I think that every atheist should write a post like this. Not some post to explain why they became atheists, or what they think about religion. A post-religious explanation of what it is like to be an atheist. I was inspired by a post by +Rob Minnaert where he asks if people think they have attained more positive traits after becoming atheists.
I wanted to write this for two reasons. The first being that not many people write about it, or... if they do perhaps I haven't read much of it. If you know of such writing please let me know. Secondly, and this is important, theists like the argument from utility. They also like to bash atheism as being devoid of any moral basis or any useful philosophy. This essay is not intended as a sort of rebuttal of any of those claims, but rather what things make atheism fun and cool. Please don't consider this a sales pitch, maybe a little more of the other side of the fence weighing in on their view. Of course I don't speak for all atheists, but I am sure that some of them will be able to identify with the things I have to say here.
So when I became an atheist initially I was filled with panic! "What if I am wrong" I thought. "What if I will go to hell?" I thought. The cool thing about becoming an atheist was that questioning was no longer taboo. I didn't have to try and retrofit any of my conclusions to some belief in a higher being, or what a god wants. I am happy to question my atheism, and have done so over the course of my atheism many times. Each new argument for the existence of god I read fills me with some sort of perverse thrill that maybe this one will be really good. Sure a part of me thinks that unlikely, but another part of me wants to be surprised. I don't feel guilty when I read christian materials, or even the bible. Doubt and questioning has become a norm for me, and it's one of the greatest parts of being an atheist because there is nothing more rewarding than the aha moments that come with figuring things out for yourself.
Another thing that was a bit unexpected, because nobody thinks about these things, is that all of a sudden the world became a lot simpler. Sure it is infinitely complex, but still simpler, because ghosts, demons, spirits, and all that shit melts away. One of my favourite tricks is to invite all the demons of the universe into my soul, theists will cringe. Happily I can laugh it off. Without a supernatural world everything is more placid and enjoyable. The world, though complex, becomes a discoverable mystery.
This has another cool effect. When you realise that the world is discoverable, you may start thinking it a good idea to go and do it. I used to avoid reading books because I felt guilty about not reading my bible, but now I have fun reading interesting books about how the world works. There is no such thing as Truth with a capital T, everything is much more interesting than you thought, and you have no intellectual barrier or requirement to explain how gawd did that fancy thing you just learned about. Especially when that thing is a parasite that replaces the tongue of a fish. What kind of sadistic god would invent that?
Guilt plays a major role in religion, I used to be wracked with guilt for not praying enough, not readin' my bible enough or for looking at some sexy girl and undressing her with my eyes. It turns out that the Christians are right about there being absolution from all sin, they just had the wrong answer. The answer of course is ATHEISM. mmmm sin... so good. The thing is that what Christians consider to be sin is hardly abnormal for any human being. We evolved (EVOLUTION IS TEH EVOL) to lie, get horny when we see a sexy person and indulge in all kinds of other less than Christian behaviour. Thing is, the truly contemptible things like bigotry and war are okay in christianity, but when you think these things through on your own you come to different conclusions. HINT: bigotry is fucked up and war is wrong.
That results in something amazing. You stop thinking you are some loser maggot sinner, and start thinking more highly of yourself. Not super duper ego inflation, but an upliftment from the depraved sinner you used to think you were that needed to grovel in front of an almighty being for constant forgiveness.
Therein lies the rub. When you become an atheist you switch your life from a god-centered worldview, to a human one. It is no longer about what a god wants, but about what is good for us as a species. This humanism has a profound effect on many newly enlightened atheists in that it makes you think of the harm that actions do to others. It fosters the concept of empathy and generally makes you feel like a kinder, more well-grounded person. We know what humans want and need, figuring out what some imaginary deity wants and needs is impossible, and the cause of much of the pain and suffering in the world. When you switch to the human view you start liking yourself, and in turn you start caring more for others.
** AS I SAID, I DON'T KNOW HOW TRUE THE ABOVE IS FOR OTHER ATHEISTS. SURELY IT WASN'T TRUE FOR STALIN.