Monday, 26 August 2013

New To Atheism - Part 1 "Welcome to atheism"

Dear reader,

Welcome to atheism. 

I guess that's a strange thing to say. Coming 'to' atheism isn't really a thing. What is atheism really but a doubt in the claims that a god exists? There are some who say that in order to be an atheist, the question itself never had to be considered. These people say that atheism is the default - that we are atheists the moment we're born. So maybe I should be saying 'welcome back to atheism'? 

Regardless, whether you consider yourself new to atheism, returning to atheism, or new to coming out as the atheist you've always been. I'm glad you've found your way here. I hope that I've written something below that you find helpful. 

The first, and most important point to make - you are NOT alone. There are atheists everywhere. Millions of us in fact. You may think there are none in your house, your street, or even your town - but there's a chance someone you know is thinking exactly the same thing. The question do you find these people? How do you connect? 

The obvious answer (for those who can access it) - is the internet. I have had more than a few people tell me, or mention to others, that they didn't know any other atheists, until they came online. They honestly thought they were *alone*. As I've said on twitter -
In part 3 of this 3 part series of blogs on 'New To Atheism' I highlight some of the ways someone new to atheism can find other atheists to interact with. Given that you've found your way to my blog, you've clearly got internet access - this is a wonderful place to start. 

Becoming an atheist after years of theism can often be daunting. You might be turning your entire world upside down, everything you thought about the universe and our world within it is suddenly 'wrong'. 

Some people can make this change without issue. For others, it's a very trying and testing time. It's common to be angry at the loss of one's understanding. You might feel cheated and\or lied to. You might feel that you can no longer trust anyone, especially if the beliefs you previously held were given to you by an authority figure (which is likely the case).

I understand why these negative emotions come about but they are not permanent. Once you learn to see the universe for the natural wonder that it is, the feeling of being cheated and disappointed will disperse. You'll need to train yourself to look forward, and not backward, to celebrate what you have, not lament what you don't. 

How? Recognise that this IS the life you get and that time wasted is time you'll never get back. You've come this far with a false idea of 'creation' and a false idea that a 'god' is watching and caring about everything you do. But you've given up that idea and come to the realisation that the universe is a natural place. Rejoice in this. Celebrate it. Look at the universe without the god-shaped blind spot in front of your eyes.

It is an amazing thing that you are here at all. For 'you' to be in existence, an extraordinary number of coincidences must have fallen into place, make the most of this. 

Understand that people who brought you to theism probably didn't do it with malice. They, like you before, more than likely believed what they told you. They haven't deceived you deliberately. Anger at these people is wasted. It will serve you no purpose. I understand the need to vent and I'm sure the need to question the people who convinced you that theism was correct will be strong, but confronting them in anger will not help you in the long run. If you feel the need to question any of the people who were involved in you becoming a theist, do so with kindness and understanding. Remember that they still believe the falsehoods that you've now given up. Ask them your questions if you need to, but keep in mind how you would feel if someone confronted you angrily when you've told them what you thought was true. 

We're told that as atheists we must have nothing to live for - of course we have everything to live for. There's nothing for us once we die. I've written a blog here about the claim that atheists have nothing to live for. Obviously you can adjust this how you see fit - but it does show that in a world without a 'god' there is PLENTY for atheists to live for. If you feel that leaving theism has left a gap in your life, I hope you can find some ideas which give your life some meaning. 

There are also people who've been atheists their whole lives but are still 'in the closet'. They don't have the same issue of having their understanding of the universe drastically altered but the thought of coming out as an atheist can still be a frightening idea, especially if there's a threat of losing family or friends if you 'come out'. 

One thing to keep in mind here is that announcing that you're an atheist is not an obligation. If you don't feel safe or comfortable, keeping atheism to yourself is okay. There are plenty of atheists I interact with on twitter who are anonymous because of the potential impacts in their real life. This is where the online atheist community thrives. It's a wonderful place for people who don't have another avenue to connect with people who share their point view. 

So whether you are a lifelong atheist or one who's recently turned away from theism, coming out can lead to alienation of friends and family. It can lead to being ostracised. I've read a case of family being forced out of town,  I've read how being an atheist can lead to imprisonment and even death in some parts of the world. This is, of course, totally unacceptable. It's not all negative though. Not by a long way. Being an atheist can also lead to any number of positive feelings. The idea that you can  'finally' talk to someone who shares your point of view. The opportunity to share your thoughts and ideas on how theism impacts the world and how we can do things better. There's the wonder at the natural beauty of the universe and what seems like a strange mixture of chaos and order. There's the thrill of learning how something really works versus the notion that we must be satisfied with 'god did it'. Being an atheist when coming from theism can be liberating. It is the clich├ęd weight being lifted off one's shoulders. I look at world and know that I am lucky to be here and that life is to be valued. As atheists we need not think that we're in god's waiting room, we're not here to pass some bizarre character test in order get a 'pass' into the afterlife. We no longer claim that we're being good just because some overlord is watching our every move - we can be good for goodness sake. We can have sex without worrying that any number of our dead relatives might be watching. 

I'm confident that there will come a time where being an atheist - everywhere - is not only acceptable, it's irrelevant. Because that's what it should be. It shouldn't matter. We should accept people based on their actions, based on how they treat others, based on the value and ideas they bring to the community. I hope we get to the point where we stop accepting or rejecting people based on which version of the creation myth they do or don't believe. 

For this to happen we need all atheists to feel that can say it with no expectation of negative reaction. For some of us it's easy, the more we do it, the more we say it, the easier it will become for everyone. 

Until this happens, being an atheist is going to be a struggle for many people. If you are one of them, please know you're not alone, I commend you for beginning and being on this journey. I hope you learn to be comfortable as an atheist, I hope you can be comfortable with all your family and friends knowing that you're an atheist and that you don't have to hide it. If you wish to, seek out other atheists, say hello, interact, get to know them. Speak up if you feel the need and most of all, don't allow anyone to make you feel bad for being who you are. You are an atheist, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. 

Thanks for reading


This is part 1 of a 3 part series of blogs title 'New To Atheism'. 

Part 2 is a guide to being a vocal atheist. It's not a set of rules, more a series of tips and advice that I've learnt from my time as a vocal atheist - particularly on twitter. 

Part 3 is a resource guide. It will detail blogs, books, podcasts and other methods where people new to atheism (and others) can find information about atheism and atheists.