It’s okay to be an atheist, or not

By Duganz

I’m an atheist, but more than that I am a moral person. The two are related despite what many people say or think.

Atheism informs most, if not all of my morality. My views on everything from taxes to the death penalty start with where I am on existence. I believe that this is it. We live. We die. There is no eternal place. We have this planet, our life, and each other.

At the end of our lives we have nothing, as bleak as that may seem to some. Myself, I sometimes get emotional when I take a minute to think that I’m part of humanity, an ape with a brain that has helped us make everything from arrowheads to iPads, and travel everywhere from Antarctica to the Moon. To be part of this for even a few decades has been wonderful; I can only imagine how happy I will be when I’ve lived something like 80 years.

Life is just so beautiful, and we are lucky to have it.

And so I embrace life, and guide myself not by fear of the unknown or the things I cannot see (death, gawd…ninjas), but by the love of life, and the belief that everyone has a right to it (just fyi, that is not an anti-abortion statement).

Sam Harris writes in his book The End of Faith: “[E]very person you have ever met, every person will suffer the loss of his friends and family. All are going to lose everything they love in this world. Why would one want to be anything but kind to them in the meantime?”

When we strip away heaven, hell, 72 virgins, nirvana, and all other pieces of the religion-pie we are left with each other, and each of us will have roughly the same life: We are born, we live, we die. In between so much else happens, but regardless the outcome is the same–be it cancer, car wreck, or any other means. We start as one, we end as zero.

A worldview built around putting mankind first, and believing in the best for man is usually referred to as humanism (though, I am giving quite a tiny summary of it). Humanists believe in a human-centered world, which is very different from a religious worldview, which puts gawd first. A humanist, for instance, would see a famine and say, “We need to get food in here.” A religious person may agree about the food, but would also waste valuable time praying for food, or rain. Or ninjas. (Another quote from Harris, and I’m paraphrasing, says that if you saw someone muttering to a hairdryer you’d find them crazy; remove the hair dryer and you would say they were praying.)

On a recent post I engaged in a light battle of philosophy with Rev. Timothy Gordish, a man whom I respect greatly for his willingness to defend his belief. I believe reading our “debate” may aid some of you in asking the big question: “Do I really believe in gawd?”

If you read the contradictions I point out (And Rev. Gordish denies) and think that they say a lot about the inaccuracy of the bible, I encourage you to explore that idea by looking into humanism and reading a book like The God Delusion, which I found utterly inspiring. So much in fact that at the end of it I was inspired to out myself as an atheist.

You may also find it useful to attend a meeting of the Missoula Area Secular Society. Though I haven’t myself they seem like a nice group of people and they are obviously passionate about what they think. (And if you’re thinking “Why do atheists need a club?” my wife said it best, “Humans are social creatures. Everyone needs to congregate.”) Don’t be afraid to lack belief, many people do (please see the included video below).

If you read our “debate” and think Gordish makes perfect sense, I encourage you to attend his church in Ronan and support him (though if you could, please be more pro-gay than the Rev). Don’t be afraid to believe.

This post is only the first of many I plan on writing about atheism in the coming months. I just want to introduce the idea here because of what Rev. Gordish and I have been throwing around. Please feel free to debate among yourselves about gawd, JESUS!, the bible, ninjas, my lord and savior the invisible pink unicorn, or his father the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But keep it on topic. Debate ideas, not persons.

  1. Turner

    Excellent post. All I can say is “Amen brother!”

  2. Escapee

    Megadittos. I’m agnostic myself as the universe is too big to pretend to understand.

    But religion makes people happy. If gives them two things that real life does not offer: certainty and simplicity. It will never go away.

    • It may ever go away, but surely it can shrink. I have an easy way to keep someone from going to church: let them read the bible in its entirety, and not in the piecemeal way it is popularly preached.

      • Duganz, I can tell you as student of religious studies, it’s never that easy. People can read anything cover to cover and still comprehend only what they want.

      • lizard19

        i wonder if those godly pedophile catholic priests read the part where Lot’s daughter’s get him drunk and have sex with him in a cave after they fled Sodom (or was it Gomorrah?) to somehow give them comfort as they impose their own evil perversions, which has destroyed thousands of lives.

        • aly

          lizard, there’s nothing godly about pedophile catholic priests.

          • Did you perhaps miss his sarcasm?

          • lizard19

            how do you know? have you ever been an agent of god, bestowed with the power to sexually exploit a weak, innocent being brought into mortal existence by His Holiness ?

            the Lord giveth and taketh away. and he works in mysterious ways.

          • Escapee

            It’s like life and politics- complicated. Religion gives people things they want – security and explanations for the unfathomable. Religion also opens the door for manipulators – the priests who take advantage of their power over children, the preachers who take advantage of their power over simple people to get them to part with their money.

            Then there is the megalomanical aspect: Religion allows narcissists to manipulate others to fulfill grandiose visions. It plays rightt into mental illness.

            Overall good or bad? Bad.

  3. Ingemar Johansson

    There is no God.

    If there was there wouldn’t have been 6 shots into John and none into Yoko.

  4. Dan

    This dialogue between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan is long but worth checking out:

  5. Great post. But it’s more than just OK to be an athiest, it’s tremendously liberating to see the world as it is, to live in it as it is, and to deal with what needs done without worrying about Divine Intervention or, worse, leaving this “vale of tears” for some pie in the sky afterlife. What hokum. I wonder where the pedophile priests are in that afterlife scenario? Or how about the rest of the religions with their various incarnations of Knights Templar continuously slaughtering each other in the name of their particular religion?

    Giving up religion was one of the easiest things I ever did — and I did it in 8th grade when suddenly, none of the heaven, hell, purgatory, venial sins, mortal sins, baptism, confession, blah, blah, blah made any sense anymore.

    Athiesm? Try it, you’ll like it.

  6. Some interesting research from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute ( Essentially, they found that if 10percent of a given population begins to have an “unshakable belief” in something, the majority of the other 90percent will start to believe it to. They use the recent Egyptian uprisings as an example, but obviously religion would make sense as well.

    Imagine if someone were to start a “megachurch” in Missoula (population Approximately 90,000). They would only need to reach 9,000 people to see an extreme shift in the remaining 81,000.

    It’s easy to see why people who move to Utah, for example, are wont to convert to LDS. They are surrounded by the faith, and begin to drift into it.

  7. Just like the word ‘marriage’ religion will fade away, too.

  8. aly

    blaming religion for violence perpetrated in its name, is like blaming sex for rape

    the problems in this world are created by man – greedy, perverted, free-willed man, not religion. just like it’s not sex that causes rape, it’s not religion that causes war

    religion, like any weapon, can be used to create harm and destroy, but only under the direction of man

    man too can use religion to create great benefit for society since it can inspire you to do great good and help your fellow man

    as humanists, lets focus on the root of the problem, which is humanity, not some set of outwardly philosophical beliefs

    • aly – total baloney with the “blame sex for rape” rap. Did you forget it was the religious leaders of the day, from the Pope on down (who is, after all, “infallible” if you believe the Catholics) who sent those Crusaders to kill Muslims. And who do you think declares “jihad”? Once again, it’s the religious leaders.

      Now maybe there’s some great distinction in your mind between religion and the people who claim to be the intermediaries between whatever deity they happen to ascribe to and the rest of humanity. But for most people, organized religion IS what religion is about. That’s what it’s about. That’s who you make your tithes or donations or obeisance to.

      Granted, there are many, many people who have their own relationship with “higher beings” that do not follow the tenets of organized religion. But in reality, they are miniscule in number compared to those who follow scriptures from ancient books that have been re-written by kings, potentates and viziers…and usually rewritten to benefit their particular interests and fortunes.

      You can let organized religion off the hook for the millions of deaths, tortures, and worse that they have caused, but that’ll be your personal choice, not particularly inline with the reality of the world’s religions.

      • Turner

        The right-wing counterargument, of course, is that atheism can be destructive, too. Those who make the argument cite the excesses of Stalinism and other historical leftist violence.

        I stll feel a lot safer around a bunch of atheists than I do around the religiously enchanted.

      • aly

        neogeo, you are right, there is a great distinction in my mind between the religious leaders who perpetrate war and genocide on behalf of their so-called “religion” and the religious teachings these men supposedly follow and preach.

        for example, jesus said ‘love thy neighbour’ but you and i both know that the catholics have been killing their neighbours since the very beginning – not a whole lot of love going on there.

        now, face with this dilemma, do I completely reject the basic teachings of jesus (which are mostly about love and getting along) because of what some free-willed, power-hungry men (religious leaders = man) have done in the name of religion? i don’t think so, i can clearly see the difference

        now, you seem to fall into the same category that most followers of organized religion fall into – that is, to you organized religion IS what religion is about, therefore you attack religion in any form you see it. my whole point is that organized religion IS NOT what religion is about, regardless of how many people follow it or make tithes or donations to

        if your beef is against the leaders of organized religions whose actions aren’t in accord with the religious teachings they claim to follow, then you and i have more in common than you think.

        attack men who use religion as a weapon, but don’t attack the religious teachings or a faith in god because that’s not where the battle lies

        • there are good people and good communities of worship just like there are bad people and bad communities of worship.

          why should i care if people go to church? it is none of my business which ones they belong to or how they choose to ruin a perfectly snoozeable sunday.

          just because bears choose to stay in the woods is no reason to bother people who do other things with their time. i would prefer that they stay away actually.

          staying in the wilderness is probably preferable to going to church anyway. according to the bible, jesus preferred it.

          and who can blame him? humans are often pretentious, hypocritical and prone to betrayal.

          that being said, i do however, admire the good charitable works of many of the good communities of worship. america could not cope without their help and the collective good will of the people who donate their time and money to worthy causes in helping those less fortunate. the poverello and the food bank rely on good communities of worship for a great deal of the help that enters their doors. we should never forget that.

        • The nice thing about athiests is they don’t have to attack anybody. You religious folks can wipe each other out for all we care. The real world has enough challenges for us, without all your judgments.

          • aly

            neogeo, it doesn’t matter whether it’s religion or politics, there’s always something to attack and that always is BULLSHIT. it happens on this website every day. i’m a progressive because i attack bullshit, no matter where it is, whether in religion or in politics.

            and yes, i do judge, i judge liars and hypocrates. there’s nothing wrong with that. i have no reason to judge you since you seem to be neither a liar or a hypocrate. i’m not an atheist myself, but pretty much all my friends are. try being a liberal progressive who believes in god and see how much shit you get from all sides.

        • aly – Not attacking anybody. Just saying it’s a lot easier being an atheist than wading through the mumbo-jumbo of the world’s multitude of religions. Personally, I don’t much care what other humans want to believe in — you included. I live by a moral code that respects other people’s right to do so and I hope I get that kind of respect in return. But of course, I know that’s seldom the case. If you openly claim to be an atheist, the “attacks” usually come from those who claim to be religious. The Christian Right here in the U.S. is a great example of that. If you’re not with them, in the words of George W. Bush, you’re against them.

          Enjoy your version of religion. I know a number of good folks who basically follow the tenets you do without doing the whole church, tithe, obeisance stuff. They feel there’s a higher power in the Universe and I surely have no way to disprove their theories or yours.

          • aly

            neogen, once again you are right: it is a lot easier being an atheist, maybe that’s the reason i am not one.

            • lizard19

              i don’t think either approach is easy. Atheists don’t have the comfort of belief in an afterlife where they can be reunited with loved ones. that’s the sticking point that keeps me an agnostic; i want desperately to believe this world and my time on it is not all there is.

            • How is easier? Understanding science is much more difficult than reading stories about bearded men killing fig trees and searching for the moral reason behind such a useless gesture.

              • aly

                duganz, maybe neogeo can explain it better but i think the act of dismissing something is easier than the act of trying to understand it, whether it’s religion, math or ripe bananas.

                it is just as easy for foolish religious men to dismiss science as it is for some to dismiss religion. sure, science is difficult to understand, not arguing with you there. correct me if I’m wrong but it sounds like you must be of the opinion that if you believe in god therefore you don’t believe in science, or that if you believe in science then you don’t believe in god because the two are mutually exclusive. i can personally tell you that my search to understand the physical world is just as important as my search to understand the spiritual side of the world, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. in my view, they are actually quite complementary.

                now, you may argue that there is no spiritual side because science cant’ prove it, and that’s fine, i can’t prove it to you either (and, frankly, i don’t give a triceratops’ ass to prove it to you). the purpose of religion, in my view, is to help understand and provide answers to questions that science can never answer, that’s why i study religious traditions. who knows, maybe some day science will prove the spiritual side, maybe not, it doesn’t really matter because that’s not the point.

                also, if you believe the whole of religious experience comes down to “reading stories about bearded men killing fig trees and searching for the moral reason behind such a useless gesture” then obviously you have no idea what religion to some is all about. such quips, which are reminiscent of dawkins and hitchens, only prove that you and religious extremists read religious texts quite literally.

  9. I am in total agreement with your opening statement. Atheists are moral, and they do follow their beliefs and act on them. After all atheists are humans, and share in common the moral dimensions that come with that blessed estate.

    It seems from your posted movie that you need to work on a little PR. You are the most hated group in America. I would suggest that you do a little self reflecting in order to understand why so many in our society fear you.

    I can give you a few tips from an outsiders view point, but first I want to know if you even want some constructive criticism.

  10. Well, first off you need to start with prayer…(JUST KIDDING!)

    No, there two big problems that you need to tackle if you want atheism accepted more people. I am very willing to share the first, but I don’t think the second will be helpful or constructive because I don’t believe you can do anything about it.

    First off, you need to realize that by assuming for yourself the title atheist, you also take on the recent history of atheists in America.

    Every piece of American money contains these three key phrases: Liberty (I am sure you all think this is a great and noble goal), e pluribus unum or out of many one (also a great American value) and finally the one that gives you a bad name; In God We Trust. The result is people who call themselves atheists sue.

    The reaction of atheists to any form of public expression of faith has been through bully lawsuits. Many have been effective in winning their case, but also very effective in making you unpopular. Others have been unsuccessful in there law suits but also successful in turning others against you, and making you look foolish.

    You need to stop the frivolous suits, and stop acting like every cross in the cemetery is hurting your souls. Heck, you guys act like vampires, and vampires are creepy.

    The solution is simple. Show that you are something more than just iconoclasts, and that you want to make things better for everyone, not just your own mental state. Start small, prove you can do it, and win over the trust of others. You can do this and people will begin to like you, and join your cause.

    • I have no issue with the pledge as enacted by Congress on June 22, 1942: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

      I do, however, take issue with the law enacted by Congress and signed on June 14, 1954, which added “under God.” “God” is a reference to deity, in this case the God of Abraham. This means that America is a nation under Allah/Yahweh/God. I take offense to this because it violates, clearly, the establishment clause of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” I get that people feel a bit uneasy ’bout atheists and such commenting on this, but when you ask (and in many cases force by peer pressure or otherwise) children to recite a pledge advocating gawd, it is wrong. Take out the gawd part, and my only issue would be pledging allegiance to a flag, which seems silly.

      As does having “Under God” on our money. Does gawd back or bucks? No. The treasury does. So why give gawd the credit. Semms incredulous at best.

      As for cemetery crosses, if people own their plots, I don’t care and I would disagree with atheists who said otherwise (private property trumps all).

      But you are right that atheists get a bad rap for “frivolous” lawsuits. So did black people during the civil rights fight. And gay now as they fight for marriage equality (not to mention the Stonewall riots).

      Being an iconoclast is not an insult, it’s a compliment.

      • yo kina zu

        “In God we Trust” on money appeared during the civil war. The great awakening gave birth to abolitionists, glommed onto women’s suffrage, and was a big part of prohibition. The righteous north writ the fiery gospel in burnished rows of steel. It also gave us a load of kooky dispensational premillinialists.

        However, “In God We Trust” is also critical to the organization that many of our founders belonged to. It can’t be dismissed as a founding principle. The founders trusted that the universe, and humanity, had an inherent goodness.

        We need to accept religion in the public square and in a significant way. It’s Christmas for pete’s sake, that is inherent in our civilization, so let’s see a creche. I’m very okay with a menorah as well. I’m a lot less okay with “holiday” and an enforcement of the rejection of typical western civilization.

        The fundamental problem is in education. People are not taught western civilization as a good thing anymore. It’s evil according to most curricula, and the good is this nature worshiping idolatry of the noble primitive. Bullshit. Teach the english enlightenment as fundamental to the american founding, provide a basis of the classics of pagan greek democracy, pagan roman republic, and pagan germanic common law, and how Christianity leavened that mix into our form of government, instead of guilt tripping our kids into cultural luddism.

        Then they won’t be the victim of whatever Texas establishmentarian or whiney california communist philosophy gets to them first.

  11. OK, just being honest with my opinion. Just don’t expect to people to like you and listen to your ideas.

    Next, I would suggest that at your first meeting together you need to watch Ben Stein’s “Expelled: No Intelligence Required” and critique yourselves in light of points made about how free we are to discuss truth in this country, and the role of atheists in shutting down helpful debate in humanities quest for truth.

  12. Knowledge = power = responsibility. Let us not forget this, and strive to be humble and deny our egos in order to use the knowledge responsibly.

  13. Nick shontz

    Why gawd and not god?

  14. It’s my own silly joke. I love the inflection some preachers use when they say god. They don’t say god, they say, “gaaah-duh.” I’m just simplifying that with “gawd.”

    Like I said, very silly.

  15. Nick Shontz

    You might get more traction or at least more productive debate if you don’t mock the believers right out of the gate.

    • Escapee

      You presume that honest discussion can be had between people who are sure they know the truth and cannot be reasoned with, and people who don’t assume to know such truths. How does one penetrate the mind of the other? Why even try?

      People come around to atheism and agnosticism only by willingness to expose themselves to alternate means of searching for truth. But fear keeps relifious folks from doing that. They cannot be shaken from their views, so it is pointless to try.

      Many on the European content realized after the great war that even if there was a God, he was certainly indifferent to suffering. That kind of shakeup propels people out of faith and into reason. But it’s a hell of a price to pay.

    • I’ll try god next time and see if that’s more productive. Honestly it seems equally diminutive, but you’re probably right.

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