transpersonal living thinking and living beyond the self

The Atheist Default Mode

By Christy Oeur

Life is a practice and living as an atheist for several years will hone one particular skill quite remarkably – skepticism. Anything that isn’t backed by strong empirical evidence was hardly worth discussing and yet, I discussed such things anyway as a means to humor myself. Perhaps I indulged in such conversations to strengthen my skepticism, the same way I practice scales on a violin; so that each note sounded clearer, more precise, and that the action of my bow was natural. I was becoming a natural skeptic. The more often I reached into my bucket o’ refutations, the easier it was for me to find my refute for the next time I reached in. The more I said, “What are the sources of the argument?” to myself, the easier it was for me to filter out a conversation in real time. A friend would be speaking to me and instead of listening and engaging in my friend’s experience, I would be sorting statements into the “backed by evidence bin” and “utter speculation” bin. Pretty soon, I didn’t even need to think of this process and I could parse the conversation automatically. I was on skeptic autopilot or something I like to call my “Atheist Default Mode.”

Like most things, moderation is key and skepticism is no exception. I, however, turned skepticism into a religion. I dogmatically dismissed anything that couldn’t get through my evidence filter and even though I didn’t know it, I missed out on a lot of philosophical concepts that could have increased my ability to find inner peace and value. When it comes to concepts like faith, Matthew 7:7 reads, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.…” Well, I was hardly seeking. If anything, I equated “seeking” to not being resolved in one’s beliefs (of which my beliefs were that I had none at all). No. I was not a seeker. I was the one to be approached and I had a door that required a password. That password was “evidence.” The thing is, not only did this construct deny concepts to be even considered, but a sort of “filter bias” had formed. Ideas like meditation, self-reflection, and practices in love, empathy, and gratitude didn’t get picked up on my radar despite having loads of empirical evidence as to the conceptual benefits. I was the same as those I criticized … I was closed minded. I lived in a world of probabilities and denied myself a world of possibilities.

These days, it’s hard for me to call myself an atheist and it’s also hard for me to say I am not an atheist. I threw out the filters and adopted a philosophy of a personal mix of pragmatism, agnosticism, and a form of atheism that I find much sexier – apatheism. . I think about whether it works. I think about how it makes me feel. I’m like my favorite character, the Colonel from Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira: “My job isn’t to believe or disbelieve. It’s to act or not act!” In the morning or late at night, I pray. I’m not sure who I’m praying to or that anyone is listening, but I give it a shot and I choose to believe in what I’m doing. I pay attention to the way I feel afterwards. I pay attention to how I feel the next day. With prayer and with anything else I pursue, I will determine if the quality of my life is enhanced or degraded. This is based on the amount of happiness or joy I feel; peace or excitement; love for others; love for myself.

I’ve thought about giving tarot cards a whirl and the old me – the me from four or five years ago would have shook her head, rolled her eyes, or cast judgment on my ability to reason. Maybe even my ability to procreate. I know some people use tarot cards as a means to channel the divine and some people use it to reach into their subconscious and bring their inner turmoils to the surface. Are they messages from the beyond or are they a communication tool between your heart and your mind? Maybe it doesn’t matter if you believe in any of it. Maybe all that matters is if it works and it brings you happiness. When you think of the question, “What’s more important: being happy or being right?” … does your perspective, the philosophical eyes that you view the world through hear this question and think, “The only truth is fact” or “the only truth is what is true for me.”

I still live life in atheist default mode. I can’t turn my back on the several years I invested in learning how to play this instrument and I wouldn’t want to. It keeps me grounded and it’s a useful tool. But that’s all that it is now – a tool. I keep it in my toolbox and when I have a task that calls for skepticism, I pull it out, I wield it skillfully, and I put it back in the toolbox when I’m done. I don’t put it on a shrine and use it on a task that requires a different tool. It’s like I’ve been using a hammer on a screw, as a plunger, or as a spatula even. That tool box is filled with all kinds of other fun gadgets. I’m going to start using them for the tasks their allocated for. And I can’t wait to get good at working with them.


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