“I Am an Atheist”

I hope this post will connect with some newer atheists who still have trouble speaking, writing, or even thinking the phrase “I am an atheist.”  I hope this especially helps those who, like me, grew up in fundamentalist Christian households and have been psychologically/emotionally conditioned to understand the word “atheist” as analogous to, and on the same moral level as, Satan himself (or sometimes, even worse than Satan).

When I first started calling myself an atheist (in my mind – never in public), I struggled with thinking lesser of myself, like something was wrong with me, like I was not as good or moral as a human as believers.  Like I was missing something inside – maybe the “God hole in my soul”.  The reason was obvious (besides my clinical depression, but that’s a whole other story coming soon…) – I had become the monster my parents had taught me and my siblings to fear and revile.  I was embarrassed and afraid.  I feared that other people would think of me the way my parents thought of atheists.  It was pretty scary “coming out” and, to be honest, sometimes still is.

For many people, the word “atheist” is a striking word.  It carries with it negative emotional and psychological baggage, and it just sounds evil, sort of like how the word “moist” sounds disgusting.  Why is this?  People have attached so many misguided notions to the word that they have a visceral reaction when someone says that they are an atheist before even processing the word rationally.

(I actually prefer “agnostic-atheist,” which does require a bit more explanation, but that is not my purpose here.  Also, the word “atheist” doesn’t make much sense, anyway.  As Sam Harris would put it, we don’t have a word for a non-astrologist – you either believe it or you don’t, and you can’t really label a non-assertion of a belief.  The label of atheist implies dogma, of which atheism has none.  Lastly, a substitute title could be skeptic.)

I had to go through a process of becoming comfortable referring to myself as an atheist. If you are uncomfortable with the word, all I can say is practice.  You must think it, write it, and say it in order to get rid of the negative emotions you have and become proud and confident in your non-belief. Reading atheist books, watching debates, and learning as much as you can about the topic of religion will only make you more confident using the word. You will not fear the interrogating, pressuring, and condescending responses you are likely to experience. You will have material ready to respectfully, intelligently, and persuasively respond to common retorts. (Please remember that clarity of your opponent’s questions and arguments, summarizing their view, and clear responses are your goal – NOT winning an argument, calling names, generalizing, etc. Stay disconnected and DO NOT let them get under your skin and cause you to lose your cool. If you become emotional, it doesn’t matter how effective your arguments are – they have won.)

I think it is practical at this point to use the word “atheist” because it is quick and to-the-point, but I might start saying that I am “non-religious” when asked about my beliefs. This will undoubtedly draw follow-up questions for clarification, but through experimentation I’m sure I’ll come up with quick and effective responses. But for now, “atheist” is the word.

One other problem is that theists believe they know the atheist position.  If you’ve had the opportunity to argue with a theist who thinks they understand atheism, you know what I mean.  So, once you say you’re an atheist, they say “Oh, I know what your views are,” or, “You just believe in nothing.”  They may even get right to accusatory questioning, such as, “Where do you get your morals from?” insinuating that you aren’t a moral person without the Bible.  Or even, “Your children won’t learn right from wrong.”  I have had people say these things to me and about my kids.  For you new atheists, stop them right there and say something like the following.  “Please don’t assume that you know my position – it is condescending and demeaning.  I can elaborate on my ideas if you would like to hear me out for just a few minutes.”  At that point, you should have a few brief points that you are comfortable making that do not attack, but just clarify 1) why you don’t prescribe to a religion and, 2) what values you promote or believe are important (you must have positive assertions).  If they start to bring up specifics about theology or the Bible, argue one point at a time and hold them to it!  They are likely to keep throwing around non sequitur one-liners and bringing up topic after topic and just keep coming and coming and coming.  Just request to be asked one specific question at a time and discuss without trailing off.  If they can’t do that, the conversation is over – it’s not worth it.

Stand up for yourself. Good luck!

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5 thoughts on ““I Am an Atheist”

  1. After reading this, I am questioning on how I really feel about my belief. Agnostic I tell people, yet there are times I defy the purpose in religion with such depravity from the mindset of delusional people. I want to believe but at the same time I am not capable of believing such words from a book written so many times from different people, that the words in the bible are actual words from God. Who can I believe in? Of course, myself and my decisions. I’m a realist and proud of it. When I speak my beliefs in my religious views to others who are somewhat religious, I speak words out of respect. Was you living in a religious home one reason why you chose Atheism?

    1. Thank you and I apologize for the late reply – my business has taken over all of my free time. I think me living in a religious home was a factor, but I also think I’m just born with a more logical view of things rather than spiritual. But the more I learned about theology at home and at church, the more questions were raised in my mind which contributed to my doubt and disbelief. The more I learned and read the bible, the less I believed. My parents had good intentions and taught us what they thought was right, but it backfired. Also, I don’t think I chose atheism – I think it chose me and I just over the years had to accept the fact that I didn’t believe and that it’s OK to be myself and go with my gut, mind, and experience.

      1. No I agree with you on that. Being yourself other than being someone others want you to be is not a way to live. Which is why we are all individuals with different lives and within those lives, we should be able to live it the way we want.

      2. This article and your above comment really struck a cord with me, and I would think, a whole lot of people. Growing up my mother got me involved with church. My siblings were all grown up and gone, so I was left alone with mom to guide my spiritual sense. Dad never went to church, stayed home reading the paper just like in that famous Norman Rockwell painting.
        In Sunday school, I felt out of place, as the other kids had been evidently coached a lot by their parents or siblings. I on the other hand had hardly any clue as to the text of the old and new testaments. I heard the classic fables of Noah and Jonah and Moses of course. To me though, they were more mythical than part of the dry, almost scary stories related in the classroom at church.
        I can recall with utmost clarity being asked a question point blank in class, as I never volunteered any answers. When I said I didn’t know, the other kids laughed at me and that was perhaps the greatest humiliation in my young life.
        After class it was time for service, and I joined my mother. This was my favourite part because I could sit there among all the quite people and doodle pictures on a notepad my mom always brought for me.
        I told her on the way home I didn’t want to go to the classes anymore. She said as long as I accompanied her to the main service, that would be fine. I was so happy!
        From that point on she would make a round trip home to get me (She always attended her adult bible school), or I would play in the lawn of a public building across the street for an hour.
        Years go by, I am a young adult and I attend church on an off with a girlfriend or some such situation, but I never felt rooted in it. I always felt a questioning itch between my ears at practically everything that was related to me from the bible.
        In my mother’s later years she was more involved with the church, actually a part of the board and went every Wednesday and Sunday if she could. I knew my feelings were going more toward an atheist rather than agnostic view, but I didn’t dare say it; it would break her heart.
        It wasn’t until after she died that I could finally breath a sigh of relief and tell people that I was indeed atheist.
        I think there is that fear or rejection among family and friends, or simply not wishing to hurt anyone emotionally that ties a lot of people back from admitting it.

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