Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Quote of the Day: Atheism and Freedom

When I became convinced that the universe is natural, that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell. The dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts and bars and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world, not even in infinite space. I was free--free to think, to express my thoughts--free to live my own ideal, free to live for myself and those I loved, free to use all my faculties, all my senses, free to spread imagination's wings, free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope, free to judge and determine for myself . . . I was free! I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously faced all worlds. -- Robert G. Ingersoll


With atheism comes tremendous freedom. Not just the shallow freedom of being able to eat pork or sleep in on Sunday but the deep freedom of being able to think without restraint. I also find the Universe more wondrous now that I don't believe in God. Growing up, I thought I knew in a basic sense how everything worked. Yes, God was theoretically unknowable, but there was God and his Creation and maybe Heaven and that was it. Now I can look at the Universe and wonder. Who knows what we'll find out there?



Those are galaxies in that picture.

22 comments:

asher said...

In the famous book "Crime and Punishment" the main character gets away with murder because he is certain he is a "special" person and is above the law. He too, thought that since there is no punishment in the hereafter why should he bound by the laws created by man?

You ever read this one?

UberKuh said...

People do not need a deity to use the brains that those who believe in that deity's existence think he gave everyone. If God existed and he gave us brains, then we must use them. If we find in the process that God does not exist, then only we have found the truth and if God does turn out to exist in some strange, incomprehensible way, then only we will spend eternity with him. Only we, the atheists of this world, choose to think for ourselves in matters of religion.

Laura said...

I love Ingersoll. Space exploration really exploded the myth that we are unique and special in my opinion. Just statistically speaking, there is a very high likelyhood that somewhere on a distant galaxy, there is also life. I mean why "create" all that unless there's life on some of those rocks, right? But then, that makes us not special. And that's the root of all religion - trying to explain, in some magical way, "why are we here"... What if the answer is "just because".

Jewish Atheist said...

He too, thought that since there is no punishment in the hereafter why should he bound by the laws created by man?

You ever read this one?


No, I didn't. But just to be clear, I don't feel my freedom includes the right to trample on other people's freedom. Here's an Einstein quote:

A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.

NG said...

You left out the difficult part about true freedom: if we are compelled to think and to choose, and to define ourselves by our choices and actions, that is a pretty serious responsibility and not one that we can take lightly. Freedom means never a moment of security, and many times I've wanted to give it up, but right now I think I wouldn't trade true freedom for anything else in the universe.

Jewish Atheist said...

Very good point, ng. Decisions can be much harder as an atheist. I can't simply call my Rabbi and ask what to do. I may ask for advice, but I now know that nobody -- and no book -- can always tell me what to do. Ultimately, we must just do the best we can with our imperfect knowledge.

Sadie Lou said...

Having faith in God doesn't mean our minds are limited or that exploration has limits.

Jewish Atheist said...

Having faith in God doesn't mean our minds are limited or that exploration has limits.

It doesn't necessarily, but in practice, it does, at least in my experience. When I first learned about evolution, for example, I twisted and deformed it to fit in with my beliefs about God and Genesis. When I read Hawking's A Brief History of Time, I made up some business about how God controls the Universe through manipulating matter at the quantum level. When pondering moral issues, I had to reconcile myself with what the Bible and the Rabbis teach. In my heart and mind I knew that they're wrong about homosexuality and the Jew vs. non-Jew, but I felt I had to go along. Now that I'm an atheist, for example, I'm much more comfortable reading the writings of philosophers, atheists, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, non-Orthodox Jews, etc. I now know that Orthodox Rabbis don't have a monopoly on wisdom.

I also find the Universe more amazing in the absence of God. It's not merely some magic trick by an old man behind the curtain pulling strings, but an amazing, unbelievably intricate system just begging us to study it. Atheistic evolution is a lot cooler than theistic evolution -- I mean I believe that humans came about through an unimaginably long series of mutations by non-human ancestors facing tremendous challenges. That's a lot cooler than some God saying, "okay, and let's take these monkeys and add some genes here and remove some there and..."

Sadie Lou said...

As far as people being wrong about what the Bible teaches about homosexuals and Jew vs. non-Jew and all that--why did you have to abandon God to reconcile that stuff?
I know for a plain fact that some Christians have some doctrines totally out of whack but that doesn't make me question God, it makes me question man's destortion of God.
God doesn't change--man does.

Jewish Atheist said...

I did not "abandon" God. I simply came to believe that there isn't one.

When I was Orthodox, I believed that the Torah (Old Testament, give or take) came directly from God. However, I also believed that people should be free to love who they want as long as everybody's a consenting adult. I couldn't reconcile this as long as I believed the Torah came from God, because to my eye, either God was right about homosexuality, or I was.

One who believes that the Bible is merely an attempt by humans to understand God can explain it away as the authors injecting their own morality into an otherwise true religion. For example, that seems to be Eric's position in the comments on the previous post. Perhaps if I'd stopped believing in the divine Torah and started believing in this, I could have reconciled myself to that philosophy. However, I came to disbelieve in God at the same time I came to disbelieve in the divinity of the Torah, so it never came up.

Sadie Lou said...

So if I can be so bold, I'd like to ask you if you think you have things all figured out. I mean, have you reconciled the meaning of life for yourself?
I'm curious because it fascinates me to no end that there are people out there that think the world is what THEY make of it. Is our existance really THAT self centered? Whatever we imagine for ourselves to be true--is?
*baffled*

Jewish Atheist said...

I sort of see atheism as admitting that I don't have things all figured out. People of various religions believe they have things figured out -- God wants us to do X and not Y and we can be saved or achieve Nirvana or whatever. I believe there is no single, Absolute Meaning to life any more than there's a Meaning to a Tuesday afternoon.

There's a saying that to be happy, we need someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to, and I think that serves as a decent guideline for life. The most meaningful things in life for me so far are relationships with other people, learning, art, and doing things.

JC Masterpiece said...

If we find in the process that God does not exist, then only we have found the truth and if God does turn out to exist in some strange, incomprehensible way, then only we will spend eternity with him.

Interesting thought. So if God is real you who rejected and abandoned Him not wanting to have anything to do with Him are going to be the ones that He brings to Himself.

Seriously, is this what you really believe?

Just statistically speaking, there is a very high likelyhood that somewhere on a distant galaxy, there is also life.

Actually, as time goes by, this concept of our planet being just an ordinary plant among millions of inhabitable planets is more and more proving to be false.

And that's the root of all religion - trying to explain, in some magical way, "why are we here"... What if the answer is "just because".

The answer ultimately is not our answer. It is God's, but if we were created, ultimately there is a why.
Take human's for example. Everything we do has a reason. At times we say that we don't know why we do what we do, but ultimately there is always a reason.

Sadie Lou said...

There's a saying that to be happy, we need someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to, and I think that serves as a decent guideline for life. The most meaningful things in life for me so far are relationships with other people, learning, art, and doing things.

To what end? For what purpose? What if someone is born to abusive parents and grows up to be in an abusive relationship that ultimately kills them. What a horrible life. That was all there was for them? There was nobody on this earth to love them or for them to love back? They didn't get a shot at healthy happiness?
What if they had found God and learned that even if nobody on this earth loves them, God loves them and that this isn't all there is: They get to spend a much longer time with God in Heaven?
Your saying about happiness and fullfillment only functions in the right setting. Not everyone gets those opportunities.

Jewish Atheist said...

That's why I believe we should help each other. If I were God, I wouldn't let people be born into abusive families, but since there isn't a God who prevents that from happening, all we can do is try to help those who are.

Just because you would prefer life to have a single Purpose doesn't mean that there is one.

Alan said...

"Just because you would prefer life to have a single Purpose doesn't mean that there is one."

Exactly right. Human need or desire for a certain solution to their problems is not the same as evidence of that solution's existence, anymore than one's desire for dead relatives to be resurrected will bring them back to life.

And, as mentioned, the responsibility of giving meaning to one's life (after realizing that life has no intrinsic meaning) is simply too much for most people. They want answers, without the responsibility of creating them. There is no reason to believe that people, en masse, will ever come to accept existentialism over religion and Divinely-mandated morality.

JC Masterpiece said...

That's why I believe we should help each other. If I were God, I wouldn't let people be born into abusive families, but since there isn't a God who prevents that from happening, all we can do is try to help those who are.

I'm sorry, where has it been proven that there is no God? Just because you don't like that people have the freedom of choice and thus choose to do the wrong things at times doesn't mean that there isn't a God.

I have known plenty of people who have grown up in horrible circustances to become some of the best people i have ever known. I have also known people that have grown up in the best of situations, and that i wouldn't trust them in the slightest bit, except to do what they want at complete disregard for others.

God never promised a perfect life. He only promised that He will give strength and comfort to those who seek Him. If that were not the case, my life would have ended long ago as many others i know that would have as well.

As long as man has free will he has free will to become a great person or a greatly corrupted person. To prevent that great corruption God would have to prevent free will and the potential for greatness in man.

Sadie Lou said...

If I were God, I wouldn't let people be born into abusive families, but since there isn't a God who prevents that from happening, all we can do is try to help those who are.
So in other words--a eutopian society where nothing "bad" happens? If you were God, you would control people to the extent of making sure everyone was "happy"? If you were God--you would have people praise and worship you because they don't have a choice.

Jewish Atheist said...

I think there are a few levels of happiness in between abusive families and Utopia. It's not one or the other.

Eric said...

As long as man has free will he has free will to become a great person or a greatly corrupted person. To prevent that great corruption God would have to prevent free will and the potential for greatness in man.

So why are you so against free will? If you create a society where sin (as your sect and interpretation of scripture define it)is outlawed, then there is no chance for virtue freely chosen.

JC Masterpiece said...

Because sin also creates destruction. If you don't remove the free will you need to put into place rules and consequences to help minimize the dammage.

JC Masterpiece said...

As well as give the people guidelines to encourage them to reach their potientials and become great. Something that sin and destruction prevent.