Things I’ve Learned about Atheism

There is a Barns and Noble bookstore within a couple minutes drive of my office, so from time to time I hang out there during my lunch break. Last Wednesday I went in and sat by the section in Philosophy with the books of atheism and reflected on some of the things I have learned about atheism in my 7 years of considering myself an atheist. Things I didn’t realize when I started out of this path.

  1. Atheism isn’t angry. You’ve probably heard the term “angry atheist.” And I was angry for a while after leaving Christianity–I was upset at my findings that my whole way I was raised to view the world was false. There is no God hearing my prayers and there is go grand cosmic plan for my life.  However, I’ve found that my real issue, the reason for my angst, was that I had not one around me who thought my conclusion had any value. Everyone I knew, from my parents to my best friend, was convinced that my being an atheist was a bad and horrible thing. I always feared that if I spoke my mind I would anger or offend someone. And quite often they did not have such qualms about offending me–they thought they were telling me what I needed to hear. I had to be constantly on the defensive just to stand my ground. It’s exausting. But the difference now is that have found others like me and I have a social network of fellow freethinkers. I have even found my future husband (next weekend!) among them. And you know what? I was upset because I was missing a presence in my life, but the missing presence wasn’t God. I was missing  having other people around who valued my way of seeing the world. That makes all the difference.
  2. You can find spirituality within atheism. To me, spirituality consists in contemplating the mystery of the universe, and even of my own consciousness.  Even if it is someday completely explained and understood by science, the experience of consciousness will always be the most spiritual and sacred experience to me. How a collection of chemicals and proteins and atoms can contemplate its own existence–well, wow. It’s not like consciousness is necessarily an inevitable result of evolution. The universe is just strange beyond imagining.
  3. Atheism does not have to be anti-theistic. Now, don’t misunderstand, I am most definitely anti-fundamentalist and anti-superstition. The idea that if you direct words or thoughts to some deity you can help influence events in the outside world is superstition. So don’t bother praying for good weather for my outdoor wedding next weekend. And the idea that, as in the Bible, God may cause disaster for nation for the “sins” of its people or of its leaders (leading to the the idea leading to the notion that the state and church have the right to control such things as the private bedroom behavior of citizens) is dangerous and tyrannical superstition. It’s no different to me than the idea that the lava gods can be appeased by tossing a virgin into the volcano. However it has not escaped my notice that religious people don’t necessarily pray to influence outside events, but rather to help make changes within themselves to live a better and more generous life. These is a contemplative style of religion that I can find respect for. It’s humanism in the name of religion.

It’s taken me just about 7 years of atheism to really find these things out. I’m taking the time to post these thoughts especially for anyone who has lately discovered they no longer believe any any gods or religions. It would have helped me out a lot if I’d been told these things as I was growing up. Unfortunately, atheists in America are often left with few personal mentors and role models — lots of great books, sure, but they are no substitute for role models. So much of the time we are left to figure out all this stuff much on our own, like teaching oneself from books but having no teachers. Not that I claim to be a teacher–but maybe I can inspire some thought.