I've said on this blog before that I recoil at that term, that I was more accepting of the term "agnostic." I said that I thought an atheist was practicing as much faith as a theist, that they were denying the existence of something without any evidence proving that lack of existence. My opinion has shifted, however. Despite sounding like a tortured game of semantics, there actually is a huge difference between thinking that "there is no God" and "not believing in God." To me, the existence of God is, at best, uncertain. I've never felt like anyone other than friends and family have been looking out for me. I've never felt any higher power was involved in my life. An atheist, by definition, is someone that doesn't actively believe in God. I certainly can't believe in someone whose existence is uncertain to me, can I? So, in spite of my shunning of the term previously, I suppose I'm an atheist by definition.
I think I have a good grasp on what positivity religion brings into people's lives. I believe it gives people comfort, that it provides guidance, a kind of compass to navigate the difficulties of life. I think it truly fulfills and enriches people's lives in a way that I don't think I'll ever know. I feel like I instead get that fulfillment and enrichment from my wife, my kids, my family, and my friends, so I've never felt like anything was missing from my life. Maybe there is and I'm just blissfully unaware of it. I really don't think so, however.
I think the experiences we have as children are extremely impactful on the belief systems we carry into adulthood (if any). Sure enough, I don't recall my parents imparting any kind of religious importance on me (or, if they did, it certainly didn't take). We celebrated Easter and Christmas every year without fail, but neither holiday was celebrated in a way that had anything to do with Jesus; Easter was a candy-loving day where we might go on an Easter egg hunt, while Christmas was all about the tree, the lights, family gatherings and, most importantly to me as a kid, the presents. I don't remember ever having a nativity scene, a little baby Jesus, any kind of Advent calendar/candles, etc. We certainly never observed lent, said grace before dinners, prayed before bed, or attended church with any regularity. Religion basically didn't exist in my childhood.
I live a life that any devout Christian would be comfortable describing as blessed. I was fortunate to be born in the United States as a white male to good parents that cared very deeply for me. I was lucky enough to find someone that I got along with and eventually started a family with. My wife and I have been together for over half of our lives, have four smart, healthy kids, and a wonderful, supportive extended family on both her side and mine. We've seen some setbacks, but nothing we've been unable to overcome, often with the help and support from family, friends, and each other.
Some might see this as evidence that a higher power has been granting us His blessings as we've gone along, that He has put in motion the events that have led to our success, that He saw to it to give me these blessings to ensure a happy life, that He knew Anna and I would get along and raise some very smart and healthy kids. I have to admit that I kind of wish otherwise, but I've never felt like anyone was pulling the strings, "moving the chess pieces" as it were, or felt like we've been the recipients of some otherwise unexplainable fortune. None of the setbacks nor their solutions have ever once felt "divine."
I worry in a couple of key ways about "coming out" as an atheist.
Firstly, I don't judge you or your beliefs. I know that atheists can be seen as being condescending and/or disrespectful to theists, but that's something I wholly wish to avoid. About religion in general, I can only say "to each their own." You're free to believe whatever you want; I really don't care. I couldn't care any less if you regularly go to church, say grace before meals, pray five times per day, wear special clothing as mandated by your faith, or even call yourself a Pastafarian. Your experiences through life certainly differ from mine and, as I've explained, I've not had anything point me towards faith, at least not yet. If you have, fantastic! I'm happy for you. As long as you find fulfillment, enjoyment, spiritual value, or some other positive vibe from it, knock yourself out. I do have an issue when one's private beliefs start to infringe upon the freedoms of others; don't be a dillhole and use religion as an excuse to subjugate, judge, attack, or discriminate against others, and you're probably OK in my book (which shouldn't matter to you – you do you). I just ask that you understand that I'm probably going to be disinterested if you try to get me to join your flock. If I spout on for 40 minutes about how great the programming language Perl has been for me over the years, how much enjoyment I've gotten out of it, etc., at a certain point, I'd understand if you started to tune me out; that's what disinterested people naturally do. If you are devout in your belief, I commend you, not condemn you. I admire you, not pity you.
Secondly, I sincerely hope it doesn't offend. This post has been in the making for quite a long time. It's a very difficult thing for me to talk about because I am genuinely fearful of what impact this might have on friends/family and what their reaction might be. I think the overwhelming majority of folks just flatly don't care, and truthfully, I really think that's the way it ought to be. However, I think I have a really good idea how important religious beliefs are to folks and I worry greatly that me saying anything along these lines could be very hurtful, perhaps even as a betrayal of the trust they've invested in me. I really don't know what I can do to mitigate that risk, however. I am who I am, though, and I think I'm being more true to myself by getting this out in the open; it feels good.
Perhaps I should say what atheism isn't.
Atheism is not satanism If an atheist doesn't believe in Chrstianity's good guy, why the hell would they believe in the bad guy?
Atheism is not a religion As I noted earlier, my feelings on this have changed. I've heard it said that if atheism is a religion, then off is a TV channel, not collecting stamps is a hobby, and abstinence is a sexual position.
Atheism is not an absence of morality One could make the case that only atheists are truly moral. I mean, if you behave morally solely to be rewarded for your good behavior in the afterlife or out of a wish to avoid punishment, is that really being moral?
Atheism is not born from a lack of humility I don't claim to know all the answers, not by a long shot. To be an atheist is to say "I don't know." I don't know if there is a god. I don't know the meaning of life. I don't know how the universe popped into existence. I don't know how life began. Yet, if you're a person of faith, I'd wager that you feel you do know the answers to these questions thanks to your religion. So, what's more humble: accepting your own ignorance to some truly important questions, or claiming you know the answers to those questions without any real evidence?
After writing this, I found the following video that did a lot of this same work for me:
Hopefully I've explained myself well. If not, or if you're genuinely concerned about me, or otherwise want to chit-chat, you are welcome to do so. As I mentioned above, this wasn't easy for me to do, but it does feel good to finally get this out there.