First, I must say that I am very concerned about the negative view of atheists. I faked Christianity for years despite my disbelief in a God. This was because being an Atheist was not an option; Atheists are cold and mean, and think life is meaningless. It took only a nudge of encouragement, namely from good old Richard Dawkins, for me to discover that it is okay to be an atheist. Regardless what society thinks, it is truly okay to be an atheist.
This is why I am 1) making efforts to be an open atheist and 2) writing a short argumentative paper on why there can indeed be beauty and meaning in the world without an afterlife. This is a significant step for me, and someday I might hope to share it with someone who would benefit from reading it.
Now, normally I completely refrain from touching religion at all in an academic setting, but I have come to be very close to my writing professor, who also happens to be an atheist. Once I discovered this, I went to her with my idea to see if she would approve it, and she did. I was happy to have her professional opinion on how I could improve my paper, and we had a magnificent discussion on the topic. She even asked me if I would like to announce my topic before the class, and so I did.
However, while we were editing our papers in class, I asked for some advice and was met with a completely different personality. She made a straw man of my argument, accused me of claiming that those who don't believe in an afterlife cannot live a happy life, and dove into an argument over the moral implications of atheism- which had nothing to do with my paper. The entire class was dead silent while we discussed, and I finally said that we were way off topic, and asked if she could answer my original question on the organization of my essay. She said she could not answer my question, and scampered off to pretend to be busy.
I was wondering all day today why I was left so disturbed by this. I wondered if perhaps she did not want her status known (though she openly admitted her religious status in class) or perhaps she did not want the students to think badly of her. But ultimately, not only was I humiliated by being framed as the "evil atheist," but it perpetuated a negative view of atheists in the minds of my peers.
Originally, I was delighted that I was able to admit to being an atheist in a class, because it would expose my peers to that idea that completely normal people are atheists. Now, I hate to think that I am serving as more evidence to support a negative view of atheists.
What do you think about:
Closeted atheists and respecting their privacy?
Whether closeted atheists perpetuate the negative view of atheism?
The possible benefits and consequences of coming out of the closet?
And, has a situation like this ever happened to you? Have you ever been made a scapegoat by another atheist?
In one of my classes, we watched a video on youtube of Christopher Hitchens explaining simply why religion was wrong. At the end of the video, my nonreligious teacher asked what we thought of the video. The room remained quiet, as if everyone was afraid to speak. I gave my teacher two thumbs up, signifying my acceptance of the video. Then other students in the class started to speak, each saying that while they respected Hitchen's beliefs, they did not agree. With some of the people in that class, I find it hard to believe they are religious. I think some people are truly afraid to admit that they are atheists.
It was very unfair of your teacher to have taken this approach to your question in front of everyone else. I admire your bravery and honesty in “coming out”. However you do not need to judge yourself by the religious views of your peers.
I got suspended from school 30 years ago for suggesting St Thomas Aquinas was wrong in an essay. It was rough at the time because I thought I was the only non-believer in the country. I am now grateful that the ensuing row with my parents and teachers only confirmed I was right.
You say “But ultimately, not only was I humiliated by being framed as the "evil atheist," but it perpetuated a negative view of atheists in the minds of my peers.”
Everyone who was silent would have sensed the unfairness of the argument. Your teacher is older and therefore more experienced at holding such debates. She took unfair advantage of the situation. You come across as an intelligent and articulate person in your discussion. I can safely say you have done the right thing in letting them know where you stand. Many of them will admire you for it. Forget them all for a minute. You have done the right thing for yourself. You are being honest with yourself. You are out of your closet. Let others come out in their own time.
You may be the person who is different to the rest of the class and that is cool. You will certainly have made others start to think. You peers may not admit it but you will always know your friends when the time counts.
In time the basis for your own views will become more solid and you will be able to handle a debate with anyone. Use this incident to your advantage. You know longer have to defend an irrational belief. Atheism is the perspective of how you view things and see them as they really are. You are certainly not “serving as more evidence to support a negative view of atheists.” You hold your head high.
BTW can I ask the topic of the essay??
Yes, I am writing short counterargument against the claim that a life without the promise of an afterlife is, for lack of better terms, meaningless and depressing.
I was inspired by Ann Druyan, talking about her feelings on Carl Sagan's death (it's actually here on Think Atheist as well http://www.thinkatheist.com/profiles/blogs/ann-druyan-talking-about...). My aim is to demonstrate that belief in an afterlife is not necessary to living a fulfilling and awe-inspired life, and that we can feel the same amount of reverence merely relying on the world as it is, in all it's beauty.
In regard to remaining closeted, I have read some comments from people who were rejected by their community for being atheists. This is a tragedy. I can see that sometimes the stakes are too high to "come out."
I think this is a function of where you live too. It seems that these commenters live in a region where religion is highly valued. I happen to be in an area that does not value religion as highly as other parts of the country. I am also in an non-religiously affiliated academic environment, and though my peers might have a religious affiliation, they don't really value their religion. So, I think I can safely say that being "out" does not affect me as much as other commenters I've seen here. Also, I'm young, and have no ties to anyone aside from my partner (who is also an atheist). I'm not rooted, I don't have a spouse or children. So I definitely sympathize with those of us who have ties to religious folk, and can understand their reasons for not coming out.
I think many people would not pay any attention to religion if the promise of an afterlife was not part of the package. It is the main reason people refuse to consider Atheism.
Schopenhauer has written about this. He said (please reference this yourself I’m going by memory) that people would be eager for Atheism if it could be shown that disbelief was necessary for an afterlife. If Atheism was able to alleviate the fear of death people would not believe in a god. I think it is one of the main reasons why religion has survived. It monopolizes “death” in our psyche and the rituals around it.
An Atheist has come to terms with his/her own mortality and gets on with living and making the most of the time we have. I believe Atheism gives us advantages over theists because we are more aware of how brief our time is (in the scale of things) and we also do not look at the world through tinted glasses.
Good luck with the essay. You will do well to keep it a “short counter argument” :)
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.