Archive for the ‘I’m an atheist’ Category

  • How to Comfort an Atheist


    I read an article today on Alternet, written by Greta Christina.

    In a lot of ways, I love Greta Christina, and in a lot of ways I wish she would…stop it. She’s an atheist. I’m an atheist. I’m all for spreading the word of religious and non-religious tolerance, but I don’t think that the way to do that is to call all religious people stupid and crazy. That’s no more acceptable than calling all atheists angry and immoral.

    Today, her article was about a new movie, The Ledge, which she claims shows atheism in a positive light. I have absolutely nothing to say about the film or even her article. The first comment on her post, however, was this:

    Sounds like a good flick.

    This brings up the whole subject of how to comfort an atheist who is suffering. One wants to help. But what can you say? The atheist will reject anything you can say as being invalid and beneath his/her intellectual level. I guess he’ll tell you you’re irrational…and then jump.

    Atheism has its virtues. But it is of no use whatsoever during life’s major crises.

    To which I have to say a major WHAT. THE. FUCK?

    Are you kidding me? Religion is the only way to comfort anyone?

    I’m an atheist. An opinionated one. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel happiness, joy, sorrow, compassion, grief, regret, hope, and a whole array of emotions just like anyone else. Emotions are not religious, they’re HUMAN. Being an atheist also doesn’t mean that if someone attempts to comfort me with a religious platitude, I must immediately react in a thoughtless, condescending way.

    If you can’t figure out how to comfort someone, simply because that person is an atheist, I’d say you’re just not trying very hard. And as an atheist, I comfort people all the time, but I don’t do it with “that’s god’s plan” or “everything happens for a reason” or (if someone has died) “he/she is in a better place.”

    None of those things would make me feel any better, but that doesn’t mean I would be rude to the person who said them to me (trust me, I have years of practice with my Nana). I wouldn’t say them to someone else, because they would be insincere and meaningless coming from me.

    The ignorance about atheists really astounds and saddens me. Please know, if you know an atheist, he or she has feelings and emotions just like you do. If you’re at a loss for how to comfort an atheist, I’d try listening and empathizing. Be thoughtful and kind. Maybe a hug would do the trick?

    Gosh, that sounds an awful lot like how you would comfort…ANYBODY, doesn’t it?

  • The atheism post I actually meant to write.


    WARNING: This post is about atheism. If you don’t like atheism or think that I’m evil because I’m an atheist, please feel free to come back another day or not at all.

    Okay, so the other day, I wrote about a little experience I had at lunch. I had been meaning to write something about atheism anyway, and that took over. My original plan, however, was to give you my thoughts (I know, you’re dying with the suspense over there) about a “debate” going on in the atheist “community.”

    I’m not sure if it’s a real debate, but I’ve read about it quite a bit and some are referring to it that way. I have trouble calling it a community, because atheists don’t really…organize and congregate. At least, that wasn’t the case in the past. Now, it’s more acceptable, I suppose. I’m just not a huge fan of it.

    It all started when I noticed an article on Alternet entitled “Can Atheism Be Proven Wrong?” I clicked, I read. Feel free to click and read, but I’ll tell you a little bit about it, just in case.

    Greta Christina wrote, in my opinion, a pretty thought provoking article about what she considers to be the very nature of atheism. She was inspired by a man named PZ Myers of the Pharyngula blog, a pretty well known atheist writer. He had written a couple of pieces about how, in his opinion, there could be “no evidence that would convince [atheists] of the existence of a god.” Greta Christina disagreed, and proceeded to list the things that might convince her of the existence of a god. She argued that if, as atheists, we say that we can’t be proven wrong, we are betraying the very nature of atheism and science.

    I think they both make some good points. PZ argues that the concept of “god” is so ill-defined (and I happen to agree) that there is no way to prove anything about it. Greta Christina suggests that saying it would be impossible to convince atheists of the existence of a god is close-minded and exactly what atheists are often fighting against; that the idea that we cannot be proven wrong puts us in a boat with those we claim to be in conflict with.

    I have a few issues with the debate, though. First, speak for yourselves (I think Greta Christina actually does this). Don’t start making grand blanket statements that encompass all atheists. I don’t need to be lumped in, I can form my own opinions. The only thing that all atheists definitely have in common is a lack of belief in a god or gods.

    Second, I think it’s a silly question. And certainly nothing that should cause conflict.

    While I agree that saying that we cannot be proven wrong is both arrogant and ignorant, what’s the point of having a discussion of how we COULD be proven wrong? Theists don’t sit around talking about the things that could convince them their god doesn’t exist. At least, I wouldn’t think they do. And why is that? Because it’s a pointless discussion.

    Why do I think it’s pointless?

    For this reason: If anyone ever proved to me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that god exists? God would become a natural thing that could be studied and explained by natural laws. It would cease to be a supernatural (living outside natural laws) being in which I am required to have faith. It would be no different from all the other things that exist. By simply existing, it would negate the question entirely. I don’t walk around having faith that chairs exist. I’m sitting in one right now. The chair, it does exist.

    Sure, a little debate can be fun. These are interesting things to consider. I think Greta Christina made a good list of evidence that might convince her to believe in a god. I think making such a list is a good idea, if only because it makes you think (although I would first like a definition of god). But at the end of the day, the proof would negate the conflict.

    And in my opinion, proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that a god does exist would be just as bad (if not worse) for most religions as proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no god (which really, just isn’t possible). Religious belief is about faith. Without faith, what is the point?

    Jerry Coyne says, according to the above Alternet article, that atheism must be falsifiable, I believe, in order to preserve scientific nature (Link: he challenges PZ Myers’ assertion that there can be no evidence for god). To this I say: Is atheism science? I don’t believe that it is. I think our approach in thinking and speaking about atheism can be rational, but I don’t believe that atheism is a science. A lack of belief can’t be tested any more than a supernatural thing can (at least, I can’t see how, but I’m not a scientific method expert, just a person with a degree in biology). No, there will be no debate-ending proof that atheism is true, because atheism makes no positive assertions. Likewise, in my opinion, there will be no debate-ending proof that atheism is false.

    While there might be any number of things that would persuade me to believe that something that people around me are calling “god” exists, the likelihood that I will also be persuaded to continue to believe it is supernatural are slim.

  • A little late and a little muddled.


    So today, I was going to grace you with a post about atheism. I’m still going to relate to you something that happened to me last week, but first I want to direct you to a story I read in The Advocate. I just want to know if someone can help me to understand how something like this can happen. It’s short, but to summarize: A student at an Oklahoma high school has been kicked out, because the school administration found out that she’s living with her girlfriend (she’s 18) instead of her parents. They are refusing to let her graduate.

    Okay, on to the atheism. Feel free to skip it.

    Last week, I was at lunch at a restaurant near my job. I eat at the restaurant pretty frequently, because there aren’t many places nearby. I usually read a book while I’m eating, since I’m usually eating alone. Last week I was reading Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith. An excellent book so far, by the way.

    Just to be clear, I was reading the book silently. I wasn’t shouting passages or reading aloud or preaching about atheism to the patrons around me. I was just sitting. Reading a book. Well, and eating a cheeseburger.

    This woman walked up to me and said, “You really shouldn’t be reading such offensive material in public. It’s inappropriate.”

    Blink blink. “Excuse me?”

    She repeated, “Your book. It’s inappropriate for public.”

    I was in shock, so my response was a little lame. I told her that I had the right to read anything I wanted in public and that if she is so easily offended, maybe she shouldn’t be looking at my book.

    I wish I had told her that she should stay home, if she’s so easily offended, but alas…it escaped me.

    Now, before anyone gets his or her panties in a twist, I’m not suggesting that this behavior is representative of all Christians or all religious people or any such thing. These were the actions of one person. I took them as such.

    What bothers me, though, is the idea that atheism is seen as “inappropriate” or “immoral” or whatever, in so much of our society (as this sort of thing has happened to me before and I’ve read about these sorts of things happening to others and I’ve seen much evidence of the intolerance of some or even many religious people). The idea that my reading a book about atheism in a restaurant could somehow be offensive to anyone just makes no sense to me.

    If I had walked up to a person reading a Bible in a restaurant and suggested it was offensive and inappropriate, I can almost guarantee that my actions would be seen as irrational and rude. Not to mention that I would probably be seen as representative of atheists, in general. Which would not be the case.

    Most atheists are just trying to live their lives. The constant and overwhelming “Christianity is the only good” message in this country is…trying, certainly. I didn’t say “religion is the only good,” because people in this country tend to believe that the Muslim religion is anything but good. Not all people, mind you, but it is (sadly) a pretty popular opinion.

    I think the negative opinion of atheism is based mostly in the fact that people don’t understand what atheism IS. So I thought I’d toss out a definition.

    Theism is defined as “the belief in god or gods.” As such, atheism is defined as “the lack of belief in god or gods.”

    Much like amoral is a lack of morals, but not immoral (violating moral principles). Atheism is simply the absence of belief in god or gods.

    It’s not a belief at all, which is why it cannot be a religion. It’s not a belief system. It’s not “I believe that god doesn’t exist,” it’s “I don’t believe in a god or gods.”

    That may seem like a subtle difference to you, but I can assure you it isn’t. Many atheists may assert that they believe that god doesn’t exist, but that’s not what atheism is. Atheism doesn’t make a positive assertion.

    Personally, I don’t like the supposed “new atheism” in which “converting” people is made a priority (I don’t know how real this is, but I’ve heard some talk). I would never try to “convert” someone (but I understand that some atheists are loud and abrasive…so are some Christians), but I will question the things people say and do (particularly if they claim out loud to be doing them in the name of some religious being). That isn’t my attempt to change someone’s mind, it’s simply my attempt to have a conversation or to understand; sometimes it’s an attempt to get the person to think about things from a different perspective. Likewise, I don’t get upset when friends or strangers ask me, in a polite and civil manner, why I’m an atheist. I’m happy to give you my thoughts and explain how I came to be an atheist.

    It absolutely angers me when I feel that people are trying to make their beliefs into legislation (e.g. discrimination of any kind, censorship, etc.), forcing us all to live by their rules. But that would likely anger me, even if I weren’t an atheist. Sure, there may be a few things we can all agree on. Murder is bad, stealing is probably bad, assault is almost always bad, lying is usually bad. But what of the rest of it?

    There are lots of people who say that beliefs should be private and no one should talk about them. There are still others who say that religion isn’t important. While these are nice thoughts (and both have been said to me by people who believe in god or gods in some form or fashion, not atheists), they just don’t represent the world in which we live. Until wars are no longer fought in the name of a god and people are no longer persecuted or discriminated against in the name of a god, these things ARE important. They affect all of us everyday.

    I’d also like to say, for the record, that just because someone takes issue with a religious person or group for something that’s been said or done, that doesn’t always mean they’re making an indictment of all religious people everywhere. Read carefully and completely before you jump to conclusions. There are many many many good and kind and smart and compassionate theists. Same goes for atheists. In both groups, there are also bad apples. I will always think it’s okay to call out bad behavior.