People should believe what they want to. That is a human right. I don’t hate Christianity or any other religion. By the same token, I expect the same respect. We can agree to disagree. When an atheist is offended by a Nativity scene in someone’s yard, that atheist needs to get a grip. It’s that person’s yard, their private property. When a Christian gets miffed as the Ten Commandments are removed from public buildings, that Christian should realize we live in a democracy, not a theocracy. They’d reject Islamic or Pagan tenements posted in the same school, wouldn’t they? Prejudice works both ways.
Atheism started for me at twelve years old. Like other teens, I listened to music and did things my parents reviled. Raised in a Christian household, some would claim my atheism was just an example of adolescent rebellion playing out. Not so. Since grade school I’ve appreciated the scientific ideals of evidence and observation: show me, don’t tell me. As I questioned my place in the world, I also questioned the very existence of ‘God’. I’ll use Christianity as an example, as I experienced that religion firsthand.
What followed was the usual rational skepticism all atheists go through. Biblical literalism vs. scientific fact (how do you reconcile a 4 billion year-old planet and dinosaurs with a scant timeline of a few thousand years and Noah’s Ark?). The notion of an omnipotent, omniscient being (if all-knowing and all-powerful, why does a rival like Satan exist?). Immaculate Conception (eggs need sperm, and in the ancient world, that meant having sex). The numerous contradictions inherent in Biblical text (stone disobedient children, but love thy neighbor). The loving, jealous god who can do anything—like allowing the Holocaust to happen. I could list many more examples, but these are sufficient to illustrate my point: the Bible is not to be taken literally.
As an atheist, once you establish that fact, you move on to greater issues. The core teachings of Jesus are rather noble, once you separate them from vengeful tenets and prophecy. Did he really imply he’s divine by saying he’s the ‘Son of God’, or is he speaking figuratively of the divine possible in all of us (ala Gnostic teachings)?
No one can say with any degree of certainty.
Organized religion kidnapped and melded these peaceful notions into a belief system that promotes guilt, fear, and fantasy. Without the guilt factor of Original Sin, you can’t claim people are born with such an imperfection (and thus in need of said religion to ‘save’ them). Without the fear of eternal damnation, people wouldn’t worry about not believing. Without the fantasy of eternal life with your loved ones, the religion loses its key selling point.
Once grasped, atheism can’t be tossed aside, regardless of what people like C.S. Lewis claim. He was an atheist, but was re-converted to Christianity, ‘kicking and screaming’ all the way. Either you’re an atheist or you aren’t; there’s no turning back. Once you’ve pierced the veneer of comforting lies, once you’ve shattered the mirror and dissipated the illusion, it’s over. Do adults recover a belief in Santa Claus after they’ve rejected the fat guy in red by pre-adolescence? Of course not. Mr. Lewis was never an atheist to start with. I’m not knocking the guy, but he’s the prime example of this type of thinking: that an atheist can be converted back to religion.
I’m not interested in ‘converting’ anyone to atheism; such a thing is a personal awakening. A true atheist knows for him or herself, and that is enough. I don’t require everyone else to be or think like me, as certain people do. I do regard religion to be of cultural significance, if for no other reason than a study of what people believe. Religions that eschew proselytization (Buddhism, Neo-Paganism) have my respect, though I don’t adhere to their beliefs.
But, ritual sex or respect for life and the environment I’ll always appreciate ;-)
Believe what you want—just don’t tell me I’m wrong or evil because I disagree. Atheists themselves often miss this point: don’t become the very thing you are protesting. In other words, a prejudiced asshole, refusing to consider any viewpoint other than your own. We’re all still human beings. It is the weaker person who advertises their opinions when not asked. It is the stronger one who refrains from dogmatic hubris.
Atheists should stand proud of their utter lack of faith in imaginary constructs; I have faith in myself. Religion doesn’t have a ‘monopoly on morality’. Any rational person knows killing, stealing, and lying are bad. We know the world isn’t flat. We know the Sun doesn’t orbit the Earth. We know humans share 98.4% of their DNA with chimpanzees, and that there are other planets in distant solar systems. Some of these ideas earned death for their postulators at the hands of religion.
Knowledge will always trump ignorance in the long term.
I’m not a bitter, uncompromising atheist. I love my parents; the pictures of Jesus in their home doesn’t offend me. I dated a Christian woman for two years, had some good times. However, I don’t want my funeral in a church, and I’ll be cremated. I remain my own person. It isn’t an easy path. Most give in to societal, cultural pressure. Not an atheist.
I became an atheist on my own: didn’t read any ‘atheist’ literature at that time, didn’t know any other atheists, didn’t see it on TV or get it from rock music. This is something I’m very proud of. Atheism develops in a mind opened to the possibility that reality is not what you’ve been taught. It takes courage. Religious individuals have it easy: you all believe in some comforting afterlife, some greater purpose to your lives, all provided by convenient little stories and people who make money telling them.
Not so for an atheist. To realize that this is the only life we’ll have, to accept that nothing has a predetermined course or meaning, is to stare into the darkness and smile. When I was a child, I was afraid of the dark. That child has grown. The darkness hasn’t changed—but I refuse to fear it any longer.