I've never written about prayer, faith, or gods.
There, my secret is out. I am an atheist, and I have been since the first time I read the bible, cover to cover, after I was given my own copy in Sunday school. I’m a skeptic by nature (not to be confused with a cynic), and the book just didn’t provide me with the answers that I hoped it would. I read the bible again as an adult- same reaction.
To be clear, the word atheist describes what I am not. I'm not a believer in any type of supernatural, supreme being, or in the divinity of ancient texts. The term that best captures what I do believe in is humanism. I am an atheist, but more importantly, I am a humanist.
There are a lot of definitions of humanism, but I'll make it short and sweet for the purposes of this post. The American Humanist Association, of which I am a member, defines humanism as:
“A progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”Kurt Vonnegut described it this way:
“Being a humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead.”Atheists are everywhere, but many are afraid of coming out, not because we are ashamed but because we fear discrimination. If you think my assessment of how despised we are as a group is overstated, read this. But I admit, it's not like I live in the deep South or worse yet, a Muslim theocracy, where coming out as an atheist could render me a social outcast or even endanger my personal well-being. I live in the third least religious state in America, so I’m not being particularly courageous.
My purpose here is not to actively recruit believers away from religion and toward humanism. I'm coming out because I believe I may have built up some good will at this blog, and in my personal relationships. I wish to capitalize on this standing to demonstrate that people like me- atheists, freethinkers, secular humanists, humanists, and a bunch of other names- are not evil, horrible people who should be mistrusted, avoided, or feared. We're just like you, except we don't believe the religious stories that most of us were taught as children.
Some of the people I'm closest to are atheists. Others are religious. However, I see no correlation between morality/happiness and whether or not an individual believes in God. The content of one’s character is independent of religiosity.
We humanists believe in rational explanations and in the beauty of science, nature, and humanity. Science does not yet provide answers to all of life’s mysteries. For me, however, half the fun is in peeling away the layers, acquiring knowledge through examination of evidence and open discussion, and accepting that our conclusions are always subject to revision if better information comes along. Because of the way that my brain is wired, this approach makes more sense than having absolute truths revealed to me by church doctrine or interpretation of scripture.
Is that really so bad?
In fact, as a skeptic, it’s not only gods that I don’t accept as true. I also don’t believe in: heaven, hell, miracles, angels, the devil, Rick Santorum, ghosts, karma, ESP, creationism, UFO stories (although I do find extraterrestrial life to be likely), astrology, reincarnation, most alternative medical remedies, sushi, fate, most conspiracy theories, omens, or the notion that "everything happens for a reason." So I’m not singling out religion!
If you fear for my eternal soul, I encourage you to ask yourself a few questions (this is the only preaching I will do here). Would your god, compassionate and all-knowing, condemn someone like me to eternal hell, simply because my brain is a skeptical one and is literally incapable of adopting ideas that I don't have evidence for? After you die, would you and other believers, sitting comfortably in heaven, truly be able to exist in a state of bliss if you knew that billions of people like me had been condemned to eternal torture simply for having skeptical minds? Of all the human qualities is “faith in and acceptance of unproven ideas” really the most important one, or does at least this portion of what you have been taught not make sense?
If the way that you deal with your concern for my eternal soul is to hold out some hope that I will one day see the light, that isn't going to happen. I am at least as firm in my disbelief as you are in your belief. I don't know if disabled people are more or less likely to believe in God, but I have so far not been inclined to move in that direction as my disability has worsened, and I'm quite certain that I never will (there are atheists in foxholes).
And don't feel sorry for me because you imagine that a life without God is a bleak one. On the contrary, I find enough wonder in the reality of the world to lead a very contented life.
Please consider the possibility that atheists can be good without God. I believe I am (most of the time).
Given my poor health it's common for people to tell me that they are praying for me or that I am in their prayers. I am in no way offended by this sentiment. I'm not foolish enough to be picky about the way people show me some love!
I’m done. The next post will be back on message.
One quick note: If you have any questions or comments for me about humanism or how it is possible to live a fulfilling life as an atheist, I would be glad to discuss this with you at firstname.lastname@example.org.