It’s a well-written post–a typical example of “conversion” from religion, but nonetheless one I’m happy to have read about. – Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary Biologist. http://www.RichardDawkins.net
Hi, my name is James, and I’m a Secular Humanist. I’m also a regular person, just like you. (Cue: Hi, James!)
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
And as a Secular Humanist, no I don’t believe in gods. Yes, this makes me an atheist, and in this piece I’d like to tell you why I think that’s okay.
Growing up in a Catholic family, I was never discouraged from asking questions about religion or faith…I just never thought to do it. We were never really devout, but we followed typical traditions like not eating meat on Fridays during lent (not even knowing why), going to church on holidays, receiving the sacraments, basically going through the motions.
When I was in college, I decided to take a History of World Religion course as an elective. I learned about all of the bible’s translations, previous religions that Christianity had gotten many ideas from like Zoroastrianism and Paganism, and the thousands of ancient religions that were created before the “big 3,” Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
I really began to think about the billions of people who performed sacrificial rituals of children and animals, self mutilation, and other barbaric traditions – and in reality, only ONE religion could be “right,” if any of them were. That’s when my doubt began, how could this be that so many got it wrong, truly believed they were right, and died for it?
Every civilization in history has believed so deeply that they had it right, that they waged wars and died for their gods. Most of those civilizations eventually dwindled, became extinct, and their gods died with the ideas of them. Not a single sign from any deity in history – yet today, with no more evidence than the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans had, man thinks they have finally figured it out, just like everyone else thought.
To save the boring details, now that I have become even more educated on the subject, atheism has become the only logical conclusion I could seem to reach. I knew it wasn’t a popular position to take, and is a bit controversial, but I decided to be true to myself and make it a public statement the best way I knew how – by putting it on Facebook under ‘religious views’…or lack thereof, I suppose.
One thing I never thought about was the negative perceptions many people seem to have when it comes to atheism. Some people think it’s ‘evil’ and we worship Satan (we don’t believe he exists either), some people think it’s some sort of a belief system or religion in itself. Saying atheism is a religion is like saying “off” is a TV channel.
All atheism is, is a lack of belief in any sort of deity. It’s saying to people: “Well, you’ve made a claim to me and asserted it as truth, but I simply don’t see enough evidence to support it, so therefore I don’t accept it.” That’s it! No fire breathing devil-dragons or running around with horns. Just regular people who base their decisions about deities on evidence. Everyone reading this right now is an atheist. If you’re Christian, you’re an atheist towards Zeus. If you’re Greek Orthodox, you’re an atheist towards Allah, we just take it one god further, and don’t believe in any of them. It’s really that simple.
The bible, over time, has lost tremendous ground in its credibility. The notion that the earth is less than 10,000 years old is ridiculous to anyone who understands even basic scientific evidence that shows 14.6 billion years of age, so there goes the creation story. The notion of the great flood (Noah’s Ark) eliminating all of humanity to start anew is debunked by no record of any gap in history anywhere else in the world. Far more civilized countries at the time such as Egypt show no gap in the reign of their dynasties to account for such an event.
There is even a location in Turkey known as the “gates of hell” which was thought to be the dwelling of the underworld god(s) as it would mysteriously kill any bird that flew over it…so animal, and even human sacrifices were made to these gods. In the past couple of years it was actually discovered, and found to emit a deadly amount of carbon monoxide into the air. A previously mythical location – easily explained by modern science. We no longer need myths to explain the world around us.
Another very interesting thing is that many believers see atheists as less moral than theists. The reason I find this interesting is that they are literally saying “Since you don’t believe in a god watching over you, I believe you cannot be a good person.” What a disappointing way to view humanity, and what a depressing notion of the world if one holds the idea that if there was no god, people would run around murdering, stealing, and causing chaos.
This actually makes me nervous for those asserting such a claim…do they worry that they themselves would not be able to contain their most barbaric, evil urges, if they did not fear god’s punishment?
On the contrary, atheists (and especially Humanists), have no reason to dislike anyone else. We have no holy books telling us to kill nonbelievers. We have no vendetta against anyone because they are different than us – we simply believe in human rights, and equality for all. One could even argue the position of (a good) atheist who expects no reward is even MORE moral than those who do good for the sake of gaining points to get into heaven.
Believing that life is pointless or meaningless if there is no heaven is like saying that unless something goes on forever, it has no meaning. Therefore any relationship that ends, any delicious meal you have, any deep conversation you’ve learned from – are all meaningless, because they all ended.
I would submit that the brief stint of life we have here on earth is more meaningful because it does end, so we are even more compelled to make the best of it while we are here. Eternity somehow dilutes the preciousness of something as simple as celebrating a long time anniversary with a loved one. Being temporary is what makes life special.
So, while I don’t subscribe to either position being “right” or “wrong,” I do take pride in having a logical, evidence based worldview, and being a good person who enjoys helping others any chance I get – without the want for eternal reward. If you are considering “coming out of the closet” as an atheist, I would encourage you to be true to yourself and go where both your heart, and your brain, take you.
There are large communities of Humanists and atheists online who are willing to support you in your journey away from faith, and towards evidence based thought.
Remember, the more of us who come out into the open, the more people will realize that their neighbors, post office workers, plumbers, mechanics, bankers, people they deal with every day – are atheists, and are no more worse off because of it. Don’t let anyone make you feel evil because they have different views than you. By openly expressing your doubts, you may inspire those around you who secretly feel the same way, to voice theirs too.
As a final thought, if I were to meet any of the fabled gods after what I hope to be a long, meaningful life – the first thing I would ask is why he/they allowed the needless suffering of the 9 million children per year who die before the age of 5 years old from starvation and suffering. Why he gave special abilities to the actors and Olympic athletes who thank him during their acceptance speeches, but took homes and families away from so many more by natural disasters and disease.
And mostly, why he has kept himself hidden and secret from humanity for literally all of recorded history, without a single sign from above.
These, I’m afraid, are questions which I have no reason to believe will ever be answered. But while we are still here on this earth, I maintain that it is each of our duties to treat each other well and with respect, and to help others when we can. To preserve the planet for future generations, and to live a life of quality that, regardless of belief, any fair or just god would approve of, if he does turn out to exist.