In a place where an overwhelming amount of blogs have the little sidebar link with "My Faith" or "Our Beliefs" on it, it's kind of daunting sometimes feeling like I'm the only atheist out there. In fact, living in Salt Lake City, sometimes I feel that way anyway, but the feeling seems to intensify as soon as I step on my Blogger page. I don't mind, but it definitely puts me at an odd end when it comes to writing about atheism. I never really seem to know what to say, and I'm awkward in general, so unlike things like writing or nature where I can just type for hours and not notice the clock, I sit here thinking about my beliefs and seriously, have no utter idea where to begin.
However, atheism is a huge part of my life. Pretty much the only social networking I do (other than blogging) is geared towards atheist activism. I have an atheist testimonial video on weareatheism.com. I have subscriptions to atheist newsletters, newspapers, and magazines, which I like to sit and read and feel like a sir. Atheism is gaining ground in America, and for someone who grew up in a small backwoods Baptist community, this is entirely fascinating to watch develop. Of the few causes I consider myself an "activist" in, atheism tops my list. So, I'm going to do my best to show a few of what I've come to find are the most common myths about atheists/atheism, and explain why, at least from this atheist's point of view, they are myths.
1. Atheists in general are unhappy/are missing a piece in their life. I get this one all the time. I recently got really upset when someone blatantly accused my brother of being unhappy "and not knowing it" (he is an atheist as well.) The road to atheism is very rarely driven by people who don't have a lot of curiosity and a lot of questions for the world. We find happiness in all the things non-atheists find happiness in--companionship, family, good food, funny movies, sports, whatever it is that floats your boat. As far as the "void" that we get talked to about a lot, most of us have tried to fill that with religion at some point in the past and for whatever reason it didn't work, so we turned instead to reason, logic, and science. And for most of us, in different amounts, that fascination with the Universe is the only thing we can equivalate in any terms to a void we've filled. I'm not saying that all atheists are happy Atomic Age families---but to categorize us all as generally unhappy is completely unfair and unrealistic, when there are just as many religious people with issues that can make them unhappy.
2. Atheists have never given religion a chance; they don't understand what it's about. False. We DO understand what it's about. We just simply don't agree with it or find it reasonable to accept as the truth. I have never personally met an atheist or talked to one, or listened to an atheist's story, and NOT heard "I tried praying" or "I tried to believe/make sense of it all" and couldn't. I myself have been in and out of so many different churches I can't count them. I worked at a church for two years. Again, the path to atheism is rarely, for Americans at least, something we're taught from birth. It's always a story of deep consideration. And it's always difficult, because the amount of families who are accepting is marginally smaller than the amount who are not accepting. When my own mother heard that I believed in evolution she broke down in tears and blamed herself. (I was 12 years old.) I won't get too personal here, but I will say that I've had moments where I really needed peace and comfort, I begged for it, and was met with silence. This has happened since I was ten years old. So, don't assume that every atheist is just a smug brainiac who has always been self-assured of their godless existence. Rarely is it so.
3. Atheists have no morals/or; nowhere to get their morals from. I think this one bothers me the most. Morals are not exclusive to the Bible (or other religious text.) Morals come from understanding what is acceptable and decent in this life. Atheists have interactions with friends and family just like religious people. Atheists also have their own decisions to weigh and make just like religious people do. We have to live with ourselves the same way anyone else does. The difference is that our only "Judge" is ourselves. We must make decisions that affect ourselves and others based on what we feel is right. And honestly, usually what atheists feel is right or wrong does not hugely differ from the standard "religious" texts. We know killing is bad. We know stealing is bad. We know you should apologize when you're wrong, and be grateful when something good happens. We love and cherish people in our lives and don't wish to hurt them. The only thing missing out of the equation is literally a book with a list we have to follow. Independent, we make our own conclusions and though they might not be based on God's Word, they are almost always based on deep personal reflection as well as logic and reason.
4. Atheism is a religion. I've tried to understand this one and I simply can't, yet I hear it all the time. From everyone to random forum users to politicians. If atheism is a religion, bald is a hairstyle. Off is a television channel. Dead is a career. There is no religion in the equation. We may congregate and support each other, but we do not worship a deity, which is what religion is. So, wherever this myth has formed from--it's just that, a myth. And on that same note, we are NOT DEVIL WORSHIPPERS OR SATANIC. We don't believe in God, so we likewise do NOT believe in Satan. I literally have had this happen to me, verbatim: "So are you a Christian?" "No, I'm an atheist." "Are you satanic?"
5. Atheists can't be thankful or grateful. This one is pretty commonplace too, which surprises me. I guess it does make sense, when one is religious, to thank God for every grace and moment of gratefulness. That might explain why religious folk don't often understand who or what we thank. And the answer to that is, we don't have a who or a what. We just are. We just are thankful. Becoming an atheist was so infinitely humbling for me, and I'm still humbled everyday thanks to my choice. When you see things like the Hubble Deep Field or listen to someone like Carl Sagan speak about the Blue Dot, life becomes so indescribably fragile and fleeting. Atheists don't believe they were created for any cosmic purpose, rather that our very complex existence in itself is one of the Universe's amazing accomplishments. In other words, a fortunate accident. A "lucky" mashup of all the necessary items for our survival. And that, when you consider the scope of the Universe itself, is uplifting and humbling at the same time.
So when I am thankful, no I don't thank God, rather I just enjoy the feeling of whatever is making me happy at the time. I understand how insignificant yet how astounding our race and our planet are, and that is the basis of atheist living. It may sound lonely, especially to a devoted follower of religion, but you have nothing to worry about. It's liberating and enjoyable. If it wasn't, for us atheists, we would no doubt be religious. Our choices are for us.
“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements - the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life - weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.”