November 01, 2005

As an Atheist

Over at the Atheist Revolution Blog, a sort of challenge was laid out to other atheist blogs to move away from critique of the current situation and more towards solutions.

So, as my effort to this effect here's an article that explains atheism without the harshness of a Cerk Uygur. Maybe explainning this way will get the point across without ill effects.

From the Salt Lake City Tribune:

As an atheist, you must live an ethical life
Scott G. Morris

As an atheist, you must live an ethical life I am an atheist.

There, now that you have climbed back into your chair and your pulse rate is back to normal and your wife has explained that it is not an act of treason to be an atheist, let's discuss the obvious.

Understand that I am an atheist by conviction, not by choice. That is, observation and study have led me to what seems to me the inescapable conclusion that god and religion are artifacts, created by people, and, in fact, altered and recreated regularly as convenience requires.

Please don't bristle and take violent offense. This is my honest conclusion, based, to begin with, on the realization that self-serving paradigms (i.e. white people are better than other people, men are better than women, god gave us the world to do with as we please, the religion into which I was born is the really true religion, etc.) are automatically suspect. It has taken a measure of courage to leave behind the comforting opinions of the majority, but what is true is true .

You will have a different opinion, and that is fine. I accept and respect your ability to form your opinions, even if I find religious beliefs and their expression offensive. But then, no one has a right to go through life without being offended.

I, and other atheists I know (and yes, there are lots of us, about 17 percent of the U.S. population, 25 percent among those under 29, a greater percentage in Europe), would love to feel that Somone was guiding things, taking care of things, watching over us.

But wanting something to be so does not make it so. It is far better to accept the world as it is than to pretend it is as you wish it to be.

Please, don't start trying to show me all the evidence that god exists. I've heard it all, over and over, and it just doesn't hold water.

But I'm not going to try to convince you, either. I'm not interested in converts. Frankly I don't care what others believe as far as god and religion are concerned.

I would, however, like to explain what it's like to be an atheist in this society, so that maybe, just maybe, you can realize that not believing in a god doesn't make you a bad person (and vice versa).

I have heard for years now that I would "make a good Mormon," apparently because I am devoted to my family, am known professionally and personally for integrity and honesty, work hard to take care of my home, care about what happens in my community.

I suppose that I am proof that a person doesn't have to belong to a particular religion to have "family values" (a phrase I hate).

And yet when someone learns that I am an atheist, the reaction is almost always something like, "Well, then, how do you know right from wrong?" or "So, you don't have any morals?" or even "But you're such a good person!"

I answer thusly: If you believe in a god, then whatever evil you do, there is a power that can fix it. Whatever harm your actions cause, there is someone or something that can make it right. And that's fine.

But if you are an atheist, then you alone are completely responsible for the results of your actions. If you commit an act of vandalism and ruin some beautiful and fragile piece of nature, there is no one to mitigate the damage. If you harm someone, even inadvertantly, you can't take comfort in the fact that god will make it right for that person, in this life or the next.

As an atheist, you must live an ethical life. There is no other choice.
We are all familiar with examples of very religious people who are either very good people or very bad. In my experience (which includes a lifelong study of history), religion doesn't make people behave either for good or evil.

People may use religion as an excuse for their violence or prejudice, or as a guide and format for their service and sacrifice. But they would do exactly the same things with no religion at all, because that is how they are as individuals. And athiests are good people or bad people because of how they are, as people, regardless of any religious question.

So my point is this: Just because I don't share any of your religious convictions, don't relegate me and my fellow atheists and agnostics to an "outsider" status. I respect your right to believe and live as you see fit, and I expect the same in return.
Scott G. Morris is recently retired from the fire-alarm industry, where he was a manager, designer and salesman. A lifelong resident of Utah, he presently holds the jobs of husband, father and grandfather.