“You Need to Get a Religion”: Explorations in Being a Godless Heathen

Being an atheist in the United States is hard.

Well, I should clarify: being a non-Christian in the United States is hard. Not being the “right flavor” of Christian is hard*. However, to many, being an atheist is a new kind of low. A new kind of rampant godless heathen low.

I have been with Mr. Silverwane, my Jewish boyfriend, for a long time now. Religion was never an issue for us. We agree on what we consider to be important, and we respect each other where we differ. And when I first started to meet his family and friends, I was (very) fortunate in that not one of them disliked me. But apparently they formed an image of me in their heads. Shy. Conservative. Christian. (Guess which one of the three was true? Hint: doesn’t start with “C.”)

While finding out that they assumed this about me was amusing, it set up a potentially uncomfortable conversation. And it wasn’t telling them that I was actually quite liberal that gave me pause. It was telling them I was an atheist.

For a long while, until I was about fifteen or so, when asked, I identified as agnostic. And it wasn’t because I was truly agnostic. It was because, deep down, I felt that when I told someone, “I am an atheist,” they would hear, “I hate you and your religion.” Indeed, the idea that atheism, by its very existence, challenges the efficacy of religion has been around for centuries. It has even been expressed by 17th century English philosopher John Locke, who has often been regarded as one of the most progressive people of his time when it came to religious toleration. In one of his Letters of Toleration, he wrote, “I esteem that toleration to be the chief characteristic mark of the true Church.” But later, in the exact same letter, he said this:

Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration.

Thus, John Locke, the same person who said it was un-Christian to hate not only other sects of Christianity but other religions as well, said that atheists were in no way trustworthy human beings. For him, to take away God, not only do you undermine religion as a whole, but you threaten everything society stands for. And indeed, I’ve faced this response more times than I can count. By revealing my rampant godlessness, I am in fact threatening someone’s sense that society matters. That morality counts.

And it’s all because they believe you can’t be a good, reliable person without religion.

In a 1999 Gallup poll, 48% of Americans said they would “refuse to vote for “˜a generally well-qualified person for president’” if they knew zhe was an atheist. (For context, an atheistic candidate received the highest percentage of automatic refusal, beating out a Muslim candidate at 38%, a gay candidate at 37%, and a Mormon candidate at 17%.)

Now, of course, this was over a decade ago. But times don’t seem to have changed much. Here’s a few key excepts from a recent study by researchers at the University of British Columbia. Which, while based in Canada, also rings true for many an American.

 In one of the studies, participants said atheists more closely matched the description of an untrustworthy person than Muslims, Jews, Christians, feminists or homosexual men did. The only people that were counted nearly as untrustworthy as atheists were rapists, who are described by the study as an “unambiguously distrusted group.”


“While atheists may see their disbelief as a private matter on a metaphysical issue, believers may consider atheists’ absence of belief as a public threat to cooperation and honesty,” said [Ara] Norenzayan.


One of the reasons the researchers gave for this distrust of nonbelievers, however, is a shared feeling “that people behave better if they feel that God monitors their behavior.”


The UBC study was conducted in the “atypically secular settings of a university, in one of the most secular cities in North America,” indicating atheist distrust might be even stronger in “more typically religious areas.”

These days, I am unashamed about my atheism. I talk about it openly. But too often, when I talk about that part of who I am, I am met with antipathy and scorn.

Most of everyone in Mr. Silverwane’s circle was, to their credit, completely fine with my atheism. Or, at least, if they had an issue with it, they kept it private. But there was one person who was not: his now-ex-sister-in-law.

I wasn’t there when my atheism came up in conversation. He told me what happened later. I don’t even remember why it was mentioned, but it was, one day, when the two of them were talking: Silverwane is an atheist.

She went quiet, as he told me. That sudden quiet that falls on a person when they hear something about someone that shocks them to their core. That quiet that in a heartbeat turns into disgust. Revulsion. I am familiar with that quiet. The sudden snap of a person from warm to cold when you tell them those four dreaded words: “I am an atheist.”

He reminded her that I’m still the same person she thought I was when she thought I was Christian. The same person she saw as a kind, friendly, and upright human being. So she relaxed. But that was not the end of the discussion. One day, the two of them got into an argument. Alcohol was involved.

“If you two decide to have kids, how are you going to raise them? Jewish or atheist?” she demanded.

Mr. Silverwane remarked later that she never breathed a word of the question when she thought I was Christian. All of a sudden, it was a concern to her: that if we had children, they might also be godless heathens. It showed me then that it wasn’t being a non-Christian that was truly terrible to her. It was lacking religion at all.

When I was seven, my family and I were on vacation visiting my grandmother. She had been raised Christian, but she converted to Judaism for the sake of her Jewish husband when they married. She wasn’t an openly religious person. I never remember hearing about her attending any religious services, whether at a church or a synagogue. But nonetheless, one day, when were alone in the car together, she turned to me and said something I will never forget.

“You need to get a religion,” she told me.

I was flabbergasted. “Why?”

“I just want to see you grow up well.”

Today, I don’t believe she feels I would have grown up “better” had I grown up with religion. Nonetheless, my whole life, I have encountered people who have insinuated  that very sentiment: that children need religion to set them straight. Otherwise, they will grow up into malicious adults who don’t care for or about others. That they will grow up into the rampant godless shithead that is me.

So now, whenever I run into a person like this, I feel compelled to talk about what atheism is to me. About how I don’t think science can give the answers to everything. About how I’m strongly influenced by Daoism. About how sometimes I feel a strong disconnect from the atheist movement because it is so (white) male-dominated. About how I value not only religious experience but religion.

For every person whose mind I have changed, there have been ten more who cease listening the moment they hear the word “atheist” leave my lips. All they see is a person without morals, without feeling, and without religion.

So I keep talking. I keep talking because someday, I would love to see a world where it isn’t what you believe that counts, or even who you are, but how you live.


*It is, of course, a hell of a lot harder in many places, and I in no way wish to diminish the struggles of people who aren’t the “right” religion across the globe. I recognize that I have a lot of privilege in that I have the ability to talk openly about my atheism without facing more serious repercussions than some people thinking I’m a terrible person. A lot of people don’t have that.

139 replies on ““You Need to Get a Religion”: Explorations in Being a Godless Heathen”

I was raised Jewish, and I’ve been very happy with that, but I now define myself as an apathist. I don’t care if there is a God or not. I don’t see this as agnostic; I see this as the existence or nonexistence in a higher being has no bearing on my life or the decisions I make. For me, it simply doesn’t matter. Growing up, my parents never stressed belief; for them it was the cultural aspects – holidays, being charitable, getting involved in the community, etc. I know my Dad says he doesn’t believe in a personal God and I’ve never actually heard my mom talk about her religious beliefs. Neither side of the family (my mother’s side is Christian, Dad’s is Jewish) has talked a lot about religion or belief. I’m fairly confident they believe in God, but I’m happy that it never enters our discussions. Now only if I could get them to stop talking about politics too.

That said, a lot of people don’t know my opinions on this. I mostly just describe myself as “not very religious.” I go to the Hillel (a Jewish campus organization) events because I have friends there and they are fun. And like my parents, I care about the cultural stuff. And even among my friends, we don’t really talk about how religious someone is or God (there is some discussion because Hillel has to have it in some activities but we don’t chat about it among ourselves outside of it) because there’s a general understanding that some are religious and some aren’t, and that’s not necessarily why we are there. We’re there to be around people like ourselves because being Jewish can be very difficult.

It’s like when people find out you’re Jewish, they feel that they have the right to question about your beliefs. I think it would be the same thing if I also said I was an Atheist or Apathist (let’s not even get into their confusion of how I could be both). I don’t understand how we’re still at the point where we think it is our business to know what someone else believes or doesn’t believe, if it doesn’t directly affect their behaviors and interactions with people  – and even then, I’m not so sure.


I’d rather have an Atheist for a President. I don’t think religion should have any bearing at all in the decisions you make when you run a country, state, or city. I don’t want someone who looks at his or her own personal beliefs to make decisions. I want someone who can look at the situation, at the facts presented before them, and make an informed decision that will work for the constituents. Govern by thought, not belief.



Thank you so much for sharing your perspective! I hadn’t heard of the term apathist before, so I’m going to have to look into it.

As I mentioned, it is downright shitty being non-Christian in the US. Some of the things Mr. Silverwane tells me about, with people’s responses to his Judaism, send me slack-jawed. For instance, I’m horrified how many people decide to tell “Jew” jokes to him.

I think that, in a lot of ways, some Christian folks respond to atheism a lot more negatively than a lot of other things. They’ll still question non-Christians and be absolutely ignorant in the ways they do so, but to say “I am an atheist” they immediately hear “I have no morals and am an untrustworthy arrogant person.”

If you’ve had this experience in response to being Jewish, I in no way wish to diminish this! I just feel that people jump very quickly from atheist to immoral godless shit head, in a way that is quicker than responses to so many other sorts of beliefs.

As to your mention of wanting an atheist president, personally I don’t think religion is the problem. An atheist can still be a complete chauvinist ass (and perhaps even try to justify it through science…). It really depends on what you believe and how you believe it. I’ve met some atheists who are incredibly close-minded to other ways of thinking.

About how sometimes I feel a strong disconnect from the atheist movement because it is so (white) male-dominated.

ME TOO.  The loudest atheist voices in the public sphere tend to be arrogant, middle aged privleged male voices, and they sound like it too.  I am an atheist, but just as I have deep convictions in my lack of faith, some people have deep convictions in faith.  This doesn’t make them unintelligent or worthy of scorn, like many of the atheists with loudspeakers say directly or indirectly.  I’ve no truck with these “new atheist” types.

I had a friend who described to another friend that people who are spiritual or believe in a higher power are crazy/deluded. The second friend got pretty upset because she believes and she sought my opinion about this – she doesn’t consider herself crazy or deluded and tried to tell the first friend that sometimes people do things for the ritual aspect too. First friend didn’t belief her.

(I realize that was a weird paragraph. Sorry.)

I had to explain to First Friend that while I don’t believe, I still do some of the ritual things when I feel like it. I celebrate Jewish holidays (I fast on Yom Kippur but I don’t observe Pesach anymore. It’s too annoying), I’ll light Shabbat candles … when I do these things, I’m not doing them because I believe in anything. I’m doing them because I’m respecting the tradition I grew up with and recognizing all the Jews in history that did it before me. To me, it doesn’t matter if there is a God up there who sees that I’m doing it; I do these things for the Jews that did them, for the ones that couldn’t, and the ones that risked their lives to do so.

And yet I feel that if I tried to explain that to one of the “arrogant” Atheists out there, they wouldn’t get it. Some of them are just so amazed that I/someone would continue to have any connection to a religion or practices anymore. Like, How Dare I when I know The Truth?!  It’s like they don’t understand that people can do things for multiple reasons, but if you don’t fit in their worldview, you’re just an idiot who doesn’t get it.

I agree with you that no one has the right to judge anyone’s reasons for being religious/spiritual or not. I do have some issues with organized religion (in terms of the societal power it wields), but in general, I have no problem with people who hold religious/spiritual beliefs. I certainly don’t think this makes someone crazy/deluded/stupid/etc. I judge people based on how they act and how they treat others. So long as you don’t try to convert me or legislate your beliefs, we will get along just fine. I would say the majority of non-religious people feel the same way. But, as we know, the loudest voices are seldom representative of the majority.

Religion is not going anywhere, and neither is atheism. That’s why I think it’s so important for us not to judge each other and find ways to peacefully coexist. That’s why I’m glad we’re seeing people of all religious persuasions respond to this article.

I just want to say thank you for sharing this.  I love reading articles like this one that open my eyes to a world I’ve never seen.  I know I’m going to paint a big red target on my forehead by saying this, and I know I am speaking from a place of privilege, but I never knew that an atheist could face such intense stupidity.  In my own defense, I frequently make the mistake of assuming most people would have the reaction I would have if someone told me they were an atheist (or fill in the blank) – “Yeah?  Why?” and then after listening (and hopefully learning) “Okay, where did you want to go for lunch?”.  I mean, really, who am I to question another person’s beliefs or experiences??  And as much as I would not want another person to try to force their beliefs on me, so to would I never try to force my beliefs on another.  But I do really enjoy reading these articles that illustrate another person’s experiences and educate me about the challenges they face that I did not previously understand or even think to ponder.  So from one person who is still learning, Thank You!


Forgive me for asking, and I mean no disrespect, but why even ask “Why?” I wouldn’t ask that if someone told me they were Christian/Muslim/any other faith. Being atheist is part of my identity, and when I’m asked “Why?” I feel like I’m being asked to defend or justify it. Please don’t take this as an attack, as it’s in no way meant as one; I’m just genuinely curious as to what you meant.

I really appreciate your comment, and I’m glad that you learned a lot from this article! It’s always encouraging to hear from people of faith who aren’t like this.

I would ask ‘why’ because I am genuinely curious, not because I’m looking to find fault or flaw.  I would never ask for justification or defense of personal beliefs.  Personal beliefs are their own justification and should never require further defense.  However, I really enjoy learning another persons perspective on things, especially things with which I am not familiar.  It helps me keep the idea ‘you don’t know what it’s like until you walk a mile in her shoes’ in the front of my mind, and continually shows me my way is not necessarily the right or best or only way.  I think the immense differences between individual human experiences is awe inspiring and such a powerful arena for learning and growth.  Blech, that sounded really grandiose, huh?  Really I’m just people curious – tell me your experiences or views on anything and I will listen in rapt attention, and ask for more.  By no means do I take offense – I would have asked the same question myself! :)

I should add that I wouldn’t ask “Why?” only of atheists or anyone who offered a comment on any spiritual or religious belief.  I ask pretty much everyone “Why?” or “What do you mean?” or “What is that about?” for pretty much everything I’m curious about.  Which is pretty much everything. Pretty much.. :)


Thank you so much for sharing your viewpoint! I also don’t see any problem with wanting to talk about why someone feels a certain belief. In fact, I actively encourage that sort of thing!

And it’s no real shame to not have known about this before; since it wasn’t part of your personal experience and you hadn’t heard about it, how could you have really understood it?

Might I suggest that, perhaps in future question-asking of atheists, you make sure to tell them you’re not trying to tear down their thought? Like Kristin, I very rarely run into someone who questions my atheism “why” and isn’t trying to tear down what I think. It’s always a delight to me when someone is genuinely curious, but sometimes, depending on the day, the question can make me defensive because I don’t know why the person is asking.

Thanks for the clarification. I have trouble assuming anyone has good intentions when they just bluntly ask “Why?” about my atheism, because every time it’s been asked that way, it’s by people reacting in a negative way or demanding that I defend it. If it’s approached in a “Well, just so you know, your personal beliefs don’t have any effect on what I think of you as a person, and I’d love to talk about it and learn more if you’re okay with that” way (which, fortunately, is what my mom did), then I think that is great, and it seems like that’s the approach you are taking. I love when people want to learn, and I love learning about other religions and why people do the things they do. My mom and I have had some fascinating conversations about religion lately, despite our differences in opinion.

Again, thanks for responding and taking part in this discussion!

I also love how some Christians snicker and make fun of Mormons but somehow seem to think that the myth of the virgin Mary and a creepy old dude is not only plausible but correct and should be embraced by all.  Organized religion, in my opinion, is the worst. Well, not really, but. I don’t mind Jesus but my gracious, some of his followers can be real asshats sometimes. The people who believe the bible is the literal word of god also make me want to smack my self in the face.

Silverwane, this is an excellent post. Thank you so much for it.

For those outside the US, or maybe those in certain areas of the US, I don’t doubt that the way atheists are responded to sounds pretty shocking. But when you cop to being an atheist, to thinking there’s probably not any higher power and so what if there is, the reaction really can be intense. Intense and unpleasant. I was getting told I was evil and hell-bound and a freak in grade-school – and not just by my peers, by teachers. There was one teacher who informed me that if I wasn’t a Christian, I didn’t have any business going to my (public) school. For a quick look at what people think it’s ok to say to an atheist, Google the threats Jessica Ahlquist has been getting (potential trigger warning: I had a hard time getting through them, since most of ’em had been said to me at one point or another).

And then, after all that. One reaches the point of being comfortable “being out.” And every single damned time you try to have a discussion from your non-religious point of view, you will be accused of attacking those who are religious. You will also be obligated to provide a lengthy apology for the sins of other, more public, atheists.

Oh boy, don’t even get me started on Jessica Ahlquist and the hatred she’s received. Here is a compilation of screenshots of things people said to her, and this is only from the first few hours after the decision. Her address was posted online. She was called an “evil little thing” by her state representative. Florists refused to deliver flowers to her. She has received numerous death threats. She still has to attend school with a police escort. And this is in Rhode Island, a state founded on the principle of religious freedom. It is disgusting. I proudly donated to her scholarship fund. She is a brave young woman.

Oh, I got into some knock-down brawls with people on John DePetro’s (*pfeh*) Facebook wall regarding the Jessica Ahlquist situation. While RI was founded on religious freedom, it is also overwhelmingly Catholic, and Catholic Rhode Islanders are not used to being the ones not getting their way.

You will also be obligated to provide a lengthy apology for the sins of other, more public, atheists.

Yeah, most people get that there are a wide range of religious viewpoints within every religion, but there’s a very pervasive notion that there’s only one worldview for atheism, and that’s the one trumpeted by a bunch of arrogant loudmouths.  I mean yes, atheism is centered around a lack of belief, but it’s not like every atheist everywhere has the same perspective on religion and religious people.  It’s not like atheism axiomatically means arrogant asshattery (though plenty of folks think it does, and a lot of the most vocal atheist voices around don’t do much to dispel that notion).  I treat religious people on their own merit, not on the merit of what religion they ascribe to;  it’s not unreasonable to ask the same in return.

That incident with Jessica was deplorable. But the atheist community rallied to her defense and raised money for her for college. So one tiny ray of sunshine. It’s amazing how much people revile anybody who doesnt believe in a higher power. Also, it has to be the right higher power. As Carlin said, when God ruled the world, it was called the Dark Ages. The usually shuts them up.

As a Unitarian Universalist who vocally doesn’t believe in god and identifies somewhere between humanist, pagan, agnostic, and atheist, I definitely get where you’re coming from.  I think atheism gets it the worst, for sure, but just TRY and tell someone that your religion and spirituality doesn’t fit into some neat little deity-box, and suddenly your morals are instantly in question.  That bugs me so much.  One, I prefer to believe that humans have potential for good in them without some parental deity figure bribing or threatening them into good behavior.  And two, I consider myself a very moral person, and it really bothers me that somehow this is invalidated in people’s minds by my lack of belief in a deity.

Looking on from a place that consistently ranks as one of the least religious countries in Europe, this aspect of America is possibly even scarier to me than the healthcare situation. Religion really doesn’t have a place in my life, and if forced to pick something at gunpoint, I wouldn’t go for anything monotheistic. I find the fact that so many people out there would judge me to hell and back over this thoroughly depressing. And unlike the author of this piece, I really don’t fancy engaging any religious supremacists over this either. I’m not the scum of the earth because of my non-religious views and it’s really not my job to reform bigots who think otherwise. I’m just glad to live far away from them.

Although, since I do have to travel to the US for work occasionally, I have wondered what the best strategy would be, if cornered over the issue: being honest about my atheism, or claiming to be a fervent pagan who still carries a grudge over the Northern crusades, in the hopes of scaring them off? (I do technically qualify, since I do the whole respecting one’s ancestors and nature plus feasting and bonfires on solstices, according to the national traditions.)

Well played. To digress, that would be another thing that scares me about the US. It’s not even the guns!everywhere!, I find myself getting irrationally tense around any person in uniform. I can’t even imagine what it must be like for people who “look like terrorists”.

It is pretty unlikely that you will ever be asked about it. People like to just assume that you are religious/Christian, unless you give them a reason not to. Also, it’s been my experience that, besides some extremely religious people, most accept that it’s not really polite to bring up a stranger’s religious beliefs. Most likely it won’t ever come up. If it does come up, and it’s from a random person, say whatever you feel comfortable saying. The only negative reactions I’ve gotten from being honest have come in the form of disappointment, a debate/brief attempt to convert, or “I’ll pray for you.” Just do whatever makes you feel comfortable and safe in the environment you’re in (some places of the country are more tolerant than others). If it comes up in a work situation, where it may be in your best interest not to “stir the pot,” I would probably say either, “You know, my beliefs are private to me, so I’d prefer not to discuss them,” or “I really don’t like to define myself as anything in particular, but I certainly believe in being a good person.” As a rule, I never flat-out lie about my lack of religious beliefs, but I understand that some people don’t have that luxury in this country, and you have to do what is best for you.

Hah, it’s not so much that I fancy engaging religious supremacists, but rather, being “out” as an atheist in the US gathers religious supremacists like moths to a flame. :) I almost feel compelled to at least talk to these people, because sometimes a person just genuinely has not come in contact with someone they knew to be an atheist.

My college roommate was a person like this. I found out later that she had believed atheists to be immoral people before she came to college, because that’s what she was taught. But over her freshman year, she rejected that idea. I can only hope that I was influential in that.

As for coming to the US, I’d say you probably don’t have to worry too much, because like Kristin said, people usually won’t ask. They’ll just assume you’re Christian unless you tell them otherwise. And you don’t have to tell them unless you want to.

Excellent article. I grew up in central Texas surrounded by the worst kind of paranoid evangelicals who started telling me I was going to hell basically as soon as they were old enough to talk (and that just because I wasn’t Baptist but rather had parents who were Catholic and Methodist and didn’t bother taking us to either church). They thought I was going to hell for playing with unicorn and pegasus My Little Ponies! Because God didn’t create those so the Devil made them to tempt us away from Him. Pretty much all of my friends in New York know that I’m a rabid atheist, but I’m still closeted to my childhood/college friends because I’m pretty sure that a lot of them would immediately cut me off. I hate having to watch what I say because they’re intolerant, but our shared history means enough to me that I don’t want to lose all of them. I don’t eat babies for breakfast! I’m not out burning Bibles in the street! But some of them would see me that way. Sigh.

Yes, poor guy. I wish he could’ve lived to see the mess we’re in now. He would be a shining light in these dark times. The good ones never seem to live long.

I love his stories about taking “heroic doses” of mushrooms and finding god. The real one, not the Abrahamic one. The Abrahamic one is a sociopath.

Thank you for this. You were a lot more considerate in your assessment of believers in relation to nonbelievers than I would have been. In my case, many believers would be correct in assuming that I have some contempt for them; I don’t live my life waiting for the invisible pink unicorn to grant me an afterlife of ice cream while watching heathens and people whose difference scares me burning as punishment. As @thelifeofriley wrote earlier, whatever good I do is because I say I have to, because I’m compelled by something fundamental in my character, not the promise of spiritual bonus points. Most believers also don’t stop and think about anything the merchandise they’re trying to sell—all-powerful all-knowing god(s) routinely lets genocide, rape, abuse, etc. happen because…? The Abrahamic religions are the long-form lyrics of He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss).

I’m sorry to hear you have contempt for me because of my religious beliefs. I still like you, though.

I don’t believe nonbelievers go to hell, for the record.

And I don’t believe in a God who controls everything, either. If God were causing tsunamis and such, well, She’d just be an asshole.

Most of my friends are believers of some type. Since you haven’t tried to demean my nonbelief to take succor in your own special status with god, and you haven’t presented your belief to me as some sort of postmorten shopping spree, I have no reason to have contempt for you.

I’m making a good-faith assumption that you’ll do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not because maybe god will give you an extra pat on the head in the afterlife. And I take it as read that you have that assumption about me. So we’re cool.

I’m mostly referring to people who do things looking over their shoulder, making sure that other people and Cthulhu can see what a great person I’m being! Right now! god will love me more and I’ll sit closer to it during picnics in heaven! Of course, if I were alone, I wouldn’t see the point in risking anything to do the right thing because where’s my reward?

Ok. I have to chuckle here a bit. I know so many Christians like this. Look how good I am! See, See!  And unlike, say, abortion or being gay, Jesus his own self comes out and says this behavior is bad, and that it will not get you into heaven. (Along the lines of they get rewarded on earth for this behavior, so why would heaven reward them?)

I really try not to be smug and self-satisfied about being a better Christian than the fundies, because I think that is a truly ugly sentiment, but when they miss the mark so badly they make it kinda hard to avoid. I don’t think wanting to get to heaven* is an inherently unworthy goal, but if someone were to definitively prove me wrong tomorrow about the whole faith thing, I would still try to be a good person because I want to be a good person.

*I believe heaven to be a spiritual state of being, not a gated community for the bestest and most faithful. I don’t believe in hell at all, so I don’t think nonbelievers go there.

I think a lot of my atheism has been shaped by hours of conversation with the professor who was my mentor in undergrad. She was a Christian, and she was one of the only people I would have been willing to go to church with. Her personal Christianity was characterized better as a sort of spiritual rising; she didn’t feel a need to take doctrine literally. And, in fact, she was highly critical of those who did.

I’ve sort of taken that on; I think that religion’s true value lies in the spiritual metaphor. You of course don’t need religion to be spiritual; I regard myself as a spiritual atheist. But if you can sift through to the core of the deeply spiritual reasons of why people wanted to believe that religion to be true, it can be an absolutely beautiful project.

So, rather than being critical of religion as a whole, I choose to be critical of particular beliefs or particular ways of functioning in a religion. I, too, am highly critical of anyone who chooses to take religious doctrine literally, or who only acts a certain way because they want to be rewarded after death. That’s so shallow to me. It doesn’t strike me as following what religion is meant to be about.

But that’s my personal approach, and you are absolutely welcome to disagree with it!

Doing good things in order to get a reward does seem to be a childlike morality.

~I am painfully aware, though, that conservative Christians give away more time and money (% of income-wise) to charities and nonprofits than liberal Christians like me do. (I should point out many would say I’m not a real Christian.) This discrepancy holds true even when you only look at giving to non-religious organizations. I have to ask myself: if I had a more literal concept of heaven and I believed in hell, would I do more for poor people?

That’s a good question. It’s definitely something to think about.

And I hate hate HATE the people who insist that someone isn’t a real Christian because they don’t share X view. I remember a Christian organization on campus who did that to people. Pissed me the hell off.


I don’t think we are disagreeing here. I have respect for spirituality (someone’s beliefs that they’ve struggled with, thought about, reasoned through, and don’t rely on what other people think of them). Religion (prefab beliefs, thought and doubt are evil, those who disagree are evil) deserves no respect.

Spiritual people often describe themselves using the language of religion, but there’s a clear, immediate difference observable between the spiritual person (has real faith) and the religious person (has only fear).

I’m going to disagree with you, though, with your point that religion is evil. I think organized religion is often incredibly shitty, but I think that sometimes people find spirituality and meaning through religion.

Religion without spirituality, however, is often distinctively awful, because it just takes the doctrine at face-value.

Religion has no spirituality. Broadly speaking, religion is the antithesis of spirituality. Spirituality seeks; religion knows. They are oil and water, great cookies no fat, matter and anti-matter. A religion incorporates spiritual language to be more palatable in the same way that the first people in a Ponzi scheme really do make money, or grape flavor is added to cough syrup. What they want you to believe you’re buying is not what they’re actually selling.

I get what you’re saying, and I’ve seen this sort of behavior, but I’ve also known deeply religious people who were also deeply spiritual people. We could have wonderful conversations about spirituality and religion! When you engage with people who are religious but are also willing to interrogate the parts that don’t seem to make sense in their religion, it’s a very different experience than, say, the times this jackass came to my college campus:

I still believe we’re arguing about vocabulary. Someone who is deeply spiritual may very well believe that they are also religious, and talk about their faith in those terms. But by definition they are not; if they’ve questioned, they have been irreligious. Perhaps they’ve incorporated a lot of principles from a religion into their faith—that’s spiritual, not religious.

Spirituality is sought and earned; religion is installed and given.

I think you’re right in that it’s a semantic argument we’re having. I guess I just don’t want to label that as “religious.” Spiritualness and religion are, of course, separate, but I think that the true goal of religion is to approach the spiritual.

So, I suppose in a sense, I’m regarding those who take their religion very seriously but lack spirituality as, in some manner, irreligious!

Ah! You have revealed that we are having a disagreement about more than vocabulary.

I think that the true goal of religion is to approach the spiritual.

I disagree. People may approach religion for that reason, conflating religion and spirituality, but religion itself exists to use the lure and language of spirituality for political, social, economic, and oppressive power and their view of proper order.


Ah! So it is. :)

I think that’s a fair point. That actually ties into a lot of my strong distaste towards organized religion, and you are absolutely right that so many of the ways many religions are marketed ties into oppression and discrimination and so on and so forth.

I think I would rather think of religion and organized religion separately, because I’ve known numerous people who sometimes break from organized religion but sometimes don’t, who have also been good, actually tolerant people. And these folks were coincidentally more what I could call “spiritual.”

So, if I’m following what you’re saying, you would argue that they are using religious language in their spirituality; thus, it isn’t the religion that’s providing the positive aspect.

This does give me something to think about.

I think I still would rather approach it from a direction of, it’s not that religion has co-opted the language of spirituality in order to grab people, but rather discriminatory assholes co-opt religious/spiritual language to justify their bigotry. And then manipulate religion to further the discrimination.

I, too, have contempt for religion. I don’t necessarily hate religious people out of hand, but if someone is deeply religious, it’s unlikely I can be friendly with them.

One of the reasons is I think that being religious is incredibly lazy. You don’t have to think about what your beliefs are, what morality is, what it actually means to be a good person, what you are in the face of the randomness of the universe. I think that being a full on atheist is the brave thing to do. Knowing that there is nothing nothing after you die makes you appreciate everything more.

So I really like you arguments about religions is what I’m trying to say.

I have encountered people who have insinuated  that very sentiment: that children need religion to set them straight. Otherwise, they will grow up into malicious adults who don’t care for or about others.

Funny, I find that many people that are indoctrinated from a young age with religion grow up to be malicious adults who don’t care for or about others. Except they say they do, so they are hypocrites on top of it.

When I say I am an atheist, unfortunately, it is partly because I hate your religion. Money isn’t just the root of all evil. Religion is too. My usual atheist rant involves questioning someone on how they could be part of something that has advocated rape and genocide for hundreds of years. They usually don’t want to talk to me after that.

Thanks! I use it because it’s probably the thing that baffles me the most about religious people (there are a lot of things though), and it’s only slightly less offensive than accusing them of having such an unfulfilling life that they have to be constantly worrying about what’s going to happen to them after they die. People really don’t like that one, so I mostly keep that to myself.

Yeah, they usually don’t have a good response, hem and haw, and say, “well, religion has done a lot of good too.”

To which I usually respond with pointing out that the bible was written by megalomaniacal old men that feared losing their land, cattle, and women (in that order).

So, it’s probably a good think I’m not around many religious people in my day to day life.

It’s funny how those religious types like to ignore their actual doctrinal beliefs.

After reading in Leviticus: 13 that if one has a skin disease, that he/she cannot brush his/her hair, must wear rags, have a priest put him/her in isolation for a week and shout “unclean” when a person approaches, I once went to Sunday School during a breakout of hives in torn jeans and asked the Sister who taught my class if I could see a priest and be purified in isolation for a week.

Looking very confused, the Sister asked where I got that idea. I told her it was in the bible & showed her the verse. She then said to me that I was wrong because Catholics don’t use the Old Testament. I told her that that wasn’t true for they still were against contraception, abortion and persecuted gay people (all in that same wonderful chapter, Leviticus). She told me that I was too literal minded and that secular ideas had turned me away from God. I replied that that wasn’t the case at all but that ridiculous, illogical and bigoted beliefs of the Church were turning me away. She sent me home for defiance. I screamed “Unclean!” as I walked out the door.

My mother still forced me to get confirmed a few years later.

Thankfully I’m an adult now & don’t have to deal with religion now.


Props for standing up to that bullshit! I think I realized it was crap when I couldn’t get a good explanation for the Trinity. But my mom wanted me to get confirmed, so I just kinda kept my head down and got through it. What a nightmare.

So, as I like to say, if the Catholics are right, I’m totally going to hell.

Sometimes I forget just how bad it is in this country. Actually, it seems to be getting worse, especially during election season. I feel like the concept of “separation of church and state” is lost on a majority of people.

I grew up in the South but the only religious influence I had came from my grandparents. We’d go to church when we visited them but it was never demanded or even expected. It was just out of respect for them. I always considered myself Baptist by default because that’s what my mom’s family was. Once I got old enough to educate myself and decide for myself, I came to consider myself a “secular humanist” or just flat out agnostic. In other words, maybe there is a “God” and maybe there isn’t but I don’t need some 2,000 year old book to tell me how to be a decent human being.

One thing I’ve realized over the years though, based on my own personal experiences, is that usually the most outspokenly religious people are the biggest – and I mean BIGGEST – hypocrites and most of them hide behind religion as either an excuse for their behavior or a reason to minimize someone’s wrongdoings, as if a child molester or even a cheating spouse who goes to church isn’t as bad as one who doesn’t.

as if a child molester or even a cheating spouse who goes to church isn’t as bad as one who doesn’t.

YES. Which is completely counter-intuitive with those of us whose brains do something more than reinforce the crowns of our skulls—if somebody “has the spirit” and still does that, isn’t the smart money on the reprobate rapist who might actually be changed?

These attitudes are wrong so many different ways that I can’t even comment on that.  The God Delusion does a pretty good job of laying that out.  But let me say that I am atheist and am very uncomfortable fessing up to it.  I know that people are so hurt and upset and personally wounded.  That, or they think I’m immoral and lack values.  It is absurd.

I’m too sensitive to offending others AND I’m an American in politics so I tend to be pretty on the down low until I know someone enough to know they aren’t going to flip out about it.It’s why I’m so appreciative and admiring of people who are Americans, Atheist and ‘out’.  Maybe one day I will be too.

I am the same way. I can count on one hand (actually, probably two hands) how many people I have freely told that I’m an atheist. I fear the backlash I would get from it, both personally and professionally (my boss is very religious). Some people just know, though, because they’ve figured it out based on things we’ve talked about.

My general rule is that, if someone asks me point-blank, I respond honestly. This has only happened three times in my life. Two were strangers, and one was an acquaintance. I don’t feel right lying about it, but I generally won’t freely offer that information.

I am starting to be more open about it with my family (my mom and sister know, and about half of my aunts/uncles do), and I’ve actually found out that there are at least two (possibly three) other atheists in my family. It made me feel so much better. However, there are a few family members that I have no intentions of telling.

You should only do what you are personally comfortable with; for some reason, I got to a point where I just stopped giving a shit about the people who decided to judge me for it. I think I decided that, if they were going to be judgmental like that, their opinion didn’t matter.

I know I’ve been “punished” for this by some people, some of whom were in positions of authority over me, and that’s upsetting. But I just care about ideas too much to shut up about it. :)

For some reason it’s almost easier to say “I don’t believe in god” than it is to say “I’m an atheist”. Or rather, that’s what my mom prefers to say about me. I was “confirmed” in the Presbyterian church when I was 12, but even then I didn’t believe in god. I work in science, but I’ve been an atheist since long before that. It just didn’t make sense and I am not one to trust the word of other people just for the sake of it- and that includes omnipotent old white men in the sky.

It actually really became an issue when I started planning my wedding. I was planning on just having a general officiant, but my mother pulled me aside one day that my father absolutely would not come to my wedding if I was not married by a minister/reverent/person-of-faith. I was furious. But then I decided not to get married anywhere near where my parents or my fiance’s parents- sort of a destination wedding, but just in a place we liked that was closer to where we already lived. Neither of us are religious (although he says he likes to subscribe to a sort of pantheism) and on complaining to my parents over the phone one day that “how do you find a person to marry you when you don’t go to church ever?”, my dad replied “oh, just get an officiant from the town.” I almost balked and told him what mom said, but chose to just run with it instead.

For some reason it’s almost easier to say “I don’t believe in god” than it is to say “I’m an atheist”.

You’re saying two different things with that. The first is a statement of disbelief—I don’t believe in god. Maybe you believe in something else, maybe you’re “spiritual,” whatever. The second is a statement of belief—I do believe in a lack of god, religion, spirituality, et al. Your mom is leaving open in the listener’s mind that you’re on a spiritual rumspringa right now, and that maybe later things will change.

I don’t define myself as an atheist because it’s still a belief about things that are not knowable, questions that are not falsifiable. However, I strongly suspect how things may be, and if I’m wrong, god(s) is nothing I want to be a part of.

Amen (pun, um, intended). What I’ve never understood is how “atheism” automatically means “Satan worshipper” to so many Christians. I guess…if you aren’t worshpiping the Christian god, then you’re as good as worshiping Satan instead…? I’m also an atheist, and when people (conservation Christian types, always) shyly ask why I have given myself to the devil, I have to intricately explain that atheists do not believe in any omniscient spirit with god-like powers – including Satan. It mostly falls on deaf ears.

Perhaps it is just me, but I am wary of anyone whose belief system is the only thing standing between them and repulsive behavior.  I’d also like to quote a commenter from another site, whose comment was so perfect that I saved it for posterity, and paste it below:

 Atheists are, in my belief, among the most selfless and sincere people. They help their fellow man just because – not for some reward, not salvation, not heaven, not to get bonus points or extra credit. But atheists (and I am one, from Muslim and Catholic parents), do because that’s just what you’re supposed to do for people – you don’t get anything back.

I do not think that religious people are incapable of helping others without the motivation of being rewarded… but there is, generally speaking, a bit of a payoff. Atheists do because our natural humanity commands it.

That’s definitely an interesting quote. I like what it’s saying insofar as it’s arguing for atheists being moral human beings, but I’m pretty positively disposed to religion. There’s a lot good that can come out of religion, and interestingly, not all of them even require belief in god(s), such as some versions of Buddhism or Daoism.

I’m just not positively disposed to the people who choose to only do good things because of perceived rewards. Or the people who take their religion as dogma for everyone. Or the people who use their religion to justify hatred. Especially not the people who use their religion to justify hatred.

It’s been my experience that religion makes good people better, and bad people worse. It either brings out the best or the worst in someone, and I have never met a Christian who didn’t read the Bible selectively. Buddhism and Daoism have long been a fascination for me, and I’ve studied both fairly extensively, and have incorporated some of those principles into my own life. I do like that those two belief systems can either be a religion or a life philosophy; they don’t have to be one or the other!

It was horrible. I didn’t even quite realize what she said until after she left, because I was so taken aback by it.

This woman also would not feed her dog until he “prayed.” She or someone in her family would tell him to “thank Jesus,” and they would not put food in his bowl until he sat and looked up to the heavens. I am not making this up.

Ugh, that drives me crazy, too. Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist attacks this all the time, and he features a lot of posts on “foxhole atheists.”

It also drives me nuts when prominent atheists die and people say, “I bet he/she wasn’t an atheist on his/her death bed.” It’s really insulting.

Here’s his blog. It has really shaped my atheism in a lot of ways.

And here’s a nice write-up he had about foxhole atheists. He also supports having Humanist chaplains in the military and allowing members of the military to write “atheist” “or “Humanist” for their religious preference on their ID tags. Neither of these things are permitted right now, sadly. (Well, the latter has been allowed once at least, but only after he petitioned them for a year and a half about it. They try to make you write “No religious preference” instead.)

That is… awful.

Do these people think that sorta shit through before they say it at all? Because if they’re trying to “lead you back to the fold,” there are two things going on there. One is “Is there a god?” Two is “Presuming I answer the first question in the affirmative, should I worship said god?”

Yeah. I’m gonna worship the great cosmic manipulator/abuser. I think not. What a sick, sick view of the world, for a non-believer or for a believer.

It’s crazy. And I just remembered my mom had a similar experience (although she’s still a Christian). She lost her mom to breast cancer at a young age (my mom has been cancer-free for five years now, thankfully), and the Catholic priest at her church told my mom, while she was crying at the funeral, “This isn’t a time to be sad. You should be happy that God chose your mother to be with him!” I’m surprised she’s still a Christian (though she’s about as liberal with her Christianity as you can get).

Oh yes, it is. I’ve had people tell me, not knowing I’m an atheist, that atheists are “fucking morons,” “hateful,” “destroying our country,” “have no morals,” “should not be allowed to have children,” and are “the scum of the Earth.” And I don’t even live in the so-called “Bible Belt.”

Well damn. I know that’s terrible and sad but I can’t get over the horrible silliness off it, really facepalming myself right now.

And I will call everyone who doesn’t believe in unicorns complete and utter nincompoops from now on, and they’re definitely not allowed to have children.

Here’s a nice gem I found.

While it sounds “extreme,” the idea that atheists are somehow “anti-American,” and thus anti-everything-America-is-purported-to-be-about is such a common one.

There’s a reason why, the other day in one of my philosophy classes, when I mentioned being an atheist, one of my classmates decided to come up to me on our break to argue with me. Basically, to try to argue that atheism was invalid.

I didn’t attack religion. I didn’t even really talk about any ideas other than “I’m an atheist.” But for some reason, this person felt compelled to argue with me.

Sure, people, usually Christians, do this sometimes to people who profess to not be Christian. And it is fucking ridiculous. But to mention you’re an atheist provokes a new sort of viciousness, as well as a new fervor to “prove” you wrong.

I don’t know if it’s so much trying to prove you wrong, as deep down they are trying to prove themselves right. There’s so many contradictions in the Christian religion that I think part of the vehemence of certain Christians come from a deep-seated doubt in their own minds, and they think that by attacking you, they’ll somehow validate their own position. It is incredibly ridiculous, and completely illogical.

You’ve definitely got a point, but I think the two are interrelated; by trying to prove me wrong, they are affirming that they are, in fact, right in rejecting the notion that there isn’t a God.

It comes back to the idea of a religious person feeling threatened by the very mention of atheism, like by rejecting God, someone is somehow “destroying religion.”

I wonder if it isn’t tied to some sort of behavioral group instinct, in that if one member of a group – in this case, the “group” being all human beings – does not believe the same as everyone else in the group, that our behavioral instincts view this as a threat to the cohesion of the rest of the group. I guess it would depend on how much stock one places in something like evolutionary behavioral psychology (and I don’t place much in it, to be honest), but it does go some distance to explain this whole “us-versus-them” mindset of so many Christians and atheists, since there are unfortunately some atheists who are every bit as intolerant and hateful towards Christians as some Christians are of them.

You definitely bring up some good points. :) I think it, in large part, depends on how strongly you take said group to be a part of your identity. It’s really interesting to come from a Euro-American perspective and study Chinese religion, because religion is handled in a very different way there. In China, most people don’t ascribe themselves to be of “this” religion or “that” religion. Rather, they just take pieces from different religions where it applies to their lives.

I had an awesome conversation with someone from Taiwan the other day in which he told me some about a Taiwanese version of Daoism called Coherent Daoism. It tries to combine ideas of Buddhism and Daoism together, which is really cool to me. But he also told me that they decided to take from the Bible, too! The approach is basically: this has wisdom, this has wisdom, and this has wisdom, so just combine all the wisdom!

It’s so cool to see what happens when you don’t make your belief part of your personal identity.

Reminds me a little of Theosophy! Theosophists tend to believe that all belief systems have elements of truth in them, and thus it is an amalgamation of beliefs rather than a strict adherence to one single belief system. Also, I have found that they tend to be very interesting individuals with whom to have a conversation!

@SharpestShark – I think you really hit it on the head there.  As a Christian, I can say this with a great deal of confidence:  What we believe is really really difficult to believe.  It’s a thin little thread that is at risk of breaking every single day.  When many Christians are confronted with someone who does not have to struggle to believe in something day after day after day, they do feel threatened.  It’s much easier to be mad than wrong, so why not condemn the person who made you think for a second that you might not be right?  Because if everyone around you has always told you that the sky is blue, you have been instructed that the sky can be nothing but blue, when given the chance to color a picture of the sky, you are only given a blue crayon and then someone shows you a picture of a sunset that is lit up with oranges, pinks, yellows and aquas your brain does a little short circuit.  How could the sky possibly not be blue?  You have to be wrong.  Wrong = bad = threat = hell.  I must yell at you to convince you that you are wrong, because I can’t be wrong because that means I’ve been living this deprived life for all these years.

I believe that Christians who say that faith is easy are incorrect.  I also believe that the core of belief is the ability to question it.  My faith is a choice I make every day with the full knowledge that it is not the right choice for everyone.  I really wish more Christians believed that and I’m sorry that you’ve run into the crummy ones.

I really appreciate and respect your point of view on this. I just have to note though, that, for many atheists, not  believing is a daily struggle, too, for reasons beyond the prejudice we face. Most of us were raised religious, and it takes a really long time to shake that. After being brought up comforted by the thought that I won’t really die because then I’ll go to heaven and live forever, I still struggle on a daily basis with the thoughts of my mortality. Wanting to believe in heaven made me keep trying to identify as Christian long after I had actually stopped believing. Believing that this is the only life you get and it’s all over when you die can be extremely difficult. It has brought me to tears on many occasions. I also struggle with how to raise my future children without religion (but not discouraging them to come to their own conclusions), when I know the prejudice they will face and the difficult questions I will have to answer. It is not easy to be a non-believer, just as, for many, it is not easy to be a believer.

Again, I really appreciate your tolerance and your willingness to engage in this discussion. We need more people like this!

Thank you so much for sharing this. I definitely feel that the only genuine beliefs are those that we are willing to question. But questioning does not necessitate rejection. It merely demands thought.

But that is hard. It really is. And it can be absolutely terrifying.

@KellsBells – Thank you for your honest response. I don’t want you to in any way feel that I or anyone else is attacking you personally for your belief system; I think that people are absolutely entitled to believe whatever feels right for them, as long as they do not use those beliefs to justify doing harm to another person in some way. Going back to Silverwane’s mention of Buddhism, the Buddha himself believed that everyone needed to find their own path, and that if that path was not Buddhism, then that was ok. I think that must be very close to the truth. If God exists and It did indeed create all of the variety and abundance of nature, then God would naturally want his human creatures to also have a variety of beliefs. Nature loves variety, and if a God created nature, then that God must also love variety.

I do understand your points about Christians sometimes finding it difficult to maintain their faith. Indeed, thousands of Christian theological writings dating back hundreds or thousands of year discuss that very dilemma. Several of my Christian friends admit openly to questioning their beliefs from time to time. I believe that moments of doubt are healthy; otherwise, you are a blind follower, subjectable to whatever someone in power may say. Again, if God exists, then It gave humans a mind capable of thinking deeply about the world around them, and it wouldn’t be right to ignore the inclination to do so.

But, I also feel I must add to @Kristen Jeannie’s point that atheists, too, struggle with their atheism from time to time. Certainly part of it may be that many of us grew up in religious households, and the “de-programming” that goes on in a person’s mind when they decide their beliefs are no longer in line with what they view as truth can be an extremely difficult path.  Human beings are wired to try and find meaning in their world, and the historical propensity to ascribe the world and everything in it as being the result of a deity is as old as the human race. When you begin to realize that your worldview is no longer in line with this assumption, many atheists struggle very hard – sometimes for the rest of their lives – to reconcile the fact that bad shit happens, and sometimes there just isn’t a good reason for it. Christians, and people of every other religion, struggle with the same thing. It seems to be a human constant.

Wow. It’s just really hard to wrap my mind around it. I only once experienced pity when I told a Christian that I was pretty sure that I didn’t believe and wasn’t sure about *something* at all, but never stuff like this. Well, The Netherlands are closer to Sodom anyway, so it’s maybe not so bad if I don’t support my country through God.

To be fair, the second one is a contrived study in which participants were given a scenario (like someone run into a parked car and left without leaving a note, or something — nothing at all to do with religion) and asked if the person involved was a teacher, rapist, atheist or something else.  It had some seriously sketchy methodology, and I’d really not draw any conclusions from it.  Also the implication that all the categories were mutually exclusive and yet relevant to the totally unrelated scenario was just wrong.

Thank you for sharing this. I’m finding it easier to talk about being a Humanist – though to be fair, attitudes in the UK aren’t the same as in the US – but still it can be hard, and this is even with having grown up in a Humanist family. The idea that those without religion are without morals though, I find it so hard to stomach, and so hypocritical, too.  Ack, I shall end with a “Bah, humbug!” I think. It feels just right.

Talking about humanist ideas tends to go over better, in my experiences, because people are less likely to jump to the idea that you’re an immoral shit who doesn’t care about other people.

But you still get the whole “But if there’s no God, how do you say something is morally wrong/right?” BS that you mention.

I remember reading in The God Delusion by Dawkins that an ethics study was performed on a group of religious people, and again on atheists. People were asked “what would you do?” type questions, like “Would you save a small child that was about to get hit by a car?” “Is it ever ok to [do something really horrible]?”, and the study found that there was no difference in people’s sense of right and wrong, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs. I think that study should be required reading in every class like, ever.

Oh, that’s cool! I think I might have heard about that before; I haven’t actually read The God Delusion because I tend to despise a lot of the white male atheists at the head of the “atheist movement,” but sometimes there’s some really good information that comes out of their stuff.

Dawkins didn’t perform the study himself, he was merely quoting it. And I have to agree about the “heads of the atheist movement.” Calling it a movement is strange enough, and I suppose that I’m grateful at their being openly-atheist people in positions of power, but it does get tiresome.

Well, that’s what I mean; even though I don’t like them, they pull some very interesting studies/ideas sometimes that I enjoy thinking about.

…But I question their fixation on science and only science. I feel like it plays into masculine/feminine binaries far too much. But that’s another article. :)

Frankly, I think saying Humanist also tends to be better received because a lot of people are still unaware of what it is. I think, perhaps, it is also because by saying Humanist, you’re stating you do have beliefs, though they are not religious, where as to say atheist is to reject belief altogether, as it were.

Oh the morals thing though, there are times I find it simply annoying, and there are times where I found outright distressing. Because so many people equate it to being less human. And that somehow (bear in mind it’s after 11pm here, I’m not at my most coherent), in the way some religious people believe animals don’t have souls (or equivalent) and believe that without faith, atheists and Humanist are no better than animals and should therefore be treated as such and are only of that value and worth, too.

This is true as well. People already have an idea of what it means to say “I am an atheist,” but when I say “I am a humanist,” they usually go “Huh?”

They might not think an atheist/humanist is “no better than an animal” (as problematic as that idea is in of itself!)…but they might think that an atheist/humanist ACTS no better than an animal, or at least has no reason to act better than one. Hence why they are “untrustworthy.”

Well, indeed. There’s a whole other bunch of issues in there. I don’t know, there is certainly your point – and it’s a very good one – but there is also the belief that I’ve come across that an atheist/Humanist really is no better than an animal in the same way that they’re no better than rapists (oh dear goodness, I was upset when I read about that) and aren’t, therefore, deserving of the same rights as those who hold religious beliefs.


They completely do. And so then, when I talk about how the influence Daoism has on me, sometimes they structure that into “my religion.” It’s like they want to think of me in terms other than “amoral godless heathen,” and the only way they know how to do that is act like I DO have one!

I’ve gotten that attitude from ‘traditional’ Catholics, and from hippie pagans who think of themselves as super-tolerant. If I ‘believe’ in science, then I must not be able to appreciate beauty and joy and transcendance. Gah!

We need a big philosophy+ethics =/= religion sign:)

You are 100% right; I’ve gotten it from all sorts of people, sometimes the nicest-seeming most tolerant people! They must have never watched Carl Sagan’s stuff. He is totally a scientific mystic!

It’s so interesting to me, since I study philosophy, to observe the interplay between religion and philosophy and ethics. We don’t develop our philosophies, nor our ethics, in a vacuum. My mother, who was most certainly an atheist, believed many things in line with conservative Christian values…but since she didn’t have the religious justification to back them up, her justifications were always weird and stilted.

…But she DID believe those things. And she was NOT religious. So, how did that come about? I seriously doubt she would have believed those things had she not grown up in a conservative religious household. So, why did those values still have a hold on her? And how much can we call it religiously-based when she did not base them in religion?

I will probably be wondering about this until the day I die, but to me they are some of the most important questions to ask, because it has everything to do with what we believe and why we believe it!

Science is the study of god’s world that undermines your blind acceptance of what social power structures tell you about god’s world. SATAN!

ETA: To be clear, since the above line isn’t—even nonbelievers are still shaped by the things religion does and the impact is has on society, education, and so on.

Seriously. My family is very Catholic, and the few who know I’m atheist hardly even look at me any more. It is because of my atheism/belief in science that I am able to see beauty in the world. These people need to check out fractals.

Can we also have a sarcasm sign? I think people would benefit from a sarcasm sign.

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