Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I’m Coming Out of the Closet (part 2 of 2)

scarletletter_smIn my previous post I tantalized you by revealing that I harbor some deep, dark secret, which I will now disclose. In retrospect, for anyone who has followed this blog for very long, you shouldn’t be surprised, not because of anything I’ve written, but rather because of the things I’ve never written.

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.

A what?

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.

goodwithoutgod-300x300Please 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 email@enjoyingtheride.com.

22 comments:

Matt said...

Hold it, does this mean you'll be marrying bacon or something like that?

I blame television.

Mary K. Mennenga said...

Here I thought it was going to be something big. A bit of let down. It has been my experience that Atheists-humanist are faithful, kind and giving. Because I believe in God means I'm unwilling and also lack the qualifications to stand in judgement of you or anyone else. Some may question the faithful part of my comment maybe even you,. This is why believing the sun will set and rise again is a act of faith. Just because it's happened before doesn't mean it will happen again!

Behaving decently without expectation of reward or punishment for many is hard. If the only reason for doing the right and or decent thing out of fear or guilt of being judged! Then it's my heart that is focused in the wrong direction. Mitch, I think the reason for behaving decently is a matter of having a heart that can't not try to help.

Darren Baker said...

Howdy! Raised as a Jehovah's Witness there was no room for questioning. At 15 I left at great personal loss, especially since my mother would no longer speak with me until on her death bed. Bounced back and forth on various flavors of Christianity for a number of years. Found them all lacking. Looked at non-Christian religions in depth. Same deal - god(s) made in man's own image.

As we are both "retired" engineers perhaps it is the training of science and mathematics that leads to a skeptical yet practical mindset.

About 6 years ago I learned about Humanism and finally found a belief system that matches practical reality as closely as I can tell.

Glad you were able to come out without negative repercussions. As you pointed out, local societal norms can drastically change thinking - an unhealthy mind virus spreads just as quickly as a good idea.

I'll stand next to you if the local scribes and pharisees come after you.

Lastly - "God is not Great" by Hitchens is an informative read that you may find interesting.

Webster said...

Peersonally, I define myself as a recovering Catholic. There are parts of my upbringing I find hard to get rid of, but it's slowly leaving. Oh. so. slowly.

You might like to read http://gropingtheelephant.blogspot.com/

He grew up and lives in Tennessee, and writes copiously on religious issues, which I find interesting, but a little odd.

You haven't offended me in the least. We are all on our own path, wherever that may lead. I'm not one to judge.

Tammy said...

I still like you, and I'll still follow your blog! LOL! I especially like the part about responsibility to be ethical and aspire to the greater good of humanity. That's huge, and as someone else said, just being good to avoid going to hell isnt necessarily so great. I also find it confusing when people say they'll pray for me. I want to tell them it's not working...but I do find strength and joy of life in my own ways such as reading your blog...no pressure!

Enjoying the Ride said...

Matt,

I've seen some pretty attractive slabs of bacon, but I'm already spoken for.

Mary,

In a way, I'm glad to read that you are let down by my "revelation." One day, still in the future, when someone reveals their lack of belief, it will be considered ho-hum by just about everyone. I really like your reason for behaving decently!

Darren,

Whereas my coming out was not particularly brave, yours was absolutely courageous, especially for a 15-year-old. As you postulated, I believe there is a correlation between education and intelligence, especially technical education, and a lack of belief, although I'm sure you and I both know many highly intelligent people who are still believers.

I love Hitchens, and have read all of his stuff. He was a bit abrasive, but brilliant. He's particularly impressive in live debates captured on video. Here's a good retrospective put together after his recent passing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=iR0GyYaeI-k

Tammy,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, and standing by me!


Everyone,

I guess I need to acknowledge that just because christian doctrine uses the carrot (heaven) and stick (hell) approach, that doesn't mean all christians are only motivated in that way. I'm sure many are motivated in the same way that humanists are- just because it's the right thing to do.

Enjoying the Ride said...

Webster,

Oops. I skipped right over you.

I do read "groping the elephant" and a bunch of other excellent non-religion blogs.

As Christian religions go, Catholicism is particularly baffling to me. the Pope seems to be fighting a losing battle. Something like 97% of American Catholics ignore his doctrine on contraception. Unfortunately, not as many African Catholics ignore him, and the result is overpopulation and spread of disease. And how much longer is Catholicism going to be able to exist with blatant sexism and insistence on priestly celibacy and Nun celibacy?

kc said...

When people ask me about my religion, etc., my answer has almost always been 'i am good with God.'

The timesbHe & i have been on the outs, i have relied on wisdom and strength from non-denominational friends, the wisdom and solice i find in nature and poetry, and so far, We (my Godv& me) are back to Good. I like it that way. As a recovering catholic (recovering isn't resally appropriate word), it took me 38 years tonrealize that God, or whatever one names their sorcebofnstrength and solice need not be defined by any others but one's own self.

Keep rolloing, good buddy.

Daphne said...

Ah hahahahahaha....
The article on religiosity in America was interesting too.
I don't know that I'd say I'm good with God but I do know I am good with Mitch!
Keep writin' -- we'll keep readin'.

Brad said...

Came to this blog through a link on the "Friendly Atheist" page. Very well written, I think I'm going to save this to show people who have questions about what it is to be an atheist.
Though, while I can see where you would not believe in Rick Santorum (something that crazy truly cannot actually exist), I have to take exception with not believing in sushi. You are wrong, sir! It does indeed exist. Some of it is in my stomach at this very moment!

Anonymous said...

Loved your inclusion of Rick Santorum in the list of things you don't believe in. :)

- A Fellow Humanist

Jamie said...

I also came here via the Friendly Atheist.
As someone who is also from the 3rd least-religious state, I invite you to join Atheists of Maine and the National Atheist Party of Maine Facebook groups (if you're on Facebook). Lots of good discussions, silly pictures, trolls, etc. Join us!

Craig said...

Also came to your blog via FriendltAthiest.
Dx with PPMS five and a half years ago.
Was already at that time evaluating the beliefs that I had been taught as a youth. Now at 49 I'm more happy, more content, and better informed after coming out as a non-believer and secular humanist. My most recent contribution to fellow humans was to be involved as a participant in a NIH clinical trial os DMD's for MS.

Enjoying the Ride said...

KC,

The term "recovering Catholic" has become a pretty well understood term in the English language. At the risk of offending any good Catholics that are readers here, I can't see how an institution so rigid regarding sexism, celibacy, and birth control can do anything but decline in the modern era.

I'm glad you're in a good place, spiritually.

Daphne,

I believe it is oh so much more important to be good with Mitch than good with God :-)

Brad,

I'm glad you're finding my post to be helpful in explaining atheism. I'm sorry about the sushi slam, but I still can't put raw fish in my mouth.

Anonymous,

My theory is that nobody could be truly is idiotic as Rick Santorum, so he must be some sort of hologram or robotic creature programmed by the religious right, not a real boy.

Jamie,

I am a member of the atheists of Maine Facebook group. Good stuff.

Craig,

What a small subset of the population we are – atheists with PPMS!

The Wheelchair Kamikaze said...

Well, I guess I'll be the lone voice to stand up and say that I AM deeply offended.

After all the friendly words we've shared, and mutual support we have given each other, I simply cannot accept the fact that you do not believe in UFO stories. What an outrage! I am nearly apoplectic!

The aliens live and work among us.

WWETD (What Would ET Do?)

Gotta run, I'm late for an abduction…

Kirsten Peterson Pelsor said...

I submit: The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/133.html
I know the purpose here is an intellectual discussion. I interject my antithetical reaction to the fact of having the discussion...ie-when "I hear 10voices in my head and can't hear what those voices said" (Angelo Moore)I turn to natural world and the subsequent wonder I feel comforts that pannicked voice that is shouting "YOU..WILL...BE...DEAD...SOON."

Enjoying the Ride said...

Wheelchair Kamikaze,

Please don't be too apoplectic. I don't want to you to burst any of your surgically repaired jugular veins.

Kirsten,

I'm not much of a poetry guy, but I absolutely love the poem that you shared the link for. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

My name is Kicker. I'm an atheist

Enjoying the Ride said...

Hello Kicker! Thanks for coming. You'll find hors d'oeuvres on the table near the back. We have two punch bowls set up. One is spiked with vodka and the other is spiked with more vodka. Please wear your name tag at all times. We encourage you to ask questions and challenge the answers you get, but please don't be an asshole if you can help it. Enjoy the party, Enjoy the Ride.

Jennifer Fitz said...

Um, don't read my blog. Just no. :-).

But I like you anyway -- good content speaks for itself.

Jen.

Enjoying the Ride said...

Jen,

You couldn't have written a comment that was more likely than this one to entice me to check out your blog!

You seem like a lovely person, and yours looks like a wonderful blog.

Some of the most important people in my life are Catholics. It's not the people that I have anything against, it's just the institution.

Thanks for reading my blog and for taking the time to comment.

Mitch

Michael Hawkins said...

Hey Mitch, you may be interested in posting your story here: http://www.notaloneproject.com/