Question from AJ:
I would like to be an atheist because it makes sense logically, but I have been raised to have blind faith in a few different belief systems — some mainstream and some non-mainstream.
I have been trying to let go of my beliefs, but I find I am holding onto even the most irrational parts of them.
Even if there is only a 2% or less chance of something being real, I seem to latch onto it anyway unless it has a 0% chance which never happens in science, so I am miserable.
My beliefs don’t make me happy anymore which is why I want to abandon them. But I realized there is something comforting about them that I hadn’t been aware of, and perhaps this is what is holding me back. So I am struggling between my believing and non-believing self.
What do I do with the part of myself who believes so readily the most ridiculous things? And how do I shift the way I find comfort – so that it’s not in supernatural things?
I don’t want to just shut off this part of me who wants comfort and has a big imagination, but I want to find new ways to incorporate it into my new non-belief system.
I have to admit, I’m a sensitive person so I need to find a way to do this gently because I feel like I’m losing something that was once special to me.
I do want to make the change, though, I just don’t know how.
Answer by Andrea:
It’s nice that you want to embrace the scientific over the mystical, and I commend you for that. It takes courage to overcome the indoctrination many of us former Christians have had to undergo since our earliest memories.
I’ve been an atheist since high school and still have pesky supernatural thoughts. For example, my life is so good right now that I feel like things are too good to continue, and so chances are better that my plane will likely crash with my next trip.
Now there’s nothing rational in this belief, since it’s safer to go by plane than by road (in the US, anyway), but I’ve been trained into these thought patterns my whole life by just watching and listening to my father.
What do I do about these thoughts? Just accept them and then let them go. Thought patterns have a tendency to entrench themselves in the brain. Its normal and natural and nothing to be afraid of or annoyed by.
Zen training has really helped me along in this manner. Zen is not a religion, it’s a way of life, and it has taught me to appreciate the now and live a calmer more accepting life of myself and those around me. It’s a way of quieting your mind. I like to call myself a Zen atheist, though I am unfortunately pretty far away from any ideal of Zenhood.
Your heart is in a rational, right (in my opinion) place, and don’t force yourself to be anything, whether atheist or Buddhist or Christian or Pastafarian (Church of the Flying Spaghetti monster). Just do what feels right to you, your gut feelings, and try to find something you like to do — a purpose in your life.
Why I love being an atheist? Because I no longer have to wonder if there is a god, I am 99.999999 etc. sure that there isn’t. This frees my mind up for other questions and thoughts, since I love science and nature and am always trying to think up how to make things better. It is also more comforting, because I found it quite disturbing to believe in a supernatural being that has the power to end suffering yet lets the majority of the world’s people suffer anyway. Regarding working with other atheists, I love doing charity work with people who do good things not in the hopes of gaining entry into heaven or evading hell, but simply because it is the decent thing to do.
You mentioned that you find something comforting in religion. It might be community you need, and if so atheism is the fastest growing ideology in the world and there are atheist groups springing up in many countries. I’m not sure where you live, but check out this page:
It lists groups from all over the world.
I find it wonderful that you are a sensitive person and there’s no reason you need to lose anything. Atheism should make you feel you have gained. I am a firm believer in gut feelings, esp. after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink,” and I think your gut feelings are steering you in the right direction. You don’t need to give up things just because they have religious overtones. I have Jesus Christ Superstar CDs for example, and I know the words of every song. Keep your rituals. Send xmas cards and give gifts, you can even call them solstice festivities if you want. Go to Church — what the hell!
Don’t push yourself, and your answer will come to you eventually. Enjoy life in the meantime.
And if things are going too good, be very careful. You never when things will come to a crashing halt.
Just kidding. Best to you and thank you so much for your intelligent question.
Question from AJ: