January 2007

you see im 15 and all my family are presbiterian see i cant even spell it im that interested. I mean i dont balieve in god but I dont want to be close minded because i am very ignorant toward religion. I came to the conclusion that I am an atheist from my own thoughts on things and I was hoping that someone could kindly tell me in detail about atheism, Thanks

Thank you very much for writing. It sounds like you are in a bit of a difficult position, and I hope I can help.

Let me start answering your question with a statement. There are many kinds of atheist. Some reject a particular religion. Some are anti-religion in general. Some say there is no possibility that a deity exists. Some are simply people who do not have religion — and this is the category in which I put myself.

Now that you know where I’m coming from, here’s a list of the qualities of an ideal atheist from my perspective.

1. An atheist believes in what is demonstrably real. There is no reason to believe in things because you wish that they existed or “feel in your heart” that they must be.

2. An atheist uses the scientific method when searching for what is real. Evidence worth considering must be scientifically valid. Occam’s razor should always be considered. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

3. An atheist has a strong moral code. Because there is no threat of supernatural justice, an atheist must put great thought into personal moral and ethical behavior, and take great care not to make excuses for deviating from that personal code.

4. An atheist is without religion, but that does not mean an atheist must be against religion. Some people need the comfort of belief in the supernatural. Some people do not agree that the universe likely has a scientific origin. There is no reason to fight these people just because they have these feelings.

5. An atheist who is not against religion should still fight back against religious people who do harm to others. You may not condemn someone for being religious, but you certainly can (and should) stand in the way of their using religion to dictate laws, dictate what is taught in schools, choose who is hired for a job, justify violence, interfere with how science is practiced, etc.

6. An atheist who is not against religion can still argue vigorously with those who insist that religion is based on science. Claims of a scientific basis for religion should be countered with science. But just as the atheist should resist the intrusion of faith into science, the atheist should not use science to argue against a religious person’s faith.

7. An atheist is a cheerleader for clear, rational thinking in all areas — science, politics, ethics, morals, religion, etc. Part of this is encouraging others to not hold self-contradictory beliefs or think in ways they would not want others to think. It also means trying to keep discussion rational (as opposed to abusive or personal) and helping people see the difference between truth and opinion.

8. An atheist is a cheerleader for consistency in moral and ethical thinking. Avoid “morality of convenience” or self-serving flavors of situational ethics. Speak up if someone behaves contrary to his or her stated morality.

9. An atheist promotes investigation and education. Help people seek out resources to better understand the world around them, and see that your own education is a never-ending process.

10. An atheist should always be looking to get closer to the truth. There is a great deal in the world that we do not know, and seeking the answers to these questions is humanity’s greatest adventure. Being willing to question means always having uncertainty about some things. Only religious people have complete certainty, but they do so at the expense of possibly being incredibly incorrect about some of the most important issues imaginable.

11. An atheist has no fear of being wrong. There should be no apprehension about what the outcome might be when investigating a scientific topic — if the answer is not what you expected, rejoice in your new knowledge.

12. An atheist should try and make the world a better place. Do what you can to reduce suffering. Help people live together instead of tear each other apart. Bring joy to those around you. This is the only existence we have — we should take care of it.

I think that’s about it. This list is not “the atheist commandments” or anything like that. It is simply an expression of my feelings on the subject. I believe that if all atheists lived by these rules, tried to be accepting of others, and did our best to live moral lives with an emphasis on making the world a better place, humanity would be much the better.

You say that your family is Presbyterian. If you are the only atheist in your family, and particularly if you know of no other atheists in your area, you have both a great opportunity and a great sorrow. The sorrow is that of not having like-minded people close at hand, but rest assured that there are a great many of us willing to be your friend online even if we can’t be there in person.

The opportunity is that if you are the only atheist in the area, you can show people that any negative preconceived notions about atheism they have are incorrect. Be friendly. Be personable. Be willing to discuss religion and philosophy in an open, respectful manner. Don’t be confrontational or defensive. Define yourself by what you are for, not by what you are against. Show your eagerness to learn new things and to help others learn. If you can do this, then anyone who does not at least respect you for your beliefs has likely got prejudices that they are unable to put aside. Feel sorry for them.

I hope that this has answered your question without overwhelming you with verbiage. If you have further questions or need me to clarify anything I have said here, please feel free to write. I stand ready to help at the best of my ability.

Posted on January 30, 2007 at 11:23 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: About atheism, Help

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