Thursday, January 31, 2013

What does being an atheist mean to you?

I was raised in the absence of religion. I was taught to question, to be able to change my mind, and to not be ashamed of not knowing. Because of this being an atheist isn't something I've had to think about much, it is just a part of who I am and how I am in the world.

But I would like to hear about what it is like for other people. People who had to struggle, convert, remake sense of the world. I am the community organizer for atheists and I feel like there is part of their story I don't know well enough.

Also there is a conversation happening over at


  1. I never had to struggle, so I'm not sure how exciting my story will be, but here it is anyways. There are two major things in my life that determined my religious viewpoints: my mother and father.

    My mother was a damn hard worker and I never saw her get along with my father for as long as I've been old enough to tell. She never really got along very well with me or my brothers either, haha. But, never the less, there was plenty of love in our family. I have no clue if there was any religion in her family... I don't think there was. It was never mentioned one way or another. So I just grew up not thinking about religion or it's conflicts for the most part.

    My father, on the other hand, is what you would call a raging atheist, haha. He's very smart and friendly, but he taught us as soon as we were able to understand (and probably even before that) that "God is a bad idea, and His time has passed," which is one of his favorite lines. He is an EE/CS major and lover of science and philosophy, and he ingrained those loves within his children.

    So to me, religion is just weird. I understand what it is, and the draw and it's volatility, but as an intelligent human being I could never follow it. I have a religious friend who's going to commune, and he tells me "God always wants me to be perfect, and I can never attain that. I can never be as perfect as God is." ... BWAH? What is perfect?? How can you, as an intelligent being, place this idea of "perfect" in a being who exists only in your imagination (because let's face it, whether He exists or not, a practitioner can only imagine Him) and then berate yourself because you cannot see yourself as relatively divine?

    To me that's a deconstructive thought pattern that I don't like to see in my fellow man. Here's what I see in you my friend: a good man in a loving relationship who is passionate and enjoys many things. Smart. Funny. You want to teach others and help your community. You'd never hurt a fly! You're well read and love to play video games. Young, friendly, open to religious and political conversation over a glass of wine with someone who doesn't share your beliefs. And yet all this isn't enough and never, EVER will be? Hogswash! I just want to slap him sometimes! But I never will, because I respect him and his choices in life, whatever they may be. And like I said, he's a good person, whatever he might think.

    Anyways, sorry to blow up this post. I couldn't stop myself, haha!

  2. For me, it means two things: liberty, and responsibility -- and these are two sides of the same coin. Liberty, because there is no arbiter or author of human fate and purpose that we need to strive to understand and obey; responsibility, because all the meaning and purpose we wish to enjoy in our lives needs to be wrought by our own effort.

  3. It pretty much means not believing any of the things I was told to believe by the church I was taken to as a child. My grandparents took me to church, and my parents let them, even though I think they are atheists, or at the very least very strongly doubting agnostics, or they just don't care, maybe I'll ask them some day. I got really interested in reading the bible, and I read the whole thing, several times. I was the know it all in Sunday school. I thought the bible was a really great story, full of weird stuff, and killing, and sex. It didn't really have any answers in it though. And I started to listen to the sermons at some point, and there was a lot of hate and intolerance in them. Gays were going to rot in hell, whatever they were, and Catholics, and atheists and pretty much everyone but Baptists, and maybe Presbyterians. And that stuff just wasn't in the bible, which I thought was strange.

    So I started asking a lot of questions, and I asked one of my Sunday school teachers how you could be happy forever in heaven, if some of your loved ones were burning eternally in hell, and they didn't have a good answer for me. I was thinking about my parents of course, which I don't think my teachers realized, or maybe they would have answered differently. They told me I would be able to see into hell, I would be able to see them suffering, whenever I wanted, but I would be filled with God's love, and it would mean nothing to me. There was also the day that a woman from the congregation talked to us about the abortion she had had. How the ultrasound showed a very deformed fetus, that wouldn't live more than a few painful days outside the womb at most, and she was sobbing, and talking about how she had sinned so horribly, and that for years she didn't think God could forgive her, and I thought that was awful, why would anyone think they had the right to make you feel worse about something that was already so awful and painful?

    If God's love was really like that, I wanted no part of it. I think I still really believed then, I just couldn't accept it anymore. And over time, I didn't believe anymore. Away from church, without all the hymns, and without other people to get me all worked up, I didn't feel what I had thought was God's presence anymore, and then there was nothing to be but an atheist.

    So I guess I became an atheist because I just couldn't accept that a God so full of love could be so cruel, and give us so few answers in his book, and I never heard anything since then to make me think otherwise.

  4. I grew up with a very religious mother and grandmother who felt it was their mission to raise me and my two siblings as Catholics. My father however, never had a religion growing up, and I took to his side more anyway. So one day he gave me one of his college books on religion. He'd taken a semester class on all the main religions and had decided that they were all ethically the same in what they want humans to do--be kind, be helpful, do not murder--but he soon decided he didn't truly believe in any of that. And after I read that book, and thought about it more, I realized I just could not bring myself to believe that I was created by some spirit up above, and I really don't see how people can believe that so blindly and entirely.
    I still have rituals that I do that are Catholic, and I feel like if I don't do them, it's bad luck, just as if I was a little girl again. Whenever we eat, we say a quick prayer, or when we get in our car, we pray that everything goes well. But it's more of a habit thing, not really a "God, please hear us, bless this food, thank you wow." It's just routine.
    I think of my brother as a soldier in the Army and I pray to God that they keep him safe, because it is ingrained in me that that will make me feel better, and make the situation better. And of course, I don't believe that, but it's such a reflex to just ask for his safety that it just happens. There's a saying that says "Communist until you get rich, feminist until you get married, atheist until the plane starts to fall." I feel like I live in that situation; when a scary situation occurs--a near car crash, a scary group of men at the train station at night, etc.-- it's my instinct to say "Oh shit, please God, help us out here, I don't want to die, etc." I guess my mind just needs somebody to address.
    It's a hard habit to shake, especially when you were so young when you were immersed in it all, but at the end of the day, religion to me is what people need to feel like they're on the right path. Mass is their weekly check up. All religions call for good behavior and kind actions, and I don't need a priest, pastor, book, or lecture to tell me how to do that. I use the morals and lessons my parents taught me themselves.

    I hope this helps!

  5. It means I have the power to think for myself. It unfortunately means being looked down upon by most people because I don’t have archaic beliefs. It also means that in light of this I am morally obligated to state with pride whenever asked that yes I am an atheist and proud that I take the path of reason over fear and superstition. More importantly it means that I realize the dangers of faith and must do whatever I can to help abolish such ignorance in a peaceful manner. It means that I am free.

  6. Atheism is freedom. It is self-control. It is the ability to act on your own and to be responsible for your actions, good or bad. It means no excuses. It is also clarity and consistence. It is something (my self) I can count on in times of trouble. All of these traits are similar or equal to what religion would mean to people. That is because we are all humans living in one single world. When the distractions of myths and stories are removed the end result will still be universally similar. Atheism is purity; it is being human without having to bother with misleading stories.

  7. First of all, being an atheist means being out of step with the dominant culture and all that entails. It is the constant fear that I will be sanctioned in my personal and professional life for my beliefs. It also mean gritting my teeth when someone posts something religious on a wall at work, or during a meeting it is automatically assumed that everyone are believers.
    Because atheist men outnumber atheist women 2 to 1, for me being an atheist means that I am less likely to meet potential life partners that share my worldview.
    For me, being an atheist means that I come in contact with a lot of intelligent and thoughtful people - a community without rivals.
    Most importantly being an atheist means that I preserve my integrity and high ideals. For me, it is deeply satisfying to value and promote truth over comfort. For me, there is no nobler purpose in life than to speak the truth.

  8. My atheism is the basis of my spirituality. I came to atheism in my preteens before I even knew the word existed. Family would exclaim, "How can you not believe in anything?" That question made no sense because I had strong beliefs. I acted on those beliefs. I called that faith.

    I have always believed in fighting against injustice. That we have a responsibility to other people. I am a better person when I think outside the box of my own color, religious beliefs or disbelief, sexual orienation or my own dark demons.

    Over the years some beliefs have changed, I have a better understanding of myself but I remain convinced that the "I" is intimately related to the you. I have a philosophy of life that encompasses many things. I don't worry whether there is a label for it.

    I am not anti-religion or anti-god. I think many people are moving beyond that. A majority of Americans polled would vote for an atheist as president. Future generations will make greater strides as the current ones have on race, sexual orienation and gender.

    Whether atheist or not we all ask the same questions: How did we get here? What about death? What about the future? Why has this happened to me? What are my obligations to my fellows? And many more.

    It's not about agreeing on the right answers but asking the right questions?

  9. Becoming atheist after being raised in a devout Catholic family has led me to investigate biology (particularly evolution and neuroscience), sociology, cosmology, philosophy, logic, and history with more enthusiasm and a critical eye on religion's role in both what we know and how it affects our lives personally and in society.

    I decided to become publicly atheist and participate in movement atheism for these reasons:
    1. To support and protect the civil rights commonly referred to as "separation of church and state"
    2. To advocate for an end to religious exceptionalism in society. I am anti-theism and want to promote the critical analysis of organized religion in society.
    3. To take the logical reasons for rejecting theism and apply them to other forms of magical thinking such as quack medicine and New Age spiritualism.
    4. To offer to theists a path to reject the religion that was forced upon them from birth. Religion does an effective job of inculcating children with their particular god-view. I want to challenge theists to justify their religious beliefs now that they are adults. I want to offer an intellectual and psychological healing process to theists.