Why Should You Consider Atheism? A Persuasive Essay

“I don’t try to imagine a personal God; it suffices to stand in awe at the structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to appreciate it” (source). This quote from Albert Einstein always comes to mind when I try to convey to others why it is that a lack of God or gods does not make the universe any less meaningful or lackluster, but instead bright with wonder and curiosity. It is one of many misunderstandings regarding unbelievers, heretics, atheists, agnostics, or whatever you should want to call those who have come to their own conclusion that they can no longer believe in a particular God or gods. That is right, most atheists were not raised in a family of non-believers. The vast majority have spent time in churches, attended Sunday school and participated in church events (source). They each come to the conclusion, in their own way, that there is too much cognitive dissonance between their own logical perception of their world and reality and the potential for any sort of deity. To be a non-believer does not mean that a person loses their morals, their understanding of right or wrong. It does not mean that they no longer have passion for their fellows humans nor for causes that benefit those in need. It does not mean that they have become any more or less than what they were when they did believe in something else being out there. Most importantly, it does not mean that they have declared war upon any particular church, group, or country. Atheists and agnostics are people who have chosen to live their lives without God or gods and honestly believe that it is the best way for them to live. I would like to challenge everyone, regardless of their faith, to consider what non-belief means and why it is a way of living that should be considered.

I have heard over and over again that non-believers are always causing trouble for the church and are just as zealous as the fundamentalists they are campaigning against. However, according to a comprehensive study performed by Christopher Silver with the University of Chattanooga found it is less than one out of six atheists who would fall under this description, most of which have recently been hurt and cut their ties with a particular faith or church. This study also found that Atheists, much like Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and every other religion, are not made up of one homogenous group but instead can be described as part of sub-sects falling under the umbrella description of religious-nones. The more caustic and argumentative of atheists have begun to claim a new name, anti-theists, meaning against religion or belief. It is an apt reference to people who often seek out those who do not believe as they do, that there is no God, no pantheon, no creator, and work to convince them that they are wrong. Richard Dawkins, a biologist known more for his role as an antitheist preacher and author, is often held up as what every atheist must be within their hearts. I argue that nothing could be further from the truth. While men and women like Dawkins may be something of celebrities at conferences and quoted over and over it is not because their words are the only truth, but because their words are often the first glimpses many have of this other way of thinking. A way of thinking that is outside the teachings of Sunday school and church. They are an introduction to questioning what has been considered fact, of beliefs that may or may not be applicable to a person’s life any longer.

The typical non-believer is not going to proclaim that they don’t have a god to pray to for all to hear. For most atheists or agnostics the lack of religion takes up so small a part of their time that it is insignificant (source). Some like to debate their ideas with others but merely as an intellectual exercise. Others couldn’t care less about the whole religion thing. They don’t understand why there is so much trouble caused by debates between believers and non-believers. The best word for them is “meh.” There are others who stand in the middle ground between believers and non-believers. This middle group may not believe any human can know whether there is something out there or there isn’t. They don’t care if that something is a sort of great universal energy or power that encompasses all or an actual all-knowing entity or nothing at all, they just believe that there could be something more out there. Mr. Silver even found a group of atheists who continue to go to church or synagogue because they enjoyed the rituals and community. There are many, many more different variations upon this theme. There are as many ways to be an atheist or agnostic as there are ways to be a believer. It is truly an amazing example of how many different ways there are to understand and interpret the world. Perhaps the most inspiring of things to me is that these non believers do not require some written or spoken code of conduct to know what is right and what is wrong.

This, the question of morals, is perhaps the single greatest conflict between believers and non believers and the greatest obstacle a person who is experiencing a crisis of faith has to overcome if they are going to become a non believer. This comes from a misunderstanding about how it is that humans develop their morals. Yes, religious teachings help us to establish our morals but it is in much the same way that we learn how to speak. We are surrounded by these concepts on a daily basis in every aspect of our lives in churches, at school, in the home, our family and friend’s homes. It is a necessity that every child learn what is considered right and wrong within their own society. An atheist does not need a bible to tell him or her that killing is wrong. They only have to look at the laws of the land to know that it is punished by society. However, an atheist may be confused by a person who follows the bible, particularly the Old Testament, when there are so many examples where people are murdered and it is considered right in the eyes of God. The story of Joshua and the destruction of the city of Jericho and all the men, women, children and even animals within the city is one which many atheists point to and ask believers, “Why? Why is this okay?” There is also of the question of how a group of people can reconcile the revenge based teaching of “an eye for an eye,” from Leviticus 24:19, with Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount that declares, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (biblehub). An atheist or agnostic may look at this contradiction and declare that at least their concept of morality is consistent. They do what is right based on an internally consistent and externally approved set of mores and values without having to waver and consider between two different teachings. That is not to say that every person who reads both the New and Old Testaments has trouble deciding which teachings they based their morals on, but it has frequently come up in discussions between peoples of different belief systems.

The question of morality is not the only debate that occurs when people of differing beliefs converse. The most common question heard is, “How do you know that your religion is the right one?” There are thousands of religions believed throughout the ages, some that are still around and others that have become extinct along with the civilizations that followed them. A person who is willing to look at this information and ask how there is one true religion when there are so many potential religions that could be right. Richard Dawkins points out the problem with believing that one, and only one, way of thinking is true, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one step further” (source). Most atheists and agnostics have voiced this as one of the first questions they start asking that leads to their deconversion from religion (source). If a man or woman begins to ask for some sort of proof for why one religion is more right than another they have a lot to look at and ponder.

One of the most prominent questions that really doesn’t seem to have any answers is what makes this one religion that a person grew up with more right than one in a different culture or from a different time. If there is only one true and right religion and way to believe and any who do not follow that system will be tortured, lose their souls or be stuck as ghosts wandering the world forever when there are millions of people born prior to the establishment of that religion or in parts of the world that have not heard of it or had the chance to hear about it. This may not be a concern to some people, but many others they have difficulty understanding how any deity can dole out such punishments while stacking the chances against a society or individuals. In the words of most children, that just doesn’t seem to be fair. Certain people, just by pure silly luck, were born in the right place and at the right time to hear a very particular religion and therefore can be saved from eternal suffering. Everyone else is just plain out of luck. Non-believers often have trouble reconciling this concept because it just doesn’t make sense that any god or pantheon of gods would punish people who never had a chance to know them. There are religions that declare that God is not a specific entity but rather a formless and all encompassing universal power that is understood and related to in different religions based on what fits in their culture so that the Christian God is the same as the Egyptian God Amon Ra is the same as the Hindu God Shiva. All are different aspects of the same unknowable and incomprehensible power. Examples of these belief systems are pantheists, deists, Secular Humanists and some Unitarian Universalists. Unitarian Universalists in particular are accepting of most possible ways of seeing a god or gods, questioning the existence of some greater entity or nothing at all (source). Secular Humanists are typically agnostic or atheist but are accepting of all peoples of all faiths and really just want everyone to recognize the humanity and goodness in everyone.

Perhaps it is this awareness of the many possibilities and acceptance among the atheist and agnostic community that makes it appealing to so many who are uncertain. One does not have to declare themselves an atheist to be part of it. Some atheists will challenge those who are questioning their own belief, but there are many, many more who are willing to discuss and be open about their own journey from being a believer or being raised in a religious household to declaring themselves a non-believer or no longer religious. They understand that it is never easy to leave behind a long established way of thinking of the world and the comfort of the rituals provided by religion. This is why non-religious individuals have established organizations like Universal Unitarianism and Secular Humanisism; they wanted to provide some of that same support and structure that religion provides. Atheists, agnostics, religious-nones, deists, pantheists and those who don’t care are just trying to live their lives in a way that they have found to be the most logical and sincere for themselves personally. Douglas Adams, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, summed this up quite eloquently in his book The Salmon of Doubt. “I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”

Just a note: If you want to use this as a source, cool. I’m totally down for that and would be happy to share with you some of the sources I used. However, I do ask that you be considerate of the fact that this is my 6th revision of this essay. That means I put in a lot of work and taking credit for another person’s work is cheating yourself as much as that person. If you’re going to use me as a source just keep in mind that I’m just a random blogger who happens to be taking classes at this time and am not, in any way, considered a great 1st source for material. If, however, your assignment is regarding information dissemination and impact of social networks, cool! Have fun.

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Equality?

Today is a pretty important day in the fight for civil and equal rights for LGBT folks in the US. Tomorrow is too. However, it also looks like the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is completely aware of how important this issue is. They are also aware of the fact that it is only in the last year or so that the majority of people in the country support civil unions equivalent to marriage or marriage rights for LGBT couples. If they make a ruling about this divisive issue in the next few weeks they will be continuing the forward march for civil equality but also giving a new rallying point for those against equality.

Essentially, the justices really don’t want to make this decision until we’ve reached a greater than 60% majority in support. Or at least that’s how I’ve been reading it.

Some reasons for that assessment: The argument against Prop 8 (the California constitutional amendment from 2008 that banned marriage or civil unions for anyone besides a single man to a single woman) is literally only arguing against Prop 8. They are not arguing for sweeping, nationwide changes. They are arguing explicitly for the amendment to be overturned and made null and void. Justice Roberts verified the point with the Solicitor General of the Obama administration, “[Y]ou are willing to wait in the rest of the country,” Roberts said. “You’re saying [same-sex marriage] has got to happen right now in California, but you don’t even have a position about whether it’s required in the rest of the country.” I don’t believe that the court really wants to get involved in something so sticky as ruling one way for a state but ruling another way for the country, as could happen with the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) case they will be hearing tomorrow. There is a very high likelihood that they will defer ruling on Prop 8 and send it back down to the previous district courts (where there will be even more confusion about what to do next) because they will instead rule on DOMA.

What does this mean for the fight for marriage equality? That it’s not going to be so easy as having one or two hearings before SCOTUS. It’s going to continue to require a state by state battle to get equality of some sort. It’s going to require enough political action to actually get people to the voting booths, which is no small task. It’s going to require that we wait for older generations to pass on before the younger generations, where there is a clear majority of supporters, become the majority of voters. Or it’s going to require someone bring forth a clear, valid argument against a defense that could actually be valid long enough to be considered in court for why there should be sweeping, nationwide changes like what there was for Loving vs. Virginia in 1967. The repeal of DOMA and even overturning of Prop 8 are not going to make it happen, though either one being overturned will be a huge victory and add momentum to the equality cause.

I hope, I really do, that I am wrong. I hope that SCOTUS will rule in favor of overturning/repealing both. As much as it will be a rallying point for opponents of same-sex marriage and equality, it could be enough to convince those who have been waiting to see who the winner is going to be that they ought to throw their support in for equality. That would be super awesome and make me a rather happy camper.

Honestly though, I think it would be rather nice if the whole marriage vs. civil unions thing would be figured out. I have a few friends that really deserve to be married but are only just now being given the opportunity to have a civil union. It’s nice and almost there, but not quite the same idea. Now, if government decided to get their noses out of marriage in general and only have civil unions recorded and all that for state records for everyone, I’d be down for that. Religious institutions could figure out what the hell marriage is and what it means and who or who can’t get married, but that special snowflake definition would only matter and be recorded within that particular institution. I think that would totally be a win-win for everyone. The religious folks could get a civil union with all the legal and tax benefits that come with it and get married through their religious institution and life would be good. There are enough open and non-denom and “we just like to have community!” sort of places that even non-religious folks could still get “married” if they really wanted to.

But hey, maybe I just don’t care all that much because “marriage” has always been an odd concept to me and I’ve always found it to be rather controversial anyway. The history of marriage has never boded well for women, even civil unions never really boded well for women. I would be completely fine with something that came with less baggage and was more personal. But, marriage is important to some people, including my husband, so… *shrugs* I say we make it so that everyone who wants to get married can. *nods*

Daily Prompt: Silver Screen – “There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”

“There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.” Gandalf the Grey, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

This line is probably one of a few lines that struck me as *important* when I first read LotR. Some were remembered because of the scene, “You. Shall. Not. Pass!” (read exactly like that) or perhaps because I liked the idea of something, “It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to. ” Still, none of them rang with the same sense of truth like what Gandalf’s words to Frodo within the Mines of Moria did.

I believe, that at its heart, this is what LotR is about. It is not about saving the world from evil. It’s not about the corruption of man and the loss of magic. It’s not about industrialization and how it will destroy the world. It’s not about war and the havoc it wrecks. It is about this one, simple truth. That there is something more in this world, something that guides people to be where they need to be. It doesn’t mean that evil will be thwarted at every turn-there is still free choice and free will-but there will always be those who can make a difference.

The greatest hero in LotR gets little credit, but he has the biggest heart and the strongest determination. He has something more to look forward to beyond ending the war with Sauron and destroying the Ring. Samwise Gamgee has his role to play and he plays it well. Not even Gandalf understands Sam’s role within the whole, though he knows it is important. Regardless, he gives Sam his only order, “Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee.” Sam, being the most loyal of the entire party follows his directions and ends up carrying Frodo and the Ring, physically and metaphorically.

I know it’s pointed out ad nauseum that LotR depits how it is the actions of the smallest of the characters that makes the greatest impact and the most sacrifices. However, I believe it is applicable to real life. We may not all be fighting this grand battle against an evil entity that is threatening to take over the world, but we are each have a role in the overall well-being of our fellows. Small kindnesses have a big impact. Small acts send out ripples that can either join and enlarge the ripples caused by others or oppose and diminish them. We were born here for a reason, there is some sort of plan. While most of us are but the smallest of players upon this large stage even our small roles have an impact in how the show (the world) turns out.

I just hope we’re all getting our lines and stage cues kind of right. Most of what we do and know is unscripted, but there are those special moments where we are caught up in a bigger scene and there is actually something we’re to do right then and there. I don’t know how many times we are given to get it right, one or fifty or however many we need, but I still take heart in knowing that there is something out there, some greater part of ourselves, that can nudge us in the right direction. Maybe not quite with the same authority and directness of a stage manager, but still some whisper of a hint of what we ought to do.

Seems kinda odd for someone who claims to be agnostic to hold such a firm belief, but then again, I don’t believe that the nudging comes from something that is omniscient or omnipowerful. It just is and it likes balance and there is an overall direction that we’re all traveling and thus there is a collective general intent that guides it as well as us. More or less, give or take.

Wow did that go in a very different direction than I thought it would when I started.

An Interesting Study in Progress

I follow a few different religious pages on Facebook. It’s interesting to see what people will say, though I know what I am seeing is very biased as they are either very liberal Christian or a mix of multiple religions. One of them, a Buddhism page, posted a link to a study that one of his colleagues just got up and running. The study is a very long survey specifically targeted at agnostics/atheists. There’s so little research surrounding this growing population in the US, so I’m really excited to see that there are people out there recognizing us.

I include myself in that category because I’m something of a Buddhist(non-theist)-pantheist-agnostic-trending-to-atheist sort of person. Yeah, it’s a mouthful so I usually just say Buddhist or pantheist or if I really want to confuse people, non-theist. Much easier to say. If anyone is uncertain whether they fall into the agnostic/atheist category, here’s a really great piece on different kinds of “non-believers” or however you want to think about it.

Anywho, if anyone here is interested, here’s the link to the study, and if you’re more interested in seeing what/why/etc. here’s the answers from the people who are doing the research.

I’ll be posting more of my thoughts about the state of religion in America later, especially after the results are published.

What I Really Believe

I am a fairly vocal a-religious but spiritual/pantheist/non-theist type person. I am not exactly anti-religion. I can see how it helps a lot of people, and while I don’t understand it, I try not to say much about whether I think they should or shouldn’t believe in a particular religion or spiritual system or whatnot. I am usually curious and want to understand a bit more about why it is that they believe what they do, but more often than not I can keep my questions to myself and most people don’t know that I am not nodding because I agree with them but that I am nodding so I am not asked to comment further and thus prevent me from either lying or shutting down the conversation when I tell them I understand. No, I don’t understand and continuing to explain or preach at me will not help.

What it comes down to is that I just cannot wrap my head around the concept that religion is anything more than a construct of the human race. I feel that it is “designed” specifically for the purpose of unifying us as a group of disparate individuals into a cohesive group, but that the actual religious teachings have little to do with why it works. That only says whether something will have any staying power. Some religions encourage more cohesion, more sense of community and unity, usually through some way of demonstrating how the members are special in some way, shape or form and thus creating an “us versus them” sort of thinking.

It is for this reason that I have come to the conclusion that I am a-religions, meaning “without religion.” I’m not atheist, I am not without a god/higher being. Well, at least not in the sense that I would be considered an atheist. Neither do I truly follow any particular religious teaching. I still consider myself closest to being a Buddhist, but pantheist fits just as well and that’s easier to explain that than it is to explain the differences between the different buddhist sects. Not too mention I just don’t practice my Buddhism much anymore. Though, when I do send out a prayer/good mojo energy out into the universe, I always chant. I just feel like it helps and usually I am only praying or sending out those good vibes for a special purpose or person. But that has more to do with the feeling that if there is something to the concept, then why not try to use the tool?

And that’s my problem. I am stuck somewhere between believing in something – truly believing in something even if I can’t express it with words – and constantly wondering “how can I say this is real?” Even as I am able to understand that “real” is also only a concept that cannot be proven and that each person’s reality and thus “real” or “truth” is different, even if only minutely. Maybe there is some truth in each religion – there are people who have devoted their lives to proving or disproving this theory – but what does it matter in the long run? Does it really or truly impact my day to day life? So why should I bother figuring out what it is that I believe?

Except… I have to feel like there is something more to this life that I am living. There has to be more to me, to this world, to what is going on. In my heart of hearts, I need to know that I have been a part of something greater than myself and that my actions have led to greater knowledge and understanding. I want to have something that I can point to as why I strive for doing more for others, why I care so deeply about their well-being, their welfare. Otherwise, everything I do would be so much wasted energy – there would be no purpose behind it. There are those who would argue that there is purpose in action even if there is no universal impact, and I can see and understand it to a certain extent, but I also see how I could do other things that would actually help people in a measurable way. What I do now is pour an overwhelming amount of energy into two dozen or so people who are so stuck in their own versions of hell so that what I can give them does not even light a candle in the dark. Or so I feel. However, if there is that something greater, then that energy is not taken and lost, it is still there, slowly storing up so that there will be change, even if it will be lifetimes from now. Thinking about it like that, while being somewhat selfish, makes it so that I can still get up in the morning and make it to work and still try to have something left over for others in my life.

So I guess in the long run I do still believe in something. I just question and doubt it constantly. I doubt so many things that I believe. I doubt things that I don’t believe. In many ways I am a paradox within my own self. To an extent, it’s probably healthy to always question and process and determine whether my truth is still true, but at the same time I also feel that I am casting doubt upon my very soul. If there is such a thing. If there is a higher power. If there is something that connects all of us. Even as I type that out, I can feel the stronger, older part of myself laughing lightly and smiling mysteriously and shaking her head, “you know what you know, travel whatever roads you must, but soon you will see that all roads are the same.” Maybe one of these days I’ll even listen to her.

So keeping all that in mind, how is there any way that I could ever look to any religion and find my truth? The Abrahamic God is too… human. As are the vast majority of the pagan gods and goddesses. I could maybe accept the explanations that they are described and androgenized as they are so that people can understand them, but that feels so false, so misleading to me. Why would anyone want to follow a deity that must make themselves less so that you can understand them? Shouldn’t the entire point be that you expand yourself, your understanding and experiences so that you come closer to the deity/higher power/universe, whatever you want to label it. So what if it takes lifetimes – that is the entire point!

Ah, but that is where something that I believe (and apparently cannot deny even as I try to say that I don’t believe anything) comes shining through. I suppose that it really doesn’t matter if I can’t explain what it is that my heart of hearts and soul know. It comes out in my speech, in the way that I live my life, in the way that I interact with others, in the way that I try to inspire them.

You know, I think I can live with that.