a question for you.

Hey there! Remember me? The atheist who used to write this blog?

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Well, if I’ve ever had a good excuse for not keeping the blog updated, believe me, it’s now. I can’t go into much detail about it (trying to stay anonymous, remember?), but our family suffered a pretty devastating loss a while ago, and had another not very long after.

We’ve weathered both of them as best we can, and have been steadily recovering ever since, thanks to our own perseverance and the help of family and friends.  One of my favorite religious catchphrases is the one that goes “The lord helps those who help themselves,” because when you really think about it, it’s a subtle hint at what’s really going on – we’re doing all of the hard work, and some of us are giving the credit for it to a god.

But I digress. Since I haven’t had any atheist-related questions posed to me for the last few years, I thought I’d ask one of the believers who might still check this blog from time to time for any signs of life.  It comes with a little bit of background, so please bear with me.

As I’m sure many of you are aware, the film “God’s Not Dead” has been rather popular lately, first in the theaters and now on DVD. For those who aren’t: it’s the story of a Christian college student who is challenged by his philosophy teacher to prove the existence of god, or fail his class. The film appears to be based on a popular glurge email that you’ve likely gotten from a sweet and caring grandmother or aunt, and presents a dubious list of cases in the end credits that are purported to be identical to the one portrayed in the story.

I haven’t seen the movie myself (I’m waiting for my library to get a copy, as I’m not comfortable with supporting it monetarily), but the reviews I’ve seen – even from Christian sources – have described it as being very heavy handed against atheists, portraying all of them as bitter, joyless, and angry at every turn.  (This one is one of my favorites, and this one is very good as well).

My social network accounts frequently show me statuses from friends who have seen the film and loved it – friends who love and respect me, and whom I love and respect.  When a family of these friends went to see the movie in the theater, the two sons both texted “God’s Not Dead” to my phone, a practice which I believe is encouraged near the end of the movie.

And as I read these texts on my phone, I really started to wonder – What if they knew? Would it change their minds?

And that got me to thinking even further, which brought me to the question that I’d like to ask the believers who read this blog:

If someone that you loved and respected revealed to you that they are an atheist – would that change your opinion of atheists, or would it instead change your opinion of them?


A new frontier?

Well folks, it’s been a long time with no posts, mostly because I haven’t had any good questions to answer – either directly or indirectly (through other blogs, discussions, and so on). So I guess I’ll relate a bit of a story:

I started a new job this year – nothing spectacular, nothing close to helping cover our expenses, but it’s honest work, and it’s better than no work/income at all. I’ve been doing it since late March. I won’t go into detail about it, other than to say that it involves working in a retail environment.

A new employee started just yesterday. We’ll call her Sharleena, after the Frank Zappa song – but that isn’t her real name. Sharleena recognized me instantly when I walked in yesterday, because she’s known me since I was about three years old. She was our landlady until I turned 24 and moved away.

Sharleena was (and possibly still is) a devout Baptist, and I can remember the animated discussions she and my mother would get into over the differences between the Baptist and Catholic faiths. I can recall one discussion in particular when she asked my mother why it was necessary to have a set of beads to pray with, and my mother becoming rather frustrated trying to give her a sensible explanation.

I also recall the tracts and bits of Christian text that she would post in the office where we paid our rent, things that didn’t bother me much at the time, because I was a believer then. One was a lengthy description of what Hell was like. Constant burning and torture, flesh-eating worms that never get their fill, and so on – stuff that was obviously not in the Bible at all, someone had made it up whole cloth, but since it was a great tool for scaring folks into believing, the rule about not adding or taking away from the Bible could be overlooked.

But I digress. I was very happy to see Sharleena, and I gave her a hug and told her I had missed her. Which I had. I pass by my old residence often, and whenever I would see the office where she worked, I wondered how she has been doing. She was happy to see me as well, and told me that we needed to catch up. I agreed.

Eventually, we will end up having a lunch break together, and talk about what has been going on in our lives. During that discussion, she is likely to ask me if I am still going to church – in fact, I’d say the odds are well in favor of it.

I’m seriously considering telling her the truth, that I have been a nonbeliever since 1992. I’m considering coming out as an atheist to an old friend who has known me since I was a toddler. I guess I’ve been a bit emboldened by recent encounters where I’ve openly admitted to being an atheist, or maybe I’m just not comfortable about lying to her. Or maybe it’s a bit of both.

I’m really not sure what the outcome will be. But if it happens, I will post the details here.


Questions from thebiblereader

thebiblereader asked some questions in a reply to a previous post, and I thought it would be best to answer them in a new post. So here goes:

Hello, I’ve been reading through some of your blog, and I find it great. It might be my Favorite blog yet. I have some questions, How did you know that you were an atheist and not an agnostic? How did you feel when you finally admitted it? How do people treat you, when the issue of religion is brought up and you let the other person know you are an atheist?

First off, thanks for reading and enjoying the blog, and for the kind words. But seriously, if this is your favorite blog, I respectfully suggest that you read more blogs… especially some that are updated a lot more often than mine!

Okay, on to your questions:

How did you know that you were an atheist and not an agnostic?

I originally considered myself an agnostic before I had a clear understanding of both terms. Once I attained that understanding, I came to know myself as an atheist.

Really, I’m both. The term “agnostic” is based on knowledge (gnosis), while the term “atheist” is based on belief (theism). I claim no knowledge of the existence or nonexistence of any gods, and I choose not to worship any of them as well. Therefore, I am an agnostic atheist, sometimes known as a “weak” atheist.

How did you feel when you finally admitted it?

Relieved, and a little scared.

I was relieved because I knew that I didn’t have to carry around a lot of religious baggage anymore. I was scared because I wasn’t sure how my family or friends would respond to it. It was a long time before I could talk to any of them about it.

How do people treat you, when the issue of religion is brought up and you let the other person know you are an atheist?

I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I keep my atheism a secret from most people I meet, for various reasons. Usually it is to keep their personal prejudices at bay, so that they won’t get into the way of any relationship we may have. Sometimes, it’s to avoid confrontation.

The only people I have “come out” to, outside of my family, are people that I have trusted with this knowledge. They are the ones that I have carefully assessed will have no issue with my lack of belief, and whom I trust will keep this information to themselves.

There are a few exceptions, however. On two recent occasions, I came out as an atheist to complete strangers, and found it to be amazingly liberating.

The first happened when I was waiting in our car in a shopping center parking lot for my partner and daughters to finish some shopping. It was a nice day, so I decided to wait there with the windows open and the radio on. A man approached the vehicle and began to talk to me, asking first if I went to church. When I said “No,” he said “Well, you believe in god, right?”  When I gave the same answer again, he brushed it off and went into his spiel – he was panhandling, trying to get gas money to get out of town to find a new job, and so on. It was interesting to me how unimportant the issue became once he realized that we didn’t have faith in common. Had we met under other circumstances, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been cast aside so easily.

The second occasion happened this past fourth of July, as I was getting ready to take the family to see a fireworks show.  Two young men in white shirts and ties called out to me from down our street as I was heading into the house to get something, and I stopped what I was doing to talk to them. I pegged them as Mormons before I could see if they had name tags on their shirts, and found out I was right a moment later.

They asked what my religious beliefs were, and I told them I was an atheist (again, with an incredible sense of liberation. It really does feel good to admit it to someone when you know that there won’t be any serious negative repercussions).

We talked for the better part of an hour about religion and belief. They had a couple of questions for me about atheism, and were very surprised when I told them that I had read the Book of Mormon (and proved my claim with examples). I even managed to teach them a few things about Christianity (they had no idea what omnibenevolence, omnipotence and omnicience were, for example.)

Before they left, I shook their hands and told them that I hoped I had improved their opinion of atheists, and maybe even cleared up some misconceptions, and they told me that I had. So that was good.

So the short answer in this long story is, on the rare occasions that I have made my atheism public, the response has been fairly neutral – but I suspect that if I were more open about it, my results would vary greatly.

Thanks for the questions, and take care!


Still kicking…

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted – the better part of a year, in fact. This is partly due to the fact that I haven’t received any new questions from readers, and partly due to coping with various life events.

For those who are interested, the family and I are doing well. I’ve had a few rare opportunities to use my artistic talents to help us out, and I’m hoping to find a few more in the coming months.

I have pointed out before that I live on the east coast of the United States, which means that we were recently affected by both a minor earthquake and a hurricane, the latter of which brought with it occasional tornado activity. We survived both with hardly a scratch, and I’m hoping that everyone who reads this can say the same thing.

We also managed to survive Harold Camping‘s May 21st prediction that the opening credits for the end of the world would start rolling – earthquakes, fires, dead rising from graves, millions dying daily, and so on. We didn’t get any of it here, and from all reports I’ve seen, no one else has, either. Which is good.

Of course, that prediction had to be revised (apparently, all of these things happened “spiritually,” so we didn’t get to actually SEE them), so we need to keep an eye out for the closing credits on life, the universe, and everything, which are expected to roll on October 21st. Here’s hoping that they are just as uneventful.

Which brings me to a little discussion about real disasters and pretend prophecies, and what they steal from us.

Whenever a disaster strikes, there will always be some who will find themselves in some sort of dangerous situation that they must be rescued from, by police, firefighters, the military, and/or medical workers. Some of those people will thank the deity of their choice for being rescued, when it was really the flesh-and-blood people around them who do the work. This is stealing credit, and it devalues the efforts of all of those people.

Then there are the people who avoid disaster, by any margin from wide to narrow, and thank their deity that they were spared. This steals value of life from those unfortunate victims who weren’t spared by the same deity – victims who may even believe in the same deity and were praying for mercy from it when disaster struck.

Please, think carefully about these things before you say them. Give credit where it is really due, and show respect for others who were less fortunate than you.

Now for pretend prophecies – When May 21st grew close, the coverage of Camping’s ministry increased to the point where you could hear about it on most every TV and radio station. (Some local churches even mocked the prediction on their signs – apparently, it’s perfectly sane to believe in Doomsday, but believing that you have figured out the day it happens is utterly cuckoo!)

What much of the coverage showed were the firm believers – the folks who totally bought into the May 21st date and spent their savings on signs and billboards, and quit their jobs to stand on the side of the road warning others of their impending doom.

This is one of the greatest thefts of all – the theft of time, energy, resources, and worst of all, future. To give everything up because you believe it will all be over very soon, to spend your days waiting for the end instead of living the only life you may ever have – to me, this is incredibly sad.

I can’t imagine how those followers felt when the day came and went without rapture… all I can do is hope that it brought them real wisdom, and that they have chosen to live the life that they have, instead of looking forward to seeing the end credits.


Well, there you go – first new post in ten months. It’s good to be back. Now ask me some more questions!


Ongoing discussion

A few comments to some older posts have been coming in, which is great – I’ve always wanted this blog to be about a continuing discussion of these topics.

The problem is, most people will miss these discussions, since they’re happening in the comments section of posts that are pretty far back in the archives. To correct this, I’ve added an “Ongoing Discussion” widget in the right column, which makes it easy to see what sort of comment activity has been going on.

If you see a discussion you’d like to join, feel free to jump in!


What if you’re wrong?

This is a common question that believers will ask nonbelievers. It seems to be gaining some popularity recently, possibly because it’s quick, simple, to the point, and appears to cut right through every possible atheist argument.

It’s really a very simplified version of Pascal’s Wager, the idea that you should live life as if there is a god, because the outcome is better either way. In other words, if you believe in a god and there is one, you go to heaven – if there isn’t, there is no loss.  If you don’t believe there’s a god and there is one, you go to hell – if there isn’t, there is no loss. The odds favor the believer.

There’s a lot wrong here.

First, the question of which god I’m wrong about isn’t addressed. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a book on my desk of over 2,500 gods that have been recorded in one way or another through history. This question applies equally to all of them. Should I evaluate each of these gods asking this same question?

What if I’m wrong about Mara, the evil Buddhist deity who puts obstacles in the way of the Buddha? Or Vulcanus, the Roman god of fire and the forge? Or Isa, the Nigerian river goddess? Mah, the Persian moon goddess? Amaethon, the Celtic god of agriculture? Tien Mu, the Chinese goddess of lightning?

Each of these gods may have penalties for nonbelief – or they may not care one way or the other. Should I research which gods have the worst penalties, create a new pantheon out of them, and worship all of them, just to play it safe? Some of these gods don’t get along with each other. Some of them wouldn’t even approve of me reading about the others, or mentioning their names (Yahweh mentions this in Exodus 23:13, for example – by the way, this gets interesting when you note that the planets of our solar system and days of the week are all named after non-Christian gods!)

The other pressing issue here is that of “tricking” a god into not punishing me by believing in them. Turning it into a wager, or just believing in something to make sure that I’m not wrong, simply doesn’t work. An all-powerful god who demands sincere belief would see right through it, and reject my pitiful attempt at sneaking through the back door of paradise.

Considering all of the above, my answer to this question is simple: I’ll take my chances.


What do you do when people offer to pray for you?

Usually I thank them, if they’re expressing genuine concern for my welfare. If it’s more of a threatening statement – like some believers will make when they find out that you don’t believe – I’ll ask that they not bother, and spend their time praying for the sick and hungry instead.

If it’s someone I know fairly well, I’ll say something humorous in response, such as “…and I’ll think for you!” But only if they’ll know right away that I’m joking and not being a jerk.

I am an atheist, a person who does not believe in the existence of any gods.

Many people don't know a lot about atheists, and have questions about them. In this blog, I do my best to answer them, to help build an understanding between atheists and theists.

Do you have a question? You can post it in the comments to any of my blog entries, and I will do my best to answer it in a new entry.