I love your site. :) I usually stop by ever few days just for shit and giggles.
When asked politely, I identify myself as a non-believer because it is easier than explaining the differences between weak atheism, strong atheism and agnosticism. I do believe in certain things, just none of them have anything to do with organized religion or a supreme deity.
Once, my mom asked if I knew I was going to hell for not believing. Love my mom dearly, but she is a devout Catholic and she worries, like Catholic mothers do. I told her that if there is a god and he is the good, kind, understanding being that she believes in, then he will no doubt understand why I doubted and forgive me for it. On the other hand, if the god is the hateful, cruel, harsh god that people like Fred Phelps and other fundies believe in, I will happily burn in Hell rather than honor such a monster.
When I do identify myself as an atheist, it is generally because the person asking me is looking for a fight and I am in the mood to accommodate them. Your list of arguments have found their way into my responses, adding that dash of irreverence that – for me – makes life worth living. Most days I m firmly convinced we are here as comic relief and I am waiting for a giant coconut pie to hit us in the face. :)
I wanted to share with you, one of the best responses I have ever read in regards to atheism. Surprisingly, it came from a Christian. On a message board, we were discussing intelligent design. It was becoming rather heated and in a misguided attempt to lighten the atmosphere, I started a list of questions with no answers like how does the man who drives the snowplow get to work? and if a turtle loses his shell, is he homeless or naked? To keep in in topic, I ended with, when an atheist dies, do they do to the great perhaps? This did not go over well, but one response pretty much quelled everyone.
When an atheist dies, presumably the answer to the ultimate question is revealed or not. If not, the agnostic/atheist will never know and it won t matter FOR ANYONE and they will have lived life in the exact way they felt was right, evaluating the events of life from a deep internal place and achieving great personal satisfaction and passion from the process. If there is a god and the agnostic/atheist has lived a benevolent life, they will be forgiven and welcomed with the rest of God s creatures, as other famous questioners have been.
I guess the reason I like this response so much is that it dovetails neatly with my own thoughts. I have questions and I would rather believe that my questions will be understood and welcomed rather than punished. I was – still am to tell the truth – the annoying child who always asked what if rather than just why .
In the end, the one thing I believe firmly is that the world is an amazing place, full of wonder and curiosity. When I die, I will die happy knowing that I questioned rather than obeyed blindly.
Because I make my living as a consultant, I have to worry a bit about how others think of me. For that reason, I, too, sometimes avoid using the word atheist in conversation because some people (out of ignorance) automatically think negative things about atheists. When I’m asked about my religion, I usually answer that I’m not religious. I then follow up by asking what the questioner’s religion is.
What’s interesting to me is that when I ask the questioner’s religion, I sometimes get a surprised look — a “I’m Christian, of course” look. And sometimes they even say as much out loud. To some people, Christianity is the norm and everything else is a deviation (much in the way that, for a long time white men were the “norm” and the rest of us were a “deviation”).
I was a little surprised that your Catholic mother says you’re damned for not being a believer. My understanding (having been raised Roman Catholic) is that post Vatican II not being a believer is not sufficient for damnation in the beliefs of the Catholic church. In particular, if you are a weak atheist you should be on extra strong ground since you simply do not believe in God as opposed to “denying” him. I suggest that you ask your mother to ask her priest if someone can go to heaven by living a moral life if they are not Catholic and see what he says. It is important, however, that your mom not ask if an Atheist can go to heaven since this may be perceived as a different question.
Your response to your mother, by the way, is pretty much what I understand the Church to teach — if you are being sincere in your beliefs and you lead a moral life, you’re okay with God. I agree that any deity that would punish its creations for using the mental facilities it gave them is not worthy of worship.
I like the response you quoted about what happens after death. My own response to that question varies depending on who is asking it. I sometimes say, “the same place we were before we were born,” or “the same place as everyone else.” I also sometimes use, “We’ll see when we get there,” but that implies an afterlife so I use it sparingly.
Finally, good for you for questioning instead of blindly following. It’s a good way to live, whether dealing with religion, science, politics, ethics, or morals. I wish there were more people like you.
In: About atheism, Dealing with religious folks