Why I am an atheist – Jessica

Basically, I am an atheist because for me, the idea of a God, a ‘higher power’ or even just the universe being conscious and deliberate raises more questions than it answers. We all have the flaw of believing that because a question can be phrased, it can be answered. We ask ‘Why?’ and at first God seems like an easy answer, until you realise that you can always ask “But why?” one more time. Instead of torturing themselves asking ‘Why?’ to infinity, lots of people stop asking the question just after inserting God into the equation. I stop just before, because for me, the idea of a creator, or conscious universe adds nothing to my understanding or enjoyment of life, so it seems like an unnecessary step.

I haven’t always been this way. While I never followed religion as such, I certainly had my moments of “What does the universe have planned for me?”

I have been told that there were arguments over what I should be christened as it was expected that I should be Catholic because that’s what my father was (is that a convention? The children get christened what the father is? I don’t know.), but my mother had a vehement dislike of Catholicism, not only because of the beliefs, but also because she had had conflicts with Catholics in the past. I don’t think my parents would have bothered at all but for this social pressure, so it was decided that I would be Anglican, so I was christened (by a priest who later turned out to be a pedophile), and never went to church again until school. I spent my first two years of primary school at a Catholic school, because that’s where my cousins went. We had mass every Friday, and I remember sitting on the seat in church, swinging my legs, picking my nose, wriggling around thinking “Why does everyone keep saying stuff back to that weird guy up the front and why are we sitting down and standing up and singing and this sucks lets go outside and play.” I believed in God because I was told he was real, but for some reason I kind of thought that he was everyone else’s God, and that it didn’t apply to me. I changed to a normal public school afterwards because the Catholic fees were too high, and apart from some scripture classes and Anglican Sunday school (which I only wanted to go to to get the nice biscuits at afternoon tea), I never had anything to do with the church again. What sealed the deal for good with me not really believing in a deity was my innocent 6 or 7 year old cousin saying “If god put us here, who put God there?”. At the time, I believed in God as I said because that’s what I had been told, so I kind of just thought she was naive to ask (how wrong I was!), but it definitely got me thinking. While I don’t know what her beliefs are now, I certainly have to thank her for planting the seed.

The belief system I had after that was generally less “god says do it or you’ll go to hell” and more “karma, the universe, energy, spirits and ghosts and meant to be, that’s just their path, its for a higher reason which we’ll understand after we die” type stuff. I simultaneously believed in an afterlife as well as reincarnation, and had to do some crazy mental gymnastics for that to make sense to me. I had some superstitions, like if you hear the same song or something 3 times in a row, its significant somehow. I believed in ghosts and tarot cards, and that “the universe’ cared what I did and thought and that what I did now would be setting the tone for my soul’s afterlife. I believed that the universe had lessons and plans for us all, and I used to desperately search for some good reason why the universe wanted my life the way it was. I spent a lot of time confused as to why certain situations would come up over and over again, believing that the universe thought I hadn’t learned a certain lesson properly the first time or whatever. The thing that used to cause me the most trouble in my beliefs was not being able to come up with a good reason why the universe would care what I did. I got a lot of explanations of “its part of a bigger plan” but I could never understand why the universe needed or planned anything. Pretty much the non-deity version of asking “Does God ever wonder why hes there?”, really.

I honestly can’t remember why, but one day I just started researching religion and atheism and how it relates to politics and morality and things. I wish I could remember what made me look it up. Knowing how my interests get started, I probably read one line in a newspaper or something and sparked it off. I came across lots of atheist blogs which I still read regularly, and it really made me bother to sit and think seriously about why I do the things I do. I began to see that a lot of beliefs and attitudes that I had didn’t stand up to reason. It was a bit of a struggle at times. I came up with all the same questions that all theists must wonder about atheists, and for once, I had to answer them for myself instead of assuming the universe or God or whatever would take of it for me. I remember, with a bit of shame, reading a post on Hemant’s blog, The Friendly Atheist, about a woman saying that because atheists don’t believe in an afterlife, they must be amoral and just do whatever they want, and at the time, it seemed reasonable. I wondered, “I know now that I don’t believe I will be punished after my death, so why don’t I want to go out and steal and kill and do whatever I want?” It took a lot of reflection for me to realise why I’m not an evil person. If theists don’t commit evil (which we know some do, but just humour me) to avoid hell after death, then I don’t commit evil because I don’t want to be in hell now. Simple as that. I believe that we are capable of a happy, well functioning society without reference to any eternal punishment or reward, and I resent the hell out of the idea that me wanting to live in a nice world is somehow a less moral motivation than “God said don’t”.

As for my destiny or whatever, I have pretty much come to the conclusion that the universe doesn’t give two shits about anyone. I don’t believe that finding meaning in something that happens to you means that a higher power intended it that way. I believe it is up to us to give our own lives meaning and purpose, because we are ultimately in control. I don’t mean to say we are gods unto ourselves or anything, because we are at the mercy of nature and always have been, just that it is our job to try to understand our world in order to make the best of it, not to accept that it is part of a plan and we are mere pawns. Some people find it extremely off putting and lonely to think that we are really of no importance in something bigger, but I have actually found it quite liberating. Being an atheist has made me take more responsibility for the quality of my own life. Knowing that I exist in this amazing universe against extreme odds absolutely floors me at times, and knowing that this is my only chance has made me more proactive than I ever used to be.

Jessica
Australia

Why I am an atheist – Ethan Mittel

While growing up, I shared almost no similarities with all the other children in Kansas. I was never what one might call a religious child. I never went to church, I never prayed, I never read the Bible, and I never really cared about Heaven or Hell. Back when I was a child, the only things I cared about were watching cartoons and playing video games. I was in pursuit of fun, and I saw church as the most boring thing in existence. To sit for hours on end listening to an old man speak about the works of people who died long ago was like torture to me. Another reason I never went to church is because my parents were too busy to care about going to church. They worked long and hard, and time spent in church is time spent not doing something productive, or in my case, not playing video games or watching TV. Also, why give a tenth of your paycheck to the church when you could use it to purchase something that has tangible value?

I didn’t seriously think about religion until I turned 14, which was also when I discovered the infinite depths of the internet. I can’t really remember how it happened, but I think it happened while I was searching for the lyrics to several death metal songs I was listening to at the time. I was just clicking on links at random when I stumbled upon a website called No Beliefs. As a person of great inquiry who always wanted to learn more, I decided to read every inch of it. It was there that I learned the true history of the Old Testament, that its stories were cobbled together from several separate myths in the region; it was there that I learned the history of the New Testament, and of how it was written long after Jesus’ supposed death; and it was there that I learned of the Bible’s dark and disgusting nature, a side of the Bible many Christians refuse to address.

After several hours of reading, I learned of not just the absurdities – light being created before any source of light, snakes that can talk, ten billion species of lands animals being packed into a tiny boat, bats classified as birds, whales classified as fish, pi classified as a round number – but the atrocities as well. I learned of the verses that depict God either committing or condoning countless atrocities, including burning his creations alive (Numbers 16:32-35), slaughtering the firstborn (Exodus 12:29-30), sending down pestilence (I Chronicles 21), slaughtering those with black skin (II Chronicles 14), murdering tens of thousands of men without a single shred of shame or remorse (I Samuel 6:19), and the wholesale extermination of the innocent (throughout the Bible really, but specifically in verses Deuteronomy 2:34, Ezekiel 9:5-6, Joshua 6:21, and countless others).

It became quite evident to me that the Bible is not the supreme, flawless, absolute word of an all-loving God as many people in Kansas claim it is. Instead, it is the blood-stained parchment of angry, ignorant, hateful men from ancient times who used the religious stories and appeals to divine authority for political expediency. However, it was not just Christianity that was alone in this fraud. After learning of the unholy nature of their supposedly holy books, I saw all religions in a contemptible light. It was clear to me that religion is nothing more than a tool crafted by the powerful that is used primarily for social control. It fetters the mind, cripples critical thought, and silences the voice of freedom. It teaches you to submit, obey, conform. It turns ignorance and blind obedience into divine virtues and it demonizes dissent and free thought. Religion aims to keep man in perpetual darkness. Like a concrete wall, it hinders all progress, be it social, technological, or scientific. Indeed, without religion, the world would be a more advanced place than it is today.

I will never let my mind be imprisoned. I will never surrender myself to the contemptible entity that is religion. I will never be a member of an institution that gleefully contributes to mankind’s self-destruction. I stand for reason. I stand for progress. I stand for enlightenment. I stand for that which will lift the veil of lies from mankind’s blinded eyes. After observing all the evidence, I came to the realization that there was only one position that made any logical sense: atheism. With that, I declared to myself, “I am an atheist.”

I knew I was an atheist, but I had to keep it a secret from everyone. After all, atheists are the most hated minority in America, and if people were aware of my atheism, I would be ostracized, beaten up, or worse. And so, throughout most of high school, I kept my lips sealed. Luckily for me, matters of religion rarely came up for discussion. Near the end of senior year, I casually made the comment that I didn’t believe in god. One girl simply asked me, “What will happen to you when you die?” To this I gleefully responded, “I’ll be buried in the ground and be eaten by worms.” That was it. No one ever asked me religious questions ever again, but they still got along well with me.

Such wasn’t the case with my gifted class. Gifted class is basically a special class where the school’s smartest kids do special activities and high-level assignments, and although many of the students in this class were the best and brightest of the school, they still haven’t rejected the ridiculous idea that the earth is only six thousand years old. When I told them that I am an atheist, they were genuinely shocked. They could not comprehend the notion that a kind young man such as myself did not believe in god. Even my gifted teacher seemed to believe that my atheism was nothing more than a phase, and that I would grow out of it as soon as I graduated from high school. The only gifted student who didn’t seem to care that I was an atheist was a prospective comedian from Canada.

I eventually graduated from high school and contrary to what my gifted teacher seemed to believe, I did not stop being an atheist, and I am still an atheist today. Unlike most people in Kansas, I don’t base my views of the world on absurd fantasies and wishful thinking. My views are based on logic and scientific evidence. I am not a puppet controlled by invisible hands. I am the master of my own destiny. Most people are still shocked when I tell them I’m an atheist. When they ask me why I don’t believe in god, I simply reply, “For the same reason you don’t believe in Allah.” When the people of Kansas understand why they reject all the other gods – from Abaangui to Zywie – they will understand why I reject their god.

Ethan Mittel
United States

Hauntological weirdness

Those of you with a peculiarly antiquarian or literary turn of mind might enjoy this odd essay from China Miéville on Lovecraft and various other strains of strangeness in fantastical fiction. I liked it because it’s got lots about tentacles, and also snipes at Eagleton.

This must be insisted upon for the heuristic edges of the Weird and the hauntological – and indeed of other fantastic categories – to stay sharp. Hence the importance of ‘Geek Critique’, which rebukes, say, Terry Eagleton when he blithely discusses the ‘rash of books about vampires, werewolves, zombies and assorted mutants, as though a whole culture had fallen in love with the undead’;(25) because whatever the merits of the rest of his argument, only two of those figures are undead, and they are all different. Teratological specificity demands attention. And, granting the controversial position that ghosts are teratological subjects, such specificities are nowhere more different and important than between Weird and hauntological.

Others who dislike ornate verbosity may not care much for it at all, and that’s OK.

There are some things I won’t compromise on…but Stedman will

Chris Stedman is at it again. Once more, he’s carping at atheists who dare to question the beliefs of the delusional theists he considers his dearest friends, his most important clients, and the people he wants to spend his life working among, the liberal Christians and Muslims. Unfortunately, he chose as his opening salvo a rather innocuous comment, which tells us exactly where the limits of his tolerance lie, and they’re pretty darned low. David Silverman of American Atheists said this:

The WTC cross has become a Christian icon. It has been blessed by so-called holy men and presented as a reminder that their god, who couldn’t be bothered to stop the Muslim terrorists or prevent 3,000 people from being killed in his name, cared only enough to bestow upon us some rubble that resembles a cross.

Yes. That sounds accurate to me. Do you have a problem with that, Stedman? It’s a very clear statement about the absurdity of sanctifying some random wreckage because it shares a trivial orthogonality with the simplistic religious symbol of Christians, and it’s good that Silverman was pointing that out — I want atheist leaders to be clear-headed and assertive.

But not Stedman. He seems to think that statement was divisive, and for backup, he cites Jon Stewart, who took offense at a statement of truth.

After sharing that statement, Stewart — speaking as if he were Silverman — added: “As President of the American Atheists organization, I promise to make sure that everyone, even those that are indifferent to our cause, will f-cking hate us.”

What neither Stedman nor Stewart mentioned, of course, was that Stewart is on the 9/11 Memorial and Museum board of directors, has a vested interest in the 9/11 museum, and that his organization was being sued by American Atheists for promoting sectarian religion in the museum.

But even ignoring that, I would ask both Stedman and Stewart this: was Silverman wrong? I don’t think so. What stings about that remark is the truth of it…that the museum and Stedman just want to let some stupid pareidolia have a place in a museum because it’s easier than actually pointing out the folly of it all. They don’t think it’s worth fighting for a reasonable response because it might alienate groups of unreasonable people.

It’s good to know that an atheist community under the thumb of Stedman would be asked to avoid comments as mild as Silverman’s, for fear of antagonizing Stedman’s favored clientele…the believers. It’s becoming obvious that Stedman also has a conflict of interest: he’s not really interested in working for atheism, but is more aligned with that weird pro-faith organization called Interfaith Youth Core. Could he please toddle off, work hard with them, and stop pretending to be one of us, please?

Stedman also does something unconscionable. Most of his post consists of a garbled, desperate twisting of a post by Greta Christina, on the different goals of the atheist movement. Greta is a firebrand, someone who promotes a strong, aggressive atheism, and somehow, Stedman mangles her words to pretend that it all somehow supports his position of passive-aggressive self-adulation. And he doesn’t even understand Greta’s argument, which doesn’t say much for Stedman’s ability to empathize with different positions. He simply doesn’t comprehend the New Atheist position at all.

I’ll help. As Greta says (and I’ve said before, too), there are a lot of different reasons to be an atheist, but the reasons of the New Atheists (and myself, specifically) are quite clear and simple. They’re so simple that stupidity can’t be Stedman’s excuse for not grasping them.

And here it is: our first priority is the truth.

When someone makes a statement about gods — and here’s where Stedman is really incomprehending, because we aren’t focused on just the fundamentalists, but also include the liberal religious persuasions in this criticism — the question right at the top of our heads is, “Is that true?”

Someone says, “God will cast you into eternal hellfire!”, and we wonder, “Really? Is that true? Can you back that up with evidence?”

Someone says, “God is love,” and it’s all the same to us. “Is that true? How do you know? Is there a way to confirm that, or even say it with less mush in your mouth?”

Somebody sees a couple of girders at right angles to one another in the rubble of the WTC towers, and thinks it’s worth putting in a museum. We ask, “Why? Does this make sense, even in the context of your own religion, that this tragedy is marked with a symbol of your faith?” It’s a good question. Jon Stewart didn’t answer it. Stedman sure as hell didn’t.

No, not Stedman. Stedman is one of those guys who’d happily sacrifice reality on the altar of let’s-just-get-along.

That’s not where I stand. If Stedman had actually read Greta’s post with comprehension, he’d know that there are a lot of different atheists out there, and some of us have science and an attitude of unrelenting criticism and doubt seared into us, right down to the bone. We’re not surrendering it to make some hippy-dippy narcissistic appeaser happy, or to reconcile jesus-worshippers to us. That’s a compromise we aren’t going to make. Especially when Stedman’s only alternative is to shut up about the incoherence of faith.

Why I am an atheist – Natasha K

I suppose my journey to atheism started with spirituality. When I was a kid, I attended a Unitarian Universalist church in Seattle. We had both a Solstice and a Christmas pageant, celebrated Easter and the Equinox. My parents sought not to force an ideology upon me, but to expose me to many traditions so that I could piece together my own collage of beliefs. I remember one day, standing in my living room, when someone inquired as to my religion. Bewildered, I said “I don’t know…” and turned to my mother, who replied “Good.” When my sisters were born, though, our house and traditions were suddenly too small.

We moved to a cohousing community about half an hour away when I was nine or ten, and my father moved back to Seattle soon afterward. He was and is a very scientifically minded person, fascinated with the acquisition of any kind of knowledge he can get his hands on, and I believe his transition to atheism came soon after my parents split. I began attending a New Thought church with my mother (and later my stepfather). In this place, I was taught that god is just a word for some spiritual thingy that makes up everything, a person’s natural state is perfection, that our thoughts affect what happens to us, and that heaven and hell are merely states of mind. After a while, though, I became disenchanted with that fat box of joy. They started asking people to tithe after every service. They acquired a new TV spot, associated themselves with Deepak Chopra, and built a new “celebration hall” with the money they constantly milked their audience for…. The average wealth of the people attending rose visibly, and not because the church was making anyone richer. Our old holding-hands-during songs tradition was abolished without a word. Not to mention the fact that we were building ugly new buildings instead of, say, helping people through devastating world crises. Attached to my previous participation in the music program and to the friends I’d made there, I dangled on for a little while before I gave up.

As I began my college career last year, I discovered my fascination with anthropology and psychology; the reasons people are how we are, and how we perceive the world around us. And in the light of my recent split from the New Thought movement, and the insight I was being given into humanity, I turned my questioning nature upon my own beliefs. I’d read Pharyngula before, and was already better versed in biology and the scientific method than most people my age, but had held tightly to my vague, earthy spirituality. Under closer scrutiny, I was shocked at my conclusion:

None of the important values I was holding onto and associated with spirituality- self-fulfilling prophecy (a well-known psychological phenomenon), respect for life, empathy, getting to know oneself- needed to be assigned to any sort of supernatural being or force. There was just no reason I had to believe something quite frankly silly to be a whole, happy person living on a fascinating speck in a vast and astounding universe.

So I did. And now I’m an atheist.

Natasha K
United States

The scandalous video that could not be shown on TV! Here! Now! Uncensored!

When will they ever learn? Tim Minchin did a new song for a television show, and when the director, Peter Fincham, saw it, he presumably freaked out and demanded it be cut. This wasn’t The Pope Song — it was a very friendly and cheerful song about Jesus. But he had it cut anyway, and now everyone is featuring it on their blogs.

I have decided that Peter Fincham has to be the most cunning Jesus-hating atheist ever, because it was an absolutely brilliant move guaranteed to get the song promoted all over the place.

Thank you Tim Minchin for another lovely song, and here’s to you, Peter Fincham, you magnificent devious blaspheming bastard.

And all the Whos down in Whoville…

According to Time magazine, we’re apparently a nation of gentle New Age bliss-ninnies. All that sectarian stuff, the Nicene creed, even Jesus…nobody really believes all that with any conviction.

Just as Christian fundamentalists insist on a literal reading of the Bible, angry atheists tend to insist that belief in God qualifies you as a raving creationist.

Here’s what they refuse to get: Yes, Christians believe that Jesus’ nativity was a virgin birth and that he rose from the dead on Easter. But if you were to show most Christians incontrovertible scientific proof that those miracles didn’t occur, they would shrug — because their faith means more to them than that. Because in the end, what they have faith in is the redemptive power of the story. In Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, an agnostic says to his Catholic friend, “You can’t seriously believe it all … I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”

“Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”

“But you can’t believe things simply because they’re a lovely idea.”

“But I do. That’s how I believe.”

I’m willing to bet it’s how most believers believe. Before Hitchens died at 62 from esophageal cancer, he made a point of declaring he was certain no heaven awaited him. But that swipe at the faithful always misses the point. Most of us don’t believe in God because we think it’s a ticket to heaven. Rather, our belief in God — our belief in the living ideal of ourselves, which is something even atheists ponder — instills in us a faith that in the end, light always defeats darkness (which is how people get through the wars and natural disasters I cover). That does make us open to the possibility of the hereafter — but more important, it gives us purposeful inspiration to make the here and now better.

What a load of reeking bullshit.

Try telling the congregation at your local Catholic church that if it’s more convenient for them, they might just as well attend the Baptist church, if it’s closer. Then go to the Baptist church and suggest likewise that the Catholic church is a lovely building and the priest is very nice and they should switch.

Try suggesting to the 40% of Americans who oppose good science in the classroom that they should be fine with teaching evolution, since their faith is all about love and light, and Adam and Eve are just lovely myths.

Apparently, no one ever really gets indignant at being cheerfully told “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. Everyone is untroubled by trivial differences in emphasis, and all that matters is that we’re all happy in our own way.

There is no hell. No one believes in it, anyway. We’re all about light defeating darkness, so the screams of the damned in torment are only invented by a few imaginative horror story authors. No true Christian believes in such evil!

Close your eyes real tight and imagine real hard, and all those people demanding that the schools sponsor public prayer will just vanish … and Tim Tebow is just expressing his appreciation of the Buddha, and his missionary family thinks Catholics are just as Christian as they are.

We can revoke all the special parking dispensations the clergy has at hospitals, because they aren’t really needed to usher the dying into heaven, after all. And isn’t it more important that the afflicted spend more time with their loved ones than that irrelevant guy with a funny collar?

Rick Perry wasn’t actually elected to be governor of Texas. Rick Santorum is just gentle humorous satire (come on, the name is a dead giveaway — no one would call themselves that if they were serious). For that matter, the entire slate of Republican presidential candidates is a hallucination.

The Mormons didn’t pump millions of dollars into the fight for Proposition 8 in California. They just believe in Love! And the Living Ideal of Themselves! And Lovely Fucking Ideas!

I could go on. Tim Padgett, the author of that tripe in Time, is simply a delusional liar — while accusing Hitchens of taking religion too literally, he goes far, far off the deep end to conjure up an entirely imaginary Christendom of pablum and soft, soothing breezes and no difficulties whatsoever, where everyone is stretched out on a comfortable sofa with some really good weed, toking themselves into half-lidded and smashingly baked heedless bliss. He himself might be wallowing deeply in that gooey non-sectarian treacle — these people do exist, from Karen Armstrong to Chris Stedman — but they are in total denial of reality. I can go down to the coffee shop on Tuesday mornings and find the Men’s Bible Study group going strong on the reality of Noah’s Ark and the submission of women; I can open up the local paper and find letters to the editor complaining about the university’s awful tolerance of The Gays; I could, if I were sufficiently masochistic, attend any of a dozen churches here in town and find people who will tell me that believing the earth is millions of years old (or older!) means I will burn in hellfire for eternity (oh, wait, I have done that! Painful, it was).

Unlike Padgett, I have a realistic view of religion. I do not think all Christians are creationists, as he falsely claims, but I also know for a fact that most Christians are damned insistent on the literal reality of Jesus, Heaven, Hell, and their sectarian views about how one can achieve or avoid a meeting with any of them.