Sunday, September 2, 2012

I'm an atheist.

The title says it all, really. Don't worry, I'm not about to get all self-righteous and preachy on anyone. It's just that something happened recently that kind of made me want to talk about this.

Like most atheists, I started out religious. I went to church with my grandma as a kid when no one else in my family did. And I regularly attended youth group through high school. I never really bought everything my pastor said, and I disagreed strongly with some Biblical teachings, but overall I had this warm and fuzzy notion of God as someone who was looking out for me and had my back. Eventually I left the Christian faith after I couldn't reconcile my personal beliefs and feelings with the dogma, but I still called myself an agnostic (which now I realize I was using that term inappropriately). Basically I still believed in my warm and fuzzy higher power, but I didn't have any associated dogma, ritual or religion associated with that. I just lived my life as I normally would and kind of/sort of believed in God. Until one day I realized I was kidding myself, I didn't really believe in an all powerful, all knowing, invisible wizard in the sky and I was only clinging to that belief out of habit and fear. Since the moment I realized that I didn't believe anymore, I took a more scholarly approach to the existence of God, examining the evidence, listening to arguments from both sides, and nothing has won me back over to the side of belief.

Anyway, so that's my spiritual journey into atheism. What I want to talk about is the public perception of atheism, and how people get it wrong.

First of all, agnosticism is not Atheist Light. I hear people say a lot that they "don't mind agnostics, it's those atheists that bug me!" People seem to interpret agnosticism as saying, "I don't know if there's a God or not." versus atheism as, "I know there isn't a God." That isn't true. Agnosticism is a position of knowing. It is saying, "I don't know for sure." It says nothing about belief in God. You can be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic believer. An example of what those two things would look like:

Atheist: "I don't believe in God but I can't be sure he doesn't exist."
Christian: "I believe in God but I'm not 100% certain."

That clear? Okay, moving on.

This was all spearheaded by a friend and I talking about a TV show, Supernatural, which we're both fans of. She asked me which season I was on and I said that I had finished all of them. She said, "Oh, okay. I didn't know if maybe you stopped watching when, y'know, all the angels and stuff started happening." I was taken aback. Why would I stop watching a TV show because it happened to have angels in it? And then I realized, she thought that my atheism would make me turn away in disgust from anything having to do with religion.

That's a little something that we call anti-theism, and yeah, there are anti-theistic atheists. But I'm not really one of them. Sure, I think religion is silly, but I don't begrudge anyone their right to worship or believe as they wish, so long as it doesn't harm others. And I certainly am not going to stop watching an entertaining, fictional show because they bring elements of Judeo Christian mythology into it.

People have this view of atheists as these angry, belligerent bullies. Some are, but so are some Christians. Overall, we just don't believe in God. That's it. We're not going to hate you if you do believe in God, and we're not going to boycott anything with even a whiff of religiosity about it. We don't bite, kick puppies or eat babies, either. So calm down.


  1. Thanks for posting this!!! You have really helped clear up the atheist/agnostic thing for me. I always I assumed I was an agnostic, but, surprise!, I really am an atheist. But not an anti-theist (well, maybe anti-some-theist). As always, really enjoying your blog!

    1. Well you can be both agnostic and atheist. ;)

  2. "Sure, I think religion is silly, but I don't begrudge anyone their right to worship or believe as they wish, so long as it doesn't harm others."

    Every Christian brainwashes their children so they are all harming others.

    Also, their childish cowardly magical heaven fantasy is what makes terrorism possible.

    1. That argument could just as easily be turned around against us to say that because we don't believe in eternal consequences, our beliefs make inhumane acts possible. And it would be just as incorrect.

    2. The probem is the Muslim terrorists need the Christians. Because most Americans share the same insane heaven fantasy the suicide bombers believe in, the terrorists think they're normal.

    3. Yes, people could never commit acts of unspeakable, heinous violence without a belief in God. Just look at Stalin. He was...

      Oh, wait, nevermind.

      Face it: humans are a brutal, violent species. Little League baseball can push grown men and women to violence.

      To directly address your statement, "Also, their childish cowardly magical heaven fantasy is what makes terrorism possible," I believe all I need to do is give you two names: Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski. McVeigh was inarguably a terrorist who was motivated almost exclusively by his politics. There were ties to the Waco siege of the Branch Davidians but he saw that (as many still do) as primarily a gross abuse of government power. That it was against a religious group (okay, a dangerous cult) is incidentally to much of the flak it has taken by radical right-leaning folks. Reading his own writing it is hard to come to the conclusion that his "childish cowardly magical heaven fantasy" is what made his terrorism possible.

      Likewise with Kaczynski. He was a neo-Luddite who bombed for decades for social and political reasons.

      What about animal rights terrorists like the ALF? They commit acts of violence because of their (utterly misguided, in my opinion) stance on animal rights.

      And even among religious terrorists heaven is only part of what makes this violence possible. Certainly a belief in an eternal reward helps make suicide bombing and self-martyrdom possible but a believe in heaven is likely not a primary motivating factor behind an abortion clinic bombing. It is likely motivated far more by the religious view that the fetus is a human being with a soul and the abortionist is thus a mass murderer.

      The point is that your statement simply is not accurate; it offers a very pat assessment of the problem of terrorism, a problem that (like most other problems in the world) is far to complicated to sum up in a single sentence. If I may, allow me to offer a reformulation: "The childish, cowardly, magical heaven fantasy of religionists is part of what makes some aspects of religious terrorism possible." You may claim this is watered down even though I left in your own unflattering editorializing. You are free to think that and continue on your way. I, on the other hand, claim it is accurate. Or at least more accurate than your initial, grossly oversimplified version.

  3. Atheist: "I don't believe in God but I can't be sure he doesn't exist."

    which is as stupid as saying

    "I don't believe in the tooth fairy but I can't be sure it doesn't exist.

  4. I think when pressed many 'believers' will back off from the dogma. Thanking people for their prayers is apparently just an expression. "I'll pray for you" is like saying "I'll think happy thoughts." I took a friend to task for thanking her yankee friends for praying for her because Houston finally had rain (last year). Meanwhile, a friend of mine and her family were totally traumatized in the county of Bastrop, not far away, by the most devastating fire in the county's history. She was surprised that I thought it was tacky of her to suggest God loved Houston more than Bastrop county. When it came down to it she admitted the prayers had no affect on the drought and it was "just an expression." Well why say it at all then? Isn't that taking the Lord's name in vain?

    She unfriended me on Facebook. I don't miss her.

    1. Heh. Last year during A week I posted a photo that said, "I'm an atheist. Ask me how!" A classmate's husband started in with the tired old arguments that we've all seen 1,000 times about the laws of thermodynamics, evolution, etc. It was pretty clear he'd never had a debate with an atheist before. I'd calmly and politely explain each point he made, link to relevant resources, and tried to be a good sport through the little passive aggressive jibes he kept making at me. Eventually a couple of friends showed up who weren't as diplomatic as I was and laid into him. He deleted all of his posts and unfriended me. Not sure what I did to upset him, other than not acquiesce to what he clearly considered to be the brilliance of his poorly thought out and long-debunked arguments.

  5. Apathetic agnostic atheist; I don't know, I highly doubt it, but I don't really give a rat's behind either way.