Friday, July 26, 2013

I've Been a Bad Atheist

I have an evangelical urge. It's part of who I am. Because I like to spread whatever good news I feel I've come into possession of, I often find myself in conversations with people who think differently than me.

Atheism is something I have mixed feelings about sharing. A reason I am eager to share it: eliminating my illusions when it came to gods, demons, afterlives, supernatural powers and forces, lifted a veil from my eyes and gave my life a sense of urgency it did not hitherto possess.

A reason I am hesitant to share it: people--myself included--construct their own complex personal mythologies to get them through the night, a night that is often dark, lonely, and harsh. I have my illusions, no doubt. Attempting to grab other folks' illusions away from them feels unkind. Offering nothing to replace the stripped away illusion with can seem cruel. Sure, we can offer something to replace religion; but we have to ask if it's something that fits into a given individual's personal network of belief. Just to try to switch our concept of reason for their concept of a god can be like Indiana Jones switching a bag of sand for the idol in the temple, with similar results.

I talk and write a lot about the things I think and feel, and sometimes I strike different notes. Such is life. Sometimes I can be magnanimous in my atheism. I hope sometimes I can be inspiring with my atheism. Other times I know I can be bitter, angry, and belittling of other belief systems.

Such is the human creature. Because of that evangelical urge, I am worried that I don't always model the healthiest aspects of my atheism. I want you to believe like I believe. I want you to see through eyes unclouded by opiates. I want you to see a life stuffed with meaning because it is short, because it is temporary. I want you to experience the glory and horror of the state Jean Paul Sartre referred to as being 'condemned to freedom'. It's all quite exciting, and I want to sell it to you.

But then, I don't want you to suffer. I don't want anyone to feel despair. I believe it is okay to need religion. I believe everyone has some sort of religion, with or without gods.

I'm compelled to talk about these things, and I want to do so in the best way possible. I can't always do that. I view atheism as a leveler, rather than a positive belief. I want to be a good representative of that leveler, as well as for the positive beliefs I have constructed on the surface atheism has cleared. Atheists are a large and untrusted minority in this country; we have to talk about our unbelief if we want to change that.

 I was thinking I needed to take more care in how I talked about atheism, but maybe just talking honestly is the best way to go. Be it magnanimous, be it angry, be it bitter. We've just got to talk about it.

I've been a bad atheist, but I also think I've been a good one.

1 comment:

Grundy said...

I used to feel telling people about atheist was potentially harmful too, but I figure everyone has a level of happiness they default to and good or bad news or newfound wealth or poverty only temporarily changes their mood.
Even so, if a conversion would isolate them from the entirely of their social group, I don't try to convert them.