I suppose I could have stopped being a Christian quietly. That would have made my mom
happier less upset. Instead I add insult to injury by being an atheist, and writing about it.
Nobody believes in unicorns
Proclaiming one’s atheism may appear as unnecessary as proclaiming that one does not believe in unicorns. Although most of us are technically “a-unicornists,” few feel the need to tell people that they are. Why must atheists wear their labels so indiscreetly?
If one day our political candidates were judged by how devoutly they believed in unicorns, or if our laws were based on unicorn-derived values, or if every neighborhood had a church where unicorn worship was exalted and its members regularly proselytized unicorns to the public, would it not then make sense to take a stand on the issue, and do so publicly? Would it be indiscreet to say you don’t believe in unicorns?
I am an atheist because the issue is raised: in America, we are constantly confronted with belief in God, and judged by our proclamations about this God. When belief in God ceases to be an issue, so will non-belief in God. Until then, the need to declare oneself an atheist will remain.
Multi-limbed deities and MD 20/20
People sometimes ask atheists how they know God doesn’t exist, all the while oblivious to the premises loaded into their question. If the premises were identified and altered, they would become quite obvious. For example, if asked “how do you know that God doesn’t exist” with God described as a Hindu deity with four arms and blue skin, most Christians would have little trouble distinguishing the issue: “it’s not that I don’t believe God exists, I don’t believe in that God.”
Sometimes God is presented as merely a Prime Mover that started it all. If that is all God means, then I would not be an atheist, for I cannot draw definite conclusions about something so vaguely described. Christians are correct to point out the inability to be a well-reasoned atheist toward a being such as that. This, however, is not the sort of being Christians mean when they talk about God. Instead, they describe their god as three-beings-in-one, who created the universe out of nothing, who sent his son to die for our sins, which son we can now literally eat in the form of bread or crackers, and whose blood we can drink in the form of Welch’s grape juice or
Mad Dog 20/20 Mogen David Concord Grape wine. This god I do not believe exists.
In America, an atheist is necessarily an “a-Christian.” In the Middle East, an atheist would mostly be “a-Muslim.” However, being an atheist is more than just holding a position of disbelief in the local religion. It also says that you do not accept many of the premises that anchor morality for theists, namely that the teachings of a religion necessarily have anything to do with what is actually right and wrong. In a world where moral answers are often left to religious leaders, atheists confront the questions cold turkey, without relinquishing authority to someone else’s interpretation of ancient books. This reliance on the practical effects of actions in the real world, instead of the mandates of religion, fundamentally changes how a person thinks about morality, and about how he or she views other people. The answers we give to moral questions are critical to how we survive and live as humans. Atheism places the responsibility for these answers squarely on our own shoulders in the here and now, without God to bail us out in some future reckoning.
This is why I call myself an atheist.