Why I am an Atheist – Alex Manuel

I believe two varieties of atheists exist, which I call “small-A” and “big-A.” Small-A atheists comprise more or less ALL atheists; small-A atheism is simply the fact of not believing in any gods or practicing any theistic religion (at least, not with the understanding that any of it is real in any sense but cultural).

All big-A Atheists are small-A atheists, but only some small-A atheists are big-A Atheists. To be a big-A Atheist is to embrace the counter-culture surrounding atheism, to recognize it as a part of who you are, and to be as outspoken about it as is comfortable for each. The big, red A that so many of us display in our various corners of the social network, on our cars or cubicle walls (for those living in states where such wouldn’t get you lynched) – that’s one good example of what represents big-A Atheism. It is not only a lack of belief, but a form of expression for the sparse few of us dotted like lighthouses around seas of theists, cranks, crackpots and the terminally incurious.

Weaving the significance of this into my own life, there is one reason and one reason alone that I’m a small-A atheist: there has never been, nor is there likely to ever be, evidence to support the existence of any single one of the gods proposed in all the world, by all of mankind, through all of history. I do not believe in any gods because I have absolutely no reason to believe in them.

The reasons I am a big-A Atheist, however, are almost inexhaustible:

For every personal achievement someone credits entirely to his invisible stepdad . . .
For every Christian in my country who mourns the persecution of his humble people because I won’t let him force my child to pray in a public school . . .
For every state governed by sanctimonious white men in suits who hate consequence-free sex (except for themselves and other white males) . . .
For the woman who has to have “slut!” and “murderer!” screamed into her face when she’s only going into the clinic for a check-up . . .
For the woman who isn’t even lucky enough to HAVE such a clinic because her state defunded them all in a fit of anti-abortion hysteria . . .
For every female who has ever been lashed or stoned for the “crimes” of falling in love or being raped . . .
For every child who has ever died because his parents’ beliefs forbade appropriate treatment . . .
For every church or temple without a single female leader . . .
For every gay child whose parents “love” the Old Testament God more than him . . .
For every building toppled, plane crashed, structure bombed, and person killed to enforce a religious ideal . . .
For every man who can cheer a state execution yet call himself “pro-life” with a straight face . . .
For every person who is comfortable worshiping a deity who has proven to be less moral than his own arch-enemy . . .
For every minute of life human beings waste agonizing over what will happen after their deaths, and SO very much more . . .

I’m an Atheist.

Alex Manuel
United States


  1. otrame says

    My son asks me why I make such a big deal out of it. You provide a pretty good list of whys. He is what you call a small-a atheist, at least these days. For me, I need to say it out loud for all those who can’t because of their circumstances. Nothing bad can happen to me because I say I am an atheist.

    The ones I admire, though, are those who say it even knowing it will cost them a job and/or a family. Those are the brave ones.

  2. Midnight Rambler says

    You said it much better than me; that second list could indeed be endless though. One of my favorites of this series.

  3. Alex M Doubts Your Commitment to Sparkle Motion says

    Oh, wow, I had nearly almost forgotten I submitted this until I checked Twitter today, and there I was!

  4. pipenta says

    Very moving Alex, thank you.

    @otrame, I had the flip side of your experience. I went from a Catholic childhood and an uppercase A Atheist in my teens, to a lowercase a atheist for my twenties and thirties. I didn’t become an UPPERCASE BOLDED ITALICIZED ATHEIST. until my son was old enough to decide he was an atheist and call me on my tepidity. That and this revival of old school religion that has me seeing the fucking handmaid’s tale in every headline.

    But yeah, my son chided me for not being loud enough about my atheism.


  5. pipenta says

    p.s. the smiley in my response was to express beaming maternal pride.

    p.p.s. I was so proud of formatting the comment properly too, but I blew it by bolding the period (you can’t tell but it’s italicized as well…) which should have been a comma in any event.

    Well damn.

  6. says

    To me it is not just the big A Atheism, though.

    To me it is not just being open about one’s atheism, because god belief is just a subset of superstition and ignorance.

    It is about being prepared not to pass over things in silence – not just some god concept, but astrology, reiki, homeopathy, moon landing denial, global warming denial, evolution denial, and all sorts of things of that ilk.

    I sign with my usual internet handle.

    David B

  7. Azuma Hazuki says

    Nicely done. I especially like the part where you pointed out that the God most people worship is morally worse by any reasonable standard (i.e., not his own) than his supposed arch-enemy Satan. Good Guy Lucifer memes aside, I wonder how many believers have the honesty to admit that to themselves…

  8. joey says

    “Big-A Atheism” simply sounds like “anti-religion” to me. Sure, whatever you want to call it.

  9. Blattafrax says

    Thanks for the story. It makes me glad to be living in a place where it’s easy to be an atheist. I hope I would be more an Atheist too if I were living where you do.

    Maybe one day we can all be atheists, but I don’t think it’s going to be in our lifetimes.

  10. John Morales says


    “Big-A Atheism” simply sounds like “anti-religion” to me.

    It would.

    (Just like honesty doubtless sounds anti-religion to you)

    Sure, whatever you want to call it.

    You imagine your acquiescence matters?


  11. donaldperry says

    Whenever I wear my red-A t-shirt, I get a few scowls but also some thumbs up. Some fellow atheists are heartened by it and come up and tell me so. That’s reason reason enough to wear it.

  12. hyoid says

    Big A, Big Al. Sweet! He’s got reasons and he’s not afraid to use ’em. I bet it was hard to stop the list.

  13. gardengnome says

    Congratulations Alex, very succinctly put…

    I classify xians in a similar way – small-c xians just believe and don’t make much of it publicly, big-C xians find ways make sure you know their allegiance. It happened recently when a new workmate asked me if I could repair her wooden cross which hung from her car’s rear view mirror (no, it wasn’t as big as the prototype!). It obviously only required a drop of glue but it was her way of broaching the subject.

  14. joey says

    John Morales:

    You imagine your acquiescence matters?

    Not at all. I just don’t understand the need for the euphemism. There is a specific meaning to the word atheist. If someone wants to be described as something more than the generally understood definition of the word, then why not simply be straightforward about it. Substitute “anti-religion” wherever Alex says “Big A-Atheist” and everything would still make sense. At least with the substitution it wouldn’t be so ambiguous and clumsy.

  15. joey says

    I think I understand the definition of atheist just fine, thank you (as well as “in” and “out”).

  16. says

    We’re not going to go all the way back to having to describe what ‘is’ is, are we? :P

    I’m not sure that there needs to be a corner of atheism described as anti-religion. Religion does that job itself. Aside from the fact that most sects are against all the others, which makes them anti-other-religious, there’s the long standing trend of religions and their follower’s sudden epiphanies of disillusion making their beliefs irrelevant and obsolete. The followers of the likes of Poseidon or Lono aren’t insisting their rules be etched on courthouses or telling gays they’re going to rot in some pantheonic jail. Just because the current followers think themselves detached from history, why would they think the trend would suddenly discontinue just for them? Thinking yourself above history because of your special dogma is stupidity or arrogance, or both.

  17. John Morales says


    Alex, your name did seem to me to be masculine (because the ‘Manuel’ part), so your clarification has informed me.

    Joey, atheist means non-theist, just like agnostic means non-gnostic and amoral means non-moral.

    (Here, a- is a privative prefix)

    Also, religion and theism aren’t mutually exclusive sets, though there is much overlap in their membership. There exist non-religious theists and non-theistic religious.

    It is notable that you focus on Alex’s terminology, rather than her contentions and their semantic maps.

  18. claremilner says

    Nice one Alex.

    One that resonated with me (coming from a religious family) is

    For every minute of life human beings waste agonizing over what will happen after their deaths, and SO very much more . . .

    I see people spending time at church services, committee meetings, prayer groups, retreats, conferences, blah …

    Add up all that time and think what might have been achieved instead – not just the potential for more practical assistance or activism (instead of impractical prayer) to help the elderly, the poor, the subjugated, those on the edge of society but also simply spending time with family and friends, enjoying the world around them, pursuing hobbies and interests, pretty much anything else really.

  19. says

    Does that make me a saBA? as in transitioning from small a to Big A. Which is the state of Malaysia my wife is from :-) Cool. I like coincidence like that. The whole Big A thing does annoy my wife a wee bit as she is a lapsed muslim. (drinks, swears, works, believes in equality, friends with gays etc but still belives in god).

  20. kindasorta23 says

    Sorry, Alex, you know I love ya, but I’m going to have to disagree on one point. If losing your job – especially if you have children – or your family is less important to you than being an atheist, or more accurately Atheist, then it very much indeed is a religion to you and anyone else who takes it that seriously. Not to say that it isn’t serious, but if you would sacrifice your job, family and friends all for a religious ideal (anti-religion IS religion, no matter how you spin it), then how is it you are any different from the religious you say you are against? I’m not attacking you. I want seriously to know the reasoning behind this movement, as it were.
    And before you lambast me, remember that I am your friend and want nothing but the best for you. I agree with about 95% of the things you mentioned. But none of it is worth not being able to provide for my child, or even having my daughter never know her grandparents. I am trying to understand how you reconcile those very personal things with the obviously very personal feelings you have about the aforementioned issues (i.e. pro-life/pro-death penalty, gay children). I’m with you, just not following you. Pray tell…hah.

  21. erikthebassist says

    Great essay Alex, one of my favorites.

    @kindasorta23 – If an Atheist decides to come out and it causes employers or family members to abandon them, you have all the reason you need for being a big A Atheist. That is exactly the problem in that Atheists shouldn’t have to fear such consequences, and as long as we do, there is still a battle to be fought.

    Should blacks or gays in America have kept their mouths shut because it might rock the boat, might cause them to lose their job or become estranged from some family members? I think not. Had they done so, we’d still be where we were 40 some years ago on both fronts.

    If the depth of your conviction to anything important is such that you won’t make the necessary sacrifices, then your conviction isn’t very deep at all, morover, it is likely to a be conviction lacking any teeth what so ever.

    Furthermore, for some, the suffering of strangers is very real. I for one would not take any necessary action to protect my family, that action would have to be weighed against the greater good. An ethics 101 course might be beneficial if you struggle with concepts like this.

  22. kindasorta23 says

    If you think the struggle as an atheist is anything remotely similar to that of the blacks and gays, you have not done your history. And I have taken multiple philosophy courses, including both ethics and critical thinking. The bottom line is my family comes first – not out of some sense of obligation, but because all my highbrow beliefs, ideas and opinions are nothing when it comes to the safety and care of my child.
    Call it a double standard if you will, but if the Man says I don’t get paid unless I keep my big fat atheist mouth shut, then I’m keeping it shut. “An ethics 101 course might be beneficial if you struggle with concepts like this.” Seriously? You are obviously not a parent if you can say “I for one would not take any necessary action to protect my family.” Or not a very good one. I love people and have gone out of my way, even risked my own life, to help someone in need. Suffering myself is one thing, but when you cause your children to suffer for your vaunted ideals, you have no business parenting. For my child I would let the world burn.

  23. erikthebassist says

    For my child I would let the world burn.

    Exactly why you need the ethics course that you claim to have taken, but I do not believe you have.

    Quick decision, your child is chained to a railroad track just after a fork, a train carrying a 20 megaton nuclear weapon is heading towards that fork, if it goes the direction of your child, it continues down the track towards a rural area where when the bomb goes off. A relatively small number of people will be killed, let’s say a few hundred. If it goes the other way on the fork, it hits a major metropolis when the bomb goes off, killing tens of millions of people. You’re in the control room and can flip the lever one way or the other; do nothing and the train hits the city, flip the lever and it kills your child, and a few hundred people.

    Your child, because it’s yours, gets to live at the expense of millions of other presumably innocent lives?

    That’s just a basic thought experiment used to show that absolute statements about family first are bullshit. There are hundreds like it, but you would know that, had you ever taken an ethics course.

    Moreover, your kind of thinking leads to tribalism and in group/out group warfare: “Anything for my kin”. How about thinking about someone besides you and your gene pool for a change.

  24. kindasorta23 says

    “That’s just a basic thought experiment used to show that absolute statements about family first are bullshit.”

    Your thought experiment is what’s bullshit. And if you had children, you would understand that all the idealistic bullshit you’re spouting pales drastically in comparison with the love a parent feels for his child. I’ve been an idealist my whole life, and in 99.9% of cases not involving my child, I would pull that lever. But a parent’s love for his child is not rational.

    That said, self important thought police like yourself are never forced to make the tough decisions. Yours is a world of suppositions and speculation. I’m finding an ever increasing dislike of atheists – despite being one myself – due to the self-righteous, pretentious, and yes, religious-type garbage you people spew forth on any given day. “You don’t agree with my comments? Well, you’re stupid and fuck you.” That’s the mentality with you people. It’s exclusionary, cultish, and just fucking creepy.

    You think I’m lying about my education? I certainly could be, I suppose, but to say you think so is presumptive and petty, with no evidence to the contrary. You know what? I’m done with this post, I’m done with you, and I’m done with the whole atheist agenda, whatever it may be – it plainly doesn’t include me, and of that, I’m glad. I have never met a more narrow minded group of people since….well, most religious folk with whom I’ve come into contact. Since ever. For the most part, you seem to be just a slightly better educated, equally volatile, condescending, and more pretentious mirror image than those you claim to despise. Yes, pretentious. I can’t stress that enough. It’s dumbfounding. For a group who is supposed to consist of freethinkers, I find your thinking wholly lacking in freedom, much less tolerant.

  25. erikthebassist says


    Had you said anything of substance to counter my arguments you may have gotten a modicum of respect but since you’re a tone troll and a pearl clutcher who can’t stand the evul gnu atheists…

    Go fuck yourself and be sure to grab a porcupine on your way out, especially since you admit you have the decrepid ethical compass that would allow you to let millions of innocents die for the sake of your spawn.

  26. Alex M Doubts Your Commitment to Sparkle Motion says


    So, someone who would risk their job in order to come out as gay — at least enough to where they could have a normal life, in public, the way straight people do — is making a “religion” of their orientation? Your reasoning’s a bit off there.

    Regardless of whether or not you believe that homosexuality and atheism are falsely equivalent, the fact still remains that BOTH aspects of the same human being have resulted in ostracism, lost jobs, lost familial ties, and the like.

    Or here’s another proposition: the pastor in Texas who just recently “lost her job” because she came out as an atheist. The scenario fits ALL your requirements, yet I doubt anyone would sensibly call her transition to atheism religiously based. Take it personally if you like — it seems you already have — but your logic is flawed there. To me, it’s not a universal fact, but a personal opinion. And it’s fine if you have that opinion; some atheists are not willing to make deep financial or personal sacrifices for the sake of “coming out” — but the thing is, that’s okay. All groups that have experienced discrimination have their members who have a lot to lose. It happens, and I don’t look down on those people. That’s why there are many outspoken people who WILL come out and who WILL publicly fight.

    Also, if you’ll look back to what I said, my words were actually, “To be a big-A Atheist is to embrace the counter-culture surrounding atheism, to recognize it as a part of who you are, and to be as outspoken about it as is comfortable for each.” Some people are not comfortable with his neighbors or immediate community knowing for reasons that include their employment or family bonds. That still doesn’t mean they can’t be a “big-A” atheist.