April 2011. After getting my order of a medium peppermint mocha at Starbucks, I found an empty table and setup my laptop and mouse in order to do some coding while I waited for my business partner to meet me up for some face to face and go through our weekly and monthly overview. It was a typical weekday for me: work on our company’s web application, reply to some e-mails and answer a few customer service calls. The only difference on that day was how stressed I was, but I wasn’t aware of it yet.
The entire month of March I rented a private AirBnB room in New York City. I lived and worked there as an exploratory measure to determine whether I eventually wanted to move to NYC to pursue stand up comedy. Known as the toughest city in the world in which to compete, I had to be sure that I wanted to battle in the madness while having to pay the highest cost of living in the states. It was an opportunity not afforded to most people, let alone my peers. Being able to telecommute for my job, which paid the bills, but still be able to chase my passion, which paid zilch.
I worked a combined 60-70 hours per week while also networking to create a base of friends in case I eventually moved. It wasn’t the first time I was putting that much stress on my body. I was used to traveling to perform while also working my day job. I have performed in 30+ cities throughout the US and Canada all while telecommuting. Of course, putting that much stress on your body can take it’s toll (read about my diagnosis of a chronic illness that probably stemmed through years of stress and environmental changes). While sitting at the Starbucks that day in April, the beating on my body seemed to have finally caught up. Only a few minutes passed of me coding in PHP, and snap, my brain just froze. The world stopped. It was as if my mind was a Windows machine that got stuck in the blue screen of death.
The next thing I remember was a Starbucks employee kneeling down next to my chair while moving his lips. As my body started rebooting I slowly began to hear and understand him, “Are you okay? SIR! Are you okay?” His words were being processed extremely slow. It was like trying to disseminate information while being stoned on cannabis, and then reducing the processing speed by 10.
I finally replied, “No. I think I need an ambulance.”
“Do you need water sir? Get him some ice water! Sir! Stay with me!”
I was losing control of my body and I started sliding down the chair I was sitting on. The employee tried to grab me so that I didn’t fall and hit my head on the floor. They brought me ice and I had them place it right on my forehead. All I knew at that moment was that my body was mostly incapacitated and it was the closest I had ever felt to imminent death.
The EMT finally arrived and one of the technicians started asking me questions. They took my pulse and administered an IV with fluid that I assume was some sort of electrolyte solution which helps alleviate dehydration. Finally they put me onto a stretcher and took me out to the ambulance as everyone at Starbucks stopped what they were doing and stared at me in horror as if I was some car accident on the highway.
Part of me felt like I was a goner because I had never been so debilitated. Without any precedence in my life of an event such as this I could only assume that my time on earth was coming to an end. My mind started flashing back through my entire life, typical of any near death scenario. I began thinking of all the things I had done in life: the great people I met, the experiences I enjoyed, the places I saw, the risks I took for the rewards I received. As a 28 year old, I felt I had climbed many mountains and seen many views. If I were to die that day, it would be okay, because I was happy. I wasn’t where I wanted to be, I still had many goals and aspirations, and I wanted to live to see those days, but I was content with what I had accomplished.
As the electrolytes started circulating through my body, and I started to regain full consciousness, I realized that throughout the whole ordeal I never once broke down and begged God to let me live. “Oh God, please don’t let me die. There is so much I haven’t done and so much I have missed out on. I swear, if you let me live I’ll do all the things I always said I was going to do. Please, I’ll go to the mosque all the time and help the blind and the poor and be nice to that creepy dude that is always trying to be my friend, the one that wears the same flannel shirt and khaki pants. I’ll be really nice to him regardless of his fashion tastes. Please God, please!”
Nope, never said it. Never even thought of saying it. I had reached a new point in my enlightenment and had no dependence on the supreme being that was implanted into my psyche since I was born. If anything, I was extremely happy that I was in the hands of medical professionals and that if I were to live, it would be due to Science and advancements in modern medicine which our society often neglects.
The ambulance began to move and the ride got a little bumpy as the driver tried to navigate through Chicago roads that were abundant with pot holes, making me a bit woozy. Vomit started erupting out of my throat like a pent up geyser. It was a scene right out of Exorcism. The technician rushed to get me a basket to spew into, but he was too late. I regurgitated everything I had eaten since the previous day and a large part of the floor and walls of the ambulance were covered with some shitty fast food I had probably consumed. I still feel like an asshole till this day for that, but I couldn’t help it.
You Don’t Become an Atheist in a Day
When you first come out of your mother’s womb you’re given an identity based on the variables of your environment with no choice of your own. I was given the arabic name Sadiq. I was a Pakistani, a Muslim, of the Ismaili denomination, with parents that were middle class. A mom that worked in a bank and a father that ran a small food stand. A brother that was a decade older and a ghost of a sister that never survived past the age of one, several years prior to my birth. As time went on I was taught how I should tie my shoes, what types of clothes were appropriate, how I should pray to God. I wasn’t allowed to eat pork or keep that dirty foreskin on my penis. I don’t remember it being chopped off, but I probably felt pain. I had to obey the authoritarianism of my parents and the all mighty Allah. I was to pray several times a day and follow the same superstitions that my parents were brought up with. I was molded into a product of my environment, no different than the circumstances other humans face when they are brought into this world. I could’ve easily been born in another part of the planet and had the make up of someone who was entirely different.
My memories of Pakistan were limited because we moved to the United States when I was seven. I would’ve grown up in a predominantly Muslim country with a limited world view if it hadn’t been for our family being granted a visa to the US. Since the majority of my life was spent in an urban neighborhood in Chicago, I was exposed to many other races, cultures, religions and beliefs. We all seemed to have the same goal in life, but the approach differed based on our upbringing. We all wanted to live a happy healthy life, have food in our bellies, and a roof over our head, but depending on our birth family and environment, we pursued happiness by what we were taught by those who raised us. Based on part reality, part superstition, part fear and part propaganda.
I was always a curious person and living in the US allowed me to express those thoughts which I may not have been able to engage in if I had grown up in Pakistan. I was trying to make sense of the world using questions and reasoning, but that type of thinking wasn’t as acceptable within the confines of religion and superstitions. How could it be, when dogma and authority is meant to be followed, not questioned.
Teachers at our Sunday school didn’t like my antics, and neither did the adults in our mosque, but I couldn’t help my genetic makeup that subconsciously made me prod and poke at weaknesses in the foundation of Islam. Yes, our community of Muslims had a place where kids were sent to get indoctrinated on a weekly basis too.
Every class, every year, I kept asking. Why are there so many different religions? Why are there so many denominations of Islam? If everyone believes their religion is the true religion wouldn’t the rest of us go to hell for believing the wrong one? Why can’t we eat pork, but all the American kids in school can? If God is everywhere what’s the point of coming to the mosque? Why have religions been in so many wars when they claim to be peaceful? Why do I have to pay 12.5% of my money to the mosque? I want to spend it on Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and candy from the convenient store across the street. Who came up with 12.5%? Why not 12% or 13%? What makes 12.5% the magical number? Is that Allah’s favorite number? Many times my questions went unanswered or I was given generic answers like “well that’s faith”. I wasn’t trying to be a prick, I was just a curious albeit a mischievous child. I still went to pray at my mosque every night though, or technically, to hang out with my Ismaili Muslim friends and shoot the shit. This went on for 13 years.
In my early 20s I started hanging out with a lot of people outside of my community. I started diversifying my group of friends and started gaining different perspectives of life. Eventually I didn’t go to the mosque as much because I was spending more time doing other things that I found interesting, like going to dinner with friends, playing volleyball at the beach, traveling, and partaking in unique adventures. Then I stopped going to the mosque all together. I stopped paying tithe and instead put that money towards paying off my debt and building a savings account. As I absorbed more and more information, I started realizing that I never needed religion and that I had all the tools to survive in life.
If someone asked what I practiced, I would say that I was raised Muslim, but that I’m not religious. That went on for a while as I continued evolving. I began to have a fascination with religion, history, science, politics, and any other topic I could wrap my brain around. I exposed myself to all types of view points and the internet helped me tap into the entire database of human knowledge. I determined that the probability of the existence of God was slim to none. That it was a man made idea. So I started considering myself an agnostic, but even that was just a stepping stone.
Theist – Belief in the existence of one or more Gods.
Atheist – Lack of belief in the existence of one or more Gods.
Gnostic – 100% certain.
Agnostic – Not 100% certain.
By definition I’m an Atheist, of the agnostic variety. I don’t have the belief that God exists, but I also couldn’t prove that God doesn’t exist. Just like I couldn’t prove that unicorns or the abominable snowman don’t exist. Additionally, I don’t need to prove that something doesn’t exist, because the burden of proof lands on the person who claims the existence of a deity, and God just has too many cracks and holes in his-story.
I just think the probability of the existence of a God is slim to none. Many people point to their individual books, like the Bible, Torah, or Quran as the direct word from God, proving his existence, but they disregard all the other information regarding the history of religion and the blatant plagiarism and population control in which those texts stem from. It is difficult for me to accept that the answer to our entire universe lies within one book, when there are millions of other books that truly account for the existence of humanity.
I couldn’t continue calling myself an agnostic, because it felt like a cop out to me. From my perspective, either you’re a theist or an Atheist AND either gnostic or agnostic. Most theists seem to be gnostic, meaning they are 100% certain of the existence of a God. Most Atheists, on the other hand, seem to be agnostic, similar to me.
Many people, however, think that Atheists are only gnostic, but it’s just propaganda developed to cause fear into the hearts of believers. That’s why it’s easier for people to just claim that they are agnostic because religious people take it to mean that the person doesn’t know if God exists or not and that they are a sheep that got separated from religion. That agnostics can be shown the way. Whereas calling myself an Atheist in front of a believer is the equivalent to calling myself Satan.
Burden of Definition
By definition though, I’m an Atheist. I didn’t ask to be one, I just am one, by definition. I’m an Atheist. I’m classified as a word that wouldn’t have even existed if it weren’t for the word theist. It would’ve never been part of human consciousness if Egyptians hadn’t used hieroglyphics to write stories anthropomorphizing astrological observations, or if Greeks hadn’t depicted the elements of the world as mighty Gods. I wouldn’t have to claim Atheism if Hindus didn’t create idols of deities riding elephants or having multiple arms, or if Jews, Christians and Muslims didn’t have Gods that only spoke to a specific prophet and no one else. I wouldn’t be writing this piece if the thousands of different civilizations hadn’t created supernatural entities which took form as themselves.
I didn’t ask to be an Atheist. I didn’t ask to be discriminated against. Sure I can go on with life without ever admitting that I was an Atheist, but that would be dishonest, and unlike popular belief, Atheists aren’t inherently dishonest. Just like I wouldn’t claim that I’m white to forego discrimination due to being Pakistani. Though doing the latter would be much more difficult to pull off.
There is a minor burden that comes with calling yourself an Atheist. One study suggested that out of several groups and organizations in America, most people distrusted Atheists the most. They distrusted Atheists more than Muslims or homosexuals. Another study suggested that people distrust Atheists more than rapists! So really, I could’ve been better off raping a woman as I sucked off a dude all while being a terrorist ISIS Muslim reading from the Quran and I would still be distrusted the most for my rational disbelief in a God.
It is a disservice to our intelligence to treat Atheism as devil worship, because it comes from an uninformed idea. I often get asked the question, “If you don’t believe in God, what do you believe in, what are your morals and values?” Ummmmmm, I believe in myself. I believe in being a good person and being nice to others. I believe every human should have enough food to eat, water to drink, and a place to keep them safe. I believe that the resources in our world should be expanded and shared. I believe in Scientific advancements as the tools for the existence and growth of civilization. I believe that race, religion, and national borders are just dogmatic ideas/institutions that separate us from achieving the great potential of human collaboration. I believe that there are no Gods and that if there were, our understanding of them would be completely moot. I believe that I am responsible for all my actions. I believe that family and friends are my love, life and comfort. I believe that eventually I will die and my body will dissipate. That’s what I believe, and that should be okay, even if by definition I am an Atheist.
What Do You Think?
What was your upbringing like? Are you still religious or have your views changed? Were you part of one religion, but then switched to another? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.