I was contacted on Twitter by a very open-minded and accepting college student who is doing research on atheism. She is not an atheist, herself, but wanted to address some questions she had before working on her project. I am going to go ahead and assume that the more people who answer these for her, the better, so please, add your answers in the comments.
These are my answers:
1. Why are you an atheist?
I’ve never had a good enough reason to believe in a god.
2. Have you ever believed in a Higher Power?
3. If so, Did something traumatic happen to make you stop believing?
No. I never believed.
4. If not, why did you stop believing?
I never believed.
5. What do you think happens to us when we die?
We decompose. Our stardust goes back to dirt in the ground and feeds the flora which feeds the fauna, which then decomposes when it dies and the cycle continues. I believe consciousness is a direct result of our physiology and once the physical part of us is gone, much like how a cell phone will no longer light up and take calls when it’s smashed to pieces, neither will we. I’m perfectly fine with this. I don’t desire eternal life. In fact, I think it would get quite tedious pretty fast.
6. Without believing in a Higher Power, where do you think we get our morals from?
The same places people who do believe in a higher power get their morals from. Conscience, consequences, empathy and compassion. A believer never follows their holy book to the last letter. Something inside of them allows them to pick and choose the parts of it that are relevant to their own life. That process is a result of your conscience. It’s a result of your innate compassion, your desire to avoid the here-and-now consequences instead of worry about expected eternal ones. You and I get our morals from the very same place and the very same process. The only difference is that I give myself credit for it.
7. Where do you think the universe came from?
8. What’s your views on Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens?
While I don’t agree with everything each of them has said, they are each very important thinkers and speakers in our world today and are making (or have made) such significant changes in the world with their work, that I have no choice but to admire them. I think they are demonized and often their words are taken out of context and misunderstood, which is to be expected. Each of them are human beings and fallible and may not articulate every last thought they have as they might have wished to. There is an easy way, however, to verify that the criticism of the things these men said is true, and that is to seek out the bit of writing or speaking that the comment in question was taken from, and look at it in the context of the whole piece. In other words, do your own research and go right to the source. Often, these things are blown way out of proportion.
9. Do you consider yourself a weak atheist or a strong atheist?
I am almost a strong atheist. The only thing that keeps me from being a strong atheist, is that I think it’s kind of arrogant to say you know for sure there either is or is not a god. While I find the entire idea of a god absurd, and I think that certain accounts of a god are not possible, I still can’t know for certain that there is no god at all, of any sort. So, I am an agnostic atheist, on the cusp of strong, but without demonstrable evidence, either way, that won’t change.
10. How can you prove that God doesn’t exist?
You can’t. However, you can’t prove God does exist, and, as Christopher Hitchens once pointed out,
That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.
If someone approached you and told you that if you didn’t go to work naked 3 times a week, your car would be whisked off to space by a flying Plutonian turtle named Click, would you believe them off the bat and go to work nude 3 times per week to avoid such an outcome? No. Can you prove there is no car-thieving turtle named Click on Pluto? No. You don’t believe in the turtle, do you? Even though you can’t prove he’s not there on Pluto plotting to take your car.
11. Do you believe in miracles?
No. I believe that people truly believe they have witnessed and experienced them, but I don’t think common lay-people are skilled enough to make the call after one occurrence that there is no other explanation for the event. Unfortunately, many of these events cannot be repeated, so they cannot be studied under the scrutinizing eye of the scientific method. In order for me to believe there is no natural explanation for something, all-natural explanations would have to be systematically ruled out as a possibility in a controlled environment. Until then, I have no problem saying I don’t know and quite frankly, I find that a more honest approach, because witnesses to miracles really don’t know either.
12. Do you have a support group/system?
Yes, my family and friends and this growing atheist community on the internet. There are some very, very special people out there.
13. Do you try to get others not to believe?
No. My Twitter feed, Facebook page and blog is all for atheists. However, believers, such as yourself, often find their way there and are compelled to ask questions, as you did. A lot of times they are rude about it. Sometimes they are kind like you. Either way, I answer them as honestly as I can and I try to be nice, even when faced with someone being an asshole. Through this process, I have had 4 people tell me I played a role in them finding freedom after they left religion. This was not intended, but being as each of them was ecstatic about it, and thanked me, I am happy that it turned out that way.
14. Do others tend to view you differently when they discover you’re an atheist?
No. I live in Canada. No one really gives a shit about which religion you are or if you lack it.
15. Do people tend to try to convince you that your views are wrong?
Oh, yes. Every day of my life, these days. Not only do I get religious trolls around all my online spaces, but I get Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door 2-3 times per week. This is why I make videos on YouTube – to respond to some of the more humorous comments and tweets I get.
I do still try to keep my cool, though, even when they are being rude. I do have my moments and I have lost my cool. Not proud of that.
16. How does your family view your beliefs? Are they supportive?
My immediate family are all atheists. My extended family is made up of atheists, a couple of Wiccans, disenfranchised Catholics and some people who identify as Christian but who don’t go to church or take it very seriously. They are all supportive. I have the best family, extended and otherwise, in the world.
17. What are your views on Madalyn O’Hair?
I don’t know a lot about her, other than her role in American Atheists, her murder and her activism. I have heard that she was an unpleasant person. Some of the stories I read paint her as such, and I am in no position to disagree or doubt that. The thing about atheists is, we are human, just like you. Some of us are assholes. Some of us are amazing. Some of us are just regular people trying to make the most of life. If O’Hair was an asshole, then she was an asshole. I know there are plenty more atheist assholes out there now.
However, asshole or not, her activism should not go unnoticed. If it weren’t for her, my blog likely would not be all that possible yet. I have to respect that if nothing else.
These are my answers. I need to mention here that the asker preceded these questions with the following:
I do believe in God so I thought to do my research on atheism since atheism is stigmatized in a negative way by believers. I will not in any way judge you for not believing in what I believe in. I did some research on atheism & I just wanted to talk to an atheist so I can get more information as well.
So, if you do choose to answer these questions, I would ask that you return the consideration she gave us. Post your answers in the comments or send me the link to your answers and I’ll pass it on to her.