What atheism means to me

Note: This is a follow-up to my post, Why I argue against religious belief, because, in my opinion, it’s not enough to criticize without offering an alternative.

I was never a very religious person.  The closest I came was during my teen years when I consistently attended the LDS (Mormon) daily religious instruction known as Seminary, and of course the regular hours-long service on Sundays.  I observed the rituals and prohibitions (well, most of them), tried to get my family back to church, and embedded myself in the cloistered LDS culture.

But even then, I never felt committed.  Other Mormons talked about “feeling the Spirit,” which always remained an alien experience to me.  I never tithed, and I never seriously thought about going on a mission.  There were two constant nags in my mind which probably explain why.  The first was the rank hypocrisy and intolerance of the Mormons I knew – some of it even my own – which belied the carefully cultivated Mormon notion that we were specially imbued with spiritual righteousness.  The second was the BS factor.  I could never quite swallow the explanations we were given about certain difficulties with Mormon history or doctrines.

When I essentially quit the LDS in my late teens, it was not to join another religion (unless you consider surfing a religion, which some certainly did!).  Part of the reason was some bizarre experiences I had with my stepmother’s own brand of Christian fundamentalism (e.g., curses placed on fellow Christians, beliefs in demons, etc.).  Religion, or at least its Christian variant, thus came to represent something rather backward and superstitious in my mind.  I did not immediately become an atheist, however.  I retained god-belief and even prayed on occasion, but never did I obtain that “touched by the Holy Spirit” experience so many believers describe.

My path to atheism began by chance when a Mormon contacted me a few years ago and asked if I would like a home visit.  Mormons, you see, consider you a member for life, unless you’re kicked out or take specific steps to remove yourself from their rolls.  Incensed that I was seemingly being tracked decades after I stopped attending church, I began the formal process of disassociation.  I’m not sure why, but this prompted an interest in learning about Mormonism, but from an outsider’s perspective.  So I started reading material critical of the Mormon faith, primarily from Christian sites such as Utah Lighthouse Ministries and the Institute for Religious Research.  I was completely fascinated and appalled by what I learned; “scam” is a word that often came to mind.  I read LDS apologetics and literally laughed out loud at their feeble, logic-defying rationalizations.

Somewhere I read – it may have been from a Mormon – that the very kind of attacks used against Mormonism could be levied against Christianity.  A light immediately went on, so I began research into Christianity and discovered that the accusation was true.  Even more, when I read Christian apologists, I found they employed precisely the same fallacious reasoning as their LDS counterparts.

This realization was the final push I needed to become an atheist.  Every religion I’ve encountered is built on the same foundation of myths and tall-tales, so obviously untrue it sometimes boggles my mind that people actually believe the stuff it peddles.  One need not be an atheist to relate to this feeling; every believer feels the same with respect to some other religious belief system.  Atheism merely extends the insight to all, without prejudice.

What does all this have to do with what atheism means to me?  Very simple: atheism means to me the search for truth, unburdened by ancient and disproven dogmas.  Since most of the world remains mired in such traditions, atheism also means progress in humanity’s development.  It is the viewing of reality as it actually exists, not as we wish it to be.  Atheism is not in and of itself a worldview, but it does unlock the doors to those which arrive more effectively and efficiently at truth.

As an atheist, I feel free to explore, discover, and revel in the life experience.  And even err, because that is often how we grow.  Religion is a cage, while atheism is an open plain, a blank slate, a clear window.  It allows that alternate views may be true, even religious ones, which cannot be said of those religious views themselves, divisive and discriminatory as they are.  The simple fact that no rampaging army has been rallied in its name is enough alone to commend it.

This is why I am an atheist.

9 thoughts on “What atheism means to me

  1. Great article Robert. Your life experiences in and out of religion gives it even more meaning. Love the line “Religion is a cage, while atheism is an open plain, a blank slate, a clear window” – if only the believers could see that.
    Whilst strolling along the beach this afternoon a thought came to me that only a hundred years ago the majority of the western world believed that women were inferior to men and shouldn’t be allowed any say in who ran their country. The Suffragette movement turned that belief around within little more than a decade – so why can’t we hope that common sense might do the same with religious belief?

  2. Andy, yours is a splendid reply, thank you. You know the odd thing? The blog previous to this took me daaaaaaaaaaaays to write for some reason, while this one popped out in about an hour. The religion/atheism allegory is a line I really liked too. I’m no poet, but that’s about as poetic as it gets for me.

  3. Robert, this is great, and I am sorry that I found it so late.

    I like your line:

    ” Other Mormons talked about “feeling the Spirit,” which always remained an alien experience to me. ”

    To me, this illustrates why Religion teaches lies and hypocrisy.

    As a child, I grew up in the First Christian Church, a fairly liberal denomination. Still, it was common to hear folks say that Jesus spoke to them, or speak of talking with god. I always wondered about this, and often thought that there must be something wrong with me, or that I must be a poor Christian, because he NEVER spoke to ME. I quickly learned that in order to fit in, it was required that I also must have had conversations with Jesus, and if god had spoken to me, people tended to listen closer. So it is that I learned to lie!

    Of course, as I grew up and began to actually use my brain for something besides a hair farm, I soon realized the hypocrisy of those lies and stopped. Of course, that also stopped my association with religion, too – for which I am to be forever grateful! But this shows how most christian children learn the hypocrisy of lies, and many of them grow up to be leaders in their movements. How else do we find so many of those leaders getting caught out in their own lies? They learn it in church!!

  4. I am sad to say that it is true that “Christianity” is replete with hypocrites who say things which aren't true. That includes the “God spoke to me” stuff, etc. Almost everything you see on television is pure nonsense, and would be laughable if so many ignorant people weren't taken advantage of in the process.

    That said, I know my God is real. I used to be an adulterer, a fornicator, a sometimes drunkard, a smoker, completely chained down by depression, etc. Jesus Christ saved me from my sins when I called upon His name. He delivered me from these things, forgave me for them, and began to teach me …not with an audible voice of course…but His law is written on my heart, and I rejoice to do His will. (Before I found it terribly difficult to “be good.”)

    Since then I myself have had to sift through so much deception in “the church” and have come to see that the church is apostate. What passes for christianity often has nothing to do with it. However, Jesus will return for His “little flock” of sheep – those who are faithful to Him and love Him by their obedience.

    So on behalf of apostate Christendom, I apologize to you all for the deceptions which have been perpetrated in God's name for men's greed, love of power, etc.

    And as an ambassador of God, I implore you all to be reconciled to God, through the only Savior, Jesus Christ. God bless you.

  5. Hi Melissa, thank you for stopping by and sharing your story. Something I'm curious about. How do you interpret scripture, absent a church or pastor of some kind?

  6. Scripture is clear that Christians have ONE mediator between themselves and God – Jesus Christ Himself (I Tim. 2:5).

    Jesus described Himself as the “Door” (John 10:7) and also referred to Himself as the “Way” to the Father (John 14:6). He referred to Himself as the ladder from Jacob's dream, reaching from earth to heaven (John 1:51, Genesis 28:12).

    Scripture also teaches that all true Christians have the Holy Spirit of Jesus living in them, teaching them, and have no need for someone else to teach them. (I John 2:27). The Holy Spirit wrote the Scriptures through men, and is therefore most qualified to teach us.

    Absent a pastor, I have been able to slough off many falsehoods propagated by the visible church. God has said He is against the pastors (shepherds) who ruin the true people of God (ezekiel 34:2, 7-10, Isa 31:4, Isa 56:11, Jeremiah 50:6). Pastors, priests, etc will be judged more severely for misrepresenting God to the people.

    In Matt. 23:2-11, Jesus taught that those who “sit in Moses seat” (that is – those who appear to be leaders of God's people) love to have attention and honor. But He instructed His followers to call no man Rabbi (teacher), for only Christ is our Master. We are to call no man “father” for we have one Father in heaven. We are all “brethren.”

    True “shepherds” do not fleece the flock; they feed the Lord's sheep. That is they simply give them the Word. Few of these exist in our day; most are fleecing the flock and feeding only themselves. But we have the Scriptures to read for ourselves. Jesus taught that if we hear his Words and put them into practice, our life will not come to ruin (Matt. 7:24-27).

    God bless you.

  7. Hello Robert,

    New to your blog site btw, I happen to peruse your article on disparaging atheism from marxist violence perpetrated by Stalin and the Reds. Can you at least, apply the same principles of dissassociation to Christianity? looking at the reasons why the Crusades were initiated in Christendom, the NTS (No True Scotsman) rebuttal doesn’t really fly, Pope Urban II offered penance and salvation to those who joined in fighting the Muslims in the holy land. But this is in clear contrast to New Testament interpretations of Protestants of salvation through Christ alone and Jesus’ words of his Kingdom being not of this world.

    Even if one grants the varieties of interpretations to the Pope’s authority (Catholic vs Protestant) Its just simply a difference of opinion, it doesn’t necessarily imply that violence has to ensue to resolve the differences. Anymore now than atheist disagreeing with atheists on some issue or the other.

    At least the New Testament offers some ethics of ‘loving your enemies’ and being merciful to sinners, if not an answer-to-everything kind of a guide book. Atheism, in itself is open-ended, it could mean different things to people in different context, Godlessness has lead people to defend amoralism, indifference, human rights etc. It does not encourage nor does it hinder people from committing whatever they feel like at the moment or what they think was right. I pretty much agree to Melissa’s conclusions of christendom betraying the message of the founder, even though I’m a deist. That’s what I find dogma to be attractive, even though its treated negatively today as mind-control, brain-washing and exclusionary.

    What the negative reading fails to mention is the functional objectives of Dogma in the form of Canon, to prevent nasty extrapolations and misconceptions of Christ as Aryan, as rebel, or as anything-you-can-think-of at the moment to mold him into a political message or an ideology. Rules about right hermeneutics and exegesis are there to prevent twisting the text, even the Bible rightly warns about false christs, hypocrisy and fanaticism.

    I’m also curious as to why do atheists like yourself insist that Christianity is a subjective faith? You seem adamant that its nothing but taffy to be molded into justifying whatever populist ideas seems to be the rage at any given time. Even though, its not supposed to be interpreted this way. Furthermore, can you also see that Atheism suffers this deficiency as well? If the search for truth leads to positing indifference, nihilism and amoralism, then those three has to be followed.

  8. Hi Alvin, thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

    The bulk of your reply I’m in no serious disagreement with, so let me focus on the couple points of departure. You wrote,

    What the negative reading fails to mention is the functional objectives of Dogma in the form of Canon, to prevent nasty extrapolations and misconceptions of Christ as Aryan, as rebel, or as anything-you-can-think-of at the moment to mold him into a political message or an ideology.

    But those “nasty extrapolations and misconceptions” have occurred anyway, Canon notwithstanding. Instead, they’ve become their own Canon for schismatics, which touches off intractable and unresolvable squabbles about whose Canon represents the Truth. And since it’s taken as dogma, it’s immunized from falsification.

    Rules about right hermeneutics and exegesis are there to prevent twisting the text, even the Bible rightly warns about false christs, hypocrisy and fanaticism.

    Rules which have never worked. And not because the rules themselves are really at fault, but because the object they’ve been applied to (scriptures) is hopelessly incoherent. Garbage in, garbage out.

    I’m also curious as to why do atheists like yourself insist that Christianity is a subjective faith?

    Because that’s what its apologists say it is. Consider this quote from William Lane Craig:

    “the witness, or testimony, of the Holy Spirit is its own proof; it is unmistakable; it does not need other proofs to back it up; it is self-evident and attests to its own truth.”

    Craig states that this “witness” overrides any defeater of Christianity. I explore this more in my post “The Holy Spirit is worse than useless“.

    Furthermore, can you also see that Atheism suffers this deficiency as well?

    I can certainly understand how some would say, “If atheism, then x, y, z…”, though I think when people do that they’re reading into atheism more than is actually there. For example, if you think atheism means nihilism, you must necessarily think only theism provides purpose.

    To me, atheism is an end-product resulting from a particular way of thinking which virtually every one of us employs. Atheists are simply more consistent about it than others. It’s not taken as a dogma or axiom; it’s a provisional stance that can be modified if better data come to light.

  9. Appreciate your reply,

    You stated,

    “But those “nasty extrapolations and misconceptions” have occurred anyway, Canon notwithstanding. Instead, they’ve become their own Canon for schismatics, which touches off intractable and unresolvable squabbles about whose Canon represents the Truth. And since it’s taken as dogma, it’s immunized from falsification.”

    How can you then assert confidence that your own interpretations of atheism being open-ended is the legitimate way? Granted, you don’t see your own take on non-belief as a rock-solid club to slay other philosophers and thinkers who view atheism in monstrous forms like De Sade or some works of Nietzsche if not all; But it leads to further problems of enforcing authority; how can you say that their philosophies were wrong-headed or for that matter, how can you convince someone like Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold who perpetuated the Columbine massacres that their interpretation of materialist natural selection doesn’t lead them to kill their fellow classmates?

    Lets take your sentence as an example: “Since most of the world remains mired in such traditions, atheism also means progress in humanity’s development.” What do you mean by progress and development? historical secular definitions of “progress and development” has come to mean different terms from Aryan Living space, forced-sterilizations, great leap forwards, from the atom bomb to human rights and civil rights. Basket of ideas coming from philosophies that see Religion as pragmatic and irrelevant, into which atheists and deists have contributed; So what makes your positive (life-affirming) assumption the only definition of progress?

    Additionally, certain aspects of Dogma can be falsified, the doctrine of the Resurrection, (Trypho and the Jew), if one can produce the corpse of Jesus, then he’s not resurrected, it would be false; Romanist claims about the eucharist being literal flesh and blood, go to the Synoptic passage about Jesus own words that validate the protestant understanding that the Lord’s supper is meant to be symbolic “These words are spirit and truth..” Granted all of that is in the past and anything is debatable in history. But to make blanket statements that Dogma as a whole cannot be falsified is wrong, even a pre-modern prophet like Elijah knew standards of discernment, just look at how he ‘proved’ Yahweh as real versus Baal in the Carmel challenge.

    Now with Bill Craig, maybe he’s presenting a mini-representation of christian revelation, or a microcosm, i don’t know, but the microcosm doesn’t mean you’re seeing the gross entirety of Christianity unpacked and minutely analyzed. Personally, however I do agree with you that the Holy Ghost is irrelevant

    Another thing, let’s be fair, even if people are non-religious and skeptical, it does not eliminate the problem that humans can still be divisive and bitter about one another; The French terror pits Robespierre’s Deistic Cult of the Supreme Being versus Hebert’s atheistic Cult of Reason, You have Trotsky breaking away from Stalin. The problems remain albeit manifested in different form. If you’re familiar with Scott Atran’s dialogue with Dennett and Harris on the Edge conference about the need for humility and understanding and not just sloganeering ‘Religion is prone to evil or Religionists are potential terrorists” and demonization of the Religious other

    I sympathize with Atran, this could be a solution, who knows; I know religions in the past have caused mass slaughter, but can you see that using this as a reason to verbally abuse someone, is akin to Christians accusing Jews of christ-killers? Even if that someone’s Religion does not even resemble the nationalistic mutant variant of the past fanatic’s beliefs. It sounds like a skeptic’s version of punishing the sins of the fathers unto the children to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *