Yesterday someone tweeted, “What do atheists do this time of year?” So far it has six thousand comments, two thousand ‘likes’, and a few hundred retweets. Most of the comments were polite, considering the question, and many of them were funny, but the underlying theme seemed to be ‘Huh??’.
I saw a similar, unanswerable question online recently: “What do atheists believe in?”
When we atheists say we’re non-believers we don’t literally mean we don’t believe in anything. We just don’t believe in deities. (It’s sometimes just a way of saying we’re atheists without the baggage.)
“Atheist” is often written with a capital A, as if it’s an organization and not simply, as the dictionary says, “a disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.”
It’s viewed, more often than not, as ‘anti-theist’, and it’s true that a number of avowed atheists have made their living off of denouncing and exposing what they might consider the underbelly of religion. (See Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.) But most atheists want nothing more than peace and tranquility. The same as everyone else. What do we believe in? We believe in everything under the sun. Except gods. We’re not against religion and we’re not for it. We’re neutral in the faith department.
It doesn’t matter to me what you believe unless what you believe infringes on me personally. (I’ve written about it here and here and here. And other places, too. I’ll stop when the infringing stops.)
But this isn’t yet another attempt at explaining or defending myself. This is simply a plea to you to get over thinking an atheist is automatically someone you should either fear or feel sorry for. We’re neither of those things. We’re simply people who don’t believe in gods, angels, devils, the afterlife, the stories of Noah’s ark or Moses parting the seas, or anything that comes out of the Book of Revelations.
To many of us the bible is quite a book, but in the end it’s just a book. But before you go all harsh on me, let me say I actually like parts of the bible. I love the beatitudes and the psalms and the Christmas stories of Matthew, Luke, and John. The Lord’s Prayer is lovely. The Ten Commandments are worthy guidelines. (Though leaning toward the obvious.)
I have a hard time with Adam and Eve being the first people God created, only because there’s that eternal question: They gave birth to two sons who later found wives. Found them where?
Leviticus and the surrounding books are downers, clearly written by mortal men with many axes to grind. As a woman, reading the Old Testament is more than a bit off-putting. I mean, if we’re not subservient servants we’re willing whores and should be publicly stoned for anything that smacks of independence. Our only goodness comes from doing what we’re told. It’s pure fantasy written by men for men.
But, again, if the bible is your reading choice, I’m okay with it. I’m all for literature. I’m all for reading. If you think it’s divine, I’ll take you at your word. I read other books for inspiration and feel just as inspired. I can look to nature for solace and reverie without once considering it God’s creation. When I nuzzle newborns I marvel at the miracle of birth. I revel in the beauty of a glorious sunset. I believe in science and logic and find a certain beauty in that, too. If you find God in those things who am I to doubt you?
When something bad happens I can’t see it as God’s will. You can. I can’t pray it away. You can. But here’s the thing: we’re both feeling what we’re feeling, and it’s wrenching. Nothing changes that.
Religion is the one thing that should never divide us, yet it does. There are at least 4200 separate religions in the world, with billions of followers. We atheists may well be the minority. We’re hardly a threat, yet you would prefer we didn’t hold office or have any authority beyond free speech. (There’s been only one admitted atheist in the United States Congress, it’s that rare. Most candidates make sure to rank their faith in God as the one attribute you can all count on.) We think it’s time you accepted us for who we are. We’re people who don’t believe in deities. Nothing more, nothing less.
I want us to be friends and I hope you want that, too. I get it that you wish I would look at things your way. You often tell me I won’t find my place in heaven if I don’t. But you need to understand that while our religious differences partially define us, our feelings about spirituality and a lived life are essentially the same.
Most of us, religious and non-religious (but not all of us on either side), are good people working to make the world a better place. We rejoice, we grieve, we grow angry, we mess up, we help (and we need help), we solve our problems, and we live together on one big planet. We need each other.
This is how it works. I’m happy for whatever works for you. I want you to likewise be happy for me. I live in the light of my own making, and, as it happens, so do you. This holiday season, after a year of such terrible devastation on all fronts, let’s find what unites us, not what divides us. It’s really about time.
(Cross-posted at Medium/Indelible Ink)