Seeking freedom from powerlessness in atheism

I was a delightfully happy believer/non-believer/existentialist for 30 years of my life. Then I plummeted into a depression that has lasted for the past 17 years. I have been treated by psychiatrists and therapists with varying degrees of success. At times, I’ve been suicidal and hospitalized. At other times like now, I’m high functioning, lively, appearing joyful, but still profoundly unhappy with my life. During all of this, nobody would know I was depressed unless I told them.

When the depression began, I immediately abandoned all connection and belief in Christianity. It made my skin crawl. But over the past 17 years, I have practiced various forms of spirituality. First, I gave up my self-reliance and submitted to the higher power of a 12 step eating disorder program. Then the non-dualism of advaita vedanta, the search for enlightenment, “everything I am seeking is within me as who I am.” Next, it was reincarnation and the belief that my misery is the result of burning off bad karma. Throughout all of it, there has been the Universe that makes things happen, the belief that my thoughts create my reality, and the torment of being told that my life is exactly as it is supposed to be at this moment. None of it has returned joy to my life.

I’ve dabbled with atheism through the years, and this time I’m finding more comfort in it. I actually don’t care about “Truth” anymore. I don’t care about what’s real and what’s not. I only want to be happy. Here. Now. For the rest of this life. I’ve long said that I hope the atheists are right and that this life is all we have. That means no more suffering after death and no coming back to do this all over again for eternity.

I’ve read some responses about depression and suicide, and I’ve been trying to formulate my question. I’m trying right now to divest myself of thoughts about feeling “screwed” by life. I feel like, if there’s a master plan or if the Universe is perfect, then I’ve lost a really big game of musical chairs. I’m not one to feel sorry for myself, but decades of health problems and depression have taken its toll on me. The spiritual solace I’ve sought has not brought me consistent relief and has often left me feeling more hopeless.

I want to find solace in atheism. I want to find comfort, power and control in atheism. I want to lose my self-pity, not because a higher power lifts it from me, but because I no longer pity myself. I want to find acceptance in atheism, but not the type of acceptance that means suffering in silence. I want my anger at God/Universe to disappear because I realize that there’s nobody and nothing to be mad at.

I want to find freedom in atheism. Freedom from suffering, freedom from powerlessness, freedom from anything controlling me other than the laws of physics and nature.

I want my self-reliance back. My strength. My perseverance. My ability to achieve anything I set my mind to. I want to stop waiting for good things to come my way. I want to stop feeling that something else is deciding what’s best for me, deciding when I’m ready for the things I want in life.

I don’t have a question, but I am asking for help. Help me get what I want through atheism. Even as I write this, I have to resist thinking that “I’m putting a prayer out to the Universe” and “formulating my intention will make things happen.” No! I’m asking actual people for actual help, advice, encouragement, guidance.

And in advance, I thank you.

Posted: June 24th 2012

brian thomson www

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but the following is self-contradictory, in my opinion:

I’ve dabbled with atheism through the years, and this time I’m finding more comfort in it. I actually don’t care about “Truth” anymore. I don’t care about what’s real and what’s not.

That’s only one example of the confusion throughout your statement. Do you believe in a god that will intervene on your behalf? Either you do or you don’t, and if you don’t, you’re an atheist. You don’t “dabble” with atheism: it’s not something you do, it’s something you are – or not. It really is that simple, and if you want to get a handle on your philosophical position, start by being clear about where you stand on this question – not for our benefit, but for yours.

The best way I can describe the problem is to say that atheism is not a “destination” as such. It’s one outcome of an ongoing, life-long search for truth (no quotes), so if you don’t care about truth, or what’s real or not, atheism may not be for you. It’s just a statement about your lack of belief in theistic religion – religions based on anthropomorphic gods who give you “things”. Wishful thinking is no basis for a philosophy, no matter how much some may wish it were so.

So, if you’re looking to atheism to give you “things”, I think you are looking in the wrong place. There is no comfort in atheism; it’s not somewhere to turn to in a crisis. This may have led to the “no atheists in foxholes” fallacy; there are indeed atheists in foxholes, but they’re not looking to atheism itself for help. Instead, they have sources of reassurance available to everyone: family, friends, values, ideas.

One of the reasons religion survives is due to the sense of community it provides. For centuries, the church and the community around it were the only sources of “belonging” beyond the immediate family, and someone without a family could feel at home there. Atheism is not an organisation, we have no churches and not much in the way of community outreach. There are various ongoing social projects, such as the “Clergy Project”, but there isn’t the level of “coverage” that churches provide. Is there a Humanist Society in your area? If so, consider joining and going to some meetings.

I think you’ve picked up some unrealistic expectations about atheism and what it can do for you personally. It is not a religion, or a “drop-in” replacement for religion, and doesn’t claim to do for people what religions did in the past. People can offer you far more support, regardless of what they believe or not. They will be there for you when philosophy is cold comfort.

Posted: June 29th 2012

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