I am an atheist…

I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge one didn’t have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as reason. Emotionally I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.

What a lovely quote from Isaac Asimov. It speaks to an atheism that springs from honesty. I grew up among people of faith, and one of the things they value most is sincerity: empty religion is no religion at all, and even has the smell of the devil about it. So sometimes atheism is an odd form of respect. How disrespectful would it be if I went to your church, lied to you, ate your donuts, participated in your most hallowed sacraments, tried to change your mind about scientific, doctrinal, and political issues in sneaky, underhanded ways (rather than frank and transparent ways), and fluttered my best goody-goody eyelashes at you, all whilst snickering behind my hand like the nonbeliever I ultimately am? 

The insightful Asimov notes that what we call God is improbable rather than impossible. However, it is downright fatuous to call oneself a “seeker” when the only thing one is seeking is a way around the word atheism

In conclusion, I need to read more classic sci-fi. 


7 thoughts on “I am an atheist…

  1. The insight into it being disrespectful to pretend one believes when, in fact, one maintains significant doubts is very perceptive and addresses this feeling of being less than honest, less than pious, less of a believer than those who present certainty in their religious beliefs (but having to hide it and/or pretend otherwise). Although we hear all the time from religious leaders that it is okay to have doubts, it is not acceptable to maintain them because this indicate a lack of faith (or an unwillingness to make that religious leap). But infusing belief in the improbable by faith alone rather than compelling evidence that leads one to ‘climb Mount Improbable’ (in Dawkins’ parlance) is also an act of faith… what Dennett calls belief in belief. And this is what I suspect is the vast majority of ‘believers’ faith: that it is somehow better to appear to believe than not even though one must then feel somewhat criminal in hiding the doubts and pretending one does so honestly… even though we know perfectly well that such feelings accompany doing something wrong than doing something right. The staging area for atheism, therefore, is usually a rather incipient and equivocating agnosticism rather than the honest admission of non belief.

    • I think this attitude comes from a failure to differentiate atheism and the Long Dark Night of The Soul. LDNOTS, known colloquially as being pissed at God, has a long and proud tradition in Christianity. Did not Christ call out from the cross, “Why hast thou forsaken me?”

      The kind of doubt that Christianity is built to accommodate is better described as anguish in times of trouble; the cerebral encroachments of skepticism are a different animal. Confusion of the two leads to baffling questions like “Why do atheists hate God?”

      I know people who practice Christianity despite taking an intellectually agnostic position. I’ve also talked to smart and philosophically engaged people of many faiths. I’ve read religious writers like Flannery O’Connor. All agree that the existence of God or other deities who care about us must be assumed in order for religion to occur.

  2. Honesty is always the best reason to be who you are. Even though I am a Christian, I believe differently than most of the church and I can very much identify with what you are saying. Good for you for being brave and honest.

    • “Brave” would be speaking out for atheism in a country like India, where Narendra Dabholkar was recently shot dead for opposing folk medicine and magic. By contrast, I have not faced serious religious-nut problems since high school. But really, thanks for your comment, I’m so glad you see what I mean.

  3. It’s a great quote, but I’m not sure about this bit:

    “I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge one didn’t have”

    I’m an atheist because I don’t believe in God, not because I know for sure he doesn’t exist. I accept that I could well be wrong. So there isn’t any assumed knowledge involved. Although, perhaps, I’m just being picky. It’s still a great quote!

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