“Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread.” - Richard Wright
An Existential Crisis of Epic Proportions
Every day I see some talking head asking the same stupid question of what is going on with today's youth. The answer is simple. They're fucking starving. They're starving for something real, something meaningful. And the sad fact is that the vast majority of the world is feeding them nothing but bullshit and empty promises. We feed them shit like religion and nationalism and expect that to satiate their hunger, but you can't get full on nonsense and imaginary idiocy.
The religious right would have you believe that the answer is just to stay the course or even amp up the amount of crap we put out there for them to consume. Of course anyone with half a brain knows that the definition of insanity is doing the same shit over and over and expecting a different result. It just doesn't work that way. If you want more of what you've been getting then keep doing what you've been doing, but if you want something different you have to try something different.
We in the atheist community could use to heed that warning as well because for many atheists the battle against religion is all we have to offer. We've become so caught up in doing battle with these ideologies that we've failed to offer anything else of real substance. We can point out all the flaws and problems of religion but at the end of the day we don't really have anything to offer outside of our complaints. The fact is that getting rid of religion won't solve all our problems.
There is a valid reason that although people are abandoning religion in greater numbers than ever, people still don't want to wear the label of atheist. The reason is that the vast majority of the atheist community simply doesn't have anything of substance to offer to replace the religions that people are leaving. They'd rather call themselves spiritual or just nonreligious rather than call themselves atheists, and nowhere is this more evident than with today's youth and the millennial generation.
Atheism is Only the First Step on a Long Road
Now, I'm sure many may be thinking I'm trying to advocate for some form of atheism plus. But the fact is that atheism is what it is and all atheism means is that you don't believe in a god. Instead, the idea that I want to impress upon you here is that atheism is just the first step on a long road to self-realization. Acceptance that you don't believe in god simply opens the door to be able to truly take the journey of self-exploration. This is what atheism has to offer and it has some very real substance. We have to destroy this notion that atheism is a dead end path that only leads to nihilism and self-interest.
The truth is that atheism allows a person to abandon a one way street and enter into an interstate of such diversity that nearly all paths are made available. We need to impress upon our youth that atheism simply opens the door to a greater wealth of possibilities. It opens the door to truly studying philosophical ideas and making real honest choices for ourselves. It unburdens us from the rigid and dogmatic structure of religion and allows us to walk our own path.
This is what atheism has to offer and I think we as atheists need to impress this idea on people far more than we do. It isn't just about fighting against religion and in fact many atheists have no desire to fight against religion at all. Some, like myself, feel that religion is the most divisive and detrimental idea that mankind has ever devised and so we see a need to speak out against it. But ultimately this is merely one of many paths that atheism can lead to and it certainly isn't the only one available.
A Barrier to Self-realization
Religion is by its very nature a barrier to self-realization. The reason I say this is because religion asks the believer to try and understand themselves in terms of the doctrine and dogma of the religion. It asks the believer to evaluate themselves in terms of how some supposed god sees humanity and what that god supposedly expects them to be. Because of this, it creates a barrier for self-realization by not allowing the believer to come to an understanding of who they are on their own terms. The believers understanding of themselves becomes intrinsically tied to their religion which leads to a marked inability to realize any personal identity outside of their religion.
Atheism on the other hand is the exact opposite. There is no doctrine or dogma atheism is founded on. There's no rulebook for atheists to follow and the only standard that an atheist must live up to is the standard set by themselves. The only judgment call on that standard is the effect it has on the individual and society as a whole. Most importantly, the ideals that an atheist chooses to embrace are always open to change as the person's understanding and knowledge changes. Atheism allows for a person to grow in their knowledge and understanding and in turn allows for them to form a greater understanding of themselves and their place in this world.
The innate rigidity of religious doctrine and dogma makes growth and change, especially at the personal level, very difficult if not nearly impossible. This is why so often we see the religious talk of spiritual growth and almost never about personal growth. The very nature of religion causes the believer to supposedly work towards a goal outside of this life rather than focusing on what can be achieved right here and now.
The Moral of the Story
The main point I hope I've gotten across here is that atheism isn't a dead end street and that it has a lot to offer. It won't offer you uncompromising and unsubstantiated absolute truths, but it will offer you a chance to understand what truths there may be for yourself. It will offer you a door that leads to a myriad of possibilities and paths to take.
If you're starving for something real and meaningful, then this is the place to start. If you crave self-realization and personal understanding, then there's something for you in the atheist community. Atheism is the mighty hammer that breaks down barriers and it has more to offer of real substance than any religion ever could.