our capacity for critical thought. When you go through life taking the status quo for granted, mimicking those around you and basing your actions on whimsical decision-making skills then your life will be tossed aimlessly according to the social tide. When you live the life of a sheeple you’re living without purpose and are almost guaranteed to be led over a cliff to a very bad place.
Mythological texts can give you purpose and direction. In turn, that will give you a reason to live and more concrete direction to follow. That will give your life structure, and along with that will come hope and peace. However, you won’t be serving God. You’ll be unwittingly serving snake oil salesmen who died generations ago. The functional purpose of your life will be to reenact a watered-down, modernized imitation of their archaic cultural values. While you may take pride and joy in doing that dance, your time, money and effort will ultimately be spent living a lie.
You don’t need a convoluted mythology to give your life purpose. You simply need a philosophy that’s based on evidence and reason. I can’t tell you what that philosophy is, because despite what any snake oil salesman tells you, life doesn’t come with an instruction book. You have to commit to a lifelong quest of asking questions and questioning your answers. It’s not as easy as leaning on a mythological text as a crutch, but you’ll have a better chance of finding more meaningful and productive answers than the ones invented by ancient tribal leaders pretending to be God’s spokesmen to justify their civil authority and pre-existing cultural values.
If you want purpose in life, then let the objective quest for knowledge and truth be your purpose and see where that takes you. I can’t tell you how you’re supposed to do that, but I can offer some food for thought as long as you promise not to take it on faith:
An Old Man From Jersey Explains Life — comic format
An Old Man From Jersey Explains Life — script format
Hope and peace in death
One of the biggest appeals of mythology is that it provides closure to our fear of death. It promises that not only will our actions (and suffering) in life be meaningful, but our fate after death will be desirable. This allows us to live without the burden of uncertainty and fear, which makes it a very tempting fruit to eat.
However, just as you don’t have to be a prophet to know that the Vikings were woefully misled into believing that after death their warriors would cross a rainbow bridge to Valhalla where they would feast and fight for all of eternity, I don’t have to be a prophet to tell you that you won’t ascend into Heaven and spend the rest of eternity in a vaguely defined paradise above the clouds after you die. The promise of Heaven is nothing more than the projection of another ancient culture’s wishful thinking. If you find that disheartening, the good news is that you don’t have to live in crippling fear of Hell, which is merely the cruel invention of uncivilized men willing to scare their community into total obedience.
So how do you cope with the fear of death in a universe where God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t speak to us through prophets? Just look up at the night sky or down through a microscope. The universe is a majestically elegant place, and the more you understand how it works the more amazed you’ll be by the inexplicable brilliance of its design. Even if you can never fully understand why it exists or how it got designed the way it did, you can still stand in awe of how the laws of nature shaped the universe into what it is today.
Sure, life is hard at times. Sometimes it may feel like the universe is out to get you, but look at the grand scale of things. Look at everything that’s happened over the past 14 billion years as the universe rearranged itself into a form that would allow sentient life to evolve from inanimate matter. The universe served you life on a silver platter. If life is a miracle then it would be inconsistent for death to be a crisis. At the risk of sounding too theistic, the universe knows what it’s doing. Even without understanding exactly what happens after death, you can have faith that whatever happens is what’s supposed to happen. It couldn’t possibly be any other way.
If you’re ever feeling worried about death, go try to light a small fire. Then try to freeze some water. Then try to break a rock. If all of those things work the way they’re supposed to then you can take solace that your death is going to work according to the grand design as well.
Question: How do atheists and agnostics know which rules to follow?
Answer: The same way Christians know which rules in the Bible not to follow.
Morality predates mythology. Theists ignore far more rules in their religious texts than they follow because those religious texts were written by members of primitive, uncivilized societies. The modern laws and personal moral codes we actually live our lives by today come from reason. You can explore this topic further in these blog posts:
Life is hard and lonely. Humans crave love like we crave water. Believing that the creator of the universe loves you unconditionally is a powerful placebo. It can carry you through the hardest times, bring you peace, give you confidence, and inspire you to be a better person.
Who knows, maybe there really is some force out there in the universe that fits some definition of the word “God,” and if that being exists and went through 14 billion years worth of trouble to give you life then surely you are loved. Feel free to embrace that belief, but don’t assume you have to believe in mythology to believe you’re loved.
Even if there is no God, the universe still went through the same amount of work to bring you here. Love is something you do. From that perspective the universe loves you just as much as Yahweh… even more in fact, because the universe doesn’t want any of us to be slaves. It gave us unconditional free will. Granted, it’s debatable whether or not true free will exists, but the universe never gave us detailed instructions on how to sell our daughters into slavery. It never told slaves to obey their owners, and it doesn’t want to torture you for eternity for not prostrating yourself before it.
People all over the world have been loving each other for centuries even though billions of them believe in different mythologies. Even people who don’t believe in mythology still love, and many people who do believe in mythology use their religious texts to justify hating, exploiting, oppressing, hurting and killing their fellow man.
You don’t need a book to tell you to love one another. You just need to understand the value of life, and you don’t need God to tell you what that is. Life is infinitely valuable and thus we’re all infinitely deserving of love regardless of whether or not we’re a member of the tribe of Israel or the Christian church or are heterosexual. We’re all stuck in this great big, mysterious universe together, and all we have is each other. Of course we should love each other. That’s the least profound statement you’ll ever hear.
The relief of forgiveness
We all make mistakes. We all do things we regret. We all fall short of our own expectations, and there’s no shortage of people eager to tear us down and make us feel worthless. Even the Bible says that we’re all sinners. Even our righteousness is like filthy rags, and our wisdom is foolishness in the eyes of God. The Bible paints a clear picture that we’re all sinners hanging over Hell by a thread, watched over by an angry God. With that much guilt heaped on our heads of course we would be desperate for the relief of forgiveness.
But we don’t need God to impregnate a virgin, be born on earth as a human and have himself killed in order for us to be absolved of breaching the cultural norms of a random primitive society. The only reason anyone feels the relief of forgiveness after hearing the story of Jesus is because it convinced them to give themselves permission to forgive themselves.
You don’t need anyone else’s permission to forgive yourself. A mistake is only a mistake when you don’t learn from it. When you do learn from it, it’s an invaluable learning experience. And you’re not omniscient. Of course you’re going to make sub-optimal decisions from time to time. That doesn’t make you any less of a cosmic miracle who deserves to love yourself and be loved by others. If you’re having trouble letting go of the past then see a professional therapist. They charge a lot less than the church does. They address the real issues underlying your shame, and they won’t continue to guilt trip you for the rest of your life.
A reason and a way to improve yourself
Why get out of bed in the morning much less push yourself to your limits if there is no god and no afterlife? Because personal growth is its own reward. You are your mind. The quality of the reality you experience is defined by the quality of your mind. Personal improvement is an opportunity to improve your quality of life. That’s how life gets better. Your life gets better as you get better. Get it?
Another common sense reason to become a better person is because the quality of society is determined by the quality of its members. In order for us to live in the best world possible we all have to become the best people possible. When we do that we’ll live in Utopia regardless of what political/economic systems are in place. So, if you want to live in the best world possible, you need to be the best person possible. That’s not prophetic, that’s common sense.
On a more philosophical note, the universe went through 14 billion years of effort to create us and give us the opportunity to exist as a species and create a history and discover technology and live comfortably and have fun and have sex. That’s more than your significant other did for you all year, and you still worship your lover.
I’m not saying you should worship the universe. That would be time wasted that you could have spent becoming a better person. That’s the point. If the universe went through all this trouble to set you up to be the best person you can be then the best way you can express your gratitude is by becoming a better person and simultaneously doing your part in humanity achieving its full potential.
If you accept the opportunity to improve yourself, you should know that psychology and philosophy offer a better road map to self-improvement than the instructions handed down to us by the megalomaniac warlords who wrote the Bible. If you want to become a better person then study logic. Study psychology, specifically self-actualization. See a therapist to help unravel your past. Study yourself; get a professional personality/aptitude test done. Study science and understand how the universe works. Study history. Spend your Sunday mornings teaching yourself how to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Go traveling and see the world. Learn about different cultures so you can better understand all the ways you can possibly live and perceive the world.
Admitting helplessness and surrendering your worries to God
When the struggles of life start to overwhelm you, and you begin to collapse under the weight of your responsibilities, you can find profound relief by admitting that you’re not in complete control of everything that happens to you and then letting go and letting God be in control.
But God doesn’t grant you the serenity to accept the things you can’t change, the strength to change the things you can and the wisdom to know the difference. You do that. You possess the capacity to understand that if you can change something then it’s not worth worrying about and if you can’t change something then it’s not worth worrying about.
Having faith that everything will work out as part of God’s plan
Believing that God is in control of the universe gives you a powerful coping mechanism in the form of cognitive dissonance. When anything good happens to you, you can credit it to God loving you and helping you. When anything bad happens to you, you can chalk it up to God working in mysterious ways and it all being part of His plan. So even if poverty, crime, natural disasters and genocide seem out of place in a world controlled by an all loving, all knowing, all powerful being… the world still makes sense because you can just close your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears and shout until you block reality out.
You don’t need God to count every hair on your head. You don’t need God to be in control, and there doesn’t need to be a plan. All that matters is that the universe exists, you got the chance to live in it, and you have the opportunity to make the most of that experience. You have the power and thus the obligation to take responsibility for determining your own fate. That’s not a burden. That’s an opportunity. That gives your life meaning. Throwing up your hands and deferring all responsibility to God is squandering your chance to own your life.
The power of prayer
It’s comforting to believe that the creator of the universe is on your side and He’ll bend the rules of nature to alter the course of the universe to satisfy your whims if you just kneel on the ground, put your hands together and ask him to. That belief ignores the cold, hard reality that prayer has an equal success rate to random chance, and there are some things that prayer will never be able to do, like heal amputees. The power of prayer has been tested more than any other experiment in history, and it has consistently proven itself to be useless. Praying equates to nothing more than talking to yourself.
Prayer isn’t powerful. It’s crippling. Everything that has ever saved a human’s life and made our lives easier has been accomplished by logic and hard work. If you want your life to be better or the lives of all the starving children in Africa to get better then spit in your hands, rub them together and then put them to work. Stop letting prayer hold you and humanity back. If there is a God, He’s not answering your prayers. He’s waiting for you to accept responsibility for using the tools you’ve been given.
Originally published at thewisesloth.com on February 26, 2014.