I think, certainly in the UK, people see Christianity as a form of life insurance, something that old people turn to in order to feel safe for their future. People have a very traditional view of what it means to be a Christian, and what church is like and see it is somewhere to go to when your mind is slowly deteriorating that gives comfort and peace in those final years. It is true that this aspect of Christianity exists, this is undeniable, but anyone who takes any of the teachings seriously will tell you that faith in the Christian God is far more complex, and far more relational than just a get-out-of-jail-free card.
We’ve all told that little white lie occasionally, perhaps our friend looks “absolutely wonderful” with their new life-sized tattoo of a cat’s head on the back of their neck. Or your mother has a “simply beautiful” singing voice when really it takes every ounce of self control not to cover your ears and run – we are just trying to be polite. Unfortunately, we undeniably live in a world where we can’t just go around saying what we think, we often have some fairly hurtful opinions that our minds do not hesitate to put into the clearest of words. Even the least intelligent of people seem incredibly practised in their use of imagery when talking about the new haircut of “that idiot over there;” it can be anything from a ‘dirty mop’ to a ‘dead cat.’ So, quite reasonably it seems, we are prevented from saying exactly what is on our minds.
Success is an interesting concept to consider because it’s definition is hyper-variable from person to person. My copy of The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines it as:
“The accomplishment of an aim or purpose”
You may be surprised as to how general that definition is. Of course, when we talk about success in general we are talking about the success of one’s life; how satisfied we are with the accomplishment of our own personal goals. These vary from person to person from happiness to love, sex, money, power, changing the world, having kids, marriage, having material published in their name – the list is endless. But is there a right or wrong answer?
There are a variety of different faiths in this world that share the opinion that there is only that faith that can save you from condemnation. Of these faiths, a proportion actively try to convert people to their own belief in order to save them from suffering. This tends to be for one of two reasons:
- They believe they are commanded by the laws of their religion to spread the word and change people’s way of thinking.
- They feel genuine empathy for the people around them and wish to save them out of pity for their damnation.
I don’t know about you, but I personally have no qualms about these reasons; they seem perfectly acceptable and respectable reasons to share a belief. In fact, in any other context it would be considered immoral and downright evil not to share the knowledge of something that could save one’s life. Try to remember this next time you feel like someone is “shoving a belief down your throat” – they are doing it to save you.
Agnosticism was where I found myself after seeing the error of my ways, which seemed the logical step to take from my rather depressing nihilism. This is the view that you should see many scientists taking, as it is really the only belief that all evidence supports – the idea that we cannot ever fully know what the answers are. The term is thought to be coined by British biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, an avid supporter of the work of Charles Darwin. He writes:
“I neither affirm nor deny the immortality of man. I see no reason for believing it, but, on the other hand, I have no means of disproving it… Give me such evidence as would justify me in believing in anything else, and I will believe that. Why should I not?”
That seemed to make sense to me, because it does make sense. We don’t have enough evidence to prove anything. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying to find some for yourself. There are a great many religions out there that claim that a lack of faith grants you eternal damnation and as an agnostic you accept that any one of those religions could be correct. If you really take this concept seriously then I challenge you to tell me that you wouldn’t want to try your best to find the truth out for yourself.
As I explained in my “About” post, I used to be a nihilist. To recap, nihilists believe that a person’s consciousness ceases to exist in their death. It all comes down to nothing. To me, this seemed like the only logical conclusion an atheist could come to; in the absence of a supernatural world, death is the absolute conclusion of human life and it is reduced to nothing. Hence, the word nihilism is derived from the Latin, ‘nihil’ meaning ‘nothing’ or ‘zero’.
I think you’d be surprised how many people are nihilists without knowing it. In my experience it is incredibly common to come across an atheist that believes that it is absolutely ‘the end’ when you die. These people tend to be the most emphatic in their arguments against religion and often profess to know a lot about science. Very few nihilists, however, wholeheartedly live by the principles of their faith.
You may be taken aback, or perhaps amused, by my use of the word ‘faith’ to describe a belief in nothing. But nihilism holds a faith equal to that of Christianity or Islam. There is no evidence to support the idea that death is the end, and how could there be? It’s not possible to ask the dead of their experience. It is therefore a completely faith-based belief.