On Embodying Atheism

Invariably, when in conversation with a theist, who are usually quite comfortable discussing their beliefs, I am asked the question about what I am, the assumption being that I am some form of believer. The answer expected is probably methodist, catholic, etc. When I say that I am an atheist, my conversation partner's eyes grow as big and round as moons. It is utterly shocking, not only that I'm an atheist, but that I would freely admit it. Then, almost always, the next question is: What happened?

Theists, by and large, are so immersed in the status quo of theism that they assume everyone shares their belief in God, so naturally, if one doesn't believe in God, something terrible must have happened. He or she must have endured some awful calamity that forced them to abandon their faith.

Of course, I would wager very few of us came to our atheism in such a way. With me, it was a gradual process of questioning, and I like to say, waking up. It was the realization that, simply, I couldn't believe in fairy tales anymore.

My response is usually just that: No, I've had a relatively comfortable life as far as it goes. I just reached a point that I couldn't believe that stuff anymore.

Being open with my non-belief in gods was not something I came to overnight, though I believe I have a natural disposition to be myself, out and open and honest. It is not in my nature to hide. Despite that, we atheists face a great deal of social pressure to stay closeted and to acquiese to the prevailing wisdom that God exists. The cultural default is theism. Atheists are subversives in that context.

That's the upside-down nature of our culture in America. The logical default is treated as the aberration. In other words, no one is born a believer. He or she has to be taught belief. In that sense, atheism is the human default. And that position is logical. I am justified in disbelief of the supernatural until the supernatural is empirically proven to me. I do not believe in gnomes or unicorns, and that belief is justified until the proof for such is given.

vjack made that point when he posted to his atheist revolution blog that a proper response to "what happened?" should be something like this:

I do not believe in gods for the same reason you do not believe in unicorns. You do not have an argument against unicorns; you need no argument. You simply realize that there is insufficient evidence to support their existence and so you do not believe in them. And you are absolutely right to do so.

And I couldn't agree more. We have no argument to make. Ours is the position of default. We have nothing to prove.

But it can be frustrating to live in a culture in which the default is demonized. And that is where, I think, being openly atheist is important. Being closeted gives theists the power to control the conversation, but being out changes the conversation, instantly.

So, all of this was to make that point: If you're not out, consider taking steps to get out. Atheists everywhere benefit when we stand in the open together.

Not long ago, it was socially acceptable in among white people to assume everyone in the room was a racist, as in, racism was the cultural default. That is no longer true.

Not long ago, it was socially acceptable to assume everyone in the room was heterosexual. That is no longer true.

Yet, today, for most people, it is still acceptable to assume that everyone in the room is a theist, and changing that is a modest goal that is realistically achievable. Being out hastens that change.