July 15, 2020

Atheist Pride

lion

I guess I've never been a fan of the phrase "atheist pride." Maybe it makes me think of "White pride." Or maybe it is because I have trouble understanding the desire to take pride in something over which I had no control (e.g., where I was born, my ancestors, etc.). My being an atheist is just one more thing over which I had no control. If it wasn't something I did but more something that happened to me, I have a hard time finding any pride in it.

Instead of talking about atheist pride, I've preferred to talk of an "atheist movement," "atheist revival," or something along those lines. It makes sense to me that someone would be proud of being a part of something like this, especially if they've had a contributing role. And yet, I have to admit that these phrases do not capture the self-affirming, pro-atheist sense of "atheist pride" that often seems absent. Maybe I've had it all wrong about atheist pride. Maybe there is a version of it that would be beneficial to cultivate.

In defining atheism as a lack of theistic belief (i.e., not accepting the theistic claim that some sort of god or gods exist), it may seem that one would have little in which to take pride even if being an atheist was a voluntary matter. And yet, I'd argue that one's ability to escape from religion should be a source of pride in itself. Those of you living in the United States certainly know how pervasive a force Christianity can be, and the situation is even worse in many predominately Muslim countries. To have de-converted or never to have accepted it in the first place is notable. We face tremendous pressure to go along with the religious majority and are regularly demonized for our refusal to do so. Perhaps we should take pride in the fact that we have done so.

Even though atheism is the lack of theistic belief, most of us construct worldviews that are much broader. We talk about valuing reason, science, secular humanism, and the like. Most of us are able to answer when asked, "What do you believe?" Most of us realize that "I am an atheist" provides no information about what we do believe, and most of us are able to go beyond this and articulate what we do believe. Our worldviews, of which atheism is one small part, give us plenty to be for rather than just against and provide us with ample opportunities for pride in who we are and what we do. So maybe we don't need atheist pride after all.

I feel fortunate that I escaped the clutches of religious delusion. I am living a more authentic life, free to experience the world for what it is and not simply how I want it to be. I take pride in how I manage to function in accordance with reality even as the majority of my neighbors are plagued with self-deception. To be sure, I experience compassion for them, but I also worry that their departure from reality can make some of them dangerous. I seek to improve the present for the collective benefit and do not concern myself with fantasies of an afterlife because to do so would only detract from what I need to do now.

I hope you will join me in feeling good about who you are and what you do - for reason, for truth, and to make the world a better place. As for whether atheist pride is part of that, I'm still not sure. What do you think?

An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2008. It was revised and expanded in 2020.