How Do Atheists Cope?

Keith S Cornish

As a starting point it is worth noting how religious people cope with crises, traumas and the day to day problems which all must confront in life.

The Christian view is that every life is planned and no matter what happens “all things work together for good”. If life here is miserable it is of secondary importance for it is only a prelude to a life of everlasting heavenly bliss.

There are some sects which revel in wars, plagues, earthquakes and other disasters as heralding the return of the Messiah when unbelievers will quickly convert or be put to the sword. This is seen as the ‘day of rapture’.

Some eastern religions take the idea of divine planning to its logical end and believe that everything is fore-ordained and therefore it is useless to struggle either to improve oneself or the world in general. However, most religions emphasise that good works on earth will win merit in the hereafter so there is a strong incentive to do well. This is basically a selfish motive.

Christians often claim that religion gives meaning to life and therefore the life of the atheist is meaningless. It is a fact that religion can change the life and outlook of devotees but it is very debatable if the changes generally are for the better. The Alcoholics Anonymous organisation which is based on the Christian religion does have a measure of success but so do other movements which have no Christian or religious base.

Christians expect their god to fix whatever is wrong (“Ask and it will be given”) but what sort of a supreme being is it which requires adoration and worship from lesser beings?

Religion is used as a crutch and therefore destroys a human’s motive to rise above the vicissitudes of life by one’s own efforts or through the help of friends as would be the case with atheists.

Knowledge is a key element in the philosophy of the atheist who recognises that every advancement which humans have made has been through the recognition of a problem and then struggling to find an adequate solution. This is an ongoing process encompassing the problems of today’s technology e.g. the greenhouse effect.

Atheists recognise the basic fact that there is no supernatural being who will do the fixing. Wherever and whenever there is a problem it will be solved by the natural processes or by the effort and ingenuity of people.

Knowing that we are imperfect life forms in an imperfect environment in an imperfect world does not prevent atheists from striving for improvement but it does reduce the frustration and disappointment when things do not work out as desired or planned.

Atheists set their own goals and their personal satisfaction is in the degree of success they can achieve rather than in community commendation or imaginary heavenly bliss. They do good because good is good to do. They do take thought for tomorrow and are concerned with the present but accept that yesterday has gone. It is possible to learn from the past but it cannot be retrieved.

Fear is a potent element in animal behaviour but it can be used wisely by humans to spur to greater effort. Out of control it can displace rational thought and produce negative results.

Knowing that problems and difficulties are not ordained and therefore unalterable, leaves the atheist free to attempt to overcome them.

Religious devotees are under compulsion to do whatever the priest, minister or holy person declares to be the will of their god. History is red with the blood of those who were said to have offended deities and were being punished at the behest of a supernatural being.

Humans may successfully appeal against the inhumanity of humans but would be powerless against the supernatural.

Religion has been and still is used to cheat and oppress. Atheism removes a major source of oppression and provides the element of hope for a better, fuller life here and now.

Atheism is not an end in itself but a secure base from which humankind can mount effective attacks on all the ills which afflict all humans in varying degrees and the world at large.

By recognising the resources available to atheists they ought to be able to cope with adverse situations far better than those who delude themselves with religion.

The stimulus for the action of the religious is from without but for atheists the motive force lies within each individual.