A guide to atheism
From a variety of sources, edited by Jim Watson
An atheist is someone who is "without theism". Atheists see God as a legend or fairy tale, and often equate God with Santa Claus, Thor, and Zeus. What is the point of being an Atheist - can’t one just be nothing? The answer: emancipation.
Webster’s dictionary says the meaning of emancipation is:
• To be free from restraint, control, or the power of another; esp. to free from bondage
• To be released from paternal care and responsibility and made in his or her own right
• To be freed from any controlling influence (as traditional mores or beliefs); syn. see 'free'
So, you know you are an Atheist when you have freed yourself from the restraints, control and power of religion and when you have emancipated yourself from the bondage of deities, churches, priests and codes that have bound you to archaic rules and credos. And you know you are an Atheist when you have freed yourself from 'paternal' oversight by Gods, as well as from the angels, saints and other mythical creatures that religion tries to convince you have some personal interest in you and - despite their many responsibilities, such as moving the sun around the earth - actually know, and care, if you and some 400 billion of your brethren, are behaving well.
In short, Atheists are people who have emancipated themselves through rational analysis, scientific evidence, freethinking and skepticism, and have concluded that there is no supernatural world, no all-powerful being in the sky who controls their destiny and no heaven or hell. Atheists benefit in many ways: they have gained the freedom to think, to investigate, to explore, to form their own opinions, to form their own sense of what is ethical and what is moral. All that is their choice, and their responsibility, not dependent on the ethics imposed on them by priests, ministers, and rabbis whose morals are inherited from scribes of the Bronze Age.
Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports liberty and opportunity consistent with social and planetary responsibility. Free of theism and other supernatural beliefs, humanism derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.
What are atheists like?
One of the best components of atheism is the freedom of thought and mind. Prejudice against people of other sexes, races, or sexual preferences is rare, because most of such prejudice is religion-based and completely illogical. We argue with each other, thrive on debate, and feel like we're better people after we've been proven wrong. We do good because it's the right thing to do, not out of a selfish fear of eternal damnation or a need to 'win points' with a deity. Other than that, we are a very diverse group of people. We are writers and poets, philosophers and scientists, teachers and businesspeople, brain surgeons and truck drivers, architects and construction workers. We are men and women, black and white, Republican and Democrat, gay and straight, shy and outspoken. Since we are bound only by our disbelief, there are atheists with differing views on every political, economic, and social issue. I view this as a benefit which should serve as a model from which the rest of the world could learn. Atheists are united in diversity. We are moral and are ethical (studies show atheists are more moral and ethical than religious people).
Understand that the people who actually believe in God and their preachers' teachings are victims - of the lies and falsehoods told by religious organizations, the only difference being they actually may believe those lies. They may express their emotions as anger, but a little education and steadfastness mixed with understanding may allow them to get over that hump quickly. However, be prepared for all the standard questions from "you're going to Hell" to "does this mean you pray to Satan" to "How could you do this to me?"
Science is beginning to explore religion as a phenomenon of the brain, not the supernatural phenomenon of gods, spirits, and demons that many people still believe it to be. Atheism is a positive and uplifting worldview - liberation from darkness, superstition, and irrationality of religion brings great happiness, along with a serious commitment to do what is right for our fellow humans and for our natural world - the only world there is. John Wathey, Letters, US News & World Report
How can an atheist deny God?
For the same reason others deny the existence of Thor, the God of Thunder; Neptune, the God of the Sea; or Osiris, God of the dead. We can't deny something we don't believe exists.
We humans have worshipped thousands of gods over the years. As we become more enlightened, we believe in fewer gods. You've narrowed it down to just one, or three. I've simply taken it one step further.
The world makes more sense to me as a non-believer. When I was a devout Christian, I didn't understand why my all-loving God would create and inflict drought, tornadoes, and earthquakes upon his children. Or why he allowed those planes to hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Or why he allows babies to be born with defects. As an atheist, I can more easily accept that the evolving Earth will shift and create unusual destructive weather patterns and that humans will do bad things.
As a devout Christian, the fairy tales didn't satisfy my desire to understand. To be a believer required me to ignore my intelligence and rational thinking.
My beliefs are based on logic, rational thinking, and intelligence. Religious beliefs are based on superstition, fairy tales, and a suspension of thought.
The world and its people make more sense to a non-believer.
Some common misconceptions about atheism
Atheists have no morals, since they don't believe in God.
A great contribution of atheism is the provision of a firm basis for ethical conduct. Atheists do good, not out of fear of reprisal, but because it's the right thing to do. We value family, society, culture, and, of course, freedom. Atheism explains that morality is a social obligation but not a passport to heaven and salvation. The theistic belief in divine retribution sidetracked moral behavior. Believers were more prone to please the god of their imagination by prayer and ritual than to conform to rules of moral conduct. Consequently immorality and anti-social activities spread wild wherever people were absorbed in the worship of god and in the propitiation of fate. Atheism brings about radical changes in the outlook of people in this context. Truth, tolerance, love and equality are the basic needs of social harmony.
Religion’s morality is all black or white, right or wrong, pass/fail judgments. Atheist morality, on the other hand, is based upon principles that are much more comprehensive, and we have the right and freedom to continually update and expand them to reflect the ever-changing human conditions. There is no need in moral principles for a 'deity supervisor.'
Religion is trapped in its own liturgy: “My way or the highway,” it says, unbending to the issues of a new age. But Atheist/freethinker/skeptics explore and use the wisdom and ideas of a wide spectrum of philosophies and cultures unhampered by the restrictions and rules of an oppressive religion, and empowers them to be more compassionate, humane and tolerant than is possible in the rigid, one-note, outdated manifestos prescribed by religions.
Slavery was not only acceptable 200 years ago, it was considered a good deed by many, and defended using the bible. The bible was also used to justify the Holocaust, the Crusades, and the Spanish Inquisition. This shows that the bible can be used to defend even the most immoral and unethical ideals, and is therefore not an adequate yardstick to measure moral or ethical behavior.
Hitler was a Catholic, and Jeffrey Dahmer said grace before he ate his victims. Osama and Mata praised God before committing terrorist acts. One need only open a newspaper to find yet another story about allegations against priests for sexual misconduct, often with children. Jim Bakker swindled millions from his flock and Jimmy Swaggart asked for forgiveness only after being caught with prostitutes.
Atheists make up about 10-15% of the population , but only make up 1% of the population in prison.
Atheists believe in evolution, but that doesn't answer as many questions as creationism.
Atheism is not a scientific theory, rather a lack of religion. We do believe in science, and that questions may eventually be answered with science if they are not answered today, but we readily admit that not all answers are known to us right now. That is no reason, however, for inventing a fictional God to whom to give credit, especially when all it does is create more questions. Science has done well so far, giving theories regarding evolution, geological movement, and the Big Bang, all supported by evidence, but not necessarily endorsed by all atheists.
Atheists cannot know there is no God, since you cannot prove he doesn't exist.
Again, this is a two sided coin, but the theists are loathe to admit the other side. Atheists don't need to prove the nonexistence of God, any more we need to prove the nonexistence of Zeus or Santa Claus. Can theists prove God over any alternatives? Of course not. Nobody can prove God exists, yet they will stand on their heads saying they're sure.
Atheists seek to remove religion from society, and to force all people to be atheists.
Not true, we seek only the freedom for people to make their choice on their own, free of intervention from the government or public school system. We seek the freedom not to support religion through taxes, forced participation, or special privileges of any kind. That being said, your thoughts are your rights, and none of our business. Wear your jewelry, celebrate your holidays, and pray in your house, church, or in public if you like. Just don't force your religion on other people. That's what we truly care about.
Atheists are so closed-minded, they can't see that miracles happen every day!
Some people look for miracles where none exist. Allow me to put things in perspective: Someone's cancer going into remission is no miracle, but we can talk when disease suddenly disappears from the face of the earth overnight without help from medical science. Food getting through to a hungry village: human perseverance. Starvation vanishing from earth without a reason overnight: Miracle. One more time: A child is born - science; The spontaneous end of birth defects - Miracle. Note: only good things are miracles, so volcanoes, tornadoes, and hurricanes don't count.
Quotes from Christopher Hitchens
• What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.
The quintessential Hitchens quote, this idea is often referred to as Hitchens’ Razor. It’s perhaps the simplest explanation of the skeptic’s burden of proof, because it places epistemological responsibility where it belongs. In other words, if you insist that there’s a bearded sky-man who created the entire universe but still wants you to save yourself for marriage, that’s fine. But it’s up to you to prove it.
• Is it too modern to notice that there is nothing in the 10 commandments about the protection of children from cruelty, nothing about rape, nothing about slavery, and nothing about genocide?
Hitchens argued not only against the improbability of the supernatural but also against the real world effect of organized religion. (In fact, Hitchens thought “antitheist” a better description of himself than atheist.) He approached the Bible’s deplorable morality with characteristic ruthlessness, noting that the single most important instance of divine law (the Ten Commandments) omits some serious crimes. This kind of analysis helps reveal the insanity of religious literalism, and the tendency of the faithful to pick and choose which laws they follow. Do you hate gays because the Bible says so? Then why are you wearing polyester? And eating shellfish?
• There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.
"The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: We stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”
Hitchens was a typical skeptic in that he sought to emphasize the wonder and amazement of the secular existence. One of many common misconceptions about atheists is that they are immune to any sense of wonder because they doubt the supernatural. Oprah recently espoused this view, which is sadly just one more way atheists are cast as something less-than-human. Though it may not come as a surprise, atheists definitely do find a sense of wonder and awe in their world. The beauty of chemistry, the truth of art, the power of music - all are perfect examples of things that stir great passions in thinking men and women. As Douglas Adams said, “Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” Atheists discover just as much beauty in and awe in life as everyone else. To skeptics, logical explanation robs nothing of its inherent awesomeness. Hitch knew life to be positively incredible even without someone or something pulling the strings.
Take some time and put the Bible on your reading list. Try and stick with it cover to cover. Not because it teaches history - we've shown you it doesn't. Read it because you'll see for yourself what the Bible is all about. It sure isn't great literature. If it were published as fiction, no reviewer would give it a passing grade. There are some vivid scenes and some quotable phrases, but there's no plot. no structure; there's a tremendous amount of filler, and the characters are painfully one-dimensional. Whatever you do, don't read the Bible for a moral code: it advocates prejudice, cruelty, superstition, and murder. Read it because we need more atheists, and nothing will get you there faster than reading the damn Bible. From Penn Jillette
Why militant atheism?
When women are no longer oppressed, disfigured, or killed in the name of religion,
When gay people are no longer legislated to second class citizens in the name of religion,
When doctors can no longer deny crucial health care in the name of religion,
When children are no longer indoctrinated with bigotry, fear. and hate in the name of religion,
When it is no longer claimed that faith is greater than knowledge,
Then, and only then, will I lay down my banner of Anti-Theism.
Agnostics and atheists, Jews, and Mormons scored highest on a quiz about religion
Number of questions answered correctly as surveyed by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:
David Silverman, president of American Atheists, said he hopes the findings will help people realize that atheists understand the religious beliefs that they reject. "It certainly underscores the fact that atheists are not atheists due to ignorance," he said. 80% of the atheists and agnostics polled in the survey were raised in a faith, including 75% who were reared as Christians. Even religious school graduates didn't fare any better in their ability to answer questions about the Bible, world religions, or the role of religion in public life. The poll results were based on telephone interviews with 3,412 adults nationwide.
The bottom line
There is no demonstration of the existence of a god that holds up to logical scrutiny.
The sheer number and variety of religions in the world, making largely incompatible claims, make it appear that they are all authored by humans.
Most religions undermine the dignity of human beings (such as making their worth contingent upon the permission or gift of a deity, or attributing good deeds of human beings to divine forces rather than their own individual choice).
Most religions discourage or are an impediment to free inquiry and the quest for knowledge. Dogma is fossilized philosophy, and says, here is your answer, so you need not and/or may no longer seek further explanations.
There's so much observed, testable, falsifiable evidence that flatly contradicts various claims of religion, such as the effectiveness of prayer or the occurrence of miracles.
Most religions have and/or still do consider women and/or other groups of human beings inherently inferior by divine decree and do or have supported other oppressions, such as slavery and anti-Semitism.
Almost everyone is convinced of their particular religious persuasion because their parents were - this is as arbitrary as one's nationality, or one's hair color, or one's language, and follows the same pattern geographically.
A truth-seeking thinking person cannot accept as true any idea on the basis that it backs up its assertions with threats of eternal torture and death: all others, such as philosophy, science, mathematics, seek to persuade with evidence, logic, and demonstrations of usefulness.
It's not necessarily about promoting atheism over theism. It's about promoting positives such as empathy, compassion, equality, and critical thinking over negatives such as bigotry, oppression, sexism, blind faith, and intolerance.
Why I'm glad I'm no longer a Christian
Simple - I read and studied the Bible. I disagree with too much of it:
• I don't hate my mother and father.
• I don't think women should be silent.
• A woman who is raped should not have to marry her rapist.
• I sometimes like to work on Sunday (or Saturday depending on how the word Sabbath is interpreted).
• I like to eat shellfish.
• I don't want to sell all of my possessions. Sorry, I'm keeping my underwear, deodorant, and iPhone.
• I don't want to worship a God who just watches as his tsunamis, hurricanes, and tornadoes cause such massive suffering and loss of life.
• A Christian has to believe that the creator of the universe created tornadoes as part of his glorious plan for the world. The tornado that devastated Moore OK is not a result of free will, but is a part of God's glorious plan for our lives. A Christian has to worship a God that ignored the prayers of the trapped students and teachers and watched as 7 children suffered and died in their school building.
• A Christian has to believe that God is all-powerful but consciously chose to just watch as innocent schoolchildren got their faces blown off in an elementary school in Connecticut.
• A Christian has to also believe that God allowed the planes to hit the World Trade Center resulting in thousands of deaths and a long, deadly war. He knew all this because he's all-knowing and all-powerful. But he chose to just watch the planes and he chose to watch the people on board pray to him and he saw the anguish on their faces.
• If Christians choose not to believe these things, then they are Christian by name only, not by faith.
A true belief system of love
• When I was a Christian, I was required - required, no choice, I had to - believe that all Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Atheists would spend eternity suffering in Hell. Billions of people on the planet right now, I had to believe, would suffer once they died. Friends, family, children - all destined to suffer horribly.
• A Muslim is required to believe that Christians, Jews, and Bahais will spend eternity in Hell. Billions of people. Suffering.
• As an Atheist, I can (and do) believe that nobody has to suffer in Hell. Not a single person. No one.
Now, which belief system is one of love?
It is the belief of some that this life, the life you are living now, is just a test life. They believe that this life is designed specifically for preparation to pass to another life. However, there is no evidence of any life after death. WYDYD reminds us to:
• Live this life to its fullest, and harmoniously with the rest of the humans on the planet.
• Improve the recognition of the non-religious community. People committed to the possibility of a world community based on healthy, rational, and socially interactive support.
• Create a network of social centers that can be used for weddings, community organizing, debates, day care, art exhibits, funerals, sewing circles, voting, games, music instruction, dance instruction, yoga, etc. Unlike many other social centers, WYDYD centers are wholly inclusionary - not places that discriminate based on race, age, or sexual orientation; WYDYD centers have philosophical intention - when people come to these centers, they’re coming to act in community with others, always acting with humanist ideals.
Pity the poor atheist who is grateful and has no one to thank!
Atheists simply thank those responsible rather than a fairy tale character from a book. Unlike the coach who thanks God for a victory, rather than the players for their hard work; or the family of the healed child who thanks God rather than the doctors, the equipment, facilities, and nurses; or those who thanked God rather than the pilot, Sully, who skillfully landed the plane in the Hudson River. Isn't it more Christ-like to not pity our neighbors but to express appreciation to the people in our lives who are responsible for the kindness shown?
I am often quite grateful. For example, for my health. But I know exactly who to thank: my parents for providing nutrition, doctors for assessment and advice, teachers for information and motivation, friends for support, and myself for dedication and effort.
Links to other religious essays
The decline of Christianity
The absurdity of religion, believing that myths are real
The value of prayer
The Bible: some questions to ask believers
Quotes: Words of Wisdom about religion
Islam for the novice
Jim's spiritual journey
Famous Agnostics, Atheists, Deists, Freethinkers, & Humanists
Compiled from several sources. If you have suggestions for additions and deletions, please email me. Thanks.
Susan B. Anthony
Phineas T. Barnum
Arthur C. Clarke
Walt Disney: He was not a member of any religion and did not attend services. Also, he had an entirely secular funeral. It was very private and off-limits to the press, perhaps to conceal that it was not religious. There is no "In God we Trust" on Disney Dollars.
W.E.B. Du Bois
F. Scott Fitzgerald
George and Ira Gershwin
Ulysses S. Grant
Katharine Hepburn: "I'm an atheist, and that's it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people."
Thomas H. Huxley
Robert G. Ingersoll
H. L. Mencken
Jean Baptiste Poquelin Molière
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Albert B. Nobel
Thomas Paine: A deist who was extremely critical of organized religion. Theodore Roosevelt called him a 'filthy little atheist.' He is probably the most illustrious American Revolutionary uncommemorated by a monument in Washington DC. The Age of Reason also attacks Christianity as a system of superstition that "produces fanatics" and "serves the purposes of despotism."
Penn & Teller
Edgar Allen Poe
Ron Reagan Jr.
George Bernard Shaw
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Robert Louis Stevenson
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Vincent Van Gogh
François-Marie Arouet Voltaire
Frank Lloyd Wright "I believe in God, only I spell it Nature."