I have started re-posting some of my posts from three or four years ago on occasion, at the suggestion of several people on the blog. Frankly, I don’t remember even writing most of them! Here is one from four years ago, a response to the question of how losing my faith affected me — did it make me a better (or worse) person?
Dr. Ehrman, I am still reading your book (God’s problem) which seems to be very interesting since you are not interesting to gain any approval from anybody but only to communicate what you believe and where you are today. Congratulations for that…. Did you became a better human being after losing your faith?
Great question! Most people have assumed the opposite, that anyone who loses his or her faith must become a worse person. The logic seems to be that without a belief in God, there would be no grounds for morals and that people left to their own unconstrained devices would have no reason to avoid living in any kind of shameful way they chose.
I have to admit, when I was a Christian, that’s what I myself thought. And it was one of the reasons that, for years, I was reluctant to question seriously my faith in God. I was afraid that if I no longer believed there would be nothing stopping me from becoming completely profligate and having orgies every night.
Now that I’m an agnostic I have come to see that once a week is perfectly fine. 🙂
Seriously, my fears were absolutely unfounded. There are lots and lots of reasons to be moral whether or not God exists and whether or not a person believes in him. This is contrary to what I expected to find. But find it I did. In some ways, I have *more* reason to be moral than ever before. Since I think this life is all there is, I do not want to throw it away on a senseless pursuit of vain pleasure. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy my life very much. In fact, I enjoy it a lot more now than when I was a believer. But I do not enjoy it by throwing myself into senseless passions and orgiastic pleasure, which I see as empty, futile, and brainless. I throw myself into the simple pleasures of life, with a gusto: family, friendships, meaningful work, and the very real pleasures of good food, good wine, very good, well, other, alcoholic beverages, good cigars, sports, physical work outs, 19th century novels, theater, and and and.
I’m not sure that I’m a better person now, but I am much more involved in dealing with problems of suffering now than I was then. That may, though, simply be a function of having so much more money now than I had then. But I give a LOT more away now, not just in total dollar amounts but in percentage of income. No comparison. And my compassion for others has only increased as I’ve realized that all the pain, misery, and suffering of this world will not be resolved in the afterlife. We either help someone now, or they die helpless. And that’s not acceptable.
One might think that if this life is all there is, there would be no reason to help someone else – just live for yourself! But I don’t see it that way, and I’m clearly not wired that way. I can’t help feeling compassion for others, especially those in need. Some would argue that this is a proof for the existence of God. I don’t think so. I think it is how we have evolved as a species. Nothing is *forcing* me to act on these feelings, but I want to do so and think others should do so as well, if they want to be fully human. In some sense, being fully human means realizing in one’s life the way you have been “made,” not by a creator but as a result of very long and complex evolutionary processes. Living in contrary ways leads to dissatisfaction and unhappiness. My happiness is rooted not only in finding pleasure in the simple things in life but also in helping others do the same.
So I don’t know if I’m a “better” person now. I’m certainly not a worse person. And I do feel better about live, about love, about hope, about the future than ever. I am also a happier person. To some that may seem ironic: how can you be happier thinking that “this is all there is”? But for me, since in fact this is all there is, and since we won’t live forever, and in fact will not live for long, we should live life to the fullest, as much as we can and for as long as we can. Life in the here nad now is not a dry run or a dress rehearsal for something to come. This life is it. And so we should throw ourselves into it with all gusto we can, and help others do so as well.
In fact, I think I’ll head off for a massage this afternoon!
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