7 Things A Friendly Atheist Wants You To Know
These are my personal opinions expressed and do not reflect the opinions of everyone in the atheist community. I was, however, inspired by many fellow atheists and theists who I am on good terms with. This articles discusses one view on religion and is not written specifically to convert or belittle all religious people. I understand that this is a sensitive topic and that my views will contradict the views of many others. This is only meant to be my own personal reflection as an atheist. With that being said, I hope this can clear the air on some of the rifts in our community.
"Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate kindness and compassion."— His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from "Kindness, Clarity, and Insight"
1. I Believe In Respect
Respect me and I'll respect you. It's truly that simple. If you don't give me a reason to question my swell regards for you, then I'll continue to offer my kindness. The blatant disrespect that people have for each other over religion is one of the reasons why I want to be especially cautious of the way I treat others.
It's not just about respecting me though. Any person can cherry-pick who they're good to. If you're nice to me but mean to other people I'll probably feel a bit less interested in being your friend. If you're mean to me and other people I won't be interested at all.
More than anything, I want to see you being good to those around you. The way you treat the people that your belief system deems "immoral" is an important thing that I look at. I have a high value for respect, altruism, and understanding. Not as an atheist, but as a human being. Of course I want to see those things circling the world as much as possible. If I see you being hateful towards any innocent group of people I'll definitely have a lower opinion of you. If it's bad enough I'll probably even call you out on it.
But it's not just about how you treat the world around you. It's about how you treat yourself. How can people be good to you if you're never good to yourself? I have seen insecurities in people and sometimes they can be connected to their beliefs. I'll naturally want to help if I see you tremendously unhappy with your life and engaging in destructive habits. But I can only offer my advice so much before I react to neglect. I can respect a broken person but I struggle to respect a person who is given the tools for repair and chooses to throw those tools away. So if you see me debating with someone over personal health and happiness in relation to religion, it's not me attacking them for their beliefs. It's me trying to show them that they can respect themselves a lot more. It's not an effort to convert them. In fact most of the time they can do this without completely resigning from their faith anyway. I recognize that many people even turn to monotheism to lead them away from harmful lives of drugs, violence, and addiction. I want to see good people being happy, regardless of who they are.
2. I Am Open To Friendly Debates
I love a good conversation, especially when it involves critical thinking and philosophy. I also love a good debate and even a heated argument every now and then (if I'm to be completely honest). But in the majority of my day to day life I'd rather avoid confrontation. I will gladly talk to you about religion as long as we both stay on respectful, open-minded terms. I don't mind questions about my beliefs or what made me leave monotheism behind. But I will not tolerate belittlement, attacks, or blatant disrespect. If our conversation turns hostile I will probably end up retaliating.
Again, my life goal isn't to go out and convert everyone I meet. We will most likely leave our talk with our beliefs unchanged, but as long as we have learned something from each other then I consider it a worthwhile conversation.
"The essence of the liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way in which they are held in theology."— Bertrand Russell, from "Unpopular Essays"
3. My Life Is Not Meaningless
A lot of people seem to think that since I believe in "nothing" that my life has no aim or significance. This is one of the biggest mistakes that people make in their views of atheists. Our roots in science and logic do not make our world cold and empty. In fact, the more I learn about the way the world works the more "blessed" I feel to be living in it. My interest in science has led me to not take so much for granted and to see the natural beauty of the universe around me. I have realized how small I am in this world, yet I still know how much power I have to make a difference as a human being. My life as well as the lives of others means a lot to me. I want to exist peacefully with everyone and I do not want our opportunity on this Earth to be squandered. My worth is not placed in the hands of a deity, it is placed in my own. I must hold responsibility for my own actions, I must realize the consequences of my actions, and I must make things happen for myself. I enjoy living this way and I put a lot of worth in everything that I do.
We love our families, friends, and experiences on as much of a deep emotional level as anyone else. Learning about the origins of the universe has enlightened me to how incredible it is to be a conscious living being on this planet and I work to cherish it every day.
We are not immune to spirituality. Some atheists may believe in some form of consciousness separate from the body, while others believe that an afterlife is possible. Some believe there may be a higher power, but we just don't know or cannot know of its existence at this point in time. We can be very deeply thoughtful of ourselves and our environment, we just don't follow the dogma of certain religions. We share many qualities with considerate, empathetic human beings regardless of religious belief.
"Your beliefs don't make you a better person, your behavior does."
4. I Have A Moral Compass
The psychology of a healthy human enables us a primitive idea of right and wrong. We are empathetic like other highly-developed species and have our own unwritten code for morality. Because we have empathy, we understand the consequences of our own actions. This is how we can be good without divine guidance. I never needed anyone to tell me that the killing of innocents was wrong, or that rape is wrong, or that stealing is wrong. It was set into my being from early on because I understood respect for other people's bodies and possessions. I would also not like anyone to harm me so I decided that I wouldn't harm other people, knowing that they are like myself.
Social deviance isn't a supported trait within our community. We base our interactions on human compassion. We will gladly condemn anyone who does cause harm to someone else because we realize that it is not right. We may not follow the same sexual guidelines or strict commandments that religious people do but that is only because we believe we can guide ourselves to make healthy decisions in our lives. We understand that human sexuality, appetite, and desire are acceptable in good moderation. There's a misconception that being a monotheist automatically makes someone more moral than someone else. If that was the case then crime and deviancy would not be so prominent in a country where 90% of the population states that they believe in a God.
When people point to the famous atheists of the world who have committed atrocities, you have to consider that their immorality was individually cultivated and goes against the general atheist method. No sane human being would support the slaughter of masses amounts of people. No sane human being would condone crimes against humanity. If you find one bad apple within the bunch, do you burn the entire tree? Or do you discard the apple and continue picking? To sacrifice an entire group for the fault of one is counterproductive and simply foolish.
"Businesses must and should be required to comply with neutrally crafted laws of general applicability...Once the law starts permitting exceptions based on 'sincerely held religious beliefs' there's no end to the mischief and discrimination that will ensue. In this case, the owners happen to be deeply Christian; one wonders whether the case would have come out differently if a Muslim-run chain business attempted to impose Sharia law on its employees."— George Takei on contraceptive coverage in religious corporations
5. I Don't Support Your Beliefs As Law
Our country was founded on the idea of freedom of religion. The debate on it being a Christian nation or not could go on forever, but the truth of today's nation is clear. We have many belief systems and religions that exist within our country and it would not be just if we were to favor one of those systems over another. This is why I don't believe in politics or laws based on religious belief in any country. It always comes back to basic human rights which should not be taken away because someone's religion tells them that it is wrong. Monotheism is already prevalent in our culture and lifestyle and it's not being threatened as much as people make it out to be. We believe people can practice what they want within their own lives as long as it is not harmful. Naturally, we would not support things such as child marriages, faith healing in replacement of medical treatment, or marital abuse even if it is supported by their holy book. This comes back to basic human rights and respect instead of being an attack on religion all together. I do not sneer at every church I pass or avert my eyes from crosses or priests. I do, however, fight for human rights within my government and I believe that I'm in the reasonable realm to do so.
When it comes to politics, I don't believe that "Freedom of Religion" means freedom to infringe on the rights of others. Yes, I am Pro-Choice and I support things like gay marriage, proper sex education, reproductive rights, evolution taught in schools, and stem-cell research. I don't believe that these infringe on the rights of those who oppose them because no one is saying that they have to engage in those things That's like vegetarians trying to outlaw meat just because they don't believe in eating it. We have come so far from the ages where life was still poorly understood and medical, technological, and psychological advancements had not taken hold yet. We live in a very different time than that of the holy books. There was once a time when slavery was being justified by books such as The Bible. We realized that it was not just and abolished it. This is a time to make change and to realize that individuals can make their own healthy decisions in life without governmental guidance that is based on a religious system that isn't universally supported. Again, this is my support of equality more so than an attack on personal beliefs.
"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but...will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."
6. I Don't Advocate Ignorance
I associate with many open-minded and knowledgeable theists in my life. They don't treat science as a threat to their faith and enjoy discussing and studying these subjects in school. The amount of people who feel as though they must deny basic knowledge and understanding in order to stay true to their faith is staggering. I don't want people to think as if it's "Science v.s. God." when they interact with me. People enjoy debating religion in its most literal sense but I personally treat it as something abstract, something that doesn't need to fight or disprove science in order to "win". Any and every person who attacks a subject so important to every day life isn't doing themselves any favors. I follow a creed of enlightenment, one that is hungry for knowledge and understanding. Exposing yourself to various views and information is important for intellectual development. I love learning about the religions of the world and the culture and art that is tied to it. I find it all fascinating and would gladly teach it to my children and hope that they would learn about Humanities in school. I don't agree with people who would vehemently deny their child information on school subjects that they find "sacrilegious". In English class I read plenty of books with religious contexts and I did not feel threatened or offended by it because I understood that it was relevant to the subject we were talking about.
A closed mind is dangerous in the possession of any person. I feel we're all responsible for accepting the information that we have at our fingertips. Contrary to popular belief, my main mission in life isn't to be you're enemy. I expect out of you what I would expect out of any person with intellectual potential.
7. I Don't Need To Be "Saved"
Many of us are people who have previously been religious and left for one reason or another. Some of us are just atheist from the start. Either way, we have had much time to reflect on why we believe in what we believe. Like I said previously, I don't mind friendly conversations or debates on religion but I don't need to be pestered to convert. Threatening me with the idea of eternal damnation is certainly not going to earn my amiability. I've heard it over and over again about why I need to follow this creed or that one and it only gets tiring. I don't go out of my way to change the people around me into atheists, so I don't appreciate the demand for conversion I experience on an almost daily basis. I will gladly talk to you about your religion and I will recognize why it works for you but you must also realize why it doesn't work for me. This all goes back to the idea of respect. Respect my beliefs and I shall respect yours.
"Human beings by nature want happiness and do not want suffering. With that feeling everyone tries to achieve happiness and tries to get rid of suffering, and everyone has the basic right to do this. In this way, all here are the same, whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, Easterner or Westerner, believer or non-believer, and within believers whether Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and so on. Basically, from the viewpoint of real human value we are all the same."— His Holiness the Dalai Lama
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© 2014 Michelle W