As an atheist who is willing to be vocal on the Internet and in real-life, I get asked with moderate frequency questions about atheism. I encourage it, actually. One of the questions I get asked a decent amount, and a personal favorite of mine is “What do you want as an atheist?”. It’s a silly question, usually asked in the context of a debate about “evidence” and “claims”, but I’d like to give a relatively serious answer to it because when it is asked honestly it can have a real effect on the conversation.
In addition to being an atheist (agnostic-atheist, not gnostic-atheist) I am also an anti-theist. I see no reason to believe religion continues to be necessary (though I freely admit that it could have served a purpose in the past, and probably did) and in fact I believe that religion can be and at times is actively harmful to society. This is important to me, as someone interested in social justice and the expansion of rights throughout society, particularly the right of women to have control over their own bodies, because I have seen what happens when that right is so denied that not only is abortion outlawed, but emergency contraception is also banned in a rush to defend “the right to life” of the unborn.
What do I want?
I want to discover what the truth is. The truth about the origin of the universe. The truth about Jesus’s supposed existence (among many other mythic beings debated to be actual historical figures, such as Gilgamesh). I want to discover which, if any, religion is true. If provided evidence I will certainly consider it. Which is why I regularly debate believers about their beliefs and search for any truly compelling evidence that they might have. Clearly my search hasn’t turned up anything worth reporting.
As an anti-theist, I want to dismantle systems of oppression which use religion as their justification. Systems like the very worst parts of the “pro-life” movement which perpetuate cycles of poverty by making it harder for families to advance out of poverty. Systems like the “shunning” practice done by Jehovah’s Witnesses, in which ex-Witnesses are ignored by families and loved ones who still believe. Practices like deliberately getting pregnant and giving birth for the sake of having children who believe in your religion (Quiverfull movement) and thus partake in “missionary efforts”. I want to destroy systems which punish women for not dressing exactly as the system states that they should by having acid thrown at them. I find these systems not only absurd, but also dangerous and worth destroying. These systems do not deserve to exist, nor do they deserve respect. Not all religious people practice these practices and I recognize that. I don’t want to prohibit people from worshipping. I don’t want to destroy religion through violent means. Just like how most Christians on some level want others to become Christian, I seek to get people to leave religion behind and acknowledge that these systems are bad in some way or another. I want to show people the dangers of religion. Or at least encourage believers to move towards a genuinely more personal version of their faith, where they don’t try to impose their moral standards on others through politics, and through malicious practices like the ones I mentioned.
As an anti-theist and atheist I am interested in that intersection of social justice and truth. The point where defeating “false religions” and making society better intersect. I also happen to believe that godless societies would do better than ones where citizens fear God. “I want” society to be better. And I believe encouraging people to be skeptical and to ask for evidence is a reasonable thing to do that would improve society overall.
I’d like to know what “you want” as people who are godless (for the most part). Let me know what your objective is in discussing irreligion, assuming that you do. I hope everyone has had an awesome weekend, and that if you celebrate “America Day” (Independence Day) be sure to do so, respectfully and reasonably!