Atheism 101

Atheism is a tricky business. It’s a very old idea; probably about ten seconds after the conversion of the first theist was the de-conversion of the first atheist. Problematically, atheism’s modern incarnation has become so haphazard that to just identify as an “atheist” without presenting an Atheist 101 or Atheist FAQs is almost actively unhelpful. Believers are all up in our business, trying to tell us what we mean by our (non)belief.

My worldview is that of Humanist Unitarian Universalist (existential) Atheist.

“Humanist” means that I don’t just think we are good without god. I think we are better without god. Consider this excerpt from Robert G. Ingersoll’s essay “Why I Am An Agnostic:”

“And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain — for the freedom of labor and thought — to those who fell on the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains — to those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs — to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn — to those by fire consumed — to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men [sic]. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.”

Human capability is epic. Human capability unfettered by false beliefs is unstoppable.

Unitarian Universalism is the denomination I was born into. Virtually all atheists were driven out of their home churches, but my denomination accepts and even embraces my atheism. There are many UUs who will tell you that there is no personal god in their theologies. Some things I value about the UU tradition are the Seven Principles, which make no mention of god/s. (I’m what you might call a “4th Principle UU.”)

My preferred brand of atheism is that of the existential atheist. This means that I don’t believe in an all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful god, but if he/she/ze/it existed, it still wouldn’t give it the right to tell me what to do. To an existential atheist, the existence or nonexistence of  god/s is completely beside the point. Sir Terry Pratchett describes this mentality well in a conversation between two witches in his novel Lords and Ladies:

“I don’t hold with paddlin’ with the occult,” said Granny firmly. “Once you start paddlin’ with the occult you start believing in spirits, and when you start believing in spirits you start believing in demons, and then before you know where you are you’re believing in gods. And then you’re in trouble.”

“But all them things exist,” said Nanny Ogg.

“That’s no call to go around believing in them. It only encourages ‘em.”

For me, atheism is a desire for absolute freedom, a desire for a kind of human wholeness which cannot be achieved so long as we preserve an unfortunate tendency to bend at the knee. Our saints are those who died for daring to question the system.  Our prophets are those who call on us to do just as much.