Viewpoint of an Atheist
by Julie Derby Jaecksch
Hello, my name is Julie and I am an atheist. I do not often discuss being an atheist with people that I do not know or even people that I do know because many people have an immediate & significant negative reaction.
I am grateful for the opportunity to express myself in this blog entry alongside other people discussing their beliefs. First and foremost, I respect & support every person’s choice of their belief system without judging or criticizing. I am not speaking for all atheists which according to recent surveys is a growing segment of American society. While I know quite a few first responders who are atheists, I am writing only from my personal beliefs and experiences.
I was a dispatcher for a county police department 1983-1990. I processed all types of crime scenes including murders, unexplained deaths, officer-involved shootings, sexual assaults, assaults with deadly weapons & burglaries in a large and violent city 1990-2015. During my 25 years of working crime scenes, “my” department experienced multiple line-of-duty-deaths and several suicides as well as accusations of criminal wrongdoing, violent demonstrations, organizational & personal scandals, multi-million dollar lawsuits and intense media coverage of the some of these events.
I was raised without religious education or participation of any kind having only minimal exposure following Saturday night sleep-overs with my Grandma or with friends who went to church. I have never taken a class in religion or read the Bible.
My parents, family members, responsible adults & teachers taught me: right from wrong; how to take responsibility for myself; that helping others is part of being a good citizen; how to treat and care about people as I would want them to treat and care about me; and that treating people with compassion, honesty and fairness is the right thing to do.
I read a lot as a child including classic stories with moral lessons, descriptions of how responsible adults lived their lives and the consequences that people suffered who did not follow the rules. My family discussed newspaper stories and local TV news stories that included examples of behavior to emulate and behavior to avoid.
I am a very logical thinker. Believing in God and statements like “God only gives you what you can handle” and “Trust in God that He will provide for you” do not make logical sense to me. I have been overwhelmed with grief that felt like more than I could handle but I knew that it was temporary and I did not expect anyone else to help me handle it but I was grateful that I could depend on my friends to comfort me and listen to me during my grief journey. I was taught from a young age that I would need to become educated and work hard in order to support myself and that I should not count on being able to rely on my parents or others to provide for me, that in most cases I should be self-reliant.
I was having an open, honest & calm conversation with a friend of mine who became religious as an adult about our differing beliefs. He asked me as an atheist what motivates me to be a good person without the promise of being rewarded in the afterlife/next life. I love this question because it made me think back to how my parents communicated with me about the need for me to be a good person, a considerate family member, a productive employee & a responsible citizen.
The word faith may have had its origin in religious teachings, I do not know. I use the word faith without the religious connotation as a synonym for confidence such as “I have faith in myself that I will be able to be a good person” or “I have faith that my work as a crime scene investigator will be of service & value to the victim and to the community”.
I processed over 500 death scenes during my career including several with multiple victims, innocent victims and victims that were very young or very old. I believe that a person who dies, lives on in the hearts, minds & memories of the people who loved them and that they “live on” in the conversations of family and friends but not in another dimension or life beyond Earth.
I know that when someone says that the deceased person is “in a better place” that they are trying to be comforting and I am glad that their beliefs comfort them. I do not believe in an afterlife of any kind so that sounds hollow to me but I accept the thoughts & the love behind the words. I believe when a person has died – whether it was a violent death or a natural death – that they are no longer in any pain. I believe that their soul, spirit, essence or whatever word people choose to call the “heart” of the person that made them the individual that they were has ceased to exist and the physical body is all that remains. I witnessed the death of many people at work and I was with my beloved husband when he took his last breath. I treated every deceased human being with respect and with great care while processing the death scene whether it was a sidewalk in a crime-ridden neighborhood or a bedroom in a beautiful home.
In addition to dealing with much death at work, I have lost many people that I love – please notice that I used the present tense instead of saying loved which is past tense – including both of my parents, my beloved aunt & uncle, my husband, my older brother, friends & co-workers. I do not believe that their deaths were decided by God or that they are “living” in Heaven or enjoying some type of afterlife. I do not understand how I would be consoled while grieving by a belief in God. I believe that I carry my loved ones with me in my memories and in my heart & that they “live on” when people who loved them talk about them & remember them. I do not believe in an afterlife of any kind which leads me to cherish this life on Earth and to be grateful every day. There are no guarantees of a long, trouble-free life. No one knows how long their life will be. It is clear to me, that life can be both easy & difficult and that bad things sometimes happen to good people without explanation.
When I hear someone say that what happens – a murder, a tornado, a winning lottery ticket – is “God’s will” I do not understand that belief. If people believe in a benevolent God or higher power of some kind, how do they explain wars, incurable cancer, the random murder of a toddler, terrorism, the extinction of animal species or a tsunami killing thousands of people? Why would God choose to make these things happen? I believe that the vast majority of people are good people or that they are trying to be good people. I also believe that some people: treat other people unfairly or take advantage of them; are simply evil; are without empathy for themselves or others; are sociopaths or psychopaths. It is truly unfortunate that some people become physically ill or mentally ill but I do not believe that this happens because of “God’s will.”
A friend of mine who is a therapist who sees first responders once mentioned to me that she thinks that I am a very spiritual person. I did not think that the word spiritual applied to me because I thought at the time that it was always used as a religious word and I asked her to explain what she meant by that word. Her definition of spiritual is a person who spends time being of service to other people without any expectation of personal gain. She knows that I spend time volunteering with first responder organizations including educating first responders on how to become more resilient and how to manage their stress. I appreciate her describing me as spiritual using her definition. I now realize that spiritual and religious are not synonyms and I hear more people describing themselves as spiritual.
People who choose to become first responders – or are “called” to the professions, some people think that the person does not choose the job as much as the job chooses the person – are rule followers by nature. The belief system that each first responder embraces, will guide them through the performance of their job duties as well as their personal life.
My sincere hope is that each person – first responder or not – will listen to people who have different beliefs without judgment or criticism. I hope that people will accept that believing in God and an afterlife are not mandatory to living a moral, law-abiding life of service to others. Thank you for reading with an open mind.
Blog Administrator: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.
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