The other day, a handful of my friends and I were talking about our religions. There were a couple of Christians, a couple of Hindus, and one Muslim. And then there was me, an atheist (or Atheist?)
There was a lot of things I learned in that half hour. For example, I learned that the many arms of Hindu gods were in fact not attached to their sides like a regular human — they were sprouting from their backs (isn’t this quite impressive?) Also, I finally learned the difference between Islam and Christianity: one believed that Jesus was a prophet, the other believed that Jesus was the son of God. I listened as my friends each got excited over their respective celebrations…Ramadan, Diwali, Easter, all that exotic jazz.
And then, at one point, as if each of their own gods conspired in unison to get them to ask the same question at the same time: “So, what’s your religion?”
I fumbled. “Well, aren’t I boring? I’m an atheist.”
“That’s actually very interesting,” a Christian girl said. That’s the first time I thought that maybe they considered my atheism the same way I considered their religions. Maybe the lack of religion was actually interesting; an exotic jazz of its own kind.
As long as I’m alive, I don’t want to worry about when I’m done living.
‘I’m an atheist’ is what I’ve always used to explain my severe lack of understanding toward religion. It’s not like I don’t tolerate various religions — I do tolerate them because I don’t know why I shouldn’t. But I don’t understand them. And I’ve always felt like I should understand, if only so that I would feel closer to my closest friends and they would feel closer to me.
But then, my Muslim friend asked me. “So, as an atheist, what do you believe will happen to you once you die?”
I found myself at a loss. I’d never thought about that until that moment. No one has ever told me where I will end up after my death. My parents are atheists. My grandparents are. And for the entire time I lived in Japan and China(China, in fact, is the world’s most irreligious population, statistically speaking), the people around me were all atheists — I’m excluding the occasional ‘Christian’ who maybe went to church once a year if they were feeling particularly religious.
But I didn’t want to sound boring — rather, I didn’t want them to think I was dumb, or that I was positively scared of death because I actually didn’t know what would happen when I died (which I truly don’t know). So what I said was, “I’m too busy living to think about death.”
But many days have passed since this conversation, and I’ve been getting more and more convinced that this spontaneous statement I’d made to be very true.
I’m eighteen. I have many more decades to live if I’m fortunate. I’d like to live freely, without fear of damnation and without restriction by a defined set of morals. I’d like to make huge mistakes and rebuild myself from scratch — not by praying or begging or believing, but by doing.
Don’t feel guilty about asking a fasting Muslim, “but aren’t you hungry?” I mean, you’re curious, right?
So, today, I’m making a statement here that I’m proud to be an atheist. In the same way that others around me are proud to be religious. “I’m an atheist” doesn’t necessarily translate as, “I’m 100% sure that God/gods doesn’t/don’t exist, and the concept of religion is ridiculous.” It means, “I don’t know if any god exists, and I wouldn’t care much if they did. Because as long as I’m alive, I want to decide on my own morals and make my own decisions. As long as I’m alive, I don’t want to worry about when I’m done living.”
If you’re an atheist, too, don’t shame yourself for not knowing about every single religious holiday. Instead, be happy that you can freely celebrate Christmas on your vacation to Germany and Diwali on your visit to India. Don’t feel guilty about asking a Muslim mid-Ramadan, “but don’t you get hungry?” I mean, you’re curious, right? Is curiosity a sin?
In the end, know that atheism isn’t evil, and it isn’t in any way boring. No way in hell.