It ain’t easy being an atheist

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Being an atheist is not all fun and games. Sure, you get to sleep in on a Sunday with no guilt, eat whatever you want, whenever you want, but it’s not all sunshine and roses. For one, there’s no set holidays with treats and goodies. The upside of this is you can do the ones you want (who doesn’t love decorating a tree, baking jam doughnuts and lighting candles all in the one week). The downside is you feel a bit of a fraud while you do it and its hard to be convincing in front of increasingly sceptical kids. Particularly in regards to the Easter bunny – I still don’t understand how that one managed to get onto the roster.

I don’t think anyone starts out life wanting to believe in nothing. It just kind of creeps in there, even after eleven years of religious education. I’ve read the bible, cover to cover. I’ve studied and read about other religions and gave the matter a serious amount of thought. I’ve gone to ceremonies in all the major religions, usually at the best time which are weddings or around the birth of children. I’ve given religion quite a lot of opportunity to convert me.

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People who feel strongly about their religious views volunteer their time. I personally volunteer for Ethics, which fits in with my worldview. What is ironic is my littlest guy sneaking off to scripture instead of heading to ethics. I haven’t yet found exactly which religion he’s attending as the results are rather garbled. Allegedly Christmas is the birth of Santa and the death of God. I’m pretty sure that’s not what the person up front is saying, which makes me wonder why we’re making such of fuss about religion in schools. How many kids are actually getting what it is all about?

The reason I’m putting it out there, because generally I don’t think of my views are necessary to the existence of others, is because I got slammed this week. I was accused of being a bad parent for not giving my children the Christian upbringing that is vital to their wellbeing. I was told that children cannot decide for themselves what is right and wrong, they need religious instruction (presumably before they start roaming the streets and dealing crack to other primary school kids).

Despite knowing nothing about what is taught in Ethics, it was dismissed as sub-par. Now if this had been a stranger, I would have shaken it off, but it is someone who knows me well. Given that I lead a completely ordinary suburban life, largely indistinguishable from my neighbours and everything seems to be swimming along in a normal and reasonable manner, this criticism seemed overly harsh. If I had been Jewish or Muslim, I’m sure the way I bring up my kids wouldn’t have been scorned in the manner that it was.

Faith is the belief in something despite having no evidence. No one knows what happens after you die. Atheists are in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to that. But just because I don’t believe in a deity doesn’t mean that I’m out to destroy society because I don’t know right from wrong. My law degree might have helped, but I’m pretty sure I could figure most of it out myself, even without the somewhat opaque religious lessons of my childhood.

By far the worst thing about being an atheist  is being open to criticism because supposedly I have nothing to offend. Why is it okay for insults to be lobbed at me but then I don’t have the right to respond without being “intolerant” if I point out the limitations of their beliefs?

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Freedom’s Illusion

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As a parent, I hear a lot of “When I’m 18/38/45, I’m going to … and you’re not going to be able to stop me.” Though I’m explained it many times as best I could the fact that when they’re an adult, I wont be telling them what to do and that its entirely possible when they get to 38/45 (but hopefully not 18) they will have children of their own that they will be stopping from having a slushy for breakfast or sliding down the stairs on a cardboard box using their brother as an airbag.

As a writer, I look like I have a lot of freedom as I spend most of my time in coffee shops. Not just because they bring me caffeine and tasty treats, but also I find it a good place to get writing done as I don’t have internet access or a host of other procrastination opportunities. I go to places where I won’t run into anyone I know and start to chat and therefore if I’m not writing, I’ve got nothing else to do but stare at a wall (which I also do a lot of regardless). To an outsider, this looks ideal and for the most part its a pretty great job. I get paid to do something I genuinely enjoy, which is not something I can say about any other job I’ve had. Given I was doing it for years with no income being generated, that’s pretty telling. There’s no other job I would have done for free. But it’s not always fun. It can be frustrating when I know what I want to say, but can’t get it to read the way I want it to and lets not even talk about the excruciating boredom of the endless editing that is required to polish a book before anyone can see it. Like any job though, it has to be done. What freedom I have lies in the when, not the if.

This is the case for most things as an adult. Sure you get more say in how your life runs, but there are a lot of obligations. Unpleasant things that you have to do. You can put them off as long as you like, but when no one else is going to clean out the fish tank or the kitty litter, there’s only so long you can put it off before it moves to a whole new level of gross. Grocery shopping needs to be done, as does the laundry. These are all only a matter of time and as soon as you finishing doing it, the clock starts ticking on when you’ll have to do it again.

I know people who pay other people to do a lot of life’s less pleasant tasks, though there is usually a trade off somewhere. Even friends with more money than they know quite what to do with still have obligations. If they earned the money themselves, they’ve usually got a full-on job that takes up all their spare time and energy. If they’ve got it from family or from marrying it, they are usually beholden to the person who is providing that money and seem to be on call whenever that person requires them and have to adjust their lives to suit someone else’s whim.

Is there really any freedom beyond the superficial? Ironically, children who appear to have the least amount of control actually have the most freedom. They can wear a pink tutu with purple spotted leggings and no one will judge them. They can skip down the street singing the national anthem backwards and no one will have them committed. Still, I have no desire to go back to being a child and not just because my childhood wasn’t that great. Life is in the details and I decide the when and the where, even if not always the what. As the ever quotable Meatloaf said, “two out of three ain’t bad”.