January 5, 2016

Without Dogma, Atheism is Liberating

plants growing
One of the consequences of atheism not having any sort of official dogma attached to it is that those of us who write about atheism and closely related subjects (e.g., humanism, skepticism, freethought) lack the sort of anchor that would keep our views consistent over time. We are free to grow and develop without having to adhere to any sort of dogma. There is something liberating about this sort of freedom.

There are plenty of posts I wrote here at Atheist Revolution between 2005 and 2010 or so that I would not write today. I would not write some of them today just because they were embarrassingly poor or lazy. I would not write many others today because I no longer agree with their contents. That is, my 2016 self does not agree with my 2006 self in some ways. Without the anchor of dogma, my perspectives have shifted in unpredictable ways. My goals are a bit different today than they were then, and the means by which I seek to accomplish them differ as well. Without dogma, I have been free to develop. And this development has taken me in some directions I never would have expected.

While I have a sense of some of the ways the current me differs from the 2005-2010 me, I suspect I'm oblivious to many others. Again, this is because the changes, where they have happened, have not been consistent or confined by any particular sort of dogma. I have been free to be influenced by countless life experiences, including persons I've interacted with, books or blog posts I've read, news stories I've followed, and all sorts of other things. I can become more or less interested in other topics and still be an atheist. I can change my approach to secular activism and still be an atheist. I can change my political orientation and still be an atheist. I can even feel embarrassed by some of my older writing and still be an atheist.

The dogma-free aspect of atheism is an important part of what makes atheism a liberating experience. With atheism, I do not feel like I must conform to a particular set of beliefs. Sure, I have faced some pressure to conform to certain ideological positions common among atheists (e.g., particular forms of feminism, a liberal political orientation), but it has never seemed like I had to adopt them in order to remain an atheist. This means that I have been free to be myself. I can change my mind without betraying anything that has to do with atheism.

The potential downside of not having a dogma is that some people, particularly those accustomed to religious dogma, may initially feel a bit rudderless. With atheism, there are few places where one can find definitive answers. I remember feeling frustrated by this in my youth, but I would soon realize that the lack of easy answers reflects reality far better than the answers provided by religion. With atheism, some willingness to tolerate ambiguity is necessary. While this can be intimidating at times, I find that it contributes to the sense of freedom I feel.

I have changed in many ways over the life of this blog. Some of the changes have been for the better; some have been for the worse. I am sure I am not even aware of all the changes. Atheism has provided a context in which this has been possible without my having to worry about whether I am still an atheist or whether I have betrayed any core tenets of atheism. That has been a freeing experience.

I look forward to experiencing other ways of being an atheist in the future. I have no idea what changes the future holds for me in my approach to atheism, but I'm eager to find out.

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