May 24, 2020

How to Be an Atheist

deep water

If you are currently a religious believer who is curious about how you might become an atheist, this brief post is for you. I think it will help to begin by making sure you understand what atheism is so that we don't run the risk of talking about different things without realizing we are doing so. It will be helpful to realize that at least some of what you have been told about atheism is likely false. If you are a Christian, this guide may help.

Now that we are on the same page about the meaning of atheism, it is time to acknowledge that there are probably almost as many different paths to atheism as there are atheists. Those of us who are atheists became atheists in a variety of ways. The good news is that there is no one right way to get there; the bad news is that this makes it challenging to offer guidance that will be widely applicable. We'll circle back to that in a moment because something just occurred to me that we better consider first: Might you already be an atheist?

We'll assume that you are not currently an atheist. That's okay. Despite what you may have been told, you can be an atheist. Perhaps the easiest place to start is to identify some gods in which you do not believe. You've probably heard of at least a couple in which you don't believe. Maybe some are ancient Greek or Roman gods. Or perhaps some are various Hindu gods you might have heard of at some point. You might consider them "false gods," but the point isn't that you don't worship them; the point is that you don't think they are real. That's a lot like what being an atheist is like. The only difference is that you might believe in one or more gods while we don't believe in any gods.

Consider the fact that humans have worshiped thousands of gods throughout our brief history. Of these thousands of gods, you might believe in one, and that would mean you don't believe in thousands. We atheists are just like that except we include your god in the list of thousands both of us don't believe in. Make sense?

I know, I know. You're thinking your god is somehow different from all of those other gods, but it isn't. Or maybe you are thinking that you couldn't possibly go on without your god-belief. I remember having that same fear. Once again, focus on those thousands of gods in which neither of us believe. You don't have any difficulty going without them, do you? Yours isn't any more real than they are. The reason you fear going without it is that you've probably never tried. Your god is familiar and might be all you've ever known. That's doesn't mean you can't go without it, and it certainly doesn't mean you'd be a bad person for trying.

An atheist is someone who doesn't believe in gods. Whether you knew it or not, you are almost an atheist because you believe in a tiny subset of the gods in which humans have believed. With respect to all the other gods, you are already an atheist. If you were to try life without your god(s), you just might find you had as little need for them as you do for all the others you've disregarded. That's atheism.