Defining My Beliefs As An Atheist

Whenever I find another atheist in a political discussion on Facebook (as happened just this morning!), I check to see if they’ve seen this pollevl6uzgnekoeiuja132xjw

It’s kinda my go-to, “Look! Isn’t this funny! We’d never be able to hold a high political office! Ha!”

But, you know, it’s also kinda depressing.

I think this is the same issue with a lot of minorities with with negative cultural connotations. There are plenty of people in this country who don’t know an atheist, or a homosexual or a Muslim, at least not well enough to erase their instinctive bias built up by a cultural image defined by the most negative representatives of their community. You hear this a lot in the discussion of Gay Marriage, that the easiest way to change the view of a person against gay marriage, is to simply have them become close to a gay person. Most people change their mind once they get to know a gay person. They lose that DRUGS! AIDS! ANAL SEX! connotation and see the person as a human being with the same hopes, dreams, and capacity for love as any heterosexual. Just like some people who get to know someone who is Muslim will quit seeing them all as terrorists.

I see that poll above and think, maybe people need to get to know Atheists more.

I don’t hide my status as an atheist by any means, but I don’t flaunt it either. Mainly because there are so many negative connotations regarding atheism. Many atheists take the line of, “Christians are stupid!” and scream that from the mountaintops. Therefore, I worry that anyone who hears I’m an atheist will get defensive and assume I think they’re stupid.

I don’t! Some of my closest friends and family are Christians!

I was talking about morality with a Christian friend once and she found it completely admirable that someone could choose to be good without the fear of Hell or the promise of Heaven in the afterlife. I told her that I thought she was underestimating her own natural morality! But, it did surprise me to find that out…that some people have a hard time believing a person without a belief in a rewarding/punishing afterlife could instinctively choose to be good.

So, let me explain myself and my beliefs, on the record, in hopes to kinda erase some of the negative connotation associated with atheists.

Hello, I’m Zoot and I’m an atheist.

Sometimes I prefer the term “Humanist” simply because in many ways defines itself (there are a bunch of “types” of humanism) in the belief that humans have the capacity for good without believing in a God. I guess all Humanists are atheists but not all atheists are humanists? But because there are so many “definitions” of Humanism, and slants it can take, I prefer to stick with Atheism simply because it has one truth: I don’t believe in a God.

Sometimes I prefer the term “Agnostic” simply because I feel it is very presumptuous to take a hard-line against something I may not have the capacity to understand. I would never stand up and say, “I 100% believe there is NO higher power or supernatural force at work in any realm of the universe” – BUT – in my current capacity of knowledge, I do not believe in a God, so I feel like “Atheist” has the most weight of truth to it.

However, I do believe that our actions have consequences. I have Faith in those consequences. I use the ripple analogy a lot. I believe the world I live in is a pond, and every action I take has a ripple effect. I have a choice, if I want to spread out the energy with a negative drop or a positive drop in the pond, and that energy spreads out from where it hits. In simple terms, if I’m rude to the cashier at Target, she might get in a bad mood and lose her patience with her kids at night, and one of them may take that out by bullying a kid at school. Whereas if I’m polite and kind, the opposite might happen. I have Faith that, in the end, the energy you put out into the world is the same energy that surrounds like. Like attracts Like.

I believe Jesus was a good man and I tell my kids about his teachings. I’m not going to argue with a Christian about whether he was the Son of God or the Savior of Mankind because, quite honestly, I don’t need to. There’s no part of me who believes that is who he was, so there is no “argument” about it. I have had a few people who have tried to “convince” me and it doesn’t really work that way. Not with me, anyway. Because I respect Christians and their Faith and participating in that kind of discussion would put me in a position where I have to challenge their Faith and I do not want to do that. I do not want to do anything to debunk the Faith of a religious person. That is what makes me different from the “stereotypical” atheist. I do not see it as a goal to get people to stop believing what they believe. So, if someone challenges me I just politely step away.

I think a lot of people believe that atheists are searching for something and can therefore be led to church by the right people. But I’m not really searching for anything. Haven’t in a long time. I have my own spiritual challenges and awakenings I guess, but I’m not really looking for anything religious in my life. I don’t feel like it’s empty or lacking in anyway. I’m quite comfortable with my spirituality and my morality and I think that tends to be the hardest thing for people of religion to believe. I tend to explain it like this: Where you think your life would be empty without God? I think my life would be empty without running. Or without reading. I can’t imagine how people live without always having a book on their bedside table. Or without always having a run to train for. So, I get it, I do. But you just have to trust me: I don’t feel my life is empty any more than you do without reading, or running.

I respect religion. As long as it doesn’t try to squash the rights of me or people I love, I respect it. I believe it fills a huge need in the world for a lot of people. I love learning about religion. If you are not Christian? I’d probably take you to coffee to quiz you about your religion because I love learning about different religions.

I teach my kids that death is the end. Period. End of story. This saddens them, but it doesn’t freak them out too much. I explain that it’s just the way the world works and while it’s sad, we do our best to live good lives so people will remember us fondly after we are gone. Or we try to do things to make the world a better place. That there are still ways to “live on” after death, but not in the Heaven/Hell sense of things. People often think it would be hard to talk to kids about death without the promise of Heaven, but I think it’s easy because the idea of Heaven always freaked me out a bit. I can’t imagine existing in any realm where I wouldn’t be worried about the people I left behind. And living forever worrying behind the pearly gates has never been appealing to me. So, I teach about death as a practical end to the circle of life. I talk a lot about how much I miss my Dad, so that they’ll see that I’m not being crass about death, but I do talk about it matter-of-factly. We die. We have to. It’s the way of life. Which is why we do everything we can to make this life a good one, because it’s all we get.

I also tell them that we treat people how we want to be treated, even if they’re not reciprocating. I teach them about morality based on what kind of footprint they want to leave in the world. I teach them about the power of good people and how much of a positive change they can make in the world by being kind and loving and generous. I teach them to be grateful for privilege. I teach them not to judge others because you just never know what it’s like to be in their head or in their hearts.

I guess that’s it. I guess that’s who I am as an Atheist. (And atheist? I think I’ve gone back and forth on capitalizing because in some sentences it seems like a formal title, but in others it doesn’t.)

I don’t want to ever hold a high political office, but it does make me sad that so many people would simply not vote for me already, out of the gate, simply because I’m an Atheist.

5 Comments

  • Monica

    I think it’s sad that people wouldn’t vote for you, too. You have wonderful philosophies/beliefs and if more people in the world did things the way you do them, the world would be a better place. I have tried to copy your idea of putting out positive energy since you first mentioned it. I am not always (often?) successful, but I try. We should all respect each other’s beliefs and religions and not be so judgmental.

  • Tonya

    I enjoy reading about your views on this, and how open you are about your beliefs. I myself have fear when it comes to expressing my true opinion and beliefs so I know a post like this is well thought out. My family may accept a confession of me being a lesbian over the fact that I am anything other than a Christian, which is apparent on the poll you posted also. In all actuality I do not label myself with anything. I am not perfect but I try to be as positive, polite and honest as I can be and should I fail I beat myself up enough about it I don’t need the convictions of heaven or hell. Very touchy subject when you are born, raised and continue to live in the bible belt. Kudos to you for your honesty and bravery to just be who you are, I am proud to know you!

  • Megan

    Well said! My little guy is just shy of a year, so we’re certainly not ready for these conversations yet. But it’s so nice to hear how you’re navigating the topic of religion, especially living in the south. Thank you for sharing!

  • Cheryl

    My grandmother was a wise woman, and used to say, “we’re all heading to the same depot, we’re just on different trains.” She used it with regards to different religions, but I include atheism in there as well. There is some irony that this same woman who was a nun in her youth has 5 grandchildren and none of us are at all religious. Most of us are spiritual, but we’re just not religious.

  • Lindsey

    I really, really enjoyed reading this. I am Christian. My morals are rooted in my religion. However, I do not believe that those who take a different path are incapable of being good, moral people. I believe quite the opposite.

    I have an atheist friend who believes those who practice religion are “weak” in a sense that they depend on their God to provide them comfort and hope for the future. I just tell him that my Faith makes me strong. It feeds my soul everyday. Anyway, it is evident that you do not share his take on this.

    Thank you for sharing your beliefs. As cheesy as it sounds, we are all in this world together, doing the best we can.