I was hanging out with a couple friends a few weeks ago when one of them observed “If I didn’t believe in God, I would probably kill myself.” He went on to ponder how death is the ultimate solution to life’s hardest problems. Without fear of eternal damnation, why not “take arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them.” It is the most efficient way to completely avoid problems. You certainly don’t have to deal with them if you are dead. Without an after life who cares what messes you leave behind. They ultimately become someone else's problem.
You also miss out on everything that is amazing in life. There are so many wonderful things that happen on a daily basis. Have you ever noticed how incredible life really is? There are so many moments of pure beauty and joy; surely they outweigh the “slings and arrows of life’s outrageous fortune.”
I can’t seem to help but quote Hamlet. I must admit that I have spent a good deal of time considering the famous soliloquy, and I mostly disagree with the Danish Prince. It is not fear of what lies on the other side of death that keeps me from dying. It is a strong attachment to the beauty of life. A few days ago I lay on the floor with a friend of mine laughing until we cried. If I had died the day before, I would have missed this moments of pure, unadulterated, joy.
Every day there is something amazing to experience. There are so many completely exalting experiences to be had. All it takes is a little attention to notice them. Tiny, barely significant things (raindrops caught in rose-petals, warm sand between your toes, a smile from a stranger, the way the wind plays with a skirt) are absolutely worth living for because they happen a million times a day and they add up to create pure beauty.
I then pointed out to my friend that committing suicide is absolutely the most selfish thing you could possibly do. I was considering the effect that something like that has on the people who go on living. I know a girl who’s boyfriend killed himself right after they graduated high school. The emotional trauma he put her through was phenomenal. She pretty much had a complete nervous breakdown. No matter who you are, there will always be someone who loves you enough that their entire universe will collapse if you kill yourself.
My friend, however, turned my statement back to God. Without fear of divine retribution, why not be selfish? Besides, once you're gone, you don't have to worry about the people you left behind. They are no longer your problem. I didn’t have much to say at the time, but this part of the conversation has really stuck with me. I don’t know if he intended it that way, but he kind of implied that without faith it is impossible to be a good person. The same point was brought up in the class I’m taking this summer. In More’s Utopia there is a very poignant paragraph about how Godless people cannot possibly be useful to society or have any motivation to do good things.
This view makes me extremely uncomfortable. Not only because I only believe in God sometimes, and the God I believe in is indifferent to us mortals. I like to think that I am a strong example of how a person can be a good person without believing in God. The way I see it, there is no reason to treat other people in a manner in which I would not like to be treated. What is the point in making other people suffer? Plus, when you treat others with kindness, you’re more likely to get kindness in return.
It actually terrifies me that the only thing standing between some people and selfish malignancy is fear of God. What happens if those people lose their faith? Isn’t it stronger and more meaningful if someone is good person simply for the sake of being a good person? Kindness becomes superficial when it stems solely from a fear of damnation.
I am probably simplifying the matter too much. Religion is something I really have very little experience with and probably don’t really understand. Still, I cannot believe that without God people would lose all sense of decency. I am rather glad that I have never really developed a strong belief in any deity. I like the fact that any goodness I do stems from me. I can be selfless for completely selfless reasons. Neither Heaven nor Hell come into it.