Bittersweet Humanism

There are millions of posts on Facebook. Recently, I came across this post on a page simply called Atheism. It really hit home with me. It was written by Andrew Cutlip after a religious friend of his said non-believers don’t believe in anything except their own non-belief. Many of us have heard variations of this claim by religious believers. It angered him, but also got him thinking about how incredibly difficult it must be for a believer to be able to place themselves in our shoes.

It’s a beautiful short essay I felt needs to be shared. So without further ado, this is Andrew Cutlip’s guest post. ~ Pat Morrow

Bittersweet Humanism

Bittersweet HumanismAt times I hear some people wonder aloud, either honestly or rhetorically, about how hollow existence must be for an atheist. How not believing we have a divine creator or any hope for an afterlife must make our lives dismal and sad. How not having any handed-down meaning means we don’t have any meaning at all.

I can understand how someone who has never experienced what it’s like to be an atheist might not be able to wrap their mind around it, and those who suddenly find themselves in that position would be terrified of its implications.

After all, losing all notions of an afterlife means grieving for past loved ones all over again. We don’t afford ourselves the luxury of pretending at all, and so the loss of a loved one truly is a loss for us. We bear the full weight of someone’s passing, and also bear the burden of knowing that we too will have the same fate. So I can see why people might be perplexed to see atheists act out with so much passion for others and for life itself, with a mounting suspicion that this state surely must make us feel bitter, and not being able to see why we find life to be so sweet. What they can’t see is the redeeming value of what living with no illusions allows us.

These realizations show us how precious and important life and loving each other is, because of how fleeting it is. Just like how watching children grow up in the blink of an eye makes that brief period in their lives so special, this is how an atheist views life in general. We are unable to take our lives for granted or each other for granted. How many more times will you look up at the night sky and see a full moon surrounded by millions of stars? Maybe a hundred, or maybe a dozen. Maybe this will be your last time. How many times will you be moved by a song? How many more trips to new places will you be able to visit in your life? To be an atheist is to know that nothing in life, no matter how small, is trivial. Every smile you give and receive, every person you comfort, every single moment in life has so much more value. And this is where humanism emerges.

Every person we come across in life is someone we can learn from and feel privileged to know, since we are all together on this one planet, in this one particular moment in time. A humanist knows that our common humanity is the one thing we all can share and work toward upholding. And in the end, when we pass, we can do so knowing that we led a life that was full of love, full of caring for others like us, full of meaning that we created for ourselves. A humanist’s version of heaven is knowing that those we leave behind will remember us fondly and warmly.

Andrew Cutlip is an engineer, husband and father residing in Northern California.

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