I am a sophomore in high school, and I have been atheist since around sixth or seventh grade, although I didnt really understand why. I guess it seemed to be the intellectual belief, and to be honest, I’m an intellectual person. My arguments basically consisted of “There are many things more likely than the existance of god.” But recently I’ve gone over my beliefs again, and I find that I very much agree with the author of this website, both in terms of what I believe and how an atheist should deal with all types of theists. Your arguments, and the response to each comment, are all carefully thought out and presented in a mature way, and because of this I think that you are doing a very good job of giving atheists a more positive image.
The religion I grew up with was Judaism, which I think (from what I know about the religions of the world) is probably one of the most open-minded modern religions in that it encourages everyone to actually question their beliefs and identity, which I always had a lot of respect for. I am also involved in a Jewish youth group at my synagogue. At conventions for the youth group, when the subject of god comes up, and I explain that I don’t believe in god, the first question asked to me, every time, is “Well if you don’t believe in god then why are you here?” Although not always said in an accusing tone, this question makes me feel a little out of place. I’m a member of my youth group because it’s a great social experience, not because I believe in all of what Judaism has to say.
Also, although i don’t believe in the theological ideas of Judaism, I agree with many of the social ideas, like the second half of the Ten Commandments, as long as the sole reason behind them isn’t “only god knows why.” (for instance, keeping kosher). In addition, I sometimes feel that religion is important in terms of a close family, so I go to synagogue with my parents every saturday when they ask me to go.
I sometimes feel that I’m being hypocritical when I get involved with Judaism, although I don’t believe in god. I honestly believe that I couldn’t marry a religious non-jew because I identify with Judaism so well. But I guess what I’m asking is, How can I make myself feel more comfortable identifying with and participating in Judaism, even though I don’t really believe in it?
Thanks for your help, and I honestly think that you give atheists a much better name than most outspoken ones.
Your letter makes me very sorry that I had to be away from this site for so long. I wish I could have answered you more promptly.
No matter how you feel about God, you are Jewish by birth and by culture. It is a part of you, your family, and your community. There’s nothing wrong with that. Being an atheist doesn’t mean having to give up your culture or change your friends. It also doesn’t mean you have to reject the good things that religion has to offer.
As much as it annoys some atheists, I celebrate Christmas. I don’t put a star on the tree, I don’t go to church, and I don’t have a crèche, but I do practice the traditions I was brought up with. I go to the weddings and funerals of friends even when they are held in churches and synagogues. When I’m having a hard time and a Christian friend says she’ll pray for me, I thank her. None of this is an endorsement of religion, but a validation of my needs and the needs of my loved ones.
I’d say that so long as you are not being deceptive about who you are and what you believe, that there is no hypocracy in what you are doing.
Best of luck.