I don’t claim to know an overarching “Meaning of Life,” but I do operate under the understanding that life should not be lived under the pretense that it is simply a “test” propagated by an invisible, intangible Creator — God. It should not be spent identifying with religious traditions and organized groups that, historically, have been at the root of oppression and violence. Our precious time on earth should not be spent attempting to justify unbelievable acts of cruelty, death and disease as a part of “God’s Plan” or the greater good —  clinging to ancient texts that preach ill-concealed bigotry and sexism.

Instead, we should find ways to make this life happy and satisfying, without regard to the unknowable nature of an afterlife. After all, as Marcus Aurelius once said, “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

In the Christian tradition, according to John 14:6, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me,” and other biblical passages, a requirement for passage into Heaven is that you accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior. Would a truly fair, merciful and just Creator really condemn those individuals who have never heard of Jesus in order to accept him, or even those of us who have heard the name Jesus Christ — yet see no physical or historical evidence to warrant belief? Shouldn’t it be enough to simply be the best person you can be? According to the Christian Gospel, the answer is simply — and firmly — “No.”

What makes you think your God is the right one? There are thousands of proposed gods and goddesses with similar stories and myths that supposedly link them to reality. The Judeo-Christian God is no exception, and each canon has its fallacies and contradictions that we have outgrown scientifically. I do not believe in any gods, devils, angels, talking snakes, ghosts, vampires or any other supernatural beings. That makes me an atheist, but it is not how I’d identify myself foremost. I simply utilize scientific evidence and common sense to form opinions based on the best information I have, without relying on traditional and familial influences to make my decisions.

Religion has been used in order to accomplish an infinite number of goals throughout history, from oppressing women and lower-class citizens to justifying the most brutal of wars, but the reason for the existence of religion is, in almost all cases, to be a crutch for providing an explanation for the otherwise inexplicable. A cause which we, as modern humans, have little to no use for; scientific discoveries have shown us how the Earth came to be, how humanity evolved from our primitive ancestors, where the sun goes at night and how viruses spread — leaving little room for the outdated religious explanations for these so-called “phenomena” and “miracles.”

All in all, I’m not one to dispute the therapeutic value of spirituality, but those who claim to need religion in order to cope with the realities of day to day life — or to justify their morality — could not be farther from the truth. In fact, for those people, a religion may provide a sense of well-being in an otherwise overwhelming world — but it rarely leads people to solve their problems. It often only encourages them to leave these issues to the mystical higher-power and dodge responsibility.

While this tactic may give the appearance of resolution to the believer, it is hard to justify such an action in light of the loss of individual accomplishments and spirit. It is when the principles of religion begin to be taken too seriously, to the point of extremes, that it becomes no longer therapeutic but harmful to society — when man begins to act on God’s behalf and shifts priority from the important issues of the known temporal world to the faith-based belief in the next.