- One who disbelieves or denies the existence of a god or gods.
- A person who rejects the validity of religion as a concept and generally has more faith in science and logic.
- One who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions.
- One inclined to skepticism in religious matters.
As I continue to explore and try to define my beliefs (or lack there of,) I find myself bouncing between these two terms. I do think, in general, I am a skeptic – someone who requires proof that something is true. I do not just accept what people tell me or what I’ve been taught. My life experiences have shown me, time and again, that too many people just accept what they’re told and often, they are lied to or misinformed or have absolutely no basis for their beliefs other than they believe things because “that’s what they were taught” or just choose to believe. I need to have a sound basis for my beliefs, so I operate from the viewpoint that something is not true until it is proven to be true. There are things it took me longer to refute as my NEED to believe was stronger than my acceptance of the empirical evidence and experiences to the contrary. My skeptic side allows for the possibility that what I’m being told could be true, but I require proof or evidence in support of it before I will accept it as truth.
But when it comes to religion and gods, I am an absolute atheist. I don’t believe there is even a possibility that a god exists, so I am not a skeptic in that sense, because I just cannot wrap my head around the idea that there is even a remote possibility that a god exists and that so many people embrace the idea. There has never been the slightest shred of proof that any higher power or intelligent being exists, other than books written by human beings and stories and fables passed on from generation to generation. I can understand why people WANT or even NEED to believe that one exists. I understand the comfort the idea of a god can bring to someone who needs hope where they can find none. I can understand, in moments where we are forced to accept our helplessness in the face of the natural world, when diseases and disasters humble us and remind us there are just some things we are powerless over, why praying and believing makes us feel like we are doing something or that someone can help if we just wish it hard enough. But that is not proof to me that anything exists beyond our natural world and universe. That is just proof to me that some people need to believe for their own personal sense of purpose, empowerment and comfort. I am not uncomfortable with the thought that I am the result of an evolutionary process, that when I am dead I will cease to exist and that what happens to me is often just the randomness of life and existence. I accept that we only have so much control over our bodies and environment and lives. There is no rhyme or reason to some things. Some people get diseases and some don’t. Some people lose their houses in floods, some don’t. Some people luck into a fortune, some don’t. Some people find life partners, some don’t. I don’t believe there is someone cherry picking who gets to be safe and rich and happy and healthy and who doesn’t.
Am I open to the idea that a god exists? Only in the sense that, if you can provide empirical proof that one does exist, I will accept it and not refuse to believe my own senses or the proof laid out before me. Until then, all lack-of-proof and experience demands that I, as a rational, intelligent, thinking, mature human being reject the notion of a god because there is simply no proof that he/she/it/they exist. Just like the Easter Bunny. Or Superman. Or jeans that make my ass look good.
It is a constant struggle for me, given my beliefs, to be in a deist-saturated world, surrounded by people and friends I admire and love that continue to believe and reference and invoke a god that I believe does not exist. I constantly struggle with how to avoid showing disrespect for someone’s chosen beliefs while also being clear that I don’t share those beliefs or acknowledge a god exists. If you are asking yourself why it matters to me that people know I am an atheist, understand it is the same reason that compels me not to allow someone to assume I am heterosexual.: it is not true and by keeping quiet I only encourage, perpetuate and propagate the assumption and idea that everyone believes in a god (or is straight.) and I do resent the assumption that I believe in a god or being told “everything happens for a reason” or “put it in god’s hands” or “pray for this that or the other thing.” Or “god will provide”. It is important to me that people know and respect that I am an Atheist and don’t share their beliefs. It is important that people know not everyone believes in a god. It is important to me that I get credit or blame for the choices I make and the things I do and that I don’t rely on gods or magic for results or assistance or credit higher powers for the things that humans do. It is important that people understand that being an atheist does not make me immoral, evil or lost. It merely makes me a person who chooses rationality, reason and science over faith, fairytales and superstition.
I know the things I do, I do because I believe them to be the right thing to do, not because I hope for eternal reward.
I know the things I avoid doing, I avoid doing because I believe them to be the wrong thing to do, not because I fear eternal damnation.
I believe I have a responsibility to myself, my loved ones, my community and my environment to always try to contribute, help and do no harm, not because I’m a child of someone’s god and that’s what I was told to do in some book or by some self-appointed spiritual leader, but because I believe it is the right way to be and the right way to live for the betterment of myself, everyone and a fair and just society and world. I choose to try to nurture and protect and heal and support and educate. I do not accept that someone has chosen that path for me and requires it of me.
So, all things non-god related, I am clearly a skeptic and science and proof will bear out whether they are true or not; but when it comes to god:
If there is a god and he/she/it doesn’t like the way I live, or who I am, or what I believe, let that god tell me. I’m all ears. Until then, I’ll worry about the world around me, that I know exists. Because that’s what really matters. No matter what others might wish otherwise.