Atheism: What Is It?

I am an atheist. In the roughly ten years since I started calling myself an atheist, I’ve found that there is a surprising level of debate and contention about what it means to be an atheist. That’s weird to me, it seems pretty straightforward: I don’t believe in god. That definition doesn’t seem to work for a lot of folks.

About a year ago, I was at a party and got into a conversation with a friend about the Bible. At the time I was trying to read through it on my new Kindle (I got about half way through Genesis and then got bored) and told my friend that the Kindle let me keep notes. I explained to him that I had started a running commentary on weird things about the Bible. The conversation that followed was amazing. Here we were, and Atheist and a Christian, talking about how stupid and nonsensical the Bible was and we were in complete agreement that people should not consider it to be a literal account (you haven’t lived until you’ve heard a gay Christian refer to Bible-literalists as faggots!). At the end of this conversation my friend said he didn’t think I should call myself an atheist. I asked him why, expecting him to say something about not being able to know for sure that there isn’t any gods, but instead he said that I should just call myself a skeptic. I told him that I consider myself to be both of those things. Than he said that I shouldn’t call myself an atheist because I’m accepting, tolerant, and respectful of people who disagree with me. In other words, I’m not an atheist because I’m not an asshole.

What? That’s not what atheist means! Richard Dawkins may be an asshole (I don’t know, never met the guy), but that doesn’t mean I have to choose between not being a dick and not believing in god.

I started calling myself an atheist when I started watching a lot of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! Penn & Teller aren’t the reason I became an atheist, it was a process that had been going on for a few years, but hearing them talk about atheism was sort of the last piece of the puzzle. In 2011 Penn Jillette wrote a book called God? No! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales. The book begins like this:

YOU MAY ALREADY BE AN ATHEIST!

If god (however you perceive him/her/it) told you to kill your child – would you do it?

If your answer is no, in my booklet you’re an atheist. There is doubt in your mind. Love and morality are more important to you than your faith.

 If your answer is yes, please reconsider.

What? That’s not right either! Penn Jillette, who isn’t just an atheist but an atheism role model of mine, is also putting the word “atheist” where it doesn’t belong. If you believe god is telling you anything, than you must believe that there is a god, and therefore you’re no atheist. Atheism is not about defiance to god’s authority, it’s about rejecting the whole concept of god.

I don’t believe in god. There isn’t a god, not from what I can tell. No, I can’t know that for absolute perfect 100% no doubt in my mind certain, but I see nothing that makes the existence of a god seems even a little likely. Yeah, I’m a stupid ape standing on a pebble in a cosmic ocean, but I still get to pick a side on this. The fact that I can’t say for absolute perfect 100% no doubt in my mind certain that there isn’t a god does not mean that I must therefore by necessity conclude that there is one. I need a reason, something to back up the idea. Anything! At least, anything other than faith, and warm fuzzy feelings, and a desire to have an invisible babysitter in the sky looking out for me.

I don’t even have that desire. I have lots of real, solid, tangible people in my life looking out for me and loving me. On my last birthday, after me and a few friends had WAY too much to drink, a friend of mine helped me get over a part of my self-consciousness and social anxiety by bullying me into standing on a table, dropping my pants, and showing a bar full of strangers my penis. Has Jesus ever done that for you? NO HE HAS NOT!

When I was a lot younger, I once went to a strip club with some friends of mine. One of the dancers wore a black dress and thick framed classes. She reminded me of a school teacher. She told me to smile and wasn’t happy with the smile that I gave her. She grabbed me by the hair, bent me over her lap and spanked me. Hard. That was a warm fuzzy feeling. Has your god, or any other god, ever given you a public introduction to the world of BDSM? I DIDN’T THINK SO!

I’ve heard other people try to deny the validity of the concecpt of atheism by stretching the word “god” to the point of meaninglessness. People have said “god is love” or “god is the unknown”. Why call those things god? Isn’t love enough without making it sound like more than what is? Does calling the unknown god make it less of a mystery? One friend of mine once told me “God is”. Like, that was her statement. As if I’m going to be convinced by an incomplete sentence. If you define god as pretzels, than I guess I believe in your god, but that’s not what god really means, right? Here’s a couple of definitions I think we can work with:

God (noun)

  1. An anthropomorphic entity which is either a manifestation of, or the source of, one or more aspects of nature.
  2. A consciousness or force which is the source of everything, probably with some kind of intent

The first kind of god is, I feel pretty confident in saying, ridiculous. The second kind might could possibly exist, but until I see something more than the mere possibility, my skepticism kicks in and reminds me not to accept something as real without some kind of evidence. The next question becomes what is the source of everything, and the answer is I don’t know, and I’m ok not knowing. I don’t feel the need to have all the answers. If we figure it out then maybe, maybe I’ll call it god.

Until then, I’m an atheist.

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