Theism and Atheism: The Eternal Struggle
Theism and Atheism, Defined
Both of these words have tremendously...mixed connotations, but I assure you, their denotations are quite simple. Theism is to believe in a higher power, and Atheism is to not believe in a higher power. This article is my perspective on the differences between the two viewpoints, and how that affects our every day life psychologically. I'll attack this topic from many different aspects, including historical, economical, metaphysical, personal, and societal.
The History of it All.
This is where there's a pretty big split in how one views things. HIstory itself is written by whomever has the pen. Take the Bible, for example. It says life began by an omnipotent deity breathing it into existence, and creating man in an image of Himself. Scientists are quick to prove that based upon trends, scientific analysis, and the nature of causal change, show that the earth was created by other means, more chaotic means, and life began as a slow, painfully slow process over millions of years.
That's a pretty big difference. Now, a distinction needs to be made. Not all Theists follow a religion, and not all members of a religion are Theists. In other words, you can follow a religion and not believe in a higher power, and you can believe in a higher power and not follow a religion.
An example is a man who says he is "spiritual and believes in a God", but does not subscribe to any particular religion.
And not all religions are Theist-based, such as Buddhism. Buddhism is more of a dogma, a set of rules and ideas that may be believe, or may not be believed, but none of it has to do with a higher being. That is why someone can be both a Christian and a Buddhist simultaneously.
But, I digress. Here's how Theists view history, typically (I must generalize for the sake of not making a million word hub):
Typically, any person who believes in a higher being, a higher power, God-type figure, will believe in that figure's ability to create the world they live in, and will view history through that lens. It differs from religion to religion, but the point is that they believe the history that their doctrine defines rather than anything that science or even the smartest man on earth could ever say. If the doctrine says that great fire came from the sky and destroyed the city at God's hand, then that's what happened.
Now, I don't want to be too stereotypical here, because every atheist is different and unique. Most can generally agree on some sort of over-arching history that is undeniable and is proven by archaeology, anthropology, and biology. Proof is the guiding factor here. For every Atheist I have met, anyways. They view history through the lens of proof and science.
Societies Rise and Fall
What were the Crusades, the Inquisition, or more recently, the conflict between Israel and Pakistan? They were wars based solely on religious reasons. One Theist set against another, willing to KILL the other based upon their differences in beliefs.
Now, this isn't always the case. One can live his or her personal life and have their personal beliefs about there being a God, and never bother anyone else with their beliefs. Christianity commands its followers to do just that, though. Bother others with their beliefs. Or at least, that's how it can be taken by the one being preached to.
Now, let's take America for example. We're a "Christian Nation" because supposedly our country was founded on Christian beliefs, and this has colored our society not only politically but in war. "One nation under God" sums it up. But the reality of it is, and any good Atheist will tell you that the founders of America left England to escape religious persecution, and founded the constitution with FREEDOM OF RELIGION in mind and motive.
Respect is something that Theists can lack, both of others and in return. This creates a separation between two people and on a larger scale, between groups of people, and nations.
John Lennon's "Imagine" is what I would consider to be the Atheist theme song. And if there were one phrase to sum up Atheistic beliefs and the subsequent impact on society would be: "To each his own." Every Atheist I've ever met has lived by this motto. Why should they care what another man does?
That's not to say that an Atheist does not have a set of morals and ethics that they follow, for almost all do, but they typically don't believe that enforcing these morals and ethics on others is something worth investing large amounts of time into. That's generalizing again, as I've met a few Atheists who are fervent about their moral and ethical beliefs and who are adamant about everyone else following their beliefs too. The thing with that....it's hard to really institute any sort of change in society on your own. And it's more difficult for Atheists to band together than for Theists, due to the fact that they each have different motives, beliefs, and values. So, it's rare to see a grand Atheistic movement.
Society is affected by everyone, and is a product of our combined characters. Which side has the propensity to cause more chaos? Theists. Which side has the biggest opportunity to institute change in society? Theists. That's the power of organized religion, and the belief in a higher power.
And regardless of social stigmas, Atheists are NOT cold-blooded evil, uncaring, unsympathetic sociopaths hellbent on destroying the world. Just wanted to set you straight on that.
On the Personal Level, however.
Their belief in a higher power controls their life. It's giving your locus of control to someone external to yourself. Imagine a friend of yours who you like, and think is a generally decent person, and imagine yourself giving up every aspect of your life to them. All your money, all your time, all your control, to them. Not only would it be a disaster, but likely someone would end up dead! Not even joking! That's why the higher power, the proverbial God above is both an accountability partner, a guiding leader, a helping hand, and a shoulder to cry on for many folks. It can be much more to them than that, and much less. It all just depends on how much that Theist is willing to devote to their pursuits.
Whether or not there is a God is something that an Atheist rarely if ever considers. It just isn't important to everyday life. They find all of what I described above in everyday ways. Friends, family, etc. They don't NEED God. And many Atheists are particularly prickly on the topic because they've had one hundred too many Theists throwing religion and spirituality in their face. 'Tis a struggle indeed. A man, without God, can live a happy and successful, fulfilling life here on earth. And one might argue that it's the Theists that have a rougher time of living on this planet because it differs so greatly from what could be and what will be.
Organized religion and general spirituality has been proven to have a calming effect on one's mind. Just like Yoga, or meditation (which is a part of many religions), prayer and the acts of service involved in living for your higher power can help to ease your burdens, and stabilize your mind. As a man with Bipolar, Depression, Anxiety, and a thousand other disorders, I find my Theist tendencies to be most calming, but that is not always the case.
Religion can be done wrong. It can hurt more than help. And that goes for EVERY religion. All it takes is one wrong bishop, deacon, pastor, rabbi, zen master, to really throw a person off the deep end. Since many parts of many doctrines directly contradict what we SEE with our eyes everyday, cognitive dissonance is a common result. That's that uneasy feeling you get when your mind is torn in two or more different directions. Usually when this happens, the person seeks out help from a trusted source in their religion, or on the internet, or in a library, and LEARNS whatever it is that they need to learn to remove that dissonance. It may turn out that that conflict in the mind turns a person away from religion. It happens.
Now, there are many types of counselors in the field of psychology. Most of them are atheists. Why is that? I don't have that answer, but there is something to it, I assure you. The science that goes into one's psychological wellbeing is complex and can entirely contradict religious dogma. Atheists don't have to worry about becoming unhinged by religion, but they still have to deal with the world, and let me assure you, the world is a cruel, unforgiving place. Atheists deal with this as they need to, and seek help from counseling or from friends and family if needed. Do what needs to be done. Learn what needs to be learned. Live, laugh, love. This is how most Atheists I've met see life.
Money and Time, Time and Money
Certain religions wish for you to give your money to them, so as to fund the religion's purposes and higher motives, but also in accordance with their higher being(s). This can impact your finances. Now, that money that is being put into the "commonwealth"-esque fund, is usually used for good, and to help individuals in need. So, it is an economical trade-off.
Time, however, is another thing. Some religions demand more of your time than others, and if one wishes to, one can literally hand over their life into working for that religion. The spiritual folk who don't subscribe to religion, don't have that problem. They probably spend time in prayer and meditation each day, but not in active service or obligations to a religious organization.
Their money is their money. They earned it, and they can choose to give it to charity, or to dump it down the toilet. Most atheists I have met are fairly decent about handling money, and struggle with making ends meet just like everyone seems to be, but one thing I will say I have noticed is that Atheists tend to rely more on possessions and material things that are bought using said money to bring about happiness and fulfillment. I may be wrong, but that seems to be the case in my observation. These are simply opinions, so take them with that premise of expectation.
Now, their time. Same deal. They do what they want, when they want, why they want. If that means saving kittens from trees or feeding stray cats to ATMs, that's their choice. To each his own. It all depends on their level of morals and ethics and what they, themselves, without any dogma or religion to influence them, have decided to the right way to live. It's different with each person. Always. We're made that way.
They all have a mixed view of what will happen after death, but one thing is for certain to them, SOMETHING is going to happen after they die. What that something IS, depends on the religion, the denomination in the religion, and a host of other things.
They go in the ground, or get burnt to ashes and put in an urn. And then it all ends....
Final Breakdown Showdown
Believe it or not, these two opposite ideas aren't at war. It's the Theists who are at war with other Theists. They contradict each other, bu they can live in harmony. My two brothers are Atheists, while I am a Christian, and we have loving, caring, relationships of respect and civility. John Lennon's song isn't far off from what would be nice to see in the world. However, I happen to believe that it's impossible due to our individual natures. We are all different, no two people identical; even twins are not clones.
The point of this article is that no matter if you live a life serving some higher power, deity, or spaghetti monster in the sky, or you don't, you can have a fulfilling, happy, engaging life, living in harmony with everyone around you. Live your life, good fellows, and I hope you all have a wonderful day, month, year, and life!