Hello all. I'm a college grad and a former missionary who once was quite convinced God was real and was helping me. After I got back, as I thought about what I really believed and what I'd experienced, I saw that, while God could be there, I had never seen anything happen differently from what would happen if there was no God. Since then, I spent a lot of time keeping to myself, and not really researching the issue because I was afraid what I would find.
It's been a slow process of reading more atheist blogs, coming to terms with what I really believe, and now posting on a forum for the first time. I want so badly to talk to someone in real life, but everyone I know would try to help me back into the faith. I don't really have many friends and I'm very shy so it's hard to meet people.
I have all these reasons that I say I turned away from my faith -- I've never seen evidence of a god, the bible is illogical and inconsistent, religious people don't seem more moral or more happy than anyone else, prayer doesn't work, what about creationism and biblical anti-gay teaching? But I'm not necessarily happy at getting free, or angry at what I used to believe. I feel like other atheists I've read about who called their deconversion "like getting a painful divorce."I still don't know what I believe. I'm half afraid that if I come out to my real-life friends, all these good reasons will sound dumb when I say them out loud. Most of them really believe in miracles, you know. I'm just looking for some support. I'm in the middle of Iowa about two hours away from the nearest good atheist group, from what I can tell. I want to know that what I'm going through is normal and expected, or hear how others have made it through this same kind of issue.
What do you think is a typical atheist Steve?
A "typical" atheist is also a humanist. I'm not. I don't believe I am here just so I can serve my fellow hominids (that is not to say I don't get value from cooperation and freely chosen exchanges, but my purpose is not to serve others, and that's implicit in humanism).
Humanists don't just stop with asserting there's no reason to believe in a god, they make positive pronouncements on other issues as well, so it might be closer to a "system" as you just put it, than just "bare" atheism is. But the point is, not all atheists subscribe to that so even if it IS a "system" it's not the atheist system, though it is a system that (quite probably) most atheists subscribe to, and it's what I had in mind when I said "typical atheist."
[as an aside, take it for what it's worth: I find it profoundly irritating when a group calls itself the "atheist" something or other (e.g., the "Atheist Party" and "Atheism Plus") but brings along a bunch of not necessarily related other issues. (How does "there is no god" imply anything whatsoever about what government should or should not be doing--other than not pushing religion? So just what is an "Atheist Party?" Apparently these individuals think it's one that's pretty far out there on the left fringe, to me its as if they want government to do everything for you that god won't on account of the minor handicap of not existing.) It's as if they are saying to me you aren't a real atheist unless you buy into all this other stuff--isn't that kind of package dealing the same thing we bitch about when theocrats try to do that with Xianity and America?
I do not have that irritation with, say, the American Humanist Association, because they call themselves humanists right on the label, they are not trying to hijack a general term for a specific agenda, they are using the specific term that matches. It's clearly for a group of people who share a lot of different ideas, and one of them happens to be atheism. I have some things in common with them, not enough that I will be joining, but they are honestly labeled.]
I admire Dawkins first for his work on evolution, and then a distant second for being a publicly vocal atheist. I don't always agree on what he says or how he presents it but for better or worse he and few others are the voice of our minority. In no way would I consider atheists "herded" by him.
I love Richard Dawkins, I met him when he was here for an atheists convention a couple of years ago, I stopped him in the street and shook his hand got a photo ... anyway. I think that he's a much much better writer than he is a speaker and sometimes he makes me cringe a little.
Im in Australia and I wonder if that makes any difference in trends.
I'm not a fan. I tried to read one of his books but it was all so obvious that I got bored. I do enjoy watching him slay an opponent in a debate. IMHO, Dawkins really has a knack for putting his foot in his mouth when it comes to topics not directly related to evolution, science, or atheism. So, I think he should stick to what he knows.
To be sure in a book like "The God Delusion" Dawkins is "evangelizing" somewhat for atheism. At least part of his intended audience are theists who might be trying to understand where we are coming from; as such he takes on some of their arguments that you and I find obviously silly and wrong. But they do not. Their mindset is quite different from ours, and the blatantly silly to us, is profound to them, because they've never been able to put themselves outside of the "God is the source of all morality" (for that matter you can strike the word morality from that quote and put a period after the word "all," as far as they are concerned) mindset.
I enjoyed the book because he was taking on a lot of their favorite chestnuts (his take on people who are selective pick and choosers from the bible then turning around and claiming the bible is the source of all morality, I thought, was pretty good).
If you want a really thorough book I'd try "Atheism the Case Against God" by George H. Smith.
Now on the other hand, if you read a book of his that's primarily on evolution, I'd have to say he does a pretty bang up job by anyone's measure.
The fact that people tend toward systems doesn't make atheism itself a system. People are people, and they behave similarly across the board no matter what they believe. Not all atheists follow the New Atheism genre. I have a friend I've known since middle school (I'm now 30) and he's been atheist the whole time... long before the "movement". He's very "live & let live" and thinks the NAM (New Atheist Movement) is juvenile. I don't know that I think it's juvenile... but my need for activism shortly after my deconversion is now ebbing. I think a lot of the fervor comes from the newness of it all, and the excitement behind discovering freedom.
So, I do wish people could separate ideas from behavior. Not everyone who doesn't play chess is the same. Sure, someone could form a group that is anti-chess, and they'd really be in the lime light since no one has formed a group like that before. But to say everyone who doesn't play chess is the same obviously ridiculous. If there are similarities between these individuals, one cause is that people are predictably alike (herd mentality, group think, tribalistic, etc)... and the ones who gather and bond around a similar cause are probably alike from the outset (like minded people attract).
There is no system behind atheism; there is no one way to lose one's faith. There is no doctrine or creed. Any doctrine or creed that arises is something else entirely, even if the authors try to hold hostage the term "atheist".
Hi Cara Coleen
Im interested in your friend who has been an atheist since before the "movement". You say that his attituded is 'live and let live'.
So when he speaks about atheism, he doesnt have that rabid anti-religious Dawkinsian manner about him. Is that right?
He is pre Dawkins.
Is he superstitious?
"thinks the NAM (New Atheist Movement) is juvenile"
True, but maybe that's a good thing. I've been an atheist for almost 50 years, but I welcome young, enthusiastic atheists excited to make a change in this world - and this is a sorely-needed change.
Im interested in your friend who has been an atheist since before the "movement".
I've been atheist since long before the movement. I was never religious. The only difference between pre- "New Atheism" and today is that atheists are much more vocal about the transgressions of religion in society.
Just like Cara's friend, for most of my life, since I did live in a communist country, my atheism was never on my mind. My country was not dominated by religion while I was there, but moving to Canada has forced my hand, and I have become much more vocal about it. I was always open about my lack of belief, and was always willing to discuss or defend it, but since moving to North America, it has just grown.
"New Atheists" don't look to Dawkins as a leader, they look at him as an accomplished atheist that is in the spotlight, and gives them a voice they don't have. They see people like Dawkins, Harris and the rest as evidence that they are not alone, and that it is perfectly fine to not believe. There are plenty of atheists who disagree, and even dislike Dawkins.
There is no system. We are the cliche "like herding cats." We may agree on some things, but we disagree, and sometimes vehemently about many others. There is no doctrine for us to follow, or rules that only atheists need to abide by; unless you are a part of the A+ movement.
He's very "live & let live" and thinks the NAM (New Atheist Movement) is juvenile.
Hey Cara, I can very well understand the "live & let evil happen" philosophy myself, I don't blame anyone for subscribing to it. And that's what it is, but usually people are either unaware, or not honest enough to admit it to themselves. Some people, including me, adhere to this way of thinking because we have become disillusioned and simply do not care enough anymore to actively pursue what little shred of faith we have left in humanity. Others do because they don't realize the implications. Most of us however do, because all it takes is a little common sense to see the obvious.
Saying any anti-theistic movement is juvenile is the equivalent of saying a movement against violence, misogyny, racism, the corruption of human knowledge, and child abuse is "juvenile," which while in itself is not juvenile to suggest, but clearly a very uninformed and naive stance on the issue.
As for making it a non-issue. It's always a wrong comparison when people bring up something like "we don't even need words for atheism, we don't have a word for not believing in Santa either." True. Yes, we have no anti-leprachaun movements. No anti-Santa movements. No anti-garden gnome movements.
But then again, garden gnomes don't fly planes into buildings. They don't stone women to death. They don't circumcise babies or sacrifice animals. They don't force people into worshiping cruel gnome-gods with the threat of eternal torture.
If everything were as simply reduced as that, we could also say we don't need words or movements for anti-crime. Yet we know crime is a harmful thing, and so we have "law enforcement."
It's just not the same, and suggesting so, again, displays an immense lack of perspective. Superstition is currently easily one of the main causes of evil in the world. No matter how PC you want to be, this is indisputable. And to want to fight against that is not juvenile, it's noble, and platitudes won't change that.
As for atheism having or being a system, I believe you got that wrong Angela. It's not as much a system in the religious and traditional sense as it is just that, thanks to science and common sense, we all tend to agree on a lot of things. We all agree women have the right to choose, that hurting others should be avoided, that evolution is true and that there is no adequate amount of evidence for the supernatural. That's not because we have a doctrine that our parents force-fed us every Sunday, or because a prophet told us. It's because we adhere to common sense, and science. It's no surprise when we end up with similar answers and stances on things.