Monthly Archives: February 2015

Something Other Than God Review


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently read Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler. I mentioned before that I didn’t find it very convincing, and I will go into why in a bit. But first I want to mention what I did like. Jennifer Fulwiler is a great storyteller. The book was very easy to read and had a great flow to it. She is great at conveying emotion through her writing. And the writing itself was great. But, as great of a story as it was, it is not something that could ever could ever convince me that there must be a god. I’ll explain why as I go through some of the major points in the story.
Jennifer began her book by discussing her childhood growing up without religion. She talks about how she had two loving parents that supported her, and that she had a good childhood. I think all of that is great. But then she talks about how she decided that she was an atheist at the age of 11 after her camp leader at a secular summer camp tried to convert her to Christianity. While I feel bad that she was put through that at a camp that was meant to be open to everybody, I do not think that that is a good reason to become an atheist. I won’t say that she wasn’t an atheist, because she very clearly believed that there was no god, but I would not say that she had put any thought into her atheism. In fact, she only gave herself the title to elicit a reaction from others. To create an us vs. them paradigm. In case you’re wondering, she was the “them.” She also never took it any farther than that. She didn’t try to learn about Christianity, or any other religion. She didn’t try to discuss their beliefs with her friends to gain a better understanding of their positions, or to better understand her own. She never bothered to read up on atheism or learn any philosophy pertaining to the situation. In short, she was about as knowledgeable in her atheism as a Christian who never goes to church, never reads the Bible, and never thinks about their Christianity.
Jennifer then talks about an existential crises she had at 11 when she realized that she was one day going to die. As I had a similar crises at a similar age, I understand what that can be like. However, unlike Jennifer, I didn’t bury my fear, refuse to think about it, or let it control my life. I realised that my feelings were normal by talking to other people and (most importantly) reading books. Jennifer seemed to assume that nobody else ever had those types of experiences (an assumption that she makes numerous times) and she never bothers to try and understand them or talk to anyone. If she had, she’d realise that such feelings are a part of growing up. As a result of not dealing with her feelings, She mentions that her crises lasted well into her adulthood. She mentions that she tried to bury the existential crises by having fun and trying to be successful. This, again, is very silly. For one, burying emotions is never healthy, for another, she behaved very immaturely as a result. She avoided religion like the plague. She never bothered to educate herself about what religions are out there. She never bothered to learn about what people actually believed. And she still didn’t bother to learn about her own experiences or beliefs. Seriously, a few philosophy classes in college would have helper immensely. And, despite not knowing her own beliefs let alone the beliefs of others, she still felt entitled to sit around and criticise others for their beliefs. Seriously, at least know what you’re criticising before you criticise it.
She continues to avoid all things religious for years after finishing college. She had managed to achieve her success where her career is concerned (which is, for some reason, the only type of success that many people consider success), but she still hadn’t bothered to learn about religion. Even after she began dating a Christian, not only did she not learn about his beliefs, but she actively avoided learning about them. To my mind, that’s a first date conversation:
Me: So are you religious or spiritual at all?
Imaginary date: Yes, I’m a Christian.
Me: Oh, really? What denomination?
Imaginary date: Baptist.
Me: That’s interesting. May I ask your views on evolution?
Imaginary date: I’m a young earth creationist.
Me. I think it’s time for the bill.
However, given her boyfriend’s opinion of atheists, I can understand why Jennifer would keep it a secret. I don’t, however understand why she’d stay with him: her then boyfriend (now husband) antagonizes her about her not being a theist and says that she will one day see things his way. He mocks the idea of evolution (assuming that she accepted it, which it turned out she didn’t), then he told her that she’s rational and would one day see that there had to be a god. Seriously, who the hell would be such an asshole to someone they loved? We’re not talking about a 16 year old boy either. This is a 29ish year old man. The way he spoke to her was very much in an “I don’t respect you, you’re just a status symbol.”
Her husband continues his self-centred worldview by deciding to quit his job and start a business despite having a pregnant wife who will soon be unable to work. This, understandably, puts Jennifer in panic mode. But, despite it being a terrible time to drastically change lifestyles, her husband continues with his plans. Jennifer does support him, but, given that he quit before telling her, I can’t imagine her support was truly necessary. Jennifer even mentioned a few times that she felt like she was just along for the ride. So much for marriage being a partnership.
When Jennifer’s child is eventually born, she mentions having felt a lot of fear. She was terrified to let anybody hold her child, or to have her child away from her side. Basically, she felt like every other first time mother. However, Jennifer concluded that her fear could only be as a result of her atheism and the inevitability of death. This is very silly reasoning. Given her sleep deprived and stressed out state, I understand that her logic wasn’t really working that well, but she remained adamant that her feelings resulted from her atheism and the permanence of death, and not her new motherhood. She ends up concluding that god must exist. This really does not follow. For one, it assumes that only first time mothers who are atheists can experience these fears. For another, it assumes that god somehow changes how people feel about death. We may believe that different things happen after death, but both atheists and theists can fear death. As such, I don’t think this is a very good reason to suddenly assume that god must exist. Especially since this assumption apparently comes out of nowhere.
Throughout the first few months of her son’s life, Jennifer experiences extreme distress. Despite this, her husband continues to spend all his time working. Yes, they have a new business that requires a lot of work, but he is not really a father for months. This is something he really should have, and probably didn’t, consider before quitting his job.
As a result of her conclusion that god exists, Jennifer tentatively begins researching religion, beginning with Buddhism. I’m glad that she is finally bothering to learn about something as important to human society and interaction as religion, but this is something she should have done years ago. And her initially research is very much half-hearted. She never really considered Buddhism (probably because she had a very Westernised view of it) and she never really bothered to consider any other religion. In fact, she seemed to assume Christianity (something many people do in the west) the moment she assumed god must exist.
She eventually started a blog to talk about her changing beliefs. She even specifically picked people to follow her blog (something that seems quite dishonest to me) based on how much she agreed with their arguments. The fact that she began her blog and reached out to people is great, because it shows that she was finally thinking about religion. But I wonder how much deeper her understanding would have gotten if she had talked to a more diverse group and gotten more diverse answers. Yes, it would have increased her confusion, but she also would have thought about things in a more nuanced way. She ends up realizing that everybody that she had picked based on having decided that they were the most well versed were Catholics. I highly doubt this. It makes sense that they would mostly be Catholics: she was picking based on her assumption that Christianity was true, and most Christians are Catholics. But it is unlikely that she didn’t think that one or two protestants defended their beliefs well. After all, the types of people who start blogs and write about their beliefs tend to be quite well versed in their beliefs, and they can generally defend their beliefs well. Of course, there are people out there who don’t, but convincing arguments are not only made by Catholics. She initially brushes the Catholics off as crazy, but decides that they are right because her husband said they were. Seriously, she assumed they must be crazy for no other reason than because they are Catholic and then changes her mind because her husband is convinced by their arguments. This is another bad reason to accept a belief. She’s merely appealing to her husband’s authority.
Her husband eventually decides he’s pro-choice. Jennifer initially disagrees with him, but she doesn’t really know why. Or at least she says she didn’t. She eventually looks deeper into Catholicism and decides to follow every rule. She assumes that the Catholic Church must have a good, God-given reason to create those rules, so she decides to follow them all. She finally decides that being pro-choice is wrong as a result. And as a result of reading some court cases on the topic. But again, she never looks at the actual debate. She never tries to understand what the pro-choice (or pro-life) arguments are. She never tries to understand why a woman might choose to abort. And she never considers that the woman’s life isn’t the only life that is considered when people get late term abortions. Once again, her reasoning is very poor.
She ended up deciding that God let her uncle die horribly at the age of two because earth is full of nothing but suffering and there is no suffering in heaven. This is after feeling very angry for a while that God would allow a child so young to die. This seems to be a commonly accepted reasoning for accepting tragedy among Christians, and it shows that she was listening in church, but it is still poor reasoning. She never really looked into what different people had to say about it. She just went why, why, why, why, earth is terrible. This, again, is very black and white thinking.
She finds out she has a rare blood disorder during her second pregnancy and disregards her doctors suggestions because faith. She was told that her condition is very dangerous and can kill her, but she puts herself and her unborn child in danger because her religion tells her that contraception is bad. I can’t help but think that this is very stupid: if her church tells her that she should continue having children regardless of the consequences, that means that her church only values her for her ability to have children. But, I have to say, I was more angry with the American medical system at this point. Due to the privatization of medicine, Jennifer was looking at $10-20,000 for treatment. She was sent to a high-risk pregnancy centre so that she could have the baby safely. The lady who dealt with payment plans (a concept that is very foreign to me as a Canadian) told her that she had to pay $2000 up front for treatment. When Jennifer said she couldn’t afford it, the lady basically told her that she had no choice. She could either pay $2000 or she could go elsewhere (aka she could die). Wow. That is absolutely the most fucked up thing I have ever heard. $2000 is more important to the US medical system than a persons life. I am so fucking glad I live in Canada where my government doesn’t value my pocket book more than it values me. But how dare Obama try to make this kind of situation unheard of in the US (as it is in every other developed nation). How dare lives be put ahead of profit.
She ends up having four more children despite knowing that she was risking her life because faith. Again, to me this is very stupid.
As you can see, I do not think that Jennifer’s reasons for becoming a Catholic. If she is convinced, fine. But her reasoning was not very thoughtful. For me, I’d have to be reasoned into faith before I could accept it (something that Jennifer doesn’t really accept). But then, I’ve never ran from religion, or from learning new things. I never felt comfortable mocking things that I don’t understand. And I certainly don’t think about religion in shades of black and white.

What are Your Favorite Documentaries?

I’m looking for some new and interesting documentaries. I want to watch ones on religion, conversion (and deconversion), sexuality and gender, abortion, and educational reform. Does anybody have any good documentaries to recommend?

What Do You Think Rationally About?

On Tuesday, during my weekly interfaith supper, I was discussing the book Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler. About two weeks ago I was lent that book during the interfaith tea time that we host. He was a Catholic and I was discussing why I’m an atheist with him. I’m not really sure why, but he decided to loan me the book (we had just met and he lives on the other side of the country). In the end we did a book exchange: I gave him Faitheist to read. But I’ll get more into this in another post when I talk about why I didn’t like Jennifer’s reasons for becoming a Catholic.

Anyway, we were discussing the book in the interfaith supper and I mentioned how I found her reasoning to be problematic. As a result of my disagreement with how the author came to her conclusion, a pastor friend of mine asked me if I always think about things so rationally. To me, that is a silly question. Of course I think about things rationally. How else could I know anything? But that’s not how the mostly Christian group saw things. To them, Jennifer Fulwiler’s conversion story makes perfect sense. To them, the question wasn’t why she used that rational to come to Catholicism, it was why do I think her rational matters?

I think this is one of the biggest reasons why atheists and theists so often talk past one another. We see rationality differently. I know that theists don’t expect the same level of rationality that I do, and I know that they don’t understand why, or even how I can, expect so much rationality. But I can’t understand how theists can be happy with not having that level of rationality used. How can someone be happy to just take something on faith?

I think it’s important to realise the different value given to rationality when discussing faith, belief, and conversion with someone who disagrees with you on those subjects. Especially where conversion is concerned.

Atheism 101: Atheism vs. Anti-Theism

Atheism 101

Anti-theism is another non-theism that gets confused with atheism. People often assume either that all atheists are anti-theists or that anti-theists are atheists and all atheists share the same opinions as the anti-theists do. Both beliefs are problematic.
Where atheism is the belief that gods don’t exist, a belief held by anti-theists, anti-theism is the active opposition to theism. In fact, while many theists believe that atheism can be defined as against god, this is actually the definition of anti-theism. Both anti- and a- are negation prefixes that come from ancient Greek. However, a- simply means not. The ancient Greeks did not use a- to mean against. If they wanted to signify being against something, they used anti-, or, more commonly, the words epi or pros, both of which literally translate to “against.” As such, it is not accurate to say that atheism means “against God.” But that’s enough of a Greek lesson for today.

Anti-theism is a term that refers to the belief that theism and religion are very likely to be false, but that they are also unreasonably restrictive, dangerous to people both inside out outside of the religion, and primitive. Anti-theists aren’t so much against God as they are against the things done in the name of religion. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “anti-theist” as “One opposed to belief in the existence of a god.” This is to say that they don’t simply not believe in gods, they are actually against the very belief in gods. Many anti-theists regard theism as both dangerous or destructive to both people and society as a whole. In fact, many of the best known atheists identify as anti-theists. Christopher Hitchens, one such anti-theist wrote “I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an anti-theist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.” I do agree that religion has been used to cause a lot of harm, however, unlike Hitchens, I don’t believe there’s any point in trying to get rid of it. For one, the people who wish to cause harm ill just find another excuse to cause it. For another, most religious people don’t cause any problems. In fact, it is the institutions built up in the name of religion that causes the problems. If I were going to suggest that we get rid of anything, it would be the institutions that I would suggest getting rid of.
Anti-theism can be seen in various arguments and opinions that are highly critical of religion. A common criticism of religion is that theism is dangerous to society and limits human progress. Some argue that religion must be eliminated in order for humanity to achieve its full potential. Anti-theists often take an outspoken approach in the name of fighting against religion. They will campaign against religion in various ways and even write books on the subject. Anti-theists tend to reject the supposed benefits of holding religious and theistic beliefs, as do most atheists. They do not accept the claim that religion is the cause of morality or that theists are more likely to commit charitable deeds. While many theists find comfort and hope in their beliefs, the anti-theists that reject theism’s suggested positive benefits argue that they could find enough pleasures and can do good with a secular worldview.
Anti-theism is also called militant atheism by some people. Militant atheism is generally just atheist activism, or atheists who are outspoken about discrimination suffered by atheists. However, a large number of people conflate atheist activism with anti-theism. This is understandable, because a large number of anti-theists are atheist activists, and anti-theists are more likely to refer to themselves as militant atheists than other atheists are. However, the term militant atheism is often used by anti-theists and so-called strong, ie. atheists who assert as fact that they believe gods don’t exist (gnostic atheists), atheists alike. Many modern atheist writers who express what is viewed as strong atheistic or anti-religious stances are accused of being militant because they directly criticize religion. However, these writers are rarely threatening, or even hostile, towards religion. An exellent example being Chris Stedman. They are merely trying get people to question their presuppositions and eliminate problems that actively hurt people. Religion’s encroachment into governments and politics are well within the rights of atheists and theists alike to debate, criticize, and discuss. Saying anything against religion does not make one an anti-theist, nor does it make one militant or angry. And those who are not religious have just as much right to criticize religion as the religious do. After all, we are all affected by government policy.

While anti-theist indicates being against theism to an atheist, many theists have there own explanations of what an anti-theist is. The French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (1953), defined anti-theism as “an active struggle against everything that reminds us of God.” I don’t think that this is an accurate explanation, because it assumes belief in God. In order to struggle against everything that reminds you of God, you must associate things with God. This may be something that some anti-theists do when they are coming into their atheism, but it isn’t something that all anti-theists do. For one thing, not all anti-theists were raised to have any concept of God. For another, not everybody feels the need to pull away from everything that they once associated with religion, or God. Some people are perfectly willing to keep those things around, they just think that religion is harmful. In fact, there are other terms that better define this opposition to God. Dystheism means “belief in a deity that is not benevolent.” With dystheism, you can believe in a god that you are against due to the god’s lack of benevolence. There is also misotheism, which means “hatred of God.” People who are misotheists believe that God exists and hate him.
It is necessary to be careful when assuming that somebody is an anti-theist. Very few atheists are anti-theists (although it isn’t uncommon for atheists to go though an anti-theist phase). And neither atheists nor anti-theists hate god. As I’ve said in earlier posts, these words have meanings for a reason, and that meaning gets destroyed when we use them however we wish. At the same time, people give themselves labels for a reason. Applying labels to people that they have not applied to themself is both rude and likely to lead you to misunderstand them.

Is Faith Rational?

The comment section has been very quiet recently, so I thought it was time for something that would liven it back up.

Is faith rational? Why or why not?

Atheism 101: Atheism vs. Agnosticism

While all of the non-theisms get confused by believers, none are as regularly confused as agnosticism is. Many people believe that agnosticism is just a lighter form of atheism, and others believe that all atheists should actually call themselves agnostics. These misconceptions hurt atheists.
So what is agnosticism? The term ‘agnosticism’ was initially coined by Thomas Huxley while he was at a meeting of the Metaphysical Society in 1876. He was upset with the way atheists conducted themselves and believed the to be as irrational as theists. He defined agnosticism as those who believed that the question of whether gods existed was unsolved and insolvable. However, the word agnostic is much older than Huxley’s first use of it. Agnostic is a Greek word that comes from the word gnosis, meaning knowledge. Agnostic can be literally translated as meaning “not knowledge.” Some translate it as “without knowledge,” which is cleaner for the purposes of English. Somebody who is agnostic about religion is without knowledge about religion.
Today, the term agnostic is often used to describe those who simply believe that the evidence for or against the existence of gods is inconclusive. People who call themselves agnostic are undecided about whether or not gods exist. Many people believe that agnosticism is a midway point between atheism and theism, but this is not the case. Theists believe that gods exist, but atheists believe that there are no gods. Theists also only hold beliefs about specific gods, or types of gods. Atheists believe that no gods exist. As such, while atheism and theism are opposites, they are not perfect opposites. They also don’t really contain an in-between. You are either an atheist or you are a theist. You either believe that gods exist or you don’t. Agnosticism is not in between these two because agnosticism doesn’t deal with belief. Agnosticism deals with knowledge. An agnostic is not strictly interested in gods either. They are more concerned with the idea that you cannot know something without suitable evidence.
The opposite of an agnostic would be a gnostic. People who are gnostic (Not to be confused with the Gnostics) are people who believe they can know facts about things. Today, that generally applies to gods. A gnostic is someone who knows whether or not gods exist. If someone says “I know there is a God,” they are a gnostic. If someone says “I know there are no gods,” they are also a gnostic. If they were to say “I believe that God exists, but I don’t know for sure,” they are an agnostic. And if they say “I don’t know if gods exist, but I don’t believe they do,”they too are an agnostic. The first and third person are theists, the second and fourth are atheists. Agnosticism is yet another layer piled on top of both theists and atheists. In fact, agnosticism has been said to be the reason why one is theist or atheist. I don’t entirely accept that, but, since agnosticism comes from a place of knowledge, I understand why someone would accept that idea. This gives four kinds of belief-holding (sentient) entities in the world:

There are thought to be different kinds of agnosticism. Some call the belief that we cannot know whether gods exist “strict agnosticism.” They call the belief that we merely do not know yet “empirical agnosticism.” I don’t quite see the point in these two qualifications. As far as I’m concerned, we either know if gods exist or we don’t. I would say that we can’t know whether we can know whether gods exist, because, if we could, then we would know whether or not gods exist. So the argument about whether we can know is futile and brings about unnecessary arguments. But some care more about our ability to know whether gods exist than I do, and who am I to destroy their fun?
It’s also important to understand why people call themselves what they call themselves. I’m an agnostic atheist because I don’t believe that gods exist, but I also don’t know for sure. I call myself an atheist when asked for multiple reasons. First, it would be silly to assume that the person asking me what I believe is interested in knowing whether or not I know gods exist. Answering “I’m an agnostic” when somebody asks me “what do you believe?” is basically answering the question “What god, if any, do you believe in?” with “I don’t know whether gods exist.” It’s answering a question that wasn’t asked. But saying “I’m an atheist” does answer the question. Another reason why I don’t say I’m an agnostic is because it gives people the wrong idea. If I say “I’m an agnostic,” the person I’m talking to may assume that I’m a theist who simply doesn’t know what god I believe in, or they may believe that I’m looking for the right god to believe in. And the third reason that I don’t tell people that I’m an agnostic is because of the stigma associated with being an atheist. By saying “I’m an agnostic,” I’m avoiding the title of atheist, a title that I know is mine, and allowing atheists to continue to be stigmatized. By wearing the title “atheist” people learn what an atheist truly looks like, and they realize that atheists aren’t crazy people who are out to destroy religion. Those are my reasons for not telling people that I’m an agnostic. Other people have their own reasons for either using agnostic as their title or avoiding it. As such, remember that words are slippery, and language isn’t exact. Be careful of assuming what someone else’s beliefs or positions are simply based on whether they call themself an atheist or an agnostic. Don’t assume that a person uses agnosticism to mean what is called “weak atheism,” or that they use atheism to mean “strong atheism.”

Atheism 101: How is atheism different from other forms of non-theism?

Atheism 101

Atheism 101 number 3 will be broken up into 3 parts. In this part I will discuss the majority of non-theist positions. I will discuss what they are and how they relate to atheism. In the next post I will discuss agnosticism, and I will discuss anti-theism in the third part. I will be giving them their own posts due to the assumptions that a) all atheists are actually agnostics, and b) that all atheists hate religion and are therefore anti-theists. I will be braking this post up into the different non-theisms I will be discussing.

I will begin with the general term “non-theism.” There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding this term. In reality, it holds the same meaning as “atheism,” but it has a Latin root rather than a Greek one. However, they tend to be used differently. A non-theist is simply someone who is not a theist. Atheists are non-theists, as is anyone who falls into any of the categories that I will be discussing in the next few days. But some people simply identify as non-theists. So what are non-theists?

Historically, non-theists have been those who feel a genuine connection to something they consider to be God, but they reject any traditional understandings of what God is. Bishop John Shelby Spong has been considered by some to be a non-theist because he quite clearly rejected the popular theistic understandings of “a personal being with expanded supernatural, human, and parental qualities, which has shaped every religious idea of the Western world.” At the same time, he was a theist in the sense that he believed in a god and he considered that god to be the Christian God. As such, some would consider a non-theist to be someone who does not accept a theistic understanding of gods. I personally wouldn’t consider such a person to be a non-theist. This is for the same reason that I wouldn’t consider a god-believing person to be an atheist: it waters down the term into meaninglessness. A non-theist is by definition not a theist, and a theist is by definition is a person who believes in at least one god. As such, if a person believes in at least one god, even in a deistic sense, they cannot be a non-theist. In my mind, it is the lack of belief in a god that defines someone as a non-theist. This is the same as the definition of an atheist. But, again, different people use the word differently, and it is important to be aware of these differences in word use so that we do not talk past one another by mistake.

The next term I will discuss is Skepticism. Skepticism is another term that is not so well understood. This is because there are multiple kinds of skepticism. The term “skeptic” came from ancient Greece and referred to a group of philosophers who believed that it was impossible to know anything. This is still the term used to refer to philosophical skeptics. However, very few people would consider themselves to be philosophical skeptics. Skeptics within the atheist movement are different. Religious skepticism tends to refer to doubt towards a religious beliefs or claims. Anyone, theist or non-theist, can hold this kind of skepticism. However, atheistic skeptics take this religious skepticism even farther. They do not just question certain religious claims, they question all religious claims. They demand that the scientific and historical methods of showing evidence be used to test a claim before they are willing to consider the claim to be true. Michael Shermer is one of the biggest names in atheistic skepticism. As is James Randi.

While atheistic skepticism is not the same as atheism or agnosticism, the followers of this movement tend to identify as either atheists or agnostics. It is a common misconception that skeptics are people who simply disbelieve things for the sake of disbelieving them, or who disbelieve everything beyond reason. I don’t think that this is entirely a misconception, as it is common to find people who call themselves skeptics and are unwilling to believe things even when disbelief is more irrational than belief. There is a fine art to skepticism that a lot of people don’t understand. For example, when there is a 2% chance that a person is lying about having been raped and a 98% chance that they are telling the truth, believing that they are lying is irrational. However, a lot of skeptics will refuse to believe that a person has been raped until there is more evidence than can be expected to be found on any crime scene. But this is not what it means to be a skeptic and it is not the case with all skeptics. Skepticism merely means demanding that there be evidence for a claim before being willing to accept it. It means only believing what you know to be probabilistically true. Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s finding a supported conclusion based on evidence, not the justification to a preconceived conclusion.

I consider myself to be a skeptic. I view skepticism as a very important part of the search for truth. However, I am not a fan of the current skeptics movement. As it stands right now, the skeptics movement is where most of the problems in atheism can be found. Too many believe themselves to be skeptical an ignore their own irrationalities. Too many are willing to excuse the abuses within the movement. As a result, I don’t spend much time at skeptics events or in skeptics communities.

The next term I will discuss is Secularism. Secularism is the idea that government institutions and people mandated to represent their country be separate from religious institutions and religious leaders. Unlike non-theism and skepticism, this is not generally viewed as a group to belong to or a title to give oneself. Rather it is a position that one holds or a condition of the state. Secularism manifests itself in the assertion that people have the right to be free from religious rule and in the declaration to be neutral on matters of belief. People who support secularism also tend to hold the view that public activities and decisions should not be influenced by religious beliefs.

There are many reasons why people support secularism. Historically, governments weren’t secular. A country would have one religion that was put above all others (and one denomination within that religion). If you were a part of that religion, then you were treated fairly well. But if you were a member of another religion, or no religion, you were at risk. You could be unfairly taxed, your property could be taken away, and you could even be attacked or imprisoned. Secularism means that no religion is put above any other. It means that nobody gets special treatment for being a member of one religion, and nobody risks being discriminated against (at least not by the government) for being a member of another religion, or no religion.

Secularism isn’t a group, but Secular Humanism is. Secular humanism is considered a philosophy or a moral system. It is non-theistic. Secular humanism is thought to be something that touches every aspect of life. It deals with a number of social justice and moral issues including those related to values, meaning, and identity. Secular humanism is thought to address those issues that atheism doesn’t deal with.
Secular humanism is a philosophy that deals with ethics within the material, or natural, world. It holds that the natural world is all there is, and that we can only gain knowledge by studying nature using the scientific method. Secular humanism is a philosophy that accepts naturalism, or holds to the belief that the supernatural does not exist. Secular humanism is also a Consequentialist philosophy. It accepts consequentialism as true. This is to say that the consequences of a persons actions are seen as more important than the intentions. It is also believed that the good action is the one that brings about the best consequences. Different types of consequentialists see this as meaning different things. Some believe that the actions that bring about the most pleasure for the person who acts is the best action. This is called Hedonism. Others believe that the act that brings about the best consequences for the most people is best. That is called Utilitaianism. There are numerous types of Hedonism and Utilitarianism, and they all take consequentialism to mean slightly different things. Consequentialism goes against command ethics, which takes right and wrong to be derived from a divine authority.

To many, secular humanism is where morality meets atheism. While atheism is merely the belief that there are no gods, secular humanism tells us how to determine if something is moral and how to make decisions based on that morality. It is not necessary to be a secular humanist to be a moral atheist, but it is the secular humanists who are most concerned with morality from an atheistic perspective.
I consider myself to be a secular humanist. I like their value system and their focus on ethics. Unfortunately, there is no secular humanist community in my area. However, I am trying to get more active within the secular humanist community.

The next term I’ll discuss is “Freethought.” Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint that believes that all positions regarding truth should be formed around logic, reason, and empiricism, and not on authority, tradition, or dogma. Those who practice freethought are called “freethinkers.” Freethinkers hold knowledge and reason as the standard by which truth can be discovered. Freethinkers strive to build their beliefs on the basis of facts, scientific inquiry, and logic. Freethinkers believe that there is insufficient evidence to support the existence of gods, and any other supernatural phenomenon. Freethinkers don’t have to be atheists, or even non-theists. Theists can and have been freethinkers. However, most freethinkers are atheists, and theists tend to find that freethought goes against what they believe.


I am a freethinker. This is the category, other than atheist, that I feel most comfortable with and that I attribute to myself the most often. As the leader of a freethinker group, it is also the category that I’m the most familiar with.

The last term I will discuss is “Ignosticism,” also known as “igtheism.” Ignosticism is the belief that all theological positions assume too much about the gods and faith, spirituality, heaven, hell, afterlife, damnation, salvation, sin, and even the soul. Ignostics believe that all religious terms and concepts must be defined before they can be discussed. Without a coherent definition, an ignostic takes the position that the possible existence of the concepts being presented is meaningless. It has been suggested that ignosticism as a variation of agnosticism or atheism, but some people disagree with this. As I don’t know much about ignosticism myself, I’m not willing to comment on whether it is or isn’t a variation of atheism or agnosticism.

Atheism 101: What Do Atheists Believe?

I’ve heard this question a million times. People want to know how we as atheists can believe in anything, since we don’t believe in God. The answer to this question is not a simple one, since all any two atheists have in common is their disbelief in gods, but there are a few common answers. Some of which include “I believe in the goodness of people” or “I believe in people,” “I believe in the beauty of nature,” “I believe we all have different answers to that question,” and “I believe in doing what is right.” But there are any number of answers to this question, because God isn’t the only thing people believe it. We all hold many beliefs. As such, the question “what do you believe?” is a bad question. Atheists have beliefs. We have dreams and desires to. They just don’t involve gods.
However, this is a touchy question for atheists. Most people are willing to give some variation of the answers listed above, but there are two other common answers that are less positive. One answer is that the person doesn’t believe in wasting time worrying about what other people believe. This answer isn’t negative in the sense that it is mean or rude. Rather, it is an answer based on what the person doesn’t believe, not on what they do believe. Instead of worrying about belief, the people who answer in this way they prefer to worry about their own lives and how best to live them. These people generally think that there is nothing logical or worthwhile about theological or religious debates. The other answer is to say that atheists don’t believe anything. Obviously, I disagree with this. However, a lot of atheists think that “belief” is synonymous with “faith.” And “faith” to an atheist generally means “believing without evidence.” Most Atheists prefer to be as logical as possible, so anything that doesn’t suggest evidence is generally mistrusted.
So, as an atheist, what do I believe? I believe that people are neither good or bad. People are people. We all make good decisions and bad decisions. Some people make more good decisions than bad decisions, others make more bad decisions than good decisions, but most of us make around the same number of good and bad decisions. And most of our decisions are simply neutral. I believe that it is important to actively seek out new knowledge. The more true things we know, and the less false things, the better off we are. I believe that it is important to travel. I want to see the world. I believe it is important to help people, but we must be aware of how our actions affect the people we set out to help. Expecting everyone else to be able to achieve what I achieve is ridiculous, because we aren’t all born in a position of equal opportunity. But sometimes, by trying to help others, we actually do more harm than good. I’m a feminist, so I believe that men and women (and everyone else) should be equal. I’m a Socialist, so I believe that it is the governments job to help its people lead comfortable, safe lives. And, of course, I believe there are no gods. In fact, I believe there is nothing supernatural whatsoever. I believe in many other things too, but I think I’ll stop here for now.

My point is, atheists hold many beliefs as is anyone else, we just also happen to not believe in gods.

Atheism 101: What is Atheism?


This is a simple question with a simple answer, but there is a lot of misinformation surrounding atheism. As such, I think it is important to go into quite a bit of detail about what an atheist actually is. This post will be in three parts: the first part will discuss what atheism is, the second part will discuss the idea of different types of atheism, and the third part will discuss how someone can be an atheist.


Let’s begin with what atheism is. To put it simply, atheism is the belief that gods don’t exist. As I stated before, this is a simple answer, but it is surrounded by misinformation and disagreement.
The definition of an atheist is “a person who believes gods do not exist.” This definition can be found in dictionaries and online (although some definitions are Christian-centric). Both definitions make it clear that atheism is characterized by a lack of belief in gods, or in their existence. Many people assert that the absence of belief comes about by deliberate choice. That atheists believe that they chose to become atheists. Many Christians often use this claim to assert that atheists are choosing to spend eternity in hell. However, the possibility of an inability to believe in gods is often ignored outside of atheist circles. Many theists believe that, since they cannot imagine not believing in their god(s), atheism must be a deliberate choice made by the atheist. It seems odd to me that a theist would be so willing to say that they could never choose to be an atheist, but then are quick to tell an atheist that they must have chosen. Personally, I do not believe I chose to be an atheist. In fact, I tried very hard to prevent myself from becoming an atheist. Atheism is also accused of being born out of ignorance of religious teachings. For some atheists this is true. Some people are not raised religious, and they simply do not believe in gods because they were not taught to. These people might not have any knowledge of religious teachings. But the vast majority of atheists were raised within a religion, and they tend to have as much knowledge, if not more, about that religion as do their peers and many atheists try out numerous religions before concluding that they are atheists. As such, it cannot be assumed that an atheist is ignorant of Christianity.
Some people believe that atheists are either strong or weak atheists. They believe that a weak atheist merely has an absence of belief in gods. Meanwhile, they believe that strong atheists actively believe that particular gods, or all gods, do not exist. I can understand the wish to believe this: it makes it possible to discuss “those good atheists” as opposed to “those bad atheists.” However, I do not believe this view holds any relevance. In my experience, an atheist, regardless of whether they claim to believe that gods don’t exist or to merely lack a belief in gods, is an atheist to the same degree as every other atheist. We have different reasons to word our disbelief differently, but it is not any more or less of a disbelief. The differences between atheists do not lie in this realm, they lie in the realm of what we add to our atheism.
We’ve covered the fact that atheists don’t believe that gods exist, but why don’t atheists believe in gods if we know that there is no proof that they don’t exist? Simply put it is because there is no reason to. There may not be evidence that gods don’t exist, but that doesn’t matter because there is also no evidence that those same gods actually do exist. We aren’t placing a bet, we are stating a belief. Without evidence to hold a belief, why would we hold it? This seems to be a complicated idea for many theists to understand: most atheists don’t think that there is proof that gods don’t exist. Rather, we think that it is more likely that they don’t exist, because, if they existed, there should be ample evidence of their existence that would convince everyone. After all, in the majority of mythology (including the Bible), gods made their existence fairly obvious by actually interacting with humans.
According to a recent Pew Religious Landscape survey, 14% of people who call themselves atheists say they believe in God or a universal spirit, including 5% who say that they are certain about the existence of God or a universal spirit. This leads one to wonder: are they atheists? After all, claiming to believe in and god goes against the definition of what it means to be an atheist. In my mind, I would say that they aren’t atheists. While I believe that it is not for me to tell a person what labels they can or cannot have, I do believe that allowing anybody to label themselves however they want destroys any meaning that the label would hold. I do not think that somebody who doesn’t believe in the existence of Jesus should be considered a Christian, because Jesus as the son of God is a very important part of being a Christian. I wouldn’t tell someone that they aren’t a Christian because they don’t fit my definition of a Christian, but I would tell someone that they aren’t a Christian if they don’t believe in God or Christ. Likewise, I won’t tell someone that they aren’t an atheist because they aren’t my kind of atheist (though it is tempting to do so at times), but I will tell somebody who believes in a god that they aren’t an atheist, because atheist is the belief that gods don’t exist. There are also many people who fit the dictionary definition of an atheist, but they don’t call themselves atheists. This makes more sense to me than someone who believes in gods calling themself an atheist. This is also why reason why I don’t want to force labels on people. Atheism is a widely misunderstood, and mistrusted group. There are many misconceptions about atheism, and it is often scary to be an atheist. People have been fired for being atheists, some people have even been murdered. And even those of us who face no risks as far as our lives and livelihoods go face a certain level of discrimination. I have lost track of the number of times I have been told that I can’t be moral, and it is both accepted and expected that people will be openly hostile towards me for no better reason than because I’m an atheist. Who would want to apply a label to themself when they risk discrimination for it? Especially when calling oneself an agnostic or a non-theist doesn’t cause the same reaction. And even many non-religious people view atheists as the assholes while agnostics and non-theists are viewed as kinder and more PC (it’s funny how people like the idea of people being PC when it makes them comfortable, but they hate it as soon as it tells them they can’t be assholes).
It is important to acknowledging that “atheism” may mean different things to different people, and that their personal definition may not fit the conventional understanding of the word, but it is also important to understand that definitions exist for a reason and watering them down too much only causes them to become useless. It has been argued that someone may take an active dislike to institutionalized religion, but they may still believe in some sort of a deity, so they may adopt the title “atheist” as a kind of protest against the institution that they disagree with. I understand this disagreement, however, there are better labels to use. For instance, many people prefer “spiritual” if they dislike the institution of religion. Being spiritual allows one to maintain their belief in a god, but being an atheist doesn’t. It has also been argued that some of the survey respondents may consider themselves atheists but use the term “God” to refer to abstract laws of nature or the principles of the universe. This seems odd to me, but less problematic. Rather that watering a term down, one is simply adding another term to a definition. This doesn’t water the term down, but it does make communication more difficult. The article that discussed the survey suggested the concepts of narrow atheism and wide atheism as ways to understand how someone could be both an atheist and a theist. It was suggested that someone might be a narrow atheist if they don’t believe in a god in the sense that it is commonly accepted by Western society, but they might still believe in some sort of a spiritual force. A wide atheist simply rejects any concept of the supernatural. Personally, I don’t like these concepts. Atheism and theism are already in a binary relationship. You are either a theist and believe in gods, or an atheist and don’t believe in gods. Further more, this is not a problematic dichotomy in that it does not dismiss anyone’s identity. Adding the definitions of wide and narrow atheism doesn’t add anything, but it does water down the concept of atheism. It also doesn’t help atheism gain acceptance within mainstream society.

I have already discussed a couple of categories of atheism. However, those were not the categories I meant when I said that I would discuss different types of atheism. Rather, I was concerned with the categories that indicate what people add to their atheism. These types are types that I ave not considered in the past, but thought were worth sharing.
The first category is the Intellectual Atheist. This is said to be the most common type of non-believer according to The Pew Research Center with nearly 38 percent of atheists being Intellectual Atheists. It is said that these atheists enjoys intellectual discourse. While they are often very certain about their beliefs, they don’t tend to have a holier-than-thou attitude. Unfortunately, Intellectual Atheists are often judged as being dogmatic because they tend to join skeptic groups or otherwise find avenues to discuss non-belief with others. They like to debate religion, but they don’t chase down believers to argue with them. Since this category describes me perfectly, I may be of this type. However, as you will see, I also fit into other types.
The second type of non-theist is the Activist. These atheists are also commonly accused of being dogmatic, but, like the intellectual atheist, they are set in their beliefs but intellectually flexible and don’t try to attack the religious. Activists are motivated by humanist values and wish to make the world a better place. They often deal with other issues on top of their atheism, for example, feminism, LGBT rights, or pseudo-science. They also tend to advocates for a more egalitarian atheist community. As a result, they often attract a lot of abuse from some atheists who disapprove of linking secularism with larger social justice issues. They make up 23 percent of non-believers. I also fit perfectly into this category, and I rejoice at the thought of 23 percent of atheists being Activists.
The third type of non-theist is the Seeker-Agnostic. They only makes up 7.6 percent of non-believers, and are unlikely to be very critical of religion, as compared to the other categories. They prioritize not-knowingness, which seems silly and pointless to me. They apparently don’t really believe in anything, and they seem to be uncomfortable committing to non-belief completely. They tend to get accused of intellectual cowardice by atheists. While I don’t believe they are cowards, I do believe that they aren’t willing to admit to a belief that they in fact hold (that being whether they think a god exists or not). But, as I said earlier, I understand this willingness to not label oneself.
The next type is the Anti-Theist. Anti-theists tend to be conflated with all atheists by theists, but they only make up around 15 percent of non-believers. Like Intellectual Atheists, they enjoy debating religion, but they tend to be much more aggressive about it and are willing to actively seek out religious people to debate with them. While atheists generally limit themselves to supporting a more secular society, anti-theists tend to view ending religion as their real goal. Personally, while I don’t see ending religion as the main goal, I also don’t see a problem with this goal. However, I do have a problem with how aggressive anti-theists are towards the religious. I don’t find such aggression helpful. However, type of atheism does have a time and a place.
The next type is the Non-Theist. They simply don’t believe in any gods. They don’t think about those who do very often, or rather, they don’t think about belief in gods very often. They only make up 4.4 percent of non-believers, probably due to the fact that religion makes up such a vital part of society. I know a number of people in this category. While I don’t think that religion is something to take so lightly, I do understand the wish to see religion this way. I also hold no ill-will to those in this category.
The last type is the Ritual Atheist. They make up 12.5 percent of atheists. They don’t really believe in the supernatural, but they do believe in community, and they enjoy this aspects of religious tradition. Ritual Atheists tend to align themselves with a religious tradition even while professing no belief, which seems to bother both religious and non-religious people. While I don’t do anything like Sunday Assembly, I do like a lot of the tradition surrounding Christianity. I have actively tried to move away from a lot of it in order to create my own traditions, but I think community is important, and I’ve always enjoyed traditions. As such, I could probably easily fit into this group.
While I understand breaking atheism (or non-belief) up in this way, these categories are not perfect. As you can see, it makes it easier to understand the motivations of different atheists, and it separates atheists in a different way that doesn’t try to suggest different ways of disbelieving. But it is problematic in that it suggests that you can only be in one category. As you can see, I fit nicely into three of those categories, so it is too simplistic to say that you can only be in one category.

So how can someone be an atheist? Or rather, what makes someone an atheist? Why would someone want to be an atheist? And does wanting to be an atheist matter? Here is some advise that can teach what it takes to be an atheist, but it cannot make someone an atheist.
The only required step is to not believe in any gods. If you assume that there are any other requirements to being an atheist, then you do not understand what an atheist is. Unfortunately, a lot of people do believe that being an atheist has other requirements.
We all come to our disbelief in different ways. For some people, not believing in any gods can be difficult. They may be afraid to give up their belief, or they may see it as impossible to disbelieve. Those in the latter category don’t generally become atheists, but, if they do, it tends to take them years to lose their belief. Other people come to atheism a lot easier. For them, it is natural. Many of them realize that they never truly believed, or that they stopped believing at a young age. This is the category that I find myself in. However, what’s more difficult is determining what to do after you realize you don’t believe in any gods any more. You don’t have to do anything other than not believe to be an atheist, but coming to the conclusion that there are no gods can challenge a lot of your deeply held assumptions and lead you to question, and even change, a number of your other beliefs. It happened to me. My advise would be to do research and determine why you believe something and whether that justification still makes sense to you. If it doesn’t, don’t feel ashamed about changing beliefs. The most difficult thing about becoming an atheist is how people will treat you. If you come from a religious tradition, then you likely know more people who are also part of that tradition than are outside of it. As such, people will start treating you differently if you tell them that you don’t believe in their gods any more. This could range anywhere from people questioning why you would stop believing and wondering if it’s a phase to being actively hostile towards you. You may lose friends and family. However, as daunting as it can be, you can find a community of like-minded individuals.

Atheism 101: An Introduction

This will be the first post of our Atheism 101 series.

The series will be as follows:

1) What is Atheism?

2) What do Atheists Believe?

3) How is Atheism Different from Other Forms of Non-theism?

3.1) Atheism vs. Agnosticism

3.2) Atheism vs. Anti-Theism

4) Religion and Atheism

4.1) Atheism and the Bible

4.2) Atheism and the Koran

4.3) Atheism and Western Religion

4.4) Atheism and Buddhism

4.5) Atheism and Hinduism

4.6) Atheism and Eastern Religion

4.7) Atheism and Spirituality

4.8) Atheism and Faith

4.9) Atheism and Gods

5) Philosophy and Atheism

5.1) Atheism and Freewill

5.2) Good vs. Evil

5.3) Atheism and Science

6) Atheism is Not a Worldview

7) Atheism as a Belief System

8) Arguments for Atheism

8.1) Arguments Against Atheism

9) Why do Atheists Debate Theists?

10) Why do Atheists Care What Theists Believe?

11) Logical Fallacies Aimed at Atheists

12) Why Aren’t Atheists Theists?

13) How to be a Moral Atheist

13.1) Morality and Evolution

14) How do Atheists Live?

15) Common Misconceptions About Atheists

16) Why Be an Atheist?

16.1) What Does Atheism Have to Offer?

16.2) Atheism and Death

16.3) Atheism and Life

17) Raising a Family as an Atheist

18) Atheism and Sexuality

19) The Ex-Atheist

20) Helpful Resources

This series is meant to help non-Atheists and new (as in new to Atheism) Atheists understand what atheism is, why someone might be an atheist, and how to talk to an atheist and about atheism in a way that is mutually beneficial and respectful. It is meant to help eliminate misunderstandings and create an environment of mutual respect. Comments will be encouraged, and are appreciated, throughout the series. However, insults and attacks will not be tolerated. We are not forcing anyone to accept atheism, and we are not attacking theism. Please do not attempt to convert us either. And please show everyone in the comment section the same respect. This is about education and understanding, it is not about being right or arguing.

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