Last post, I mentioned my atheism. This is something that sets me apart from the vast majority of my friends and colleagues. It makes people uncomfortable. This is no surprise; when religion teaches that unbelievers are evil and horribly mistaken, where religion gives comfort to those in pain, when many believers disbelieve for a time because they are angry with God, what is a believer to think of another who rejects the faith?
When I was 10 or 11 years old I had a friend ask me why it was I believed in God. I had never considered this a question before. I think many people never consider the question unless they are angry and in pain — i.e. mad at God for some circumstance. For me it was just a completely new thought, an entirely reasonable thought, and I spent a long time with it. I have spent the last 34-35 years thinking on this on and off. When I was younger, I asked this of the adults around me, and I certainly didn’t get a satisfactory answer. I asked my parents, the preachers and teachers in the church, and I didn’t get a satisfactory answer. I read the bible, and I didn’t find that convincing either.
For a while, as a distressed teenager from a troubled home, I tried to follow the prescription of religious friends. To ask for faith and faith would be given to me. I asked, I prayed, I read the Bible some more, but the harder I tried, the more I learned, the more doubt filled my mind. Faith was not given to me. Again, I turned my critical faculties on the question of the existence of God, any God.
The arguments for atheism made a lot more sense. And let me say to those who are reading this who believe. I believe in exactly one fewer god than you do. Why don’t you believe in the Greek gods, or the Roman gods, or the Hindu gods or any of the rest? What makes the one you believe in special is usually that you were raised in that church or are surrounded by that culture. Think of all the gods you have rejected, and remember, I have rejected just one more.
Some say we need God to explain the existence of the universe, but I’d reply by asking why don’t we then need something to explain the existence of God? I stop one step earlier in the process that these believers do. The argument about intelligent design also did not do much for me; yes, there is much about the world that is complicated and elegant, but to claim that this must be created an intelligent designer is to fail to understand fully the theory of evolution and the power of small changes over long periods of time. There are other arguments. I will spare you even a short review of them. I am sure you can go find more information if you are curious.
Another thing. We certainly don’t see any God influencing our day to day life — though some people like to claim they’ve seen it or seen miracles — I believe that people are often experts at fooling themselves and seeing what they want to see. Even me, and I try to be diligent on this issue.
I’ve been in the minority for most of my life with this lack of belief; having other people disagree with me on this point is hardly upsetting. I don’t always like what others say — when people claim it takes faith to be an atheist, that just gets my dander up. The burden of proof is on the person asserting the positive. I am not asserting a positive. When people wonder whether I have a moral code, I have to often bite my tongue in the course of employing it.
I wonder how people can believe what some of the crazy things that the Bible and churches teach, yet be otherwise rational human beings. I am sure they think the exact same of me! One thing being in the minority teaches you is just how rude it would be to express that thought aloud. And unproductive. People that I do respect believe these things. They have reasons I do not understand. It is not my job to convince them, it is my job to live my life authentically and to celebrate when I see others do the same, even if their way is different from mine.
My favorite character from literature, my heart’s favorite at least, is Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan from Lois McMaster Bujold’s works Shards of Honor and Barrayar, collected in the single volume Cordelia’s Honor. While a religious person might ask “what would Jesus do?” my question is “what would Cordelia do?” Cordelia is definitely a theist. I am definitely not. Sometimes my respect and love and admiration for this fictional character is what reminds me that we are all different, and what helps me see, just a little bit, of the perspective from the other side.
It is never easy to go against the flow. My integrity demands this of me. You may not agree; you may want to argue. Please keep in mind that I have, indeed heard it all before. More than once. I hope you can try to respect that, as I also try to respect your beliefs. We won’t always succeed, but at least we can be civilized about our disagreement.