Archive for May, 2009


How are you spending your Sunday? (5/31/09)

Atheists have Sundays, too. We just don’t get up as early, as a rule.

Since this blog is about understanding atheists better, I’ve decided to make a post almost every Sunday about how I plan to spend (or just spent) my day.

So far, I’ve been enjoying coffee and a couple episodes of Dead Like Me with A. Later, I’ve got some writing to do, a little bit of artwork for a friend’s online project, and I’m hoping have enough time to sand and paint the patio furniture.

If the rain holds out, I may go outside and spend some time with my sketchbook.

And that’s my Sunday.


How do you define ‘atheist’?

This is a very important question with a very simple answer – but after I give my answer, I find that I often have to do a lot of clarification afterwards.

I define ‘atheist’ thusly:

a*the* ist – n – A person who does not have a belief in any gods.

That’s it. I don’t believe in any of the gods that others have chosen to follow, past or present.

Please pay special attention to what is missing from this definition:

  • Any claim of knowledge. I do not claim to know that no gods exist. (Some atheists do, and this is where some split this distinction between strong and weak atheism. I would count as a ‘weak’ atheist here.)
  • Any distinction between gods. Yahweh, Allah, Zeus, Odin, Pele, Andromeda, Kung-Kung – I lack belief in these equally. I’m not just singling out your god for disbelief.
  • Any mention of being anti-religion. Just because I don’t believe in it doesn’t mean that I think you shouldn’t be allowed to. We’ll cover this more in an upcoming installment.
  • Any mention of the Big Bang or any explanation of the origin of the universe. That’s a different subject.
  • Any mention of evolution, the origin of species, or Darwin. Again, different subject.

It’s not a title that I am 100% satisfied with, but it works until something better comes along. My primary issue with it, aside from the negative response it often inspires, is the way that it is proclaiming something that you lack. “Atheist,” etymologically, means “one without religion.” It’s a way of describing yourself by stating what you’re not, like saying you’re a Non-Stamp Collector (which happens to be the username of a popular atheist on YouTube).

It reminds me, in a humorous way, of the 80s band Men Without Hats. We can dance if we want to…

There have been several alternatives proposed in the past. I quite like the term freethinker for what it implies about a person, but at the same time I worry if it really represents the difference between atheists and theists. Likewise, the term brights gives off the impression (at least to me) of claiming to be “smarter than thou.” I’m a fan of Richard Dawkins, the originator of that term, but I’m not sure how helpful it is.

So, barring anything better, atheist it is.

There’s a response that atheists frequently get once they’ve defined their term: “Don’t you really mean you’re an agnostic?”

No. An agnostic is someone who believes that knowing the existence or nonexistence of any gods is impossible, and attempts to prove or disprove godly claims are futile. This doesn’t prevent them from believing, and you can find both agnostic theists and agnostic atheists (though I would think that the former are somewhat rare).

So, to recap – I’m a person who doesn’t believe in any gods. That’s what atheist means. It doesn’t mean I worship science or Darwin, it doesn’t mean that I think I’m smarter than Einstien, it doesn’t mean that I want to destroy your faith or close your church or burn your holy books.

It also doesn’t mean that we can’t get along perfectly well together, and even be friends.

And we can dance. If we want to.

– Laurence


Who are you, anyway?

For the protection of my family, myself, and some of the other work that I do, I will not reveal much about my true identity. I’m not someone famous. You probably don’t know me.  But I will offer a little bit of information on the three aforementioned topics, for those who want a little help painting their mental picture.

Myself – Caucasian heterosexual male, approaching middle age, nondescript. Really, you wouldn’t look twice if you saw me on the street. I live in the Eastern United States, and have done so all of my life. I am a writer, artist, and musician. I’m currently unemployed and hoping to improve that situation eventually.

My family – I have a partner, who we shall refer to as A. We have been together for over 20 years, but have never officially wed. At this point, we both realize that we don’t need government or religion to recognize our union – we’re doing perfectly all right without getting either one involved. (This is a personal choice, and does not mean that I hold anything against anyone who has participated in marriage.)

Together, we’ve created two daughters – H. and K., both of whom are beautiful and intelligent and exceptional and all of the other things you expect a parent to say. I love all of them dearly and would protect them with my own life.

My work – I do other things online and in the “meat world” that I feel would be affected if it became known that I am an atheist. In most cases, I think the effect would be negative. I volunteer for a couple of creative groups in my local community that have many members who are strong believers. I love them all very much, and enjoy working with them to a great degree, but I am genuinely concerned at times if I would still be welcome if word got out that I am a nonbeliever.

…and that’s just about everything you’re going to know about me. Feel free to inquire about more, but please understand that I’ll also feel free to not answer.


What do you say when an atheist sneezes?

For some time now, I’ve wanted to write something about atheism – a blog, a column, a book, anything. The problem is, there is a lot out there already, on a variety of topics, using a variety of approaches.

Earlier today I was thinking about the title phrase, a joke I’ve heard people make before, and it led me to the idea to create a blog for believers about nonbelievers. Something that would answer a lot of the questions people ask about atheists, and hopefully put a lot of the misunderstandings to rest.

Yes, atheists are misunderstood, and misrepresented. At times we are demonized on the news, at the pulpit, and in statements from the (former) president or the VaticanSome have said that we are the last minority that most others find it acceptable to persecute.

Some believers regard this as appropriate treatment, and consider atheists like spoiled children, upset with not getting their way and constantly bemoaning their imagined victim status. If we would just believe as they do, they tell us, then things would get better.

Other believers can see beyond this, and are curious about who atheists are, why they do not believe, and how they manage to get through life without faith.

This blog is for them.

This is not about deconverting you. It’s not about insulting you or your beliefs. You can find other blogs that focus on those. This is about building an understanding between us.

I hope to accomplish this by tackling some of the questions people frequently ask about atheists – even the ones that they’re not expecting answers for – and the questions that they SHOULD be asking, as well.

A lot of my answers will be my own opinion. Atheists aren’t organized into a tidy group, despite what you may have heard. We tend to think for ourselves, and that usually means that we disagree with each other a lot.

I have a lot of questions lined up to answer in future posts, but I’d always like to find more. If you have a question or suggestion, feel free to send it to me at, or mention it in comments. I’ll do what I can to get to it as soon as possible.

Since there’s no better time to start than the present, I think that I’ll answer the title of the blog first:

What do you say when an atheist sneezes?

You could take one of three different courses of action here:

– You could just say nothing. Most atheists wouldn’t mind this. After all, none of us (believer or not) have a special saying for those times when someone near us coughs, or hiccups, or passes gas, or vomits. This would be a good choice most of the time. It really doesn’t hurt anyone to say nothing after a sneeze. It’s not even rude, when you really think about it.

– If you’re feeling particularly helpful, you could say “Need a tissue?” This is usually what I say (but I only say it when I have some to offer). It sort of sounds like “Bless you,” and takes most people a moment to realize you’ve broken tradition with an offer of help. I like that.

– If you just can’t help yourself, you can always just come out with “God bless you,” like many of us have been raised to say. In most cases, it won’t mean anything to the atheist, and you won’t get a response. You might even get a “Thank you” from time to time.  Or you might ignite a conversation about old superstitions like saying “Bless you,” and how they may or may not have originated during the Black Plague, or from the mistaken belief that your heart stopped when you sneezed.  On a bad day, you may come across a nonbeliever with a bad attitude, who will give you a hard time about it.

This latter example is the reason why it’s probably better just to stay silent, or offer up a tissue.

– Laurence

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.