I have heard it time and time again from theists that belief in a divine entity is necessary to prevent one from lapsing into permanent despair over the state of the universe. They claim this for several reasons. First, they say that unless there is a final arbiter of right and wrong meting out punishments to those whose did evil (however one defines that) on Earth, then there is no guarantee of justice, and we must lose hope that such evil will punished and thus discouraged. Additionally, they claim that without a creator who gave our universe meaning and purpose, we must despair at the futility of our existence. Lastly, they feel that the nurturing parental figure of a caring god is needed to provide comfort. I, on the other hand, feel that the belief in a God should cause despair instead, and that atheism is an uplifting, empowering alternative.
While it is true that without some supernatural judge catching up to all criminals at some point beyond the grave there is no guarantee of justice, the existence of one does not necessarily grant it either. Since this judge must make judgements, it must have some set of standards against which to judge. These standards need not be our own. I would find it far more depressing to be ruthlessly held to a set of standards which I considered patently unfair. If this judge had as part of its set of standards that one must acknowledge its presence and pay homage to it, then all those who had behaved during their lives in a just manner, helping fellow humans while avoiding harming even those who attempted to cause harm, would still be condemned. This does not seem like justice but rather tyranny. Even if there were a clear and unambiguous way to determine the identity of this judge (and each of our thousands upon thousands of religions claims that it is the correct one), I feel that it is one of our fundamental rights to not have to bow down to anyone, regardless of how much more powerful they are than us. Those with greater power should not abuse it, but rather have an increased measure of responsibility for those less fortunate. Even if this judge is also responsible for our existence, it has no more right to abuse us than a parent has to abuse its child. In the absence of this judge, it is up to us humans to use temporal means to enforce our communally agreed-upon standards of justice. While far from perfect, we do seem to be doing a good enough job to have kept civilization from collapsing for several thousand years, and our track record with respect to overall justice does seem to be improving slightly over time; another few millenia, and we should be living in a nice, equitable society.
With respect to the meaning of life issue, I again feel that an externally imposed meaning is a negative thing. If some creator built our universe for a specific designated purpose, then we are but cogs in a giant machine thundering along on its course. Our personal actions are ultimately futile, as they are but scripted components in a play written eons before our birth. Everything about us was chosen by this omniscient creator to suit his purposes. We are in effect left with no room into which we can develop our purposes. If the universe was not created but rather simply came into being, then it has no intrinsic meaning or purpose. We are free to do as we wish. While some of us seem content to waste our all-too-brief time in this universe, the bulk of us do feel driven to develop some sense of purpose. We provide meaning to our own existence by aspiring to create ever grander things and preserve the legacies of the past. Ensuring the continued happiness of those whom we care about, even after we cease to be, consumes large parts of our time. Raising and nurturing our children so they can carry on our ideas and surpass our achievements drives many of us, for it is the closest we can come to immortality. When we die, we know that our physical shell, and quite probably our very self may cease to exist, at least in its present form, but fragments of us have been distributed among other people, becoming ever more diluted as time goes on, but still present.
Lastly, because of these amazing ties that we develop to each other, I feel that we need no distant and omnipotent god with which to bond. At best, such a divinity can only serve to distract us from each other. To say that there is no god is not to say that we are alone and abandoned in a huge purposeless universe, but rather that we are free to pursue our own destiny, alternately driven by and helped along by those around us, and that the most powerful thing we can ever encounter is the combined might of all humanity, which we know to be an awesome force indeed.
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