I was having a conversation with someone the other day; we were discussing the topics that I write about on this blog. Obviously there is quite a bit of content about atheism (positively speaking) and religion (negatively speaking), I mentioned this to him “I write a lot about atheism, since I am an atheist.” He responded to this comment by saying that, basically he was too, but he “just didn’t feel comfortable putting it out there,” for fear of backlash from family, friends, and this being America and all…..we then talked a little bit about how the term and those who identify with it are wholly misunderstood, somehow deemed evil, angry, hateful and without morals. I would challenge us to readjust our thinking about the kind of people atheists really are.
One of the most common questions I get, especially from those who know my ‘christian up bringing’ background is: “Why do you hate god?” I respond with the truth: there is no hate involved, only a logical conclusion reached by a few years of doing my own research and an understanding that science really does unlock the mysteries we are obsessively keen to understand. “Besides,” I reply, “It’s difficult to hate something that doesn’t exist. The same way I have no emotion towards Zeus or Mithras”
I suppose, by extrapolation, a perceived hate in god also translates to a perceived hateful disposition because one of the other more common misunderstandings is that atheists are unhappy and not at peace. In fact, in my experience, the bulk of us seem to be utterly content in the life they lead and this is made especially more meaningful since we are well aware that this is our only shot at life and that in itself is cause for celebration. (Not to negate the small percentage of the human population who are somehow miserable no matter where their deist preferences lie). Truthfully? It is my strong contention that peace comes with understanding, it does not surpass it. On the other side of the coin, I believe that religion itself can rob a person of their peace. I remember the numerous conspiracy theories that blew through church during the Clinton administration. I recall distinctly the fear instilled by the church about this or that issue and although I had ‘god to cling to’ I will confess to harboring a certain paranoia when I look back. In another part of the world, a religion prevents successful healthcare because it ‘comes from the west’ and is secretly poisoned.
Sometimes, atheist hate is perceived by many where really a passion for the truth is the compelling force behind our actions. For instance, we will petition for the ten commandments to be taken down in courtrooms, or sit out the pledge of allegiance in schools, or refuse to include the words ‘so help me god’ in our reenlistment oath – not because we are evil, not because we are hateful, and not because we are angry. We do these things to raise awareness to the obvious breech of our nation’s constitution: that no preference is given to any religion. It’s simply a matter of exercising our pragmatic right to call out a social injustice and violation of the law.
For those who are raised in closed, religious environment, legends abound of the misdeeds and immoral acts atheists are ‘known’ for. I had a friend and her lovely little family over for thanksgiving dinner last year. They are former members of that-one-religion-that-doesn’t-celebrate-holidays-or-birthdays and this was their first thanksgiving or any holiday dinner they’d ever attended. After the feast, an afternoon of football, visiting, and pumpkin pie, she looked at me and queried, “This is it, fabulous food and football? No baby sacrifices? No bloodletting? No dancing naked around a bonfire?” We laughed at her joke and I responded that “nowadays, we tend to keep that stuff to just once a year, at winter solstice.” (festivus is celebrated much like thanksgiving, the exceptions being prime rib for dinner instead of turkey and A Christmas Story marathon – completely lacking in blood sacrifices….)
Lacking religion, or a belief in a deity, is usually and also equated with a lack of morality, and I would contend that this is perhaps the biggest misconception of all. The reality is that the burden of morality is probably greater for an atheist. We have nothing to blame our goodness or weaknesses on except ourselves. We accept a deep level of accountability for our actions and typically are motivated to do good just because it’s the right thing to do, rather than expecting some promise of eternal reward in return – neither are our good deeds motivated by fear of being punished if we don’t do them. We have a sense of camaraderie, in that all humans are connected and are brothers and sisters who share a moment in time together. We don’t cheat on our spouses because we are bound by some command or fallible piece of literature, but because we take our vow to be faithful seriously and we wish not to cause pain to our mates. For a real study in the ‘moral’ and ‘religion’ connection, check out those countries where religion is quite the minority, their crime rates are actually lower.
Then there’s the point to be made that religion itself is not so ‘moral’ after all. Within the realm of christianity, the catholics are dealing with one kind of horror, while protestant churches allow known offenders back into the pulpit. And, sadly, more and more often there appear headlines of pastors or youth pastors abusing their positions of authority. Islam’s recent violent surge has all but shattered its claim of being a peaceful religion.
The bottom line, straight out truth is: Morality is not confined to religion.
“What about love?” they’ll often ask, “How can you really know love if you don’t know god?”
Two responses: One – god isn’t necessarily all loving himself. One only needs to look around at the injustices that occur on a daily basis in our world, and yet ‘he’ doesn’t intervene. I mean, does it make sense that an omnipotent god would curse part of this rock and its inhabitants whilst conveniently blessing another to the point of overindulgence? Two – religion doesn’t have the monopoly on love. The dedication and passion I have toward my husband are wholly voluntary, I don’t need to have some outside love to validate or motivate me to love him. I love him because of the connection we share and the chemistry we create together. Furthermore, he has confidence in that love because he knows it is purely motivated, not borne from some obligation to a historical manuscript.
A capacity for love, a passion for justice, a logical conclusion, and morality are not limited to the four walls of any church, mosque, or synagogue. These characteristics are borne of conscious decision, an open mind, and a desire for truth. These are the earmarks of atheists. Eventually we’ll have developed a healthier perception about atheism. Then we can be free to announce our un- belief with confidence and without prejudice. In the meantime, we’ll go on living our lives and making a difference in the lives of others.
Rock on kids….