I’ve had a change of heart regarding my original decision not to discuss religion or politics on this blog. This will by no means become an “issues” blog, but I do feel the need to state who I am, what I believe, and what I value. This first post, about religion, is much easier for me to write than my next one about my political beliefs will be.
I am an atheist, and proud to be one. I had flirtations with religion at a few points in my life: as a child, caught up in the fervor of church camp; in college, drawn to the peacefulness of Buddhism as an escape from my internal emotional turmoil. But as an adult, I went through the following steps to reach my identity as an atheist: 1) The ever popular “I’m spiritual but not religious” (perhaps I was at that point, but now I laugh at my former self for saying that, knowing that it was said mainly because I thought it sounded good) 2) Calling myself an agnostic (perhaps I was at that point, but I think a lot of agnostics are truly atheists and just not ready to call themselves that), and finally, 3) Proudly saying to any and everyone that I am atheist (except the strangers who accost me demanding to know if Jesus is in my heart; it’s just not worth the time and effort to get into it).
I think what tipped me over the edge from using the word “agnostic” to using the word “atheist” was this quote from Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion:
It is often said, mainly by the ‘no-contests’, that although there is no positive evidence for the existence of God, nor is there evidence against his existence. So it is best to keep an open mind and be agnostic. At first sight that seems an unassailable position, at least in the weak sense of Pascal’s wager. But on second thoughts it seems a cop-out, because the same could be said of Father Christmas and tooth fairies. There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence for it, but you can’t prove that there aren’t any, so shouldn’t we be agnostic with respect to fairies?
I have a few close friends who are deeply religious, the kind of religious that isn’t threatened by the fact that I’m an atheist, and I appreciate those friends so much. I have lost friendships over the fact that I don’t believe, though perhaps those friendships weren’t much to begin with. I have had friends who were told by their friends that they really shouldn’t hang out with me, that it was their duty as Christians to try to help their friend stay away from “godless influences.” Once, someone who knew I was an atheist spoke pointedly to the person next to me about how they (sorry for the bad grammar, but I don’t want to use a gender identifying pronoun) couldn’t understand people who didn’t believe in god, and that anyone without faith couldn’t possibly know the “moral” way to behave or think. This was absolutely flabbergasting to me, truthfully. If you have no idea how to be moral without religion handing you a check-off list, well, wow. I don’t even know what to say to that. My values come from who I am, how I was raised, the people I choose to be around, and the thought I’ve put into my character throughout these 39 years of my life. The thing is, I think many religious people are threatened by or scared of atheists, assuming them all to be unscrupulous, devious, and amoral (or immoral).
Did you know that the following states all have laws on their books, banning atheists from holding public office?
In Arkansas, not only are atheists banned from holding public office, they are not allowed to serve as witnesses in court. Article 19, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution:
No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.
(A small digression: Article 19, Section 2 then states, “No person who may hereafter fight a duel, assist in the same as second, or send, accept, or knowingly carry a challenge therefore, shall hold any office in the State, for a period of ten years; and may be otherwise punished as the law may prescribe.” So duelists are better than atheists; they only get a 10-year ban from holding office, rather than a lifelong one.)
I believe in science. I believe that things we don’t have an explanation for are science that we haven’t figured out yet. And because other people say it so much better than I do, I will leave you with some of my favorite quotes:
“With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” – Steven Weinberg
“Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man — living in the sky — who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do.. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! ..But He loves you.” – George Carlin
“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.” – Albert Einstein
“The Government of the United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion.” – John Adams
“What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.” – Christopher Hitchens
“Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature.” – Carl Sagan
And my favorite:
“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” – Stephen Roberts