Atheist? Asshole!

A weird little flame war is brewing in the comments of my About Me page. The funny thing is it was started by me simply stating that I'm an atheist, that's all it takes to raise people's blood pressure. If I had said I was Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh or whatever, I doubt anyone would care. But say you're an atheist and some people just can't stand it, like it's a personal attack on them somehow.

So, for the record, I have a firm disbelief in the supernatural. That means I don't believe in God, angels, spirits, demons, ghosts, Flying Spaghetti Monsters or an afterlife. I have not come to this decision lightly, I grew up in a very religious area (Charlotte, NC) and there were no atheists in my family. It wasn't until my mid 20's and after lots of hard thought that I finally abandoned my theistic comforts and to see myself and the world in a naturalistic light.

People may think that to be an atheist you must also be a nihilist. Or immoral. Or unhappy. Or that the world must seem a cold, empty place. Or that you can't love your children as much. I understand this, I used to think like this too. All I can say is that it simply isn't true. I find meaning in my existence, I have a feeling of purpose and duty in my life. I'm a pretty happy person, much happier now than when I believed in God (but I don't think the beliefs have anything to do with it). The sunrise still looks beautiful, I still love to listen to music and I also really like to walk by the Cinnabons at the mall. And I love my daughter and wife more than I ever thought possible. And I'm just as bound by my conscience as ever, I have a strong sense of duty to society, and I still feel terribly guilty if I wrong someone.

I also can recognize why it is that I feel the way I do, recognize my emotions, motivations and mores for what they are. And yet I can't really change them (not without work anyway). I still feel them regardless. Just because I can recognize the reasons why I find a grilled steak delicious doesn't mean I can decide to stop finding it tasty. And similarly reasoning about emotions, motivations and mores doesn't make them stop or go away, but it does mean you can understand them and hopefully shape them in a productive way. My point is that just because I don't frame my view of myself and the world in the supernatural doesn't diminish my experience of life, it doesn't turn me into an unfeeling robot or sociopath.

Anyway, part of why I am posting this is there is a real hostility to atheists in this society. I don't think its a new thing, but I do think its been a bit more focused lately and I think it stems partly from the relatively recent phenomenon of cultural tolerance that prevents people from bashing traditional targets: other religions (e.g. anti-muslim sentiment was surprisingly subdued in the wake of 9/11, but the demonizing of the secular Saddam Hussein was not). Political correctness doesn't really cover atheism, and so it seems it's still a viable target for many looking to get their righteousness-on. Whatever the reason, the effect of the hostility is to de-normalize atheism, to make it seem stupid or shameful and not something a decent person involves themself with. It's been said an atheist can't get elected Dog Catcher, that's certainly true in my part of the country.

So the only way I know to fight that anti-atheist sentiment is to stand up and be counted and do so without shame or apology. If that upsets people, then flame away in my comments. Or better yet, just go away.

Posted August 25, 2005 2:31 PM