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On being an Atheist in America September 15, 2008

Posted by sociallyacceptableinsanity in American society, Atheism, politics, religion.
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Almost every one of us has felt alienated and misunderstood at some point in their life.  Whether it be due to socio-economic reasons, gender- or race bias, or to one of the other myriad ways in which humans belittle each other, most of us have encountered ridicule or discrimination in some form.  Society has adopted rules of behavior that have helped, to a certain extent, to ameliorate this, and most rational people stick to these rules, at least in public.  There is one area, however, that seems to have missed being included under the mantle of political correctness, and that area is atheism.

Let me start with a little background.  I have been a life-long atheist.  My parents are atheists, but they encouraged my brothers and me to read the Christian Bible, as well as any other religious texts we wished to, and we did so with alacrity.   The family dinner table was the scene of many lively discussions about religion:  holiday dinners were especially lively, as many members of my extended family did not share my family’s lack of religious belief.  The result of a lifetime of talking about religion, reading about religion and thinking about religion is this:  I do not believe in a supreme being, and I never will.  I certainly do not credit the existence of a god that is interested in the personal affairs of every living human on the planet, nor do I feel that humans need to placate, grovel or beg such a being for favors.  Nor do I wish to exchange all of the wonder and awe that I feel, when I ponder the universe and our place in it, for an all-purpose answer about our existence.  It is the wonder, after all, that is so wonderful!

So, now you know my dirty little secret.  I refer to it as a dirty little secret because that is how I, and those like me, are often made to feel it is.  Those who wouldn’t dream of telling a racist joke feel no qualms about expressing disbelief, revulsion, contempt, pity and just about any other condescending reaction that you can imagine when finding out that I am “godless.”   I have seen people, when they find out that I am an atheist, actually move away from me as if I had the plague or were about to be struck by lightening.  I have been harassed by a co-worker that was so “concerned about my immortal soul” that she felt the need to send me religious poetry that she had written, attempted to proselytize to me every chance she got, and who gave me a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity as a parting gift when I left my position at the organization we both worked for.  I was even once made to stand in front of my fourth-grade classroom while the teacher (who had been informed of my atheist stance by a fellow classmate who had overheard a playground conversation) berated me for 20 minutes about my godlessness and told me flat out that I was going to hell.

I do not believe that I am alone in encountering this behavior, and anecdotes from the small number of other atheists I know personally bear me out.  One does not encounter many atheists in everyday life, and I have often wondered if this is due more to the fact that there just aren’t that many of us, or if it because we have learned to keep our views to ourselves in a wish to avoid the sometimes hysterical reaction of those who consider themselves saved (for a taste of what I consider hysterical, ponder if you will this quote from Pat Robertson’s New World Order).  “How can there be peace when drunkards, drug dealers, communists, atheists, New Age worshipers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy money changers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?”

When I read things like that I am forced to ask myself this:  how can there be peace when there are people like that in the world?

So, yes, we atheists are small in number and prone to keeping a low profile, but who can blame us when you consider the numbers?  The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life/U.S. Religious Landscape Survey lists the percentage of the U.S. adult population who consider themselves to be atheists as 1.6, joined by 2.4% who consider themselves agnostics and 12.1% who consider themselves “nothing in particular.”  Not promising numbers, but at least I am not completely alone in the wilderness.  However, when stacked against the 26.3% who belong to evangelical Protestant churches, the 18.1% who belong to mainline Protestant churches and the 23.9% of practicing Catholics, the number of atheists and agnostics is woefully slim.

Granted, there are some very public and outspoken atheists, George Carlin being a prime example.  Carlin said in his 1999 concert film You Are All Diseased, “When it comes to BULLSHIT…BIG-TIME, MAJOR LEAGUE BULLSHIT… you have to stand IN AWE, IN AWE of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion.”  British scientist and writer Richard Dawkins has referred to religion as a “mind virus,” and Isaac Asimov once said “I am an atheist, out and out.”  Perhaps my own feelings about religious belief can best be summed up by this quote from Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy):  “I find the whole business of religion profoundly interesting.  But it does mystify me that otherwise intelligent people take it seriously.”

It does seem to be that more and more people are turning their backs on religious belief and becoming much more vocal about it, and it appears that they are finding a receptive audience.  Author Christopher Hitchens’ recent book, God is Not Great:  How Religion Poisons Everything, reached #1 on the New York Times best seller list by it’s third week of publication, and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins stayed on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller list for 51 weeks.  The internet abounds with websites which offer information to those interested in atheism, agnosticism and secular humanism.  This increasing interest in non-religious thought helps me believe that someday I will be able to share my viewpoints without it being instantly assumed that I worship satan.  Which, by the way, I do not.  It would be necessary to believe in a god if one were to believe in satan – you can’t really have one without the other. 

As I look at the world around me, mired in strife and distrust, lost in a blizzard of rhetoric and fear, I never lose hope that mankind will collectively find the way to release itself from this socially acceptable insanity that is religion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments»

1. Dahni - September 21, 2008

Dear Dadie,

I read your post with great care and concern. First, I applaud your parents wise decision for you to expand your horizons and in the end, to be able to make up your own mind. But their lack of belief would not enable them to direct you to the source for another belief, other than theirs. True, you had many discussions about religion and it is true and unfortunate that you have been negatively influenced by most likely sincere, but wholly inaccurate “religious” people. But just as the belief in a god and the belief that there is no God are direct opposites, so is God and religion, at least by what the Bible says on the subject. Here are a couple of examples.

Many people do not believe in God (God of the Bible), because they believe it and He is totally inaccurate. Jesus supposedly died on what religions not the Bible, call Good Friday. The same book says he was in the grave for 3 days and three nights, but religion gets him up on Easter Sunday. Sorry, but one cannot get three days and three nights out of Friday through Sunday morning, no matter what kind of modern math is used. Another example is his virgin birth and Mary his mother became some perpetual virgin and the mother of God. The problem with this is that her husband Joseph was told by an angel of God to go ahead and have sex with his wife instead of divorcing her because he thought she had committed adultery. This same book not only show Mary & Joseph to have had other “sons and daughters,” but gives several of their names.It also says that Jesus was the son of God and not God as is believed by most Christians. The last example is that of the birth of Jesus. Religiously, he was born on December 25th, but according to the Bible, history and astronomy, his birth actually would have occurred (believe it or not), on September 11.

At one time in the USA alone, there were over 2,000 Christian denominations. Is there any wonder why there is so much confusion and those like yourself that do not believe in such a pitiful and inaccurate example of belief in a God or creator, and that cannot count to three?

Just as God and atheists are opposites, as are God and religion, so are the words faith and belief or believe. The word believe is a verb and a verb connotes actions. It is absolutely impossible to believe in something that one does not know or to articulate in words over that which one does not understand. Faith is not according to the Bible, something which one does. In religion, faith is an attempt to place the burden on the one that does not believe because, they do not have faith or enough faith or something as illogical as that. In other words, I don’t know, but I don’t want you to know that I don’t know, so I just put the reason you do not know upon you because, you don’t have faith or enough faith. HUGE GUILT TRIP, is all that is. It violates the rules of language. Again, one cannot articulate something they do not understand. Biblically and the Greek word used for this is illustrated as a dog being turned loose upon the game. In our vernacular, it would be called, “the running off of the mouth.” Simply, it is talking about something one knows nothing about.

To illustrate belief, let us look at it as some wall. We all see it. Many people, if they do not know what is on the other side of that wall, make something up. This is religion. Now a true atheist would have actually have had to have been on the other side, to logically conclude that God does not exist. An agnostic is basically one that says, I do not know. Dadie, you mentioned Dr. Richard Dawkins in your post, of which I have read many of his works. By his own words he is illogical or some would contend that he is insane. He professes to be an atheist while in practice he acknowledges that he is an agnostic.

Biblically, there are only three types of people, a jew, gentile or a christian. There are only three beliefs, I believe, I do not believe or I just do not know. People believe in evolution because of what is revealed to them on this side of the wall. People believe in God because, of what is revealed to them on this side of the wall. The rest have not sufficient knowledge or will to believe.

I defend your right not to believe, but I honestly believe that if your beliefs are entirely based on religion and religious people, you do not know enough to believe. I would suggest you research the source of what those people believe. If I really wanted to know you, I would spend time with you, not others. Allow the Bible to speak for itself rather than the words and actions of others on its behalf. In the end, you will at least understand why and what you believe or do not or conclude, that you do do not know enough or refuse to believe. No mater what, the wall is still there.

Sincerely,

Dahni

2. Amanda - October 6, 2008

I am having issues at work right now because I am an atheist, and I’m willing to all of my coworkers are not. I have yet to “come out,” mostly because–if I’m being frank–I’m afraid that it would make my professional life nearly impossible to deal with. No, they probably would not fire me–but only because that is illegal–but I’m a new employee undergoing a lot of training, and I often rely on the kindness of my coworkers to help me do my job correctly. What if that wellspring of kindness were to dry up?

This has never been a problem before, but I recently relocated from the Midwest (where most people are religious, but, honestly, I never heard about it) to the South, the Bible Belt. My coworkers (and boss) talk about their churches and pastors and Christian values every single day, in the office, on the clock. I fear it will only be a matter of time before one of them asks me, “So what church do you go to, Amanda?” And then I will face a very tough decision.

If I lie, I betray my own values and beliefs, not to mention the fact pretending to be a Christian would be insulting to both them and me. If I don’t lie, I quite literally risk my job.

My wish in this case would be for no one to talk about religion at work. They can go on believing what they like, but I want them to leave it behind them when they walk into the office. But that’s not going to happen. These people are all like-minded enough to feel that it’s OK to talk about things that really have no place in the office (I work for an insurance company), and if they knew that there is now an outsider among them, they would probably see me as an unwelcome intruder who either needs to be converted or ousted.

I haven’t really contributed to the conversation you started in your post, but I wanted to let you know that this resonated with me, and that you’re not alone.

-Amanda


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