When I was a child I prayed to god. I carried a belief with me that I was taught from birth: that if I was ever in trouble, I needed but to seek god for guidance or help. But I quickly found that I only had myself to rely on, and I pretended for many years that I felt a connection with god when all I ever felt was alone.
I remember the first time that I openly discussed my atheism. A woman I didn’t know sat down next to me and she gently said “God came to me in a dream. He asked me to save your soul and to bring you back to him.” “How do you know that I don’t already follow him?” I asked her. She whispered quietly, “Do you?”
I said that to claim I believed in God would be a lie; that I had never felt anything beyond myself. Even if I had any faith when I was a child, I explained, I had lost it in the atrocities I had witnessed and never deserved. Angered by her inquiry and frightened by her claim, I told her that if he existed, I would not serve a god that causes people to suffer so. “Well, isn’t that a bleak existence,” she crowed. “To like a life without belief or faith. What a lonely reality that must be! What purpose could you have in this world if there is nothing to reward you after death?”
I agonized over her words for many years. But I believe that faith is not integral to happiness. Lacking religious faith does not mean that you lack something inside or that you have yet to find completion. All you need is a purpose. And you need look nowhere but to yourself to find one.
I do not need fear or incentives to do good things or the right thing. I fear no judgment but my own. And if anything drives me to accomplish as much good as I can in this world, it is the belief that I have only one life to live. I do not need a belief in any higher power to find purpose, drive, or passion. I need but to see the carnage and the inequality of the world to discover the need for kindness and change.
I find happiness in the thought that I must rely on myself to accomplish the things I wish to achieve. It’s a challenge. I find happiness in my friendships and schooling. I find happiness in teaching my brothers to do the right thing and I find happiness in the thought that all the good I have done outnumbers the mistakes that I have made. And I have discovered: I do not live a bleak existence. I live through the things that I know and the things that I can change. I do not need faith to achieve fulfillment, and that is why I say: Faith is not integral to happiness.
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