Howardism Musings from my Awakening Dementia
My collected thoughts flamed by hubris
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Apostasy is hard. Atheism isn't.

Growing up a non-theist because my parents and grandparents were unafflicted, it was clear to me becoming religious would be hard, just like breaking habits is hard (pun intended).

Changing religion is hard, staying put is easy.


I'm glad you're putting your thoughts out there. And I'm glad I get to read them without the filter of religion. As unsettling as it can sometimes be to lead what Socrates called 'the examined life,' that's still the life I'd choose. I wouldn't trade who I am now for who I once was. Religious certainty can provide some comfort in life, but the cost is too high I think. I'd rather experience life (while I have it) unfiltered.


Non-Theism is Hard

Not sure if you've ever heard of Anne Rice before, but she's written a number of novels, one of which is Interview with a Vampire. Well, in a recent interview, she has described how after leaving Catholicism and became an atheist, she is now returning to her childhood religion. She explained it this way:

It's [atheism] a more strenuous path than the religious path, because you're then going to say that there is no God, there is no reason (for anything), that people on Earth are the only (way) to provide any meaning. That's a rough road to travel.

When you lose a child, you're telling yourself as an atheist, "I'm never going to see that child again in any form." That's a hell of a lot harder than a religion, which gives you the consolation that you will see that child again in heaven. It's hard being an atheist. It's tough.

I agree. When it comes to death, theists have an easy answer to sooth a grief-stricken heart. However, the non-theist has an advantage when it comes to suffering.

In an old episode of Politically Incorrect, Victoria Jackson (a fundamentalist Christian) asks Julia Sweeney (raised Catholic, but now an atheist) if she prayed during her bout with cancer. They are old friends and they know a lot about each other, but she seemed stunned when Julia said no. Why wouldn't you? While the non-theist obviously would feel a bit strange in pleading with the ceiling, they at least don't have the stress of searching for meaning for the suffering.

When tragedy strikes, the theist has to answer why. Some theists say it is because they didn't have the faith or "God is testing us." However, that answer seems remarkably callous and shallow when a 6 month-old girl finally succumbs to her frail heart, and death becomes the first moment without pain in her short life.

From a non-theistic stand-point, life is full of random events and a collection of genes-- essentially a hand of cards to play. Some people get better cards than others, and it is easier to accept this world view than to constantly questioning whether God is on your side or is punishing you.

But theists have an easier time making sense of the world, since meaning is explicitly given once your drink from the fount of religion. If "God is Dead" then life has no absolute, external meaning. A desire for an after-life and an ultimate meaning is why people are religious.

So let's be honest about it. I've spent most of my life listening to people try to prove the existence of God or their favorite religion, but there is no evidence… only desire. We so desperately want there to be an after-life, that we believe there is.

Is that bad?

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This is a very well thought out essay. And truly, I don't think you need to go anywhere with it. It feels as complete as I can see. Because there is no answer, there is no complete package when it comes to this. There are only questions to ask and unlimited possibilities to consider. And I agree, that atheism is the hardest to be. Because, first it admits that you don't have the answers and second, that no one else has the answers either, and third that you have to constantly defend yourself to others (or not). But you rarely have to defend being religious, people pretty much accept that.

Speaking of when we die, I have been considering something lately, and that is of our energy. That perhaps when we die our energy is released into the universe. Only because there is something about seeing a dead body and realizing that it really is just a shell. I have no idea what that energy looks like-- if it would remain in a mass, or if each particle would dissipate into the universe separately. I also have no idea what happens to that energy. Would it travel through the universe looking for another thing to inhabit? Would it be absorbed into the earth or the atmosphere? Would it be absorbed into those around the person who died? There are a lot of questions, but something about it rings true to me. I wonder what your thoughts on this would be. Care to kick it around with me?



I've heard and thought about this idea before, but I need to know what we mean by "energy" in this case.

Turn over the soil in my garden, and there are large globs of bacteria, slim molds, and other microbes. These little guys will soon be eaten by this earthworm and he swallows the dirt and digests the microbes. The worm, in turn, is eaten by a robin, which is eaten by a cat. The cat eventually dies of old age, and is buried in the backyard to be feasted by these colonies of bacteria and whatnot. So, if we define "energy" as protein molecules and the rest of the stuff that we are composed, then yeah, when we die, we de-compose back to the universe to make the next generations of life.

If we define this "energy" to mean some psychological force, I would also think that we persist. A lifetime of interaction of a parent to a child will pass, not only the genes, but also the personality, preferences, thoughts and attitudes to those children and every other people. And when we die, this energy continues to live on in the memories of those left behind until those memories fade away. Some of us become lucky to be converted into myths and legends and live on in stories.. but even those stories will fade as the cultures that perpetuate them fades.

However, if we define "energy" as some metaphysical substance, then I would have to say that it is probably nothing more than hopeful desires fueled by our genetic tendency toward self-preservation made manifest in an ego who has accepted the reality that there is no soul, but still wants it. [Longest sentence EVAR]

My definition of "soul" is similar to computer software… nothing more than a configuration of cranial hardware. As such, it should be possible for a super-sophisticated alien race or a god or two to "download" that configuration and reboot it on a newer, better-looking human model… but I don't think so. You see, software only works on the same hardware. Change the CPU of your hardware, and the software won't work. Each person's brain is configured differently and your "software" couldn't map directly to another "hardware" unless it was nearly identical. I would think that if we took Person A and transplanted his brain into Person B, it wouldn't be long before the new creature was a synthesis of the two people before eventually becoming indistinguishable from the original Person B.

But I have not traveled the length and breadth of this universes and all the other universes in other dimensions to see if such aliens or gods exist. So while an agnostical approach is probably the only justified position to take, the evidence suggests that when you're dead… you're dead.

And I think that it is good to meditate on this idea and to come to terms with this reality.

Our bodies are built to die. True, there are some organisms that are not programmed to age and die, but that is certainly a minority opinion. Most life has organized each individual to die as the best approach to continue the entire species… human's included.

Clearly we wouldn't want it any other way. I mean, we want things to change. We want our children to stop being babies and grow up and make babies of their own. We want to grow and experience things, and you can't do any of this if we were living in the stasis of an unchangeable universe.

I think that if we look death squarely in its empty eye sockets, we really are nothing more than gnats flying around a single sunbeam before death that evening. How amazing it is to be alive and able to contemplate any individual meaning! And what an imperative to grab life and wring out every last drop of living and not waste a single precious second.

—Howard, the author