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Letter

I just need to ask a couple of things and make a couple of observations.  Maybe there are answers, maybe not – but at least I’m putting it out there. (Writing about something has always been a part of any process for me)

I am very new to this, but I’ve felt it brewing, just below the surface for a while. When things don’t add up, they don’t add up.

Now, l will never presume to know a lot or anything for that matter, but how can a loving god (and I’m loathed to use this term in any form) allow the things that he does? I don’t want to elaborate on this too much – turn on the news and open a newspaper, you’ll get the idea.  Besides, it makes me so incredibly sad to see images of starving children, raped woman, families displaced by war, people killed while they do shopping (all in the name of god) and so on. What made me so special? Why is god protecting me and saving me from those circumstances? I don’t the need help. Those children do…

In saying and feeling that, the clutches of religion are strong and I continued to lead a good life, like a good Christian should, until I met my boyfriend. He is Muslim.

You know the story and how it goes from here.  I converted to Islam around 4 years ago. All those feelings are still there, but pushed way down because… love of course!

Now, most of you will probably know this, but Muslims have a day/night of prayers where all your sins are forgiven.  Really.  Anything you might have done, gone? During Ramadan (fasting) the devil is apparently locked up and all the sins you commit is because of your own sinful nature? If you do not pray in exactly the right way – sequence and in Arabic and facing the right way, your prayers will not be accepted.

I have not told him about my new orientation.  I don’t know how.  (Granted, we don’t live in a place where I will be killed for making the above statements and I have always referred to him as “Muslim-light” due to his lack of commitment to ‘standard Islamic rules’) But it will probably be the end of it when i do.  I sort of touched the subject a few nights ago (just a general statement I made) and he started defending the faith passionately…

People that I use to look up to, all Christians and of similar orientations – how am I suppose to look at any of them in the same way ever again?  How can intelligent people be so, well, so damn dumb or ignorant, or both? I know it’s not really their fault and I should be the last one to even judge – but I am judging and I cannot help it.  There is so much information out there and still you don’t question anything? I do not know how to get past this one in particular.

Believe me, I am not a drama queen.  I am just above average intelligence (although, all that IQ does not seem to help most religious people either…) and I am a happy person for the most part.   So, how is it possible for me to make that realization and my very intelligent religious family/friends cannot?  Why do we still live in a place where you have to be careful who you tell that you don’t believe in a god?

I will not lie.  I do feel a bit alone at the moment, but it will pass (part of the personality). Maybe I’m just rambling on because it is so new and because it seems to occupy every waking thought at the moment.  Or maybe I am just a little pissed off because I have wasted half my life on a bloody control mechanism!

Again, don’t mind me.  This is early days and certainly part of the process. I am, after all, a very insignificant part of a much bigger picture.

Thank you for the time and space that allowed me to share. I have found this site through the twitter community, who is a lovely bunch of crazy, accepting individuals. (Could not fit all this into 140 characters)

Follow @NotSoDamnFunny on Twitter.

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.

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?”

This post was the one that got the whole ball rolling on the Not Alone project. When Brandon said he was about to post this letter to Facebook, it made me realise that this process of “coming out” atheist is important to many people, as it can have implications to their lives and their relationships.

To my friends and family:

While a few of you are aware of this, most of you are not. I don’t believe in any god or gods. By definition, that makes me atheist. I’m not angry with religion or rebelling in any way. I simply don’t believe any of the stories of religion. While I’d be happy to discuss the reasons for this on an individual basis, that’s not the purpose of this post.

There is a reason for me writing this. I and many other nonbelievers live with the knowledge that the godless are looked at as lesser people by society at large. No one wants to be shunned by friends and family. I am no exception. I hope this is not goodbye to any of you as you all hold a place in my heart. I do not judge you if you’ve held the belief that atheists are people without morals or values. I do hope as you read this, you consider the person you know me to be and realize I am a person who cares about others, has integrity, and is capable of the deepest love. This is also the case with many of the atheist people I’ve encountered.

I am not confused. I am not lost. I do not need to be prayed for. I have come to my own conclusions rationally and thoughtfully. In reality, belief is not a choice. One either believes or doesn’t based on that which has been presented, and a person’s personal criteria for discerning reality. I have viewed the issue analytically, and have come to my conclusion. My search for truth continues, but does not assume a deity.

Please consider me and people like me in all social matters. Everyone in the world should be free to make their own conclusions in spiritual matters without pressure from family, friends, or the societies in which they live. There’s a long way to go for this, but I’m optimistic. Not that long ago in American history, a person stating my position might have been burned at the stake. In other parts of the world, this sort of barbaric practice continues with beheadings and stonings. I’m thankful I can speak my mind without that kind of fear, though I know there are so many that cannot and that’s why I’ve chosen to speak out.

I am for the rights of all humans. I believe no group of people is less than, or inferior to another. I reject and abhor beliefs that discriminate based on sex, sexuality, race, nationality, or any other condition a person is born to. A person’s value is in his or her treatment of others and the way that person conducts his or her life.

My life is motivated by love, understanding, acceptance, and a desire to improve. It doesn’t require a god. It doesn’t require a religion. I believe the experience of beauty and wonder of the universe, and life itself are the privilege. Atheists are commonly believed to have nothing to live for:

“I have plenty to live for. I have nothing to die for.” -Donovan Badrock (AKA @MrOzAtheist)

Peace be upon us all,
Brandon

You can follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonMarlett