I believe in seeking truthful answers to the most fundamental questions regarding human existence, questions such as:
Where does the Universe come from?
Is there life after death?
How should we treat the people around us?
What is the path towards true happiness?
I do not want to be wrong in my answers to these questions, and frankly, I do not think anyone wants to be mistaken. How we answer these central questions determines, to a great extent, how we live our lives.
Historically, however, they have been often condensed into a single question, arguably the most fundamental of all:
Is there a God?
Even as a child I could recognize the importance of this question, because I could easily see how much was at stake with the answer. For as long as I can remember, I approached this question with the utmost seriousness. I have thought about it for years, objectively hearing arguments from both sides, debating them in my head and with other people. I have also read many books and essays on the subject, and I have collected evidence in favour and against God’s existence, which I analysed carefully. After this investigation, my firm verdict is that there is no God. By definition, this makes me an atheist.
But this post is not about why I am an atheist, it is about who I am as an atheist. I think that it is not an exaggeration to state that the majority opinion across the world is that atheists are despicable people: immoral, dangerous and untrustworthy. The wikipedia page on discrimination against atheists provides a thorough collection of historical and contemporary examples, but as an illustration, I provide a few here as well.
There are 13 countries where atheism is punishable by death.
Atheists are the most hated demographic in Brazil.
There are seven states in the USA that ban atheists from holding public office.
In view of facts like this, it should come as no surprise that many atheists are closeted: they internally hold the belief that God does not exist, but are unwilling to state it publicly and openly. See this reddit post for striking examples. Admitting to being an atheist usually sparks rejection from family and friends, it can lead to persecution and insult, and it may have negative consequences for a person’s career. Being openly atheist is frightening and difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. There is nothing shameful or reproachable about believing that there is no God, specially when that belief is held after a process of careful and objective consideration.
As an atheist, I treat people around me with respect, compassion and kindness, not because I am instructed to do so by a figure of authority, but because I understand that this makes my life better, as well as the lives of those around me.
As an atheist, I listen carefully to people’s opinions and arguments because I am interested in knowledge and truth. If I am proven wrong, I will gladly admit it, even if this requires me to abandon a cherished belief I have held for many years.
As an atheist, I do not discriminate others based on their gender, race, sexual orientation, country of origin or religion, because I know that these differences are historical and mostly accidental. All human beings are capable of enjoyment as well as suffering, and I believe it is best when we strive to increase everyone’s happiness and minimize their misery.
As an atheist, I am convinced that what awaits us after death is exactly the same as what we experienced before birth: absolute nothingness. This makes our finite existence even more valuable and precious, and makes it urgent that we appreciate every second we are alive while allowing others to do so as well.
As an atheist, I recognize that many of the events that occur on Earth are due directly to human activity, and are not the consequence of intervention from a supernatural agent. This means that human beings have the ability to achieve extraordinary feats, which we should continue to perform, but we also have the responsibility of preventing awful ones from happening.
As an atheist, I see the striking similarities between all living organisms on the planet, and I think that they deserve the same treatment, respect and protection that human beings do.
As an atheist, I am marvelled by the vastness and beauty of the cosmos, but mostly I am amazed by our ability to comprehend it. I find more awe and allure in the properties of neutron stars, the neural pathways that control emotions, and the rules of quantum mechanics, than I have ever found in religious mythology and mysticism.
As an atheist, I know that we can have goodness, fairness, respect, love and understanding without invoking the existence of an omniscient and almighty being.
As an atheist, I admit that I have many flaws, many of which are hard to overcome: I am forgetful, I can be very messy as well as irresponsible, I don’t always manage to speak clearly, I can sometimes be insulting and harsh, and I often fail to be helpful when I have the chance.
Overall, I am just another human trying hard to become a better person each day, to be happy and to have a positive impact on the world. I also happen to believe that God does not exist.
Does being an atheist make me a bad person?
Is being an atheist something I should be ashamed of?
Is being an atheist something I should be afraid of admitting?
I thank my Aleks for helping me obtain the strength that I was lacking during most of my life.