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Why I am an atheist – Dave H.

I am an atheist because I started outside religion, and I have never found a reason to go inside. Religion was a non-issue during my formative years, and over those same years and beyond I have never heard an argument for religion that ultimately did not reduce to “Because I/he/they said so” or something similar.

Those “profound” rituals that form a central part of so many people’s lives are only confusing or ridiculous to those of us looking in from the outside, just as the rituals of one religion look ridiculous to the followers of another. The “sense of community” that people find in their religious groups, I have found in my peers, coworkers, friends, and humanity at large. I have never found a need for religion in my life; I do not need nor want an imaginary friend in my life, I have enough real ones.

Finally, the petty tribalism that religion engenders, defining “us” and “them” based on what and how you worship, is a divisive force that our collective society, already shot through with divisions both real and imaginary, doesn’t need. If we truly seek cooperation instead of conflict between all the diverse members of humanity, we need to tear down or fill in every boundary we can. We need to act in this world, not waste our time in pointless pursuit of some imaginary next one.

Dave H.
Canada

Comments

  1. says

    You are indeed fortunate, David, to have grown up in such a household, or perhaps in such a society. I am kinda envious of your secular upbringing.

    I do have a question, though. Have you always been so rational? Did you never even want to dabble in religious belief even during your teen (and presumably rebellious) years? A few folks I know – despite growing up in irreligious households – were tempted to experiment with religious faith, and some got ensnared.

  2. Cents says

    From a fellow Canadian, well said. I really liked your close:

    Finally, the petty tribalism that religion engenders, defining “us” and “them” based on what and how you worship, is a divisive force that our collective society, already shot through with divisions both real and imaginary, doesn’t need. If we truly seek cooperation instead of conflict between all the diverse members of humanity, we need to tear down or fill in every boundary we can. We need to act in this world, not waste our time in pointless pursuit of some imaginary next one.

    Couldn’t have put it better myself.

  3. osteenq says

    Pretty much everything Dave just said.

    I wasn’t raised in it, never saw a need for it, and have never been even remotely interested in trying it.

  4. says

    Couldn’t you have at least lied a little? Maybe you could have said you questioned religion once because a girl you liked believed in God? Good story, but no drama!
    Thanks Dave.

  5. rwgate says

    Thanks, Dave-

    Short and to the point. Like you, most of my life just wasn’t religious. Just enough Sunday School to realize how ridiculous the whole thing was, and by the time I was nine, I was a confirmed atheist. Never been back and I’ve never been tempted.

  6. says

    Nice entry, Dave.

    -

    If only religious people could realize that expecting an afterlife or eternal life is the most egotistical and vainglorious attitude one could possibly have. Ecclesiastes is right to say that anything more than life is vanity. Eat, drink, and be merry. When we die, we return to the earth and are buried under dust like dogs. It’s the most honest book of the Bible. Of course it was defiled by some priest, and some meaningless garbage was added to it later, but for the most part it is the best knowledge you can find in that dusty, old book.

  7. DaveH says

    “Maybe you could have said you questioned religion once because a girl you liked believed in God?”

    Decided to try the prayer thing exactly once, mainly out of curiosity; all I felt was incredibly ridiculous.

    I don’t think I was an explicit atheist until my high school years, when a different friend (a young earth creationist) and I would sit around and have debates, an experience which crystallized my atheism.

    Now, I’m a grad student in biology, and atheism is the norm. I felt bad at times with a previous officemate, because it was obvious she didn’t feel comfortable discussing her (Catholic) faith, since the other three of us would happily sit around and discussing our atheism. Still, she did invite me to her (VERY Catholic) wedding, so as far as I know, we are still good friends.

  8. DaveH says

    “You are lucky.”

    Very much so on the religion front. Probably comes from being raised by two socialist, ex-hippie academics who bought me science books ever since I can remember.

  9. Sally Strange, OM says

    I was raised without religion, and I did in fact experiment a little bit with religion during my late teens and early twenties.

    For me, though, it was paganism. At this time, I was entertaining the Choprian idea that there was a consciousness underlying all existence, and that we are all manifestations of this consciousness (this was before I heard of Chopra) and that we could affect our destinies by thinking hard, “putting intention into it,” as the jargon went, which is another way to say praying. Very The Secret-esque. However, when I went to actually set up an alter and, you know, do spells and stuff, I felt extremely silly. I was never quite able to put the full force of my belief behind it. It was more like, well, this might work, and this stuff sure pretties up my room, so why not try it? Also, the rituals and parties were quite fun, and toying with the idea of a divinity that was feminine rather than masculine was refreshing and played a role in my awakening as a feminist.

    My younger sister went through a similar phase, but she played around with Christianity, I think mostly because her best friend’s dad was a Pastor. She got over it, though, and when she got married it was at the local community arts center, with a non-religious “celebrant” to officiate.

    I have a hard time imagining how anyone could be ensnared by such silliness, but then I’ve had little exposure to the more dedicated and manipulative branches of evangelical Christianity. They’re just not that influential in the Northeast, where I’m from.

  10. Cents says

    I used Ouija boards a few times. They were fun at parties when I was a kid. No one ever fessed up to pushing. No one was conned in either. You need a shaman/priest to make delusions stick. Brainwashing doesn’t just happen by itself, its not one of nature’s fundamental forces; its a fundamentalist’s force.

  11. DaveH says

    “toying with the idea of a divinity that was feminine rather than masculine was refreshing”

    That’s also something that has always bugged me about religion. The whole stern, righteous father figure and nothing else has always seemed a little… unbalanced.

  12. Anj says

    Points for “petty tribalism” which the author points out that religion does not have monopoly on.

  13. says

    I hate the fact that the sense of community he describes is so hopelessly intertwined with the notion of “church”. At one time I started putting out feelers locally to try and build support for an atheist group, and my wife asked me how that was different from church, “I thought you hated church,” and I facepalmed then, and every time I’ve been asked that question thereafter.

    I love these “Why I’m an Atheist” entries!

    Where can I send mine?

  14. Eric says

    Dave,

    Excellent comments.

    If I may ask, how are you about other forms of belief? How do you feel about supernatural claims like there might be a life force, or how about the question of being visited by aliens? How do you stand on magnetic bracelets having healing powers? How about alternative medicine. Conspiracy theories?

    The reason that I ask is that in my experience some people who have not had to reject religion are still open to all manner of other things that are equally preposterous. I think that this was also born out by a survey done where it seemed to be as the religiosity of various countries went down belief in things like a “life force” went up so that, in the end, I’m not certain that any real headway is really being made. It seems like people almost have a natural predilection to “what to believe”.

    Eric

  15. DaveH says

    @ Eric:

    Don’t worry, none of the above. The lessons I got as a child were more about not being afraid to ask why than anything else. In fact, doing so was greatly encouraged, to dig and to question, and not be afraid to formulate my own opinions based on the evidence. Mostly science related, but it crossed over. Now, as someone pursuing a career in science, all the examples you quoted are not in any way something I subscribe to.

    I follow the motto of the Royal Society: Nullis in verba. On the word of nobody.

  16. Eric says

    @DaveH

    Excellent!!! Love those answers! We are in total agreement. I do not find many people that ascribe to these views, it’s great fun to hear!

  17. Dave says

    As a fellow Dave H (of the Australian persuasion) I would just like to say that our “Why I am an Atheist” stories are identical. Did one of us enter a vortex at some point and spawn an identical twin on the other side of the Earth?

  18. DaveH says

    @ Dave:

    I think that would fall under the category of ridiculous things to believe in… like destiny and a life force. Don’t worry, I smile as I say that. At least you are a decent Commonwealth chap.

  19. Hazuki says

    You’re lucky, Dave (both of you). It’s interesting to see that if a person isn’t raised in it they have no need for it though. How I envy you…

  20. Anj says

    “Those “profound” rituals that form a central part of so many people’s lives are only confusing or ridiculous to those of us looking in from the outside”

    Ditto for sports. But I admit that it makes the behavior of large portions of the population very predictable, and it generates lots of tax and nontax revenue for my region – so GO SPORTS!

  21. KG says

    I think that this was also born out by a survey done where it seemed to be as the religiosity of various countries went down belief in things like a “life force” went up – Eric

    Citation?

  22. Kerrie says

    Wonderful entry, and it almost exactly mirrors my own experience. I grew up entirely secular – and living in Vermont helped with that too, being the most atheist state in the nation! Sundays were for chores. I did go to church exactly once, when I was about 10 – but they were handing out free Bibles that day and I wanted one to add to my reference shelf. I’ve been a confirmed atheist since about 7th grade and have found no good reason to try it for the last 25 years. I’ve had cousins who turn to religion when their life goes to shit, but even when I got to that point in my life I didn’t go there. I guess that’s one of the several things that bug me about religion – people who make really bad choices then ascribe the crappiness of their life to “God’s plan” and “I’m being tested” rather than facing the fact that they screwed up and should go about fixing it and actually taking responsibility for their actions.

  23. Eric says

    @KG

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Europe

    see the table “Eurobarometer Poll 2005″ and apparently footnote 6, for example

    As I alluded to in my question to DaveH, I have known people who were never exposed to religion, and so happened to think that religion was ridiculous but then seemed susceptible other suspect beliefs like conspiracy theories.

  24. says

    Indeed I think the biggest problems rationalism faces in Western Europe today is not religion, but woo. Homeopathy partially being reimbursable in many countries, horoscopes, the persistence of certain superstitious beliefs like the existence of a soul, or heaven etc. (Though institutionalised religion still enjoys a lot of privileges that should be fought too)

    For instance, a conservative German think tank did a study on the belief in an afterlife in several western countries and found that even in secularised Europe, many nonreligious people continued to believe in things like heaven, and thus were potentially “saveable” by theism.

    As I cited the study’s authors on my blog:

    “The belief in life after death – in whatever form – correspond to a high degree with our investigations into religiosity in general. Thus we can see that for instance Germany remains a religious country. On the one hand, it can be shown that even among those who are members of a church, there are people indifferent to religion. On the other hand, there are also those who are not members of any church, who have certain religious ideas and continue to respond to them.”

  25. Eric says

    @pelamun

    I agree, woo is a huge problem. As is all manner or ridiculous ideas not supported by logic, evidence and science. These are the real problems. (Along with Religion, of course.)

  26. Eric says

    @Ing

    Does WLC refer to William Lane Craig? I’m am no fan of his! Please leave me alone, either you have me confused with someone else or you are a troll or a nut! I’m am not the person that you accuse me of and I am against William Lane Craig and I have no defense of genocide! What is your problem?!!!

  27. KG says

    Eric@37,

    You unfortunately have the same nym as a very tedious pholisopher (a Catholic IIRC), who defends Craig as a top-drawer thinker who should be taken with the utmost seriousness even if you disagree with him. Could I suggest you add a soubriquet to your name?

    BTW, I don’t think the Eurobarometer poll supports your claim that:

    it seemed to be as the religiosity of various countries went down belief in things like a “life force” went up so that, in the end, I’m not certain that any real headway is really being made. It seems like people almost have a natural predilection to “what to believe”.

    If you look at the figures, while the number claiming belief in a “life force” goes up as the number believing in God goes down, the number denying belief in any form of “life force” also goes up. This looks to me more like the “life force” position being a way-station on the path from formal religion to complete disbelief in woo, andor a result of many people’s tendency to adopt the middle position if offered three (or five) choices (professionally designed surveys frequently offer an even number of choices along a scale to counter this effect).

  28. Eric says

    @KG

    Yeah, I should add something to my “name”, I certainly do not want to be confused with an apologist for Catholicism!!!

    I hope that you are correct about the interpretation gf the Eurobarometer and that I am wrong because I find my interpretation to be very discouraging indeed!! :)