Monday, April 15, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey Part 4

Nihilism And The Search For Deeper Meaning

For a while in my early twenties I suppose you could say that I had lapsed into a kind of hedonistic existential nihilism. I started partying more to the point where it basically became my life. Drinking and smoking marijuana became an almost daily routine. The metal head crowd that I had hung out with in high school had fragmented into smaller groups who shared common mutual interests and I had followed along with the ones who were the more heavy drinkers and users. My best friend at the time was a Russian immigrant who came to the US as an early teen. He actually believed in the ancient Norse gods Odin and Thor. Although most of the time we were busy drinking and smoking and going to nightclubs, we occasionally had an intellectual conversation where our world views came into the light. I’d ask him how sincere he was about his beliefs and if he actually thought Odin was real. I’d occasionally attack the logic he used to justify his beliefs and I quickly found out just how irrational some belief systems are and what absurdities they can be founded on. My best friend had came to the conclusion that Odin was real when he was camping one day in the woods and had run out of water. Feeling like he was going to die of thirst, he prayed to Odin and shortly thereafter found a bottle of water sitting in the woods. To him, this was a sign from Odin that he was real, and from that moment onward, Odin was his god. Now mind you, I was probably high when he told me this story, but you can imagine for yourself how utterly preposterous his applied logic was in determining that his god was real.

Most of my other friends were atheist, agnostic, or lapsed Catholics. I did however have one Muslim friend who was one of the heaviest partiers of us all.  One day after driving me home from a party he gave me a book entitled, A BRIEF ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING ISLAM. He told me that he was meaning to give it to me for some time because he recognized in me that I was smart and a thinker about some of the bigger and deeper issues. It was one of those books that tries to use modern scientific discoveries to show that they were predicted in the Qur’an hundreds of years ago before anyone else could have known. This is offered as a case that the Qur’an is “proof” that it was divinely inspired and therefore that Islam is the one true faith. Now the skeptic in me has looked at this supposed “proof” and concluded that it is a ridiculous stretch of the imagination. The Qur’an is so vague in its descriptions of these purported “facts” that it take great leaps of faith to reconcile them with modern science, and on top of that, it gets many of its “facts” flat out wrong. But at that time, I wasn’t fully aware of this, and after briefly looking through the book, I literally threw it down on a shelf and it collected dust for about 5 years.

During this nihilistic party phase in my early twenties I just wasn’t that interested in religion and philosophy. That early spark of intrigue had faded and became replaced by hedonistic indulgence. Living in New York City where there are thousands of bars and clubs, my life revolved around bar hoping and club hoping, chasing after the next one night stand, and getting fucked up on beer, liquor, marijuana and the occasional club drug. I was a nihilist living in the moment, working the odd job here and there, with no deeper purpose, meaning or direction. The occasional discussion about metaphysical worldviews always involved me articulating my skepticism and disbelief but it was almost never seriously challenged because most of the people in my social circle either weren’t believers, or if they believed, they weren’t religious about their beliefs. Although I had an affinity for indulgence myself, as the years went on I started gravitating towards deeper more intellectual topics. I wanted to have intellectual conversations with my friends instead of just talking about whatever gossip and drama happened to be going on at the time. I started growing tired of the mindless self-indulgence that I saw going on everyday amongst my friends. I stopped caring about the silly one-upmanship that we were all trying to pull on each other to gratify our precious egos. I was searching for something deeper and more intellectually satisfying in my life but unlike those people who are susceptible to religion, my natural born skepticism wouldn’t steer me towards god.

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