Apatheism

I don’t think apatheism is a real word. It’s the smashing together of apathy and theism. For me at least, it’s meant to describe an outlook that I think isn’t neatly intended by atheism, agnosticism or indeed apostasy. (I wanted to alliterate early on)

“In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.” We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.” – Sam Harris, Letter to Christian Nation. 

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I used to be a devout Catholic, the product of childhood indoctrination. Throughout my entire schooling I attended a Catholic convent school (the kind crewed with nuns and other zealous laity). My best friend in my mid twenties was a Catholic priest* (who was more or less the same age as me). This was likely the beginning of the end because it allowed me to pull back the veil (so to speak) and get a clear glimpse into the inner workings of the Catholic church. And it was not pretty (still isn’t).

*he eventually had a spiritual breakdown and as I understand it became a Buddhist. Neither of us were in a good space during this transition period in our lives and it ended our friendship.

Primed now, I was given three audio-books by a friend of a friend who had recently  ‘unfucked’ herself from her own kooky religious upbringing. She thrust a thumb-drive* at me with an impassioned ‘YOU NEED TO LISTEN TO THESE’. They languished on my iPod for months before I undertook a long, fourteen hour road trip. Bored of music I decided, rather whimsically, to listen to Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion. This is also the first audio-book I had every listened to. I can still remember the exact point, driving through hilly, scrubby desert terrain where I lost my faith completely. By the end of that road-trip I was a complete and total atheist.

* I have since bought all these titles legitimately as paperbacks and audio-books.

I followed this up with Sam Harris, The end of faith. And Julia Sweeney, Letting go of god, on my return trip.

For a while I became what some might term a militant atheist. I simply replaced one creed for another and began fervently proselytizing my new found insight. I had seen the light and I desperately wanted others to see the light too.

I devoured everything I could get my hands on. Christopher Hitchens. Dan Dennett. More Sam Harris. More Richard Dawkins. I became super-combative and argumentative, assuming that if I could appeal to peoples logic and counter all their weird beliefs with reason they would come to the same realization as me. You can imagine how that worked out for me.

For a while I became very disillusioned with humanity and hit quite a rough patch mentally. All my Catholic coping mechanisms had suddenly been taken away, I intensely disliked my social community and I felt very isolated and alone. I imagine this is quite a common feeling among new atheists who suddenly find themselves on the outside.

As it happens I found new coping mechanisms and new community. Eventually though, I realized my atheism was at odds with my libertarian tendencies. It suddenly dawned on me, do I really care what other people believe in? The answer was a resounding no. This wasn’t my cause or crusade. My atheism didn’t really define me other that it subtracted a whole lot of hassle from my life. Not having to put in the required maintenance to insure your immortal soul goes to heaven frees up a lot time (and money).

Do I really want to fight with people about the veracity of their belief systems? Is this something that I should really devote ANY* time to? Do I think its right to try convert others? The answer to all of those questions is no.

*Important caveat. Religion that espouses violence and intolerance needs to challenged! I don’t really care what a Jain or a Mormon does in his free time. But if your religion has adherents that pour drywall screws into pressure cookers or even just make life difficult for apostates you need to be opposed.

Apathy is, for me at least, more aligned with the Greek (stoic) word Apatheia… which in modernity is more aligned with the word, Equanimity

Equanimity, having an even mind, a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind.

I also realized that its not that I didn’t necessarily believe in God or some sort of creator. I appreciate there is a great deal that I don’t actually know… its largely the mythology and organizations we have created around the concepts of theism that I take umbrage with.  In any event. If there is a god… I don’t think he’s particularly wrapped up in the minutiae of what religion you happen to identify with.

I also feel that all the various religious codices can be summed up neatly with a quote by Marcus Aurelius,

‘Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one’.

If you are religious and teetering on atheism, I wish you good luck. It was an emotional roller-coaster for me.

‘I think my parents would more likely accept me for being gay than being an atheist’ is a quote I can completely relate to. It can be a lonely place. You often feel like the only sane person surrounded by madness and that is not in the least bit comforting. Having been unplugged from ‘the Matrix’ you have no way of going back, you have to go forward which is difficult when you don’t know the way.

For me my entire operating system got ripped out and I didn’t have anything to replace it with. If you are used to functioning in a highly regimented, codified way to be suddenly ‘free’ is almost agoraphobic.  I don’t know what will help you get through it, other than I believe that you can. If I can do it, anyone can.