May 16, 2007

Letter to a New Atheist

You who have been cursed with a religious upbringing which you are now questioning, this letter is for you. You who are starting to doubt whether an ancient text really offers you much worthwhile guidance about how to live your life today, this letter is for you. You who are now managing to break free from superstition and trying to come to terms with what it means to be an atheist, this letter is for you.

Dear Atheist,

Yes, that's right - I said "atheist." I know you were raised to believe that this is the worst insult imaginable, but it is not. An atheist is someone who does not answer "yes" when asked whether he or she believes in any sort of god or gods. It has nothing to do with Communism, Satanism, evil, immorality, or any of what you have probably been taught about it. There is also no need for you to be confused about agnosticism, for it is superfluous here. Self-described agnostics are merely atheists who do not like the negative connotations some religious folk have with atheism. If you no longer answer a confident "yes" to the question of god or gods, you are an atheist.

I wish I could tell you that life as an atheist was going to be easy. It won't. Of course, you probably already know that most that is worthwhile does not come easily. Your life will be harder if you happen to live in any of the more conservative parts of America. As an atheist, you belong to the most hated minority group in America. Not a pleasant thought, is it? It is fairly likely that you will experience slights, discrimination, and even hatred, all because you do not believe what they believe.

And yet, this is a price worth paying for your new found freedom. Remember that movie, The Matrix, that was so popular? Well, you are sort of like Neo once he was freed from the matrix of religion. Reality might not have been quite as appealing as the matrix (or your pastor) made it our to be, but it is real. You are just starting to get a taste of true freedom, freed from the confines of religious delusion, and this will grow as you learn to be comfortable with living in contact with reality. You will learn that religion has little to do with happiness or morality and discover a compelling alternative in the form of secular humanism. You will find that freedom from religion permits you to find your own meaning, whether it is in nature, from exploring your interests and passions, etc. You will experience the joy of acting in accordance with timeless moral precepts in which ethical behavior is not tied to threats of eternal damnation or false promises of immortality.

The task before you now is one of learning how to become your kind of atheist. You need not conform to anyone's stereotype about how atheists are supposed to act. Do not feel guilty if you decide to keep your lack of belief to yourself, sharing it only with a close circle of trusted others. But similarly, do not feel guilty if you decide to be open about your atheism, move toward activism, and/or decide to work toward changing public attitudes toward atheists. The point is, you need to learn to become comfortable in your own skin. We atheists are a diverse group, and there is plenty of room for you to be your kind of atheist, whatever that may be.

Atheists are a wonderful bunch, but there is nothing that you could call a recognizable atheist community in the sense that might be familiar to ex-Christians. However, many of us are doing what we can to facilitate the growth of various communities, online or in the real world. Atheists are among the most intelligent, witty, hilarious, thoughtful, and compassionate people you could hope to find. We may not always agree, but this is part of the beauty of not having a dogma - it frees us to interact on a much more meaningful level.

Welcome!

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