Today I’m going to finally do it. That’s right, I’m going to come out of the closet. I’ll say it now, to the whole world: I am a lesbian!
Wait, no, sorry, that’s the wrong closet. Let me start over.
I’m an atheist. There, I said it. No taking it back now!
It turns out I’ve been a closet atheist for a while now. I said I was agnostic, or not sure, or that religion is good because of the positive benefits it gives to society. Well, that was me in an intellectual closet, and I can’t hide inside it anymore.
Sort of like coming out of other closets, I suppose many people who know me will not find this surprising (in fact, I fully expect many eye-rolls). So what? Why write about it? Update your Facebook page and move on.
It’s because I think it’s important. Not important to be an atheist, as the very term is rather silly (I’ll come back to that), but because I think it’s important to explain why I became an atheist. That’s right; became.
When I first wrote this post I started rehashing all the defenses of atheism and logical fallacies that allowed me to accept the ambiguous side of things for so long. But I realized it doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to convince anyone; although I love to discuss the topic, and may later, that isn’t he point of this post. I’d rather discuss my personal journey, and while that may lead to some of the reasons for my conviction, I won’t rehash the ground others have tread so much better than I.
I was raised (mostly) Roman Catholic. My mother is a devout Catholic, and my father is a cultural Protestant and agnostic in the same way I used to pretend to be. That being said, all my religious education was based on Catholicism. I grew up going to church on Sunday, going to Sunday school, singing (poorly) in the choir, serving as an altar boy, being baptized, and even doing my confirmation, although it clearly didn’t stick. And no, I was never abused or otherwise physically harmed by any Catholic clergy; there were plenty of great people in the church, and I had (and still have) respect for them as people.
In case it isn’t obvious, however, I am generally a critical thinker. I like to ask hard questions, and there are a couple of factors that ingrained this trait into me from a young age.
First of all, my dad loves to argue and debate. He knows a lot (although not as much as he thinks he does!) and is willing to use that knowledge to teach anyone around the truth as he knows it. I was never punished or discouraged from engaging in these discussions, although they often subjected me to long lectures on (at the time) boring topics. He has always been extremely critical of the Catholic Church, and many of our household conflicts revolved around religion. Unlike many children, who have two parents of like minds, I knew from the outset that the Catholic view of the world was not the only option out there.
Second, although she is not generally confrontational, my mom has extremely strong opinions of her own. She taught me not to simply accept what my teachers and other adults told me and to think for myself. Granted, a lot of this was in order to have Catholic values supersede those of the mostly secular schools I attended, but the end result is that I was comfortable debating religion, politics, and other generally “taboo” subjects growing up.
I had friends of many different faiths, but the most common and fundamental difference in worldview I noticed was the difference between the Protestant and Catholic faiths. I won’t go into detail here, but suffice to say there is a huge difference in general mindset about religion and God. I remember talking to friends of mine and being shocked to learn that someone could go to heaven by accepting Jesus into their heart, no matter how awful they were in life, yet someone who had never heard of Jesus was doomed to endless suffering. When I asked how that was fair, they responded that it was why it was so important for everyone to learn of Christianity, that way they could all be saved before they die and not suffer because missionaries didn’t do a good enough job. Granted, these were kids talking, not theologians, but it turns out the actual beliefs aren’t far off.
At first, I dismissed it as some sort of silly Protestant belief that could’t possibly be true. After all, how could God punish people who had done nothing wrong except be born to the wrong information? So I started looking at the (obviously) more enlightened version from Catholicism and found it wasn’t that different. Less black-and-white, but still had some odd notions of heaven and hell…as long as you confessed your sins to a priest they were wiped clean, but if someone didn’t bother to go they were in danger of hell? It was similar to the all-or-nothing approach I’d mocked for the Protestants.
School didn’t help, especially science. I’ve been critical of science for a long time, especially evolutionary biology, because of the books my mom had me read regarding creationism and intelligent design. The arguments in these books appealed to me because they gave a way to logically fit the concept of God into the scientific world I was learning about. I haughtily pointed out flaws in evolution, such as the peppered moth and the various hoaxes throughout the years, and derided it as a “faith” that assumed because things looked similar that they must have evolved from each other.
When I was around 12 or so I discovered a new source of learning…the internet. At the time the internet was still in its infancy, and inventions such as Google, Youtube, and Wikipedia were years from development. Still, I discovered forums, and learned to love debating online and learning all the variety of beliefs and opinions that existed in the world outside my immediate family and friends. I also learned that you needed to go all the way when discovering the truth; any flaw or aspect you overlooked online would be shoved in your face. So I learned not just to debate, but to research the topics I debated deeply before going to bat. Sure, I wasn’t always right, but I always learned something new, and began to relish a chance to debate with someone who would overthrow some assumption I’d had before and open up a new way of seeing things.
And for years I subconsciously never turned this weapon of reason and logic towards religion and science. As debates grew nationally, however, especially towards science, my mind started wondering who was really in the right. So I used my usual method; I read both sides of the debate, weighed the strength of their arguments and evidence, and chose the one I believed most likely true. Then I’d debate it and wait for someone to prove me wrong. If they couldn’t, that only strengthened my conviction, and if they did, I’d happily do more research to find out where I was wrong. It’s the process that’s at the core of how I learn and see the world.
Unfortunately, once I stopped avoiding the subject and turned that weapon towards religion and the supernatural I learned that I’d never truly believed it. I had never “heard” God, churches had always bored me to tears, and I didn’t feel anything other than some appreciation for the architecture. Likewise, all the arguments for the existence of the supernatural, including ones that I’d used myself, fell quickly apart once I applied logic to them. They were fallacies upon fallacies, and no matter how much I tried to deny it, I just couldn’t find any logical or physical evidence that even hinted at the existence of a god or gods. The justifications I’d constructed in my mind followed the same pattern of logic as how I saw the worlds of fantasy I so enjoyed in books; somewhat logically consistent when applied to themselves, but ultimately not real.
For a while I stuck with the agnostic “I don’t really know” answer. After all, even though I could do nothing to prove the existence of God, even to myself, I couldn’t prove he didn’t exist either. But proving the nonexistence of something that cannot be observed is impossible, and I realized I didn’t believe in anything else I couldn’t prove, such as dragons, UFOs, and bigfoot. What made a supernatural being so special that it got to exist without evidence in my mind?
This was not an easy decision, but it ultimately was a decision. I’d long researched organized religion and found myself disgusted with it. Even during my agnostic years I felt that religion was a perversion of God, something that humans had created in reaction to a being beyond their comprehension. It was a nice theory; it helped explain why there were so many religions out there. After all, it wasn’t that God didn’t exist, it was just that all religions were wrong! My friends and family probably heard me say this before; “Meet a friendly and forgiving person, and they’ll believe in a friendly and forgiving God, meet a cruel and vengeful person, and you’ll find they believe in a cruel and vengeful God.”
All the seeds of atheism have been there for years, but until I researched the actual concept I didn’t realize I was already there. I often wonder how many other people have come to the same conclusions I did, that religions were man-made but perhaps God was still there, and are still in denial that they are already atheists.
I also quickly learned that people hate atheists in America. I mean, scientologists, Wiccans, and Mormons, all which are fairly modern religions and have very clear, very man-made origins, get more respect than your typical atheist. The “coexist” progressive crowd is just as bigoted as the fundamentalists when an atheist challenges the belief that any supernatural being or force exists, vehemently denying such challenges as “intolerant” or “racist.” This video is a great example. It makes perfect sense to me, like the other people who hide in closets, that many atheists would feel uncomfortable or even afraid of “coming out.”
I’m done hiding, and I’m done rationalizing irrational beliefs and poor arguments, things I’ve despised for years, within my own mind. Once I finally let the superstition and mysticism go, the world seems more wonderful and beautiful than ever before. And the horrors of religious oppression, violence, and dogma seem even more horrific once I realized they were the products of human minds and human biases. When God was the murderous one, I could justify it as “Well, God works in mysterious ways, who are we to judge?” But once I realized it was people I could no longer just ignore it as the strange behavior of a perfect being.
So yes, I’m an atheist. I’m the kind of atheist that does not believe in anything supernatural, and that includes every god, superstition, and conspiracy theory you may believe in. I won’t apologize for it, and like every belief that I consider wrong (religious or not), I will argue against it. If that makes you uncomfortable, and you want to go back to your illusion of certainty, well, that’s your choice. But I won’t say that “your opinion is valid.” Sure, you can believe whatever you want…you can believe in pink elephants, UFOs, and that the earth is flat. But just because you do believe in something unfalsifiable, and just because it’s your personal belief, does not mean I have to accept or even respect it, just as you would not have to respect my beliefs if I told you the sky were green.
I need to be clear, here. When I talk about religion, I’m not talking about the philosophy of religion. In other words, if you believe being “Christian” means helping others, or being a good person, or any other philosophical aspect, that’s not what I’m talking about when I refer to “religion.” What I mean by religion is the belief that supernatural forces are real and exist in the real world. This is no longer a philosophy, nor an abstract idea. At that point you have taken your “belief” or “opinion” and converted into a “hypothesis;” and your hypothesis is that there are supernatural forces that influence the real world. This belief is what I’ll argue against, not cultural practices nor philosophical ideas, unless those ideas contradict what I believe are human rights and ethics (in which case it will be a philosophical discussion, but at that point you lose the ability to argue that your position is true because “God,” a real being, exists and declares your way of thinking to be correct).
I would never recommend forcefully removing religion from others. Not only would this be unethical, but the only societies that would consider such an action are fascist or dictatorial, and has no place in a free society. I also don’t see any particular reason to be rude or insult people just because they believe in the imaginary. That being said, not all opinions are created equal, and opinions based on personal feelings and bias will not be treated as valid ways of seeing the world.
I will likely visit this topic again in the future, but for now I’ll leave it there. If you have any questions about atheism or why I’m an atheist, I’ll be happy to explain it as best I can. Until next time!