Monday, 30 April 2012

Interview with an Atheist: Part Two

How does it feel to be an atheist?

My own answer: "This is an awkward question because it sort of has two answers, one personal and one in relation to the rest of the world.

Going about my business in everyday life, my non-belief in gods affects me in exactly the same way that your non-belief in the Loch Ness Monster or aliens that probe people in Nevada affects you; not at all. It doesn't take any effort on your part to disbelieve in Odin, Ba'al or Antevorta; it's even possible you haven't heard of all of these, and even if you're familiar with them there'll be thousands of other gods and deities you've never come across. How does it feel to not believe in them?
In this sense, asking what it feels like to be an atheist is almost a moot question, because the answer's the same as how it feels to not believe in magic or fairies or astrology; you don't believe it's real so it doesn't matter to you. However, the reality of being an atheist in this age is that you're a minority and that people form all sorts of strange opinions of you based on a non-belief that – to you – is no more significant than their disbelief in ghosts or voodoo curses or unicorns is to them.

Reactions I get when I tell people I'm an atheist vary hugely, but complete acceptance is rare.  Even among other non-believers, my open declaration of disbelief can be seen as reckless, aggressive, unnecessary or undiplomatic - although most arguments I've had about religion have been with believers, a fair few have been with atheists who think I'm being obdurate or disrespectful just by stating, in effect, that I think religion's a load of rubbish.   In a weird sort of way, some religious people can actually be more accepting than other non-believers; I'd love to think that's because they feel less patronised by an atheist willing to have the discussion than by an atheist who thinks their position so foolish it would be mean to examine it, but in truth I don't really know what causes this disparity; it could simply be a personality thing.

There are more negative reactions from believers, though, and those can range from defensive and outraged to outright hostile.  I've been called everything from "whore" to "murderer" just for stating I don't believe in gods - sometimes without even getting into a discussion about it at all.  Some religious people think I'm inherently evil, unfeeling, joyless, loveless, nihilistic, even dangerous - and they get all that from the word "atheist".

Unfortunately, religious people are still a majority over non-religious people, which means that in some ways the rationale of my position doesn't matter; it doesn't matter how intellectually and factually defensible atheism is, it's still unusual and therefore weird.  The best way for me to sum up how it "feels" to be an atheist - at least in relation to such matters as politics, ethics, education etc. - is an unattributed quote I read on facebook a little while ago; being an atheist feels like being the only sober one in the car, and no one will let you drive."

Tim's Answer: "I guess I've always been a little mistrustful and skeptical of religion, and I HATED religious classes as a child. Then again, I hated school, period. In first grade (catholic school) the nun told us we had to squeeze ourselves over in our chairs to make room for our "guardian angels." That was the beginning of a long, drawn out, fall from grace.

Realizing that I was gay years later did little to endear me to this "god" concept, but I never really declared myself an atheist outright until I was well into my thirties. Before that I would have called myself "spiritual" and left it at that.

I can't really say it FEELS anything at all. It aggravates me when people - either in my family or in public - say stupid shit that I feel obliged NOT to comment on. It's also good to know I don't have to worry about an afterlife.

Sometimes it aggravates me to get into arguments between atheists and theists where the theists have the stronger point. I feel almost obligated to support the atheist even when they're wrong.

Also, sometimes I get tired of the so-called debates. I spend months at a time wishing people would discuss anything BUT religion."

1 comment:

  1. "being an atheist feels like being the only sober one in the car, and no one will let you drive."

    That really nails it.