It is often said that without the hope and reward of paradise the atheist life must be one of sadness and nihilistic despair. Those with faith in a guiding force or an afterlife often imagine that the life of the unbeliever must be full of loneliness in an empty universe with a fleeting time filled with the permanent loss of all those we love.
They could not be more wrong.
The measure of life between birth and death makes it essential that an atheist savors and seizes each day.
We are part of a line of life passed down to us as our part of history, and we must grasp our time to wonder and explore and find happiness in all we experience and in our love of the nature and the community around us.
During our time we share our lives with people and seasons and events, and we know each of these will never come again. Those who believe in the finite nature of life do not expect an everlasting afterlife, but the beauty of the moment. Because of this, each moment becomes more vibrant, more valuable, more full of color.
For many burdened and constricted by dogma, the weight of sin hangs over their thoughts and actions.
Many religions argue that without imposed and harsh absolute rules, the atheist becomes untamed, hedonistic and a social danger. This is far from the truth. In embracing the natural world, we gain a morality from our family and community with which we share life. Instead of outdated edicts, we learn every day to adapt and embrace a modern relevant code far more consistent with our world than the outdated doctrine or archaic texts or the imposed morality of a self-appointed clerical elite.
Instead of sin, we have a learned human morality, a sane and relevant rule of action.
Fear of divine justice is a central tenet of almost all faiths.
An atheist accepts and understands they must face the penalties and rewards for their actions in this life. We know and have the true bravery to accept that payment for our actions stands before us directly and personally as a consequence of our lives and gives us the loss or gain our societies and consequences require. We understand that judgment comes from our peers and that the worst punishment is to lose the beauty and happiness of the finite days we have.
We also know repentance offers no eternal consolation but rather a cold and serious understanding of our actions. We cannot turn to holy books or saints for absolution. We can only turn to ourselves and our fellow men and women. I believe such action takes far more bravery than the hope of an assumed eternal salvation through a deity.
These serious, hard understandings lead an atheist to a powerful acknowledgement of responsibility for our lives. They show us any dark action we take has very personal and visceral consequences.
The rewards for true kindness, love, friendship and giving come only in the finite time we have. For the atheist, life is not merely the prelude overture but the symphony, and we have but one chance to let our performance ring.