Of all of the topics I could have chosen for my 1st real blog post (that isn’t an introduction to the blog), why would I pick this one? I mean, I could do a blog post about the dumpster fire that is the Trump presidency (and I will). The news of Stephen Hawking dying just came across my twitter feed, so I could have written something about that. So, why write about me being an atheist?
Well, for starters, it is what seems to be flowing out of me most easily this morning. For me that seems to be the trick when it comes to writing, to let whatever it is I need to say that day come out. By doing that, it has the effect of helping me to get into the writing mood, and I often end up working on multiple things throughout the day as I take breaks from one project to pursue another.
So, writing about my atheism has 4 benefits:
1) It gets my blog started off with a topic that I consider to be important to me. Its importance revolves primarily around helping people who are unfamiliar with atheists or atheism, remedy that. People often fear that which they do not understand, and people should not fear atheists by default. We really are regular average everyday people. That means that some of us are nice people, and some of us are assholes. Being nice or being a dick aren’t restricted to any single religious opinion
2) It gets me writing, and I have many things I need to write beyond what goes in my blog. So, this helps me get my ass in gear
3) Atheism is a controversial topic in a lot of ways and bringing some controversy to a blog can be a good way of sparking conversation and getting people to think. Again, I want to challenge us both to think instead of assuming. That means that if me being an atheist is an integral part of who I am and how I see the world, and this blog is my attempt to put my opinions out into the public sphere, then that means anyone reading this needs to know what I mean when I say I am an atheist
4) Seeing as how I want to challenge not only you to think about what I write but also myself, that means it is imperative that I spend some time thinking about who I am and how I want to present myself. So, writing about me as an atheist is a way of me challenging myself to present who I am without making myself out to be a complete tool. We will see how well I accomplish this goal
So, let’s start with a simple definition of what atheism is (I can almost hear my former rhetoric and composition teachers screaming now as I start an essay with a definition, but in this case I kind of have to as the subject of the post revolves around a word)
Atheism means an absence of theism (a-theism), and an atheist is merely someone who lacks a belief in theistic claims. That is about as simple as anyone could make it, and it is precisely what I mean when I say I am an atheist. There are atheists out there who have slightly different variations on this definition, and some choose to add qualifiers to it to signify other aspects of their religious opinions. Some consider themselves agnostic atheists. For these atheists, their primary argument is that they do not possess direct knowledge that theistic claims are incorrect (hence the qualifier of “agnostic”), but that they still do not believe them (hence the reason they are atheist). Some consider themselves weak or strong atheists, with the former preferring to say they lack a belief in god(s), and the latter saying they believe gods do not exist.
You can also find all sorts of additional terms that revolve around god beliefs (or lack thereof), many are not very commonly used. Apatheist is one, and often described as “I don’t know if there is a god or not, and I don’t care.”
It doesn’t matter to me, I prefer to stick with atheist sensu stricto. I do not use it as a philosophical position, as my philosophy on life is not contingent upon my atheism. All my atheism does is describe an opinion I lack, it does not tell you anything about my beliefs in a positive sense (meaning that it doesn’t tell you what I do believe, only one thing I lack a belief in). Atheism is an extremely weird label in that way. How many labels do you typically apply to yourself to describe what you don’t like/believe/do? I don’t describe myself as “not a baseball player,” and we don’t need a specific word for it. The reason the term “atheist” exists then is because religious beliefs have become so common and widespread through time, that having a label to describe yourself when you aren’t religious has become necessary.
I could call myself an agnostic atheist (and have in the past) because there is no way to provide evidence for the nonexistence of something that doesn’t exist. Think about it using a different example, how would one prove that Big Foot doesn’t exist? You can’t present evidence that it isn’t real, because if it doesn’t exist then there is no evidence of it by default. All one could do is challenge and disprove any evidence presented for the positive claim (whenever people present hair samples of a Big Foot for example, they always turn out to be something else: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2014/07/bigfoot-samples-analyzed-lab). The only other thing one could do to support their rejection of a claim, is to point to a paucity of reliable evidence in support of it, but the absence of evidence is not equivalent to evidence of absence. Biologists and paleontologists discover new species all the time. Until they are discovered and described, there is no known evidence that they exist. So, the absence of evidence in these cases is not due to a particular species not existing, but because the evidence has not yet been discovered. So, is it possible Big Foot does exist? Well, technically it isn’t impossible as there is no scientific reason that an ape similar to Big Foot couldn’t exist, but it is highly improbable and implausible at this point. It would be difficult for a creature that large to escape discovery so long on a pretty well-populated continent. And while it is true that we discover new species all the time, the majority of these are small, many are invertebrates, and a lot of these new discoveries come from exploring new areas of the world (especially the oceans). Big Foot is almost certainly not real, sorry.
I could also call myself a weak atheist because I prefer to say that I lack a belief in a god, but I would I also call myself a strong atheist because I see no issue in saying that I believe gods do not exist. This is primarily because I think the latter follows from the former. If I lack a belief in something, then by default I believe that thing does not exist. So, if I lack a belief that my house is currently on fire, I might say it more plainly that I do not believe my house is currently burning down. Perhaps one of these 2 statements seem stronger than the other, perhaps one appears to make a claim while the other does not. I’d argue neither inherently makes a claim and that the only real issue is the colloquial use of language. Again, I think many of the misunderstandings revolving around this topic have to do with people making bad assumptions.
All of that so far is to say this, I don’t care how you as an individual would choose to identify or label me. You don’t get to define me, only I do. Some would likely read what I have said thus far and choose to label me as an agnostic, some will quibble over my definition of atheism and assert that it is a philosophy and a set of beliefs, and many will accept my label and definition I apply to myself. The label isn’t important, what is important is that you know what I mean by it.
So, why atheist? The long story made short with respect to my religious background is that I have gone from Southern Baptist to generic Christian to “spiritual but not religious” and then to atheist. It has been quite a journey. The reasons for each change (as well as the way my opinions as an atheist have evolved) are unique and some are personal enough that I won’t detail them here, but the general trend is that I keep asking myself “what if I am wrong?” That singular question has had more influence on my personal views and opinions than anything else, and still does. The fear of being incorrect, is one that permeates much of my personality. That self-doubt is something that I think I share in common with a lot of people. Writing about myself forces me to challenge my beliefs and opinions, and to consider alternate perspectives. What is no longer a surprise to me is how often I have been wrong, it has been quite humbling.
As for why I am now an atheist, that has mostly to do with trying to look at the world from varying perspectives and to seek out evidence to substantiate and corroborate claims. Which is to say that while I believed the evidence of a god surrounded me when I was a Christian, it became apparent to me as I continued to question and seek answers that this conclusion had much more to do with confirmation bias and ignorance than anything else.
What I am trying to say here is that when I first began questioning my religious beliefs, I did so with the utmost confidence in my belief in a god. I was convinced that a close examination of the world and an in-depth search for a better understanding of god, would lead me closer to it. I wanted to better understand my god beliefs in order to better understand the world, and vice versa. What I found instead was that I couldn’t rationalize a belief in any god, and that what I had previously argued as evidence for god was special pleading.
Now, that is not to say that I have any special knowledge to prove I am correct in my conclusion that gods are not literally real. Again, how would one put evidence forth to demonstrate the nonexistence of something that has never existed? I can’t, so I won’t claim to be able to disprove your god to you with evidence.
In fact, I have no interests in disproving your god to you. I don’t think anyone will seek out a conversation with me with the goal of having me prove their god isn’t real to them. It’s your god belief, not mine. So, as long as you aren’t asking me to adhere to your beliefs (and as long as you aren’t asking others to involuntarily adhere to your beliefs), we’re cool. Believe whatever you want, it’s no skin off of my teeth.
In the past, I have certainly tried to engage in arguments to convince the religious their god is not real. I won’t deny that I have done this, and I will also readily admit that I don’t think any of those conversations have ever resulted in anyone losing their faith because of anything I said. This is also a reason I have no interest in trying to convince someone their god isn’t real, because I don’t think most religious people care enough about the opinion of a formerly religious person (and now an atheist) enough to listen to me and amend their beliefs that drastically. Or maybe they don’t want to listen to me specifically. If someone is going to cease to believe in their god, it will have to be from a decision they make on a personal level to seek out their own answer to the question of their god’s existence. Nothing I say should affect your beliefs if you truly believe. If you have doubts, I encourage you to explore them.
The last thing I want to say for this post, is that my disbelief in religions spans all of them. I don’t merely disbelieve in a Christian god, nor is my label of atheist directed at only one religion. I don’t know any atheist who’s only point in using the label is to draw the ire of Christians, even though that is something we seem to be accused of quite often. It isn’t uncommon to have a Christian (especially in the US) accuse me of only trying to attack Christianity and not any other religion (typically they will point to Islam and claim that I am too scared to take on Islam). The only reason I (and many other atheists in the US) typically address Christianity and Christians in my examples, and the primary reason I converse with Christians as opposed to those of other religious faiths, is because Christians are the largest and most vocal religious group in the US. Despite the concerns of Muslims trying to implement Sharia Law, the biggest issue we face with a religious group trying to implement religious laws in the US comes from the Christian right. In fact, one of the most important influences on my religious opinions came in the form of a class on Western Religions as an undergraduate. We studied Judaism, Roman Catholicism, and Islam (primarily Shia and Sunni). The most fascinating thing I learned from that class, was just how similar and connected all of these religions are. Which is to say that my objections to the Christian god, apply to the Muslim and Jewish gods too. All three of these worships the same god as it turns out; all 3 religions are directly connected, with both Christianity and Islam being derived from Judaism. Judaism also has its roots in a polytheistic religion, and one can still find the evidence of this in the earliest examples of Old Testament texts and even in the 10 commandments (“Thou shall have no other gods before me” literally means that the god that issued that commandment believed other gods existed, not just false gods).
At the end of the day, I always try and ask myself if I might be wrong. I know the odds of that being true are greater than 0%, because I know I am a fallible being. It being possible I am wrong, does nothing to tell me if I am though. In order to conclude I am wrong, I need evidence and a logical explanation. To date, I have never encountered evidence and a logical argument that has demonstrated a god is real, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still look.