“What Is Atheism Again?”

15 Nov

As the reporter for the local NBC affiliate prepared for the interview, she tossed me a cockeyed look…. “What is atheism again?”, she asked, as though we’d discussed it before at some long-forgotten frat party.

I thought to myself, this person is responsible for informing the public, how does she not know the definition of the word atheism?  But her ignorance illuminates exactly why we are doing this.  For every person who equates the word atheism with Satanism, there is another person who can’t even define it, when it should in fact be the default position.

     All of us are born atheist, and only come to religion, or even a god concept, through some form of indoctrination.  There is no evidence for a supreme being, and science has explained all the basic questions whose mystery gave rise to the concept, so atheism should by rights be the default position, with no designation whatsoever.  Those fringe thinkers who then choose to assert the existence of the supernatural, devoid of any proof or logical thread of reason would need to be identified accordingly.  Instead, we live in a world so steeped in faith for so many millennia, that the opposite is true.  Those who choose to make decisions based solely on reason and evidence are a minority.  Think about that…In America, a minority of people make decisions based on reason.  Such a hated minority in fact that studies have shown that a short, fat, bald, female, gay, black Muslim serial killer could sooner get elected president in America than a godless heathen atheist.

But why are we so hated?  Couple of reasons, the first of which takes us back to our intrepid reporter’s ignorance.  What is atheism?  Of course the answer is a lack of belief in a god or gods.  But let’s dissect the actual word and see what the Greek roots mean. There are only 2 Greek root words involved here. a, meaning without, and theos, or god.  Without god. That’s it. There is no root word for belief in the equation.  The simple beauty of the word itself reflects the truth that everybody knows.  There are no gods and there is no god.  The absence of god is so obvious I’m surprised it doesn’t get added to the old saying about death and taxes.  And the truth hurts. God is a comfort myth, and not many people want to face the reality of mortality.   At least Muslims, hated as they are, validate the Christians’ worldview, a paradigm they know instinctively to be untenable.  If you’ve ever heard the old Puritan saw, “God helps those who help themselves”, then you’ve heard Christians tacitly admit that they understand that there’s no one out there.  The existence of atheists reminds them of all of that and they hate it.

Secondly, it’s human nature to fear change, fear the unknown, and fear what you don’t understand.  At this point in US history, sadly, atheists represent all three of those things to the red state folk.  It’s heartbreaking to think that it would have been easier to get elected as an atheist in the first half of this country’s history than the second.  But that’s what’s happened here.  The first great secular nation on earth has no secular voice in policy, becoming, in many ways, a de facto theocracy, where it is guaranteed political suicide to come out as an atheist.  The nefarious result of this political shift that buried atheism in America, when it probably should have been the next big thing after Deism, is the vicious cycle of decline in education we are witnessing now in full spiral. We see it both in the policies of right wing imbeciles like Scott Walker and wannabees like Santorum and Huckabee.  And we see it in the product itself….news reporters who don’t know what atheism is.  Critical thinking is a skill we are robbing our children of by continuing to enable those who would present archaic religious dogma as any sort of knowledge whatsoever.  It is not. It’s child abuse.

This is why we do what we do…

     For minds not yet broken, give them the critical thinking skills they will need to compete with graduates from around the world who long ago gave up myth and superstition for reason and knowledge.

     For minds already broken, by estrangement from friends and family for daring to think for themselves, offer them community.  Why did our gay friends succeed?  Because they came out.  Now everybody knows somebody gay, and the fear is gone.

     For minds already made up, we know we aren’t going to change many, and none of us want to.  Keep your religion, just keep it in your church and your home where it belongs.  Keep it out of my schools and my government.  And understand we are part of the pluralism which sustains your sect, and one of the only groups truly interested in protecting that pluralism, and we are not going away.

So what is atheism, my dear, innocent, tv-face reporter girl? It’s the lack of belief in the supernatural yes, but it’s also much more.  It’s a neighbor, a friend, a relative, a demographic and a movement.

And it’s everybody’s birthright.


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