Monthly Archives: August 2013

Coming out atheist wasn’t easy. It is my hope that sharing this part of my journey will help you along yours. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy process, which is why I waited to act for several years to reveal my non-belief.  The main roadblock was fearing the response of family. My mother’s belief is strong, and all of our relatives are devout Christians. It was their love and contact that I didn’t want to lose.

When finally it was too much to cover up, I gave the decision to announce my non-belief a lot of thought, and many fears came rolling through my head. Would my family shun me? Would they still love me? Would my Mom worry about my ‘eternal soul,’ her blood-pressure rising to unmanageable levels? Who else would be hurt? After much internal struggle, I concluded that only time would tell, and that if their love were true, my family would rather have me living honestly, if not living in their Truth. The big reveal was achieved in a letter that I also published as a blog piece; The Seven Year Itch, I called it. The falling out was swift, my Father was disgusted, my Mother felt betrayed, and this made it easy for extended family to distance themselves.

I don’t believe that things between my Father and I will ever mend; there are other issues there, too. It took several months for my Mom to come to terms with my non-belief. For her, it was a personal rejection of the things she holds most dear. “My Mother would never lie to me,” she said regarding Grandma’s faith and Christian witnessing. Many hugs and long talks later, our relationship is mostly mended, though the topic of atheism is always lurking nearby.

At first, after coming out, I had regrets. My thoughts were awash with a wish that I’d have kept my atheist anonymity, if only until after my parents were deceased. Waiting a lifetime to finally be freed was too much of a burden though, and looking back it was definitely worth the emotional challenges and issues that arose. Meaningful friendships, family that knows and accepts me, opportunities to help others along their journey through doubt. Had I know what was ultimately coming, I’d have come out earlier.

My story of rejecting religion and realizing I am an atheist is simple. In elementary school there was a daily lunch time bible class one could attend. Some of my friends talked me into joining and I became a Christian to the point I annoyed my family with my preaching. After I entered Jr. High and left some friends behind I lapsed in my Christian life but hung onto the beliefs. Until I accepted I was a lesbian. That killed Christianity for me. Skip ahead a few years I met an ex girlfriend who was Wiccan. I followed Wicca for a decade because it was inclusive of my sexuality. It wasn’t until long after I had broken up with her that Wicca also fell by the wayside, just to my growing interest in science and becoming more open minded to the world. Plus this internet fad showed up. I was able to study religions and critiques thereof and realized being an atheist was the logical choice. My family was happy since I was raised in a household of sceptics. They helped me be open about atheism to the point that while I’m reading atheist books or websites at a bar and I’m asked what I’m reading I’ll openly say what I am and many good conversations occur. You’d be surprised how many of us are out there or how many religious people are not bothered by a lack of belief.

I am an athe­ist. Even writ­ing that sen­tence makes me one of the most dis­trusted minori­ties in Amer­ica, and although I do not fear phys­i­cal vio­lence, prej­u­dice against non­be­liev­ers per­me­ates mod­ern soci­ety. One good thing I’ve learned about being in an intel­lec­tual minor­ity, how­ever, is that to avoid dis­crim­i­na­tion you only have to keep silent, nod your head, and smile at the appro­pri­ate times. If you’re care­ful, no one can see your dis­be­lief like they see your gen­der, age, or skin color, though I can’t help who I am just the same. Why don’t I believe? I have a lot of clever retorts to that ques­tion, but the hon­est answer is I don’t know. I mean that as an admis­sion of doubt, as sim­ple igno­rance. I don’t know why I don’t believe when 90% of my peers do. But the answer, it seems to me, is that those who can believe do.

It seems like faith had every­thing going for it, with every pre­dic­tive fac­tor for belief present. I was raised in a strong Chris­t­ian home, by two church-going par­ents, and sent to a reli­gious school. I was incul­cated and indoc­tri­nated in the ways and beliefs of the faith from birth. All of my friends were believ­ers, and I reflex­ively iden­ti­fied as “Chris­t­ian” right up to the very end. What’s more, I wanted to believe. There is even a prayer, Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbe­lief,” for us pen­i­tent athe­ists. Every day I felt the bur­den of the sin of unbe­lief crush­ing me. I went to church and school I did not believe a word of it. I prayed and received no guid­ance, only guilt and shame.

In the midst of my cri­sis of faith, I thought back to my con­ver­sion experience–a manda­tory part of my par­tic­u­lar denomination–when I asked Jesus to save me from my sins and come into my heart. It hap­pened, like most peo­ple in my sit­u­a­tion, when I was very young (about five years old) and for the very worst of rea­sons. You could not take com­mu­nion in my church unless you were “saved,” which, besides miss­ing out on juice and crack­ers, meant being pub­licly ostracised. My father told me I had to go get saved first or else when I died one day I would end up in hell, sep­a­rated from every­one I loved for eter­nity. That is kind of a bomb­shell to drop on a five year old, but I went with it. I grabbed my trusty children’s Bible and headed out back to a quiet spot in the woods. I found a small clear­ing on a hill, where the sun­light struck it just so. I looked at the pic­ture book ver­sions of Bible sto­ries (with, I now know, all of the grue­some vio­lence edited out), and I got down on my lit­tle knees and said the words. And I tried so hard to believe.

The strongest part of that mem­ory for me was, and still is, the huge dis­ap­point­ment. I thought I might see a white light (as I heard some peo­ple did), or that I would be over­come by the feel­ing of the Holy Spirit enter­ing my heart (as I was told hap­pened at that moment), but noth­ing hap­pened. I didn’t feel any­thing. I sat there a bit, wait­ing for God to show up. I did not hear a voice or feel His pres­ence or see any signs. I was con­fused and let down. I was relieved that I wouldn’t go to hell now, and I hyped that up a bit into the “peace that passes all under­stand­ing” (Philip­pi­ans 4:7) that my Sun­day School teach­ers talked about. I decided that would do, and I left the hill and went down to the house, tak­ing with me a buried sense of guilt I would carry for years.

For the next decade or so, through pri­mary and into high school, I tried valiantly to con­vince myself that my faith was real, that the Bible (despite its con­tra­dic­tions and cru­elty) was true, and that the con­se­quences of not believ­ing were too high to risk. “Believe,” I was told, “and con­fir­ma­tion will come after.” I tried and failed, over and over, with each new fail­ure pil­ing on fresh doubt and con­fu­sion. In some ways, I feel like that lit­tle boy never left the hill. He sat there alone, year after year, striv­ing to feel some­thing, wait­ing for the God who never came.

Why couldn’t I believe? I don’t know. I wanted to. Belief, it seems, is not a choice; those who can, do. But as the lit­tle boy grew up, he looked at the splen­dor and mys­tery of nature all around him, and he desired not merely to believe but to know. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I came to under­stand that the best in us does not require the worst in us, that curios­ity is prefer­able to cer­tainty, that love, hon­esty, and respect are enough. I let go of the false surety, the lying words, and the cross of shame. I embraced the doubt and open­ness on which wis­dom is built. I rose to my feet, and in the words of Robert Inger­soll, “I stood erect and fear­lessly, joy­ously, faced all worlds.”

This post originally appeared on Gamma Atheist on July 9, 2013. Reposted with permission from Dan Arel.

I would say I was raised in a typical American fashion. Born into a Christian family, given a biblical name, taken to church often, my mom even worked for our church. I was a part of youth group and my churches own version of the boy scouts. I loved the church, I loved god, I even have very early memories of standing on my grandparents fireplace and preaching to them. I was young, but I thought I knew my calling.

Looking back, I had some major red flags, but they did not seem so obvious at the time. I remember watching a video about the dangers or rock n’ roll, or mentioning to my youth group that I liked AC/DC and getting a long lecture about the devil.  I even have a memory from a fourth grade class in my Christian school when we watched a video about science and we fast forwarded through parts about Pangaea and evolution, both we were told had been since disproven ideas.

I would also say that I was a typical teenager, around age 12, god or not, I didn’t want to go to church. I wanted to hang out with my friends, and I asked my parents if I could stay home and to my surprise, they obliged. I didn’t at this point question god or my faith, I would even admit I didn’t know you had a choice to not believe in god, I thought you had two choices, god or Satan.  Around 14 or 15 I had a newer group of high school friends who had been pretty into church, and I did not often join them for Sundays services, I would go to youth group functions, often involving ice hockey games and bowling.

I remember these group outings because this is when I first questioned my faith. Before any of these outings there would always be a small service. A cool hip young pastor “rapping with the kids” about the dangers of music and the devil and each service would end with people coming forward to be saved, (you of course are encouraged to bring your friends so they can be saved too!). On one particular night, they wanted to save people who maybe felt they had fallen away from the church, and I felt that was me, I didn’t think much about god or religion and felt maybe I needed to be re-saved to secure my place in heaven.

I walked up the front with maybe 20 other kids and we started to pray and the pastor kept saying we would feel god enter our bodies and people around me were jolting and crying and some speaking in tongues and I felt nothing. I tried so hard to feel something, and it didn’t happen. We left the church, watched hockey, I went home, but this feeling stuck with me.  Though I remembered this feeling, it had no immediate effect on me, but it was something that would come back to slightly later.

I had decided not to care about things like music when it came to being a Christian and got into lots of goth and metal bands, and of course they were all very satanic, at least in image. I had started to become mad at god, and was looking to turn against him, I honestly don’t remember much context that brought on this anger but I was angry and god was to blame.  It was then I experimented as a rebellious child with Satanism, if not only for a few weeks, as it was then I bought the Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey and read it cover to cover and ended up shocked. Satanists don’t believe in god or satan?

I was not satisfied at all with the Satanist “religion” as it seemed very selfish and strange, but it had one life changing effect on me, it made me think back to youth group, to empty feelings during prayer and made me realize, I didn’t believe in god. It made perfect sense, I was not mad at god, there was no god!

However, it was not until after high school when I really started to be combative about my beliefs, or lack there of. I started to engage others in conversation and started to really form my arguments for disbelief. My brother had found god in this time and we debated for hours about it. I would not call what I did advocacy of any sort, that did not come till much later.

I rejected the word atheism for so long, it only had a negative meaning I thought and was a religion in itself. I had only been told these stories from people who learned I did not believe and I had no atheist adults to fall back on for guidance. So I rejected the term till later in life when a friend really turned me on to more active atheists such as Hitchens, Dawkins, and you know the rest, I watched videos and read books, looked up websites for local and national groups and realized I had a community of people waiting for me. It was then I became an outspoken, unapologetic activist for reason and equality. I felt like I did as a child on the fireplace, I had found a calling of sorts.

I started my own blog, ranted on Facebook and Twitter and finally after building up a bit of a “portfolio” I showed people what I had and told them about my goals and was so amazingly lucky to meet Emily Dietle who invited me to blog as a contributor to her awesome website called Emily Has Books.

I am a proud atheist and anti-theist, I do not shy away from discussing my atheism, humanism, love of science and desire to educate the world. I hope others will continue to join us in our fight to rid the world of bigotry, hatred and violence brought forth by the worlds religions. I share my story because I feel it’s probably a more common story around our country and maybe someone will read it and relate, and realize there are other options out there. There is another way to live your life, and if I am any example, it’s a much happier and more fulfilling life.

Follow Dan on Twitter at @danarel. Follow Dan’s blog

Reposted with permission from Mr Oz Atheist’s blog. It is part 1 of a 3 part series. Be sure to check out parts 2 and 3 as they are published.

Dear reader,

Welcome to atheism.

I guess that’s a strange thing to say. Coming ‘to’ atheism isn’t really a thing. What is atheism really but a doubt in the claims that a god exists? There are some who say that in order to be an atheist, the question itself never had to be considered. These people say that atheism is the default – that we are atheists the moment we’re born. So maybe I should be saying ‘welcome back to atheism’?

Regardless, whether you consider yourself new to atheism, returning to atheism, or new to coming out as the atheist you’ve always been. I’m glad you’ve found your way here. I hope that I’ve written something below that you find helpful.

The first, and most important point to make – you are NOT alone. There are atheists everywhere. Millions of us in fact. You may think there are none in your house, your street, or even your town – but there’s a chance someone you know is thinking exactly the same thing. The question is…how do you find these people? How do you connect?

The obvious answer (for those who can access it) – is the internet. I have had more than a few people tell me, or mention to others, that they didn’t know any other atheists, until they came online. They honestly thought they were *alone*. As I’ve said on twitter –

In part 3 of this 3 part series of blogs on ‘New To Atheism’ I highlight some of the ways someone new to atheism can find other atheists to interact with. Given that you’ve found your way to my blog, you’ve clearly got internet access – this is a wonderful place to start.

Becoming an atheist after years of theism can often be daunting. You might be turning your entire world upside down, everything you thought about the universe and our world within it is suddenly ‘wrong’.

Some people can make this change without issue. For others, it’s a very trying and testing time. It’s common to be angry at the loss of one’s understanding. You might feel cheated and\or lied to. You might feel that you can no longer trust anyone, especially if the beliefs you previously held were given to you by an authority figure (which is likely the case).

I understand why these negative emotions come about but they are not permanent. Once you learn to see the universe for the natural wonder that it is, the feeling of being cheated and disappointed will disperse. You’ll need to train yourself to look forward, and not backward, to celebrate what you have, not lament what you don’t.

How? Recognise that this IS the life you get and that time wasted is time you’ll never get back. You’ve come this far with a false idea of ‘creation’ and a false idea that a ‘god’ is watching and caring about everything you do. But you’ve given up that idea and come to the realisation that the universe is a natural place. Rejoice in this. Celebrate it. Look at the universe without the god-shaped blind spot in front of your eyes.

It is an amazing thing that you are here at all. For ‘you’ to be in existence, an extraordinary number of coincidences must have fallen into place, make the most of this.

Understand that people who brought you to theism probably didn’t do it with malice. They, like you before, more than likely believed what they told you. They haven’t deceived you deliberately. Anger at these people is wasted. It will serve you no purpose. I understand the need to vent and I’m sure the need to question the people who convinced you that theism was correct will be strong, but confronting them in anger will not help you in the long run. If you feel the need to question any of the people who were involved in you becoming a theist, do so with kindness and understanding. Remember that they still believe the falsehoods that you’ve now given up. Ask them your questions if you need to, but keep in mind how you would feel if someone confronted you angrily when you’ve told them what you thought was true.

We’re told that as atheists we must have nothing to live for – of course we have everything to live for. There’s nothing for us once we die. I’ve written a blog here about the claim that atheists have nothing to live for. Obviously you can adjust this how you see fit – but it does show that in a world without a ‘god’ there is PLENTY for atheists to live for. If you feel that leaving theism has left a gap in your life, I hope you can find some ideas which give your life some meaning.

There are also people who’ve been atheists their whole lives but are still ‘in the closet’. They don’t have the same issue of having their understanding of the universe drastically altered but the thought of coming out as an atheist can still be a frightening idea, especially if there’s a threat of losing family or friends if you ‘come out’.

One thing to keep in mind here is that announcing that you’re an atheist is not an obligation. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable, keeping atheism to yourself is okay. There are plenty of atheists I interact with on twitter who are anonymous because of the potential impacts in their real life. This is where the online atheist community thrives. It’s a wonderful place for people who don’t have another avenue to connect with people who share their point view.

So whether you are a lifelong atheist or one who’s recently turned away from theism, coming out can lead to alienation of friends and family. It can lead to being ostracised. I’ve read a case of family being forced out of town,  I’ve read how being an atheist can lead to imprisonment and even death in some parts of the world. This is, of course, totally unacceptable. It’s not all negative though. Not by a long way. Being an atheist can also lead to any number of positive feelings. The idea that you can  ‘finally’ talk to someone who shares your point of view. The opportunity to share your thoughts and ideas on how theism impacts the world and how we can do things better. There’s the wonder at the natural beauty of the universe and what seems like a strange mixture of chaos and order. There’s the thrill of learning how something really works versus the notion that we must be satisfied with ‘god did it’. Being an atheist when coming from theism can be liberating. It is the clichéd weight being lifted off one’s shoulders. I look at world and know that I am lucky to be here and that life is to be valued. As atheists we need not think that we’re in god’s waiting room, we’re not here to pass some bizarre character test in order get a ‘pass’ into the afterlife. We no longer claim that we’re being good just because some overlord is watching our every move – we can be good for goodness sake. We can have sex without worrying that any number of our dead relatives might be watching.

I’m confident that there will come a time where being an atheist – everywhere – is not only acceptable, it’s irrelevant. Because that’s what it should be. It shouldn’t matter. We should accept people based on their actions, based on how they treat others, based on the value and ideas they bring to the community. I hope we get to the point where we stop accepting or rejecting people based on which version of the creation myth they do or don’t believe.

For this to happen we need all atheists to feel that can say it with no expectation of negative reaction. For some of us it’s easy, the more we do it, the more we say it, the easier it will become for everyone.

Until this happens, being an atheist is going to be a struggle for many people. If you are one of them, please know you’re not alone, I commend you for beginning and being on this journey. I hope you learn to be comfortable as an atheist, I hope you can be comfortable with all your family and friends knowing that you’re an atheist and that you don’t have to hide it. If you wish to, seek out other atheists, say hello, interact, get to know them. Speak up if you feel the need and most of all, don’t allow anyone to make you feel bad for being who you are. You are an atheist, and this is nothing to be ashamed of.

Thanks for reading
~ Donovan

Follow Donovan on Twitter at @MrOzAtheist. Follow his blog here.

My name is John Kniess – aka “Skepticali”. This is the story of my growth from a moderate Episcopalian childhood, through a brief interlude in Pentecostalism  to the non-belief that brightens my life today.

A close personal relationship with reality can be found via many paths. Some folks are born with the good sense that took me fifty years to develop. Others experience a grind, with loss of friends and family. Yet others experience that “Aha!” moment that sets their ship aright. My voyage to atheism was beset with less drama than some people experience. There were only a few distinct turning points in my transformation from uncritical acceptor of the Bible as truth, to having a deep appreciation for reality and a resolute skepticism of the supernatural in any form.

What I hope to contribute here is a portrait of how a persistent, decades-long pursuit of knowledge and reason led to the conclusion that there is no god. No god anywhere, under any name.

It went a little something like this:

I’m the oldest of four children, born to a middle class,  professional couple in 1950’s Midwestern America. We were nominally Episcopalian, and went to church every week. I can remember asking a Sunday School teacher why the devil existed if God was in charge, and not receiving a satisfactory answer, but it was never much of a concern during the rest of the week. I knew what an atheist was (esp. Madalyn Murray O’Hair), and I understood that atheism was considered “bad”, but the lack of active personal indoctrination from my parents allowed me an angst-free glide through my teens – at least religion-wise!

By my mid-teens, I could have been described as  “spiritual but not religious”. That description seemed to be applied as a compliment, so it encouraged me to hold to a vaguely deist, occasionally pagan, pseudo-philosophical track. In my early twenties, I became “born-again”, and joined a Pentecostal church that featured speaking in tongues, rolling on the floor, and (I’m sure) other dramatic weirdness that I no longer remember. I joined for pretty common reasons: no girlfriend, sense of loneliness, sense of purposelessness, lack of direction. I was born-again for the better part of a year. I read the New Testament verse-by-verse, then did the same for the Old Testament to (ostensibly) solidify the foundation upon which my Christianity was built. That’s where my life took a distinct turn for the better, as I saw how awful the god of the OT was and how utterly preposterous some of the most foundational stories were (read Genesis chapters 1, 2, 6-10 et al.). It took just weeks to recognize that Jesus upheld these beliefs, which unraveled the whole scheme. I walked away from organized religion for good, and stayed generally agnostic until about 2002.

If a traditional believer wants to criticize me for having been “insincere in my belief”, I’m happy to accept the criticism. I’m not trying to establish God-loving bona fides here. The relevant fact of my passage through the Pentecostal church was that it prodded me to immerse in the Bible, and to reflect deeply on it. The intellectual distance between reading the Bible’s every verse and non-belief is only about a hop and a skip. No jump was required.

Until about the age of fifty, I’d have called myself a 5 on the Dawkins scale of belief, i.e. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.” At that point, I undertook my “atheist finishing school”. I took courses and did independent reading on Argumentation theory and the philosophies of Science and Religion. The religious research introduced me to many of the arguments for the existence of God – and why they fail, which led me to the arguments for Naturalism, and why they succeed. The capstone was another verse-by-verse re-reading of the Old and New Testaments. And did I mention the Internet? Yep, that helped too.

Simply stated, it’s better not to believe in something without good reasons. There are no good reasons to believe in God.

Today, I’m an Atheist in the Phil Plait “don’t be a dick” mold. Previously, I had been a “don’t be a dick” agnostic. Even in my believer days, I was a “don’t be a dick” believer. There’s a pattern there somewhere. I like freedom, so I tend to extend to others that courtesy, to believe whatever they want. Accordingly, I rarely get in people’s faces over religion, although I don’t rule it out completely. I can understand some of the reasons people follow religion, but it’s clear that the beneficial things can all be obtained in other reality-based ways. Obviously, there’s another side to this, and that is (what I’ll call) “conservative religious activism” appears to want to block or roll back social, intellectual and scientific progress. I’m vehemently against letting religion constrain freedom or  dictate public policy, and I’m strongly in favor of separation of church and state. I’m absolutely against shackling humanity in the present and future to the Bronze Age thinking that has chained it in the past.

Having written this essay, I now recognize how important extending friendship and support to other budding and established atheists is. Religion has been a plague on humanity. It’s time to be free of it, and anything I can do to lend a sympathetic ear or helping hand to my fellow non-believers is something I will do. I thank Martin for putting this project together!

If you’re inclined, tweet (or DM) me on twitter @skepticali or drop a comment on my infrequent blog posts at Mention the #NotAloneProject of course!

Best of luck! I look forward to hearing from you!

I was invited by my neighbour, the Vicar, to address a monthly parishioners meeting held at the local church. My subject was “Why I am an Atheist”. This was obviously not a formal church service, rather a more informal gathering. Nevertheless I was delighted to be invited and this is what I said.

“Good evening, I’m David and I’m an atheist.

I feel that pronouncing my atheism in a church is a bit like having an AA meeting down the pub but I am grateful to Peter for giving me the opportunity to come here and speak to you tonight. Peter has asked me to talk about why I’m an atheist and that is what I will try to do. I have no other agenda here tonight, I am not trying to convince or convert. I am not here to ridicule. I respect people’s rights to believe what they wish. I am merely here to state my own beliefs or rather, in this context, my non-belief and my journey to that non-belief.

I was born an atheist, we all are but I’ll come back to that, and I was raised in what my parents would have believed was a ‘Christian’ family.  From an age that I can remember I attended church with them on Sundays, sat in Bible Studies, and sang carols on Christmas Eve. I was christened as a babe in arms.

I say my parents would have ‘believed’ it to be a Christian household but I’m not sure that they believed in God with complete conviction. Sadly, they’re no longer with us to ask them and we rarely discussed religion or faith while they were still alive. We never said ‘Grace’ before meals and I never heard either of them say “We should pray for them” or “We should pray for that”. This was the 1960s and I think social convention played a big part in all this. It was just the ‘done thing’ to go to church and profess faith and we all went along with that.

At about the age of 8 or 9 I decided I didn’t believe in God. It wasn’t an epiphany or anything like that; just a growing doubt that a god could actually exist. I stopped going voluntarily to church, although it was obligatory to attend chapel at the school I attended during my teens. I was always slightly apologetic about my lack of belief and when confronted about it I would say things like “Oh, I’m sorry but I’m a bit of a heathen really” or “No, I’m not really a believer. Sorry”.  To be honest, I’m still a bit like that today.

My parents were fearful of my new found disbelief rather than disapproving. I think it was more a case of “But what if you’re wrong? What will happen to you?” Of course, at the time, I didn’t realise I was an atheist. I’d never heard of the term. Even today, I sometimes baulk at calling myself an atheist because it sounds like I’ve joined some sort of counter-religious cult, which I haven’t.  But yes, I am an atheist.

At this point I’d like to define what atheism and an atheist actually are, or maybe what they’re not. Atheism is most definitely not a belief system nor, as I’ve heard it referred to, another religion or indeed an ideology. It is a lack of belief. No more, no less than that. An atheist is simply someone who does not believe in the existence of a god or gods. It does not mean that I believe there is definitely no god. There is a subtle but important difference here.

If you ask me the question “Is there a god?” I would likely answer “I don’t know”.

If, however, you ask me “Do you believe there is a god?” I would reply “No, I don’t believe there is” ­­­

Some call this Agnostic Atheism.  One side of this label deals in knowledge and the other deals in belief. I have no knowledge that god doesn’t exist, I simply believe it.

I do not believe in God because I can find no evidence whatsoever to support such a belief. The Bible, for example, does not provide me with evidence of the existence of God. A collection of stories written a couple of thousand years ago does not, for me, constitute evidence. It was written at a time when mankind had little knowledge of how or why things happened in our world. Events and natural phenomena could not be explained then, so man invented an explanation that everything must be the work of an omnipotent being. Entirely understandable at the time but, personally, it just does not stack up anymore. I have read the Bible, like a good many atheists have, and can find nothing in it that convinces me of God’s existence. I treat the Bible as a collection of ancient myths, some of which promote morality and goodness and some of which most certainly do not. Do I believe in Jesus? Well, possibly. There may have been such a man who walked this earth and was treated as a prophet. He may have preached and promoted goodness, although maybe not always. Disciples may have recorded his words. But do I think he was divine and performed miracles? No, I don’t.

I have encountered any number of debates between theists and atheists during my life. Allow me to share a few:

Theist: “Do you believe in God?”

Atheist: “Which God?” It is a flippant answer but it highlights a real issue. There are nearly 3000 ‘known’ deities out there so which one is the right one to believe in? All of them? It happens that most religious people adopt the religion of their parents and of the country they are raised in because that’s what they are introduced to from an early age. Some, including me, will call this indoctrination.  That is why I say we were all born atheists. It is only events after our birth that shape our beliefs. Another throwaway atheistic line is “I just believe in one fewer god than you do”.  Think about that for a moment. You may believe in one of those gods, it’s just that I don’t believe in any.

And then we have the Creationism versus Evolution debate. The First Cause Argument versus the Big Bang Theory.  I choose to put my faith in the scientific side of all this as I find its evidence more compelling.  I believe in the Big Bang theory. I believe in the theory of evolution, just like I believe in the theory of gravity. Science doesn’t know all the answers, it continually evolves, it asks questions, it doesn’t rely on opinion, it changes its mind and I am very comfortable with this. What I cannot believe is that the universe was created a few thousand years ago by a supreme being. I find the weight of evidence now available renders this belief absurd, yet there are still people who promote it.

When asked “So what was there before the Big Bang? Everything just came out of nothing then?”  I’m more than happy to say “I don’t know”. What I’m not happy to say is “Oh, God must have created it then!”

I have been told that I cannot know true love unless I accept God into my life. I reject this completely. I love and am loved and I feel completely fulfilled by this. I marvel at the world around me, I’m in awe of beauty and power of nature. We exist on a wondrous planet and I strive to enjoy each day I live on it and make a difference to those I share it with. I do not believe in heaven and hell. I do not need the promise of everlasting life by God’s side to make me a good person. I do not need the threat of eternal damnation to stop me from doing evil things. When I die I will be just a memory to those that knew me and survive me so I do all I can to ensure that those are good memories.

I’d like to think I am a moral man. I try my best. I love my family and friends deeply, I endeavour to give something back to society, whether it is through my professional work, coaching rugby to teenagers, or helping charitable causes. I don’t break the law, well asides from the occasional bit of speeding! It may surprise you to know I donated to the Roof Fund for this very church; Peter will attest to this. I did this because it is a beautiful building and worthy of maintenance. I certainly have no expectation of divine reward.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12) is a moral guideline I am happy to try and adhere to. Not because the Bible tells me, but because it seems an eminently reasonable thing to do in order to make society a better place.

So that is why I’m an atheist.

Thank you all for coming here tonight and listening to me. Thank you again to Peter who I admire greatly for letting me say all this in this beautiful church. I like and respect him enormously. It’s just his religious beliefs I cannot reconcile myself to. And he knows this! You are lucky to have him.

Thank you again and any questions?”