Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chapter 9: The Soul Constant

The human soul is one of the most difficult topics for me to discuss, and yet I believe it to be one of the most important. It would be foolish to write a book about the powers of religion and the perspectives of atheists without touching on a topic that is so deeply embedded into every religion. Because really, the soul is one of the only constants throughout all religions. It may not always be called a soul, but it's still there, whether it be fueled by the Holy Spirit, Chi, Zen, or Spiritual Enlightenment, the soul is present. In fact, if you look at the big picture, organized religions as a whole should not be discussed as the belief in God, but instead the belief in the soul, because that's the one factor that almost every single religion shares.

Excluding, of course, your friend the Atheist. I say that with a blanketing tone, because as I have stated before, Atheists are just too different to assume that we all believe there is not soul. However, I think that those Atheists that do believe in the soul are tinkering on the edge of that cliff, staring staring down from the Atheist world into the world of the Agnostics. All they have to do is jump, and they'll have left our belief system and joined another.

As a Religious Atheist, my problems with the soul lie in the simple value of human life. Clearly, I do not believe in the soul. The question is, however, where do I begin in explaining why? I think I should start with this currently impossible scenario, and yet despite its impossibility today, it might not be impossible tomorrow:

We are now in the world of tomorrow. Cloning is a normal part of human life, and yet thanks to the law passed in the early 21st century, it's illegal to clone entire humans. Instead, we work the cloning process from a different angle, cloning organs from the cells of those in need of them to be implanted to cure what were once life-ending conditions. And so, thanks to the development of cloning, many of the worlds life-ending conditions have shifted to problems that can be solved with a little surgery and a round of pills. And yet, thanks to the ban on human cloning, there still remains this tiny bracket of people who are suffering from the same problems that they encountered yesterday. The people with life-ending or life-ruining brain issues remain untreatable.

Because we cannot clone a brain and implant it, the only way to help these people is to clone the entire person. But we are humans, and where there's a need for something, there's someone who will provide it regardless of the law. So here you are, a man in your 40's who has suffered massive kidney failure. Thanks to cloning, you have two new, healthy kidney's grown from your own cells keeping you alive. You have been healthy now for two years, living at home with your wife and children, when you realize that your wife doesn't seem to be acting herself. Her speech appears to be slurred and her motor skills seem inhibited. So you both go to the doctor to see what's wrong, and when the results come back, you find that she has a massive brain tumor pressing on multiple portions of her brain. The tumor is so ingrown that surgery is out of the question. Your wife has only three months left to live.

You now have two options. You can follow the law and watch your wife wither away into nothing, or you can break the law and turn to the same process that saved your own life two years prior to this very moment. If you are anything like me or most of the people I know, you would be booking your ticket out of the country to that remote region of the world where your wife could be saved.

This is where the soul question comes into play:

There are two ways that this situation can unfold, and I believe it's in the difference in these two scenario's that the question of "What is the soul?" becomes so apparent, and yet so extremely confusing.

Scenario 1: You arrive at the medical clinic where your wife is put onto pain-killers and is told to relax. The doctors inject her with a medication that slows her breathing, decreases brain function, and shuts down her internal organs. Over the course of the next few seconds, you see the life fade from your wife's eyes as her breathing stops and her brain function ceases to exist. Then, the doctors scan your wife's brain, tracking every single detail of its construction, building a map for her replacement. Once the scan is complete, the body is taken away, never to be seen again. Then the doctors begin the cloning process. You wait in the waiting room as the "surgery" is being completed, your wife completely unaware of anything that's happening because, as far as science is concerned, your wife is dead. And yet she has not been pronounced so. After the extremely exhausting 36 hour surgery, you are told you can finally see your wife. You walk into her room, sit beside her bed, and wait for her to wake. When she does, she looks at you and smiles, runs her hand down your face, and tells you she loves you. She has woken from a surgery now free of the life-ending brain tumor in exactly the same condition as everyone else who wakes after major surgery; she is a little delirious, but she is still the same woman. The body is "new," and yet it is aged to the same 40 years of life that it has experienced. Her brain has all the same memories and thinks in exactly the same way as the previous one did. It remembers being inject with medicine, falling to sleep, and then waking up 36 hours later lying in a hospital bed. Like any other surgical procedure, she has no memory of what happened within those 36 hours, just that now the process is complete and she is alive and healthy. She has an exact duplication of your wife's previous brain. The only difference is this one is cancer free.

You go home and continue your life, and until the day you die, your wife never once shows any sign of being any different, excluding the fact that she's now a cancer survivor.

Scenario 2: You arrive at the clinic. You are taken aside and told that this process requires your wife to be conscious and awake during the procedure. In order to produce an exact human clone, the old body must host much of the process. Your wife is hooked up to machines, tubes, and medicines as she lies on a bed. On the bed next to her is the shell of a woman, completely void of all physical characteristics. Over the next few hours, the body begins to reform into your wife as it adopts all her genetic traits. The brain within the clone begins to duplicate all her memories, becoming more and more like your wife with every passing second. At the end of the procedure, your wife is lying in the hospital bed, still sick and dying of a brain tumor, and beside her lies an exact copy of herself, the only difference being that this copy is completely cancer free. From the moment the double came into existence and your wife lay awake and alive beside it, you realize that this isn't the same woman. Your wife is still alive, and so the clone and your wife will begin to experience different memories making them different people. A week later, your wife dies of exhaustion, unable to recover from the surgery due to the current state of her body. You are left with a woman who has every single memory you and your wife shared up to the point that your wife stepped out of that clinic with a clone. The clone did not experience death, just life. It did not experience surgery, just birth. Though she may look, act, and feel like your wife, this clone is clearly not your wife. You have shared a week with your wife that this clone never experienced. She is a completely different person.

And so, I ask you, because I myself do not have the answer; Where is the human soul in all of this? As far as I can see, the soul is just the way we look at ourselves. It's a way for us to acknowledge and understand the processes of our brain as if from a point of external judgment. The soul, the way I see it, especially through a situation like this, is simply another word for the human experience.

The soul, at least in my opinion, is that one thing that's more elusive than God. With God, you can at least argue that he's unreachable, an entity of his own accord that operates outside the realm of human understanding. But the soul, that's a part of us, a mystical definition of who we are that exists always and forever. It has our life stamped all over it. When we die, our soul carries the weight of our human actions. What we do here echoes for eternity.

And yet, with an example like the cloning situation, I just can't seem to find the soul anywhere in humanity. I am told that it's non-transferable, and yet everything that makes a human human exists within both cloning situations. In the first scenario, the soul either transfers upon the creation of the clone, a new soul is born into a 40 year old body, or the clone is born soulless. Regardless, the clone would still be exactly the same as any other person. We wouldn't see the difference, and based on our understanding of how the brain controls the body, soul or no soul the clone wouldn't know the difference either.

In the second scenario, either the soul is duplicated, a new soul is born, or again the clone is soulless. Regardless, you have two people in two lives, living as normal people do. The clone is just another human that is identical in every single way to someone who already exists. When that person dies, that clone is still there, living, breathing, walking, talking, interacting; being human.

So I ask you again, where does the soul come into play in human existence? When does a person go from having no soul to having a soul? Is it the absolute second that the little sperm starts tunneling into its home, breaking down its DNA strand to push onwards a tiny little zygote? If so, then as far as identical twins are concerned, one of those little guys is soulless. Or does it happen at some stage in pregnancy. Or perhaps at birth?

And so I maintain that the soul is non-existent. Not because of clones or God or faith, but because the soul is something that exists within all humans, and somehow influences our decisions and makes us feel regret and concern and loss. But these are all the same things produced by the different parts of the brain. The only difference between us and a monkey is that we have the power to invent something as incredible as the soul. Why? Because when we die, our body ends up in the ground. Our brain, that unbelievable source of information and knowledge that is so powerful that it even has the ability to comprehend its self, ceases to exist. All brain function completely stops, and what once made us self-aware is no more, and we become nothing. No limbo, no continued existence, no nothing. Just complete and total nothing, snuffed out like the flame of a candle, leaving behind nothing but a trail of smoke by which others remember us.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Chapter 8: The Science-God Wedge

Science and Religion have been at odds for as long as God has been a conscious thought in the minds of man. As I discussed in Chapter Five, it is indisputable that once, long ago, God wasn't just the answer to our questions of faith, but the answer to our questions of the world. There were Gods for every single cog in the system that makes up our unimaginably complicated planet, bringing in the rains, growing food, guiding herds of animals, granting fertility, maintaining life, setting the sun, raising the sun, creating the stars, growing trees, erecting mountains, changing the weather, and every other little thing that we as primitive man noticed about the mysterious world around us. Gods weren't an if. They just were.

As man, however, we were destined to grow in our understanding of the world. We were blessed, some would say, with a brain more powerful than any species we have ever known. And though we were not the strongest fighters, the fastest runners, or the quickest reproducers, we were by far the most intelligent species to set foot on the planet Earth. With brains that demanded intelligent thought, we developed tools and new ways of continuing our existence on this enormous rock. As we advanced, we made room for recreation, furthering our ability to advance. The plow shortened the time needed for harvesting crops. Irrigation ensured a constant flow of water in what would be otherwise inhospitable lands. Domestication of wild animals gave us a steady source of protein. Government gave a degree of order to the chaos of an uncontrolled world. And people were given a chance to relax, not needing to worry about whether or not the next crop would come or if the herd would starve out leaving us with nothing to eat. So in our new found free-time, we began to really consider the world and the way it all seemed to work.

This was the birth of our genius. It was here that our species took its first steps towards taking what we already had, and making something better. From here we sailed across oceans, learned to control electricity, invented the telephone, built the automobile, structured the internet, and all together made our lives simpler and more convenient through scientific advancement. And yet, along this road to greatness, we have constantly been bumped and beaten down by those men who claim to have a direct window to God's Will.

For many Atheists, at least the ones I have had both the pleasure and misfortune of meeting in my life, it's the science argument that pushed them down a path that has no God. For as long as I can tell, science and God have butted heads like two opposing forces, one we have seen more frequently and with more evidence than God battling his evil counterpart, be it Satan, Ravana, or any other religious antagonist. It seems to have become the mission of the church to put down scientific advancement whenever it showed even a slight threat to whatever they believed. This has happened most frequently with the Catholic faith, having spread its arms and legs so far across the globe in its youth that it had a power far stronger than any faith I know of. But it doesn't stop there. Religious dictators have also had their hand in this game. From Kings and Queens to Czars and Emperors, scientific progress has been blocked whenever a negative connotation could be gleamed towards the religious world.

Choosing where to begin with this evidence is hardly easy. Those who claim to be closest to God have often abused that power to slow our advancement. The frequency of this abuse is so common that we often don't even notice it anymore. And yet it happens so often that a wedge has been driven between the world. There are things that we know, and there are things that require faith in order to believe we know. The two have the power to exist together, because one is built on fact, as the other is built on faith. They should not be conflicting ideas. And yet, they are.

Take evolution, for example. Evolution is a fact. It has been part of our world since the dawn of time, shaping our planet with billions of different species, each evolving from the next. Without evolution, there would be no dinosaurs, no bacteria, no new infectious diseases or animals that are immune to those diseases. There would be no changing food chain. Without evolution, the world would be an empty surface, unfilled and uninteresting. And yet, despite the fact that this is scientific truth, my stating this so bluntly makes me a pusher of my "beliefs." To some, what I am saying is not true at all. It's a lie. God created Man in his own image, and therefor how could we have evolved all the way from a single-celled organism and still have been created directly by God? So, because of this idea that evolution must be wrong because the Bible or the Qur'an or the Torah says so is just one of the most recent sources of religion ramming a wedge between itself and science.

It's in situations like this that we see where Science and Religion divert. When given a chance to coordinate their efforts, of incorporating knowledge into faith, it seems to be more common to fear it rather than embrace it. Now, I'm not stating this to be true of all faiths. I have had conversations with many people who believe differently to this. I'm simply using this as one of today's most common examples. Religion has a tendency to fear change.

This fear of change, in my opinion, is one of the greatest flaws in organized religion. It is also one of the largest causes of the Believer-Atheist crossover. When something we believe fails to answer our questions, we as humans have a natural desire to go in search of something that does. When a religion chooses not accept something as a solid fact, faith goes from believing in something we can't explain to choosing not to believe something that we can explain. For the countless people who simply can't believe something blindly, a massive strain is put on their faith, and quite frequently, their faith breaks. They may continue to attend their congregation, and they may continue to follow their religious practices, but a sentence appears in their life that never has before; a precursor to their beliefs when talking to anyone about their faith. They will state: "I don't believe in everything that the (insert scripture here) says, but I do believe in God."

The problems don't end with the loss of faith, however. As I stated before, there are those who choose the other path, one which requires them to take something we know to be true and simply not accept it as a fact. It's these people that drive the Science-God Wedge even deeper into the world. In 2005 alone, there were 16 states that were part of a raging debate regarding the teaching of evolution in the classroom. This debate included everything from whether or not to even address the subject matter to how a classroom should properly address the issue in order to include the fact that the Bible doesn't agree. States like Kentucky have even go so far as to completely violate the Separation of Church and State law, one that has been part of the American system of law since the country's birth, and have chosen to allow the teaching of creationism as it is described in the Bible. States like Pennsylvania have also suffered similar controvertial positions regarding the Separation of Church and State. In 2004, however, the citizens sued to have the inclusion of intelligent design removed from schools because unlike evolution, intelligent design is just another name for creationism and therefor is a religious belief without scientific backing. It is now illegal to teach intelligent design in Pennsylvania (source material provided by NPR. Link provided at the end of the chapter).

This battle is something I don't look at with fond eyes. I understand that for many Confrontational Atheists, the battles in places like Pennsylvania are ones that could be treated with endless respect. The victory of science over religion can be looked at with fond eyes, respected and loved as the advancement of science over God. I do not see it the same way.

Organized Religion influences the decisions of almost the entire worlds population. For the most part, they follow scriptures that were written thousands of years ago, translated time and time again. The stories in these scriptures were, for the most part, hundreds of years old at the time of their publication, surviving only through word-of-mouth tales. Were this a court of law, this evidence would not only be thrown out as completely unreliable, but would be laughed at as it went flying out the window. It's faith that keeps these ideas alive, the belief in something far greater than solid evidence. But the fact that these stories are dated, unreliable, and altered from their original context doesn't change. So why are they being used as weapons to combat science?

The way I see it is this: Science is in constant battle with itself. The scientific method demands that we prove ourselves wrong, because in truth, the scientific method doesn't allow for a one-hundred percent certainty on anything. It simply states that if you gained a result once, can you make it happen again, and again, and again, and again? If not, then it's not a truth. But the sequence of repeats goes on indefinitely. It's impossible to ever prove anything to a degree of complete certainty. And so, built into the very structure of science is the desire to be wrong. A scientist can stumble across some future truth, and spend the rest of his life trying to prove himself wrong. We do this not because we want to be wrong, but because we want to be right. If we stuck with a theory after we found it, how could we ever advance? Our planet would still be the centre of the universe, we would still have a flat Earth, and we would be the first species to set foot on our planet. But we know these things not to be true because of the constant desire to know more.

So I ask you, why do we let the Science-God Wedge run so deep? Couldn't it be that science isn't the answer to why everything happens, but just how it happens? Faith shouldn't be threatened by the advancement of our species. It should embrace it. We are thousands of years older than many of the modern day religious scriptures that populate our planet. We know more now than those people could have ever dreamed, and we have come farther than their minds would allow them to the understand. We are human, and we seek answers to unanswerable questions as a part of our natural desire to live and advance. But that doesn't mean that we have to kill God in the process. The two can live together, can help one another advance. If religion were to open its doors to change, to take in the knowledge we discover through science and add it to their histories, then maybe, just maybe, we wouldn't have to struggle so hard to continue become greater than we are today. After all, nobody wants to be wrong, but it's in being wrong that we take one step closer to being right.

Source Material:

Monday, March 29, 2010

Chapter 7: Self-Defeating Omnipotence

There are many religions all over the world that believe in an Omnipotent God. They believe, quite firmly, in the fact that their God not only created the Universe, but that he also knows absolutely everything. It's these religions that tend to also believe in a fate-based universe, because with an omnipotent being anywhere in the equation, it's essentially a requirement to believe in fate as well. This all comes down to the sheer power behind the meaning of the word omnipotence. If a being is omnipotent, then it has all the power and knowledge in the universe. It has done everything, experienced every conceivable and inconceivable detail to every conceivable and inconceivable event. It exists right now in the moments of today, yesterday, tomorrow, two-thousand years from now, and two-thousand years ago for infinity onwards. There is not a single event in the entire Universe that an Omnipotent God hasn't already experienced, because as the word omnipotence demands, he already knows absolutely everything. If he were to remove one atom from the face of the Earth today, he would already know every single effect that decision would make for all of eternity. An Omnipotent God really does know everything.

Therefore, it's impossible to believe that your God is omnipotent without also accepting that fate is a part of your life as well. I can't tell you the number of times I have had this argument with people; people who believe very strongly that their God really is omnipotent, but at the same time gave humanity free will. I can only stare in question upon hearing this argument, for it never ceases to surprise me. How could it ever be true, yet alone possible?

When I lived in Hong Kong, my Religion teacher argued with me about this very topic. He told me that, as a Christian, God gives us all choices. We are allowed to make decisions in our lives on our own because God has faith in all of us. When I asked him then if his God was omnipotent, he quickly assured me that he was because the Christian God is the one true God, with unlimited knowledge and power, he really is omnipotent. When I asked him how a God could know absolutely everything, and yet not know what decisions we were going to make, my teacher told me that in truth God did know what I was going to do, because he knew everything. So once again, I asked him how I have a choice when God already knows the answer? All he said was "you have a choice. God just already knows what it's going to be." I think he failed to see the flaw in his logic.

For the sake of ensuring that you also see the flaw in this argument, I am going to break it down bit by bit. I am not doing so because I doubt your intelligence, but because I want to be absolutely certain you understand exactly how I am thinking. After all, this book is about just that; I want you to understand the mind of an Atheist through-and-through. I want you to know me like you know yourself, to understand me so well that maybe, just maybe, you can respect what I believe just as much as I respect what you believe. Because though I may not agree with whichever religion you have but your faith into, I will always respect it, and your faith will never be the reason that respect is lost.

My teacher made a very common mistake when telling me about his Omnipotent God. He didn't fully understand the word "omnipotence." It was either that, or he didn't understand the word "fate." Both are mistakes I stumble across far too often when talking about religion. See, when it comes to omnipotence, especially for Christians like my teacher, God really is as all knowing as possible. There are no if, and, or buts in the equation. He simply knows everything. And by knowing everything, just like my teacher said, He knows exactly what decisions you are going to make in your life. But not only that. After all, this God knows everything. He doesn't just know your choices. He knows when you are going to take a breath. He knows when each of your cells are going to die. He knows every single word you are going to say for your entire life. He knows which people are going to interact with you when, He knows what they are going to say, how each of those things are going to make you feel, and how you are going to react to every single little thing that will ever happen to you. And He knows this for everyone, for as long as humanity exists, until we all die and are removed from the Earth and Universe ceases to exist. And then He knows what will happen next.

If God knows all of this, for all of time, then where is the choice? Using me as an example, an Omnipotent God already knew that I was going to write this book. He knew, long before the first spark of the Universe burst into life, that the next word that was going appear on this page was "Gobbledygook." He even knew that when I typed the word "Gobbledygook," I was going to misspell it and write "Gobblediegook" instead, and that I would right click the word and fix it to what spell-check told me was correct. And sure, I had a choice, I could have written any other word in any language. I could have even made up a word and put that non-word on paper instead. But then, if I had, God would have already known, before the first spark of the Universe was born, that I was going to type that word instead. Why? Because he is omnipotent. Because He has all the power in the Universe and beyond. Because He knows absolutely everything for all of eternity.

And so, even though you could say I was given a choice, that my brain could have written anything on this page, my choice is nothing but the illusion of choice. Because where is the choice really if God already knows exactly what I am going to do? Sadly, it isn't there. It's just somewhere in my mind, making me believe that what I do matters when in truth, God already knows every little detail of my life, and nothing I can ever do will change that He knows exactly what I will do from this very second onwards until the day I die. Why? Because He's omnipotent.

Now though, I need to address another issue. This one has less to do with fate, and more to do with omnipotence. I am going to ask you to force your brain into a concept that is rather difficult to grasp, and that's putting it lightly. I want you to try your best to imagine that you are omnipotent. I know that this is an impossible task, because like understanding what the process of death feels like, you could never really know until it's too late to talk about it. So, just try. Imagine that you know absolutely everything. You exist right now just as you did yesterday and ten million years ago. Time means nothing to you, because you have no concept of it. You can never age and you have absolutely no questions about anything. You already know everything there is to know in the Universe, and so questions are senseless. And because you know everything, you have no fear. Fear is a manifestation of failed-understanding, but you already know absolutely everything, and so fear cannot exist for you. Sure, you know what it is and how it feels, that goes along with being all knowing and all powerful, but you don't actually experience fear like human beings do. This is where it gets tricky, especially for those of you that believe in a loving omnipotent God. You do not love. Love is an attachment, one that you cannot have when you already know absolutely everything. You exist always, and so you lack the ability to love because you gain no attachment to anything. Everything in the entire universe already exists in your endless knowledge, and so how can you care for something that to you has never been born, always exists, and has been dead forever?

This is where we run into what is considered a fairly common philosophical argument against omnipotence, one that I personally subscribe to. You know everything. Everything. You know the final product to making the Universe no matter what you change. You know what will happen in the end in every conceivable and inconceivable possibility because in your mind of endless and unstoppable knowledge, you have already done everything. And so I ask you, as an Omnipotent God who knows everything, who has done everything, what motivation do you have to create the Universe? For you, the Universe has already existed. It exists now in your mind, even if it doesn't in reality, because time means nothing to you. Why would you use that unlimited power to create something that to you, you have already created?

Quite simply, you wouldn't. You wouldn't need to or want to. You already have. It's in your mind, in that endless pit of knowledge existing with-in you. There's no sense in actually making it, none what-so-ever, because you already have and you saw it through to the end.

What is it then, that could possibly motivate a God which knows everything to act? What could make a God with no questions say to himself "I wonder..." In my opinion, one shared with several religious philosophers and writers alike, the only thing that could motivate something that knows everything to act would be to find out what happens when you know absolutely nothing. When the ability to retain knowledge no longer exists. Your only drive as an omnipotent being would be to stop being omnipotent. And the only way that I can see something with immense knowledge of doing that would be to die.

But to something that has no fear, death would not be the same as it is to us. It would not be frightened of no longer existing. It would be motivated to discover, to learn something it can't possibly know, because by knowing absolutely everything, the only bump is knowing what it is to know absolutely nothing. Much like the Chinese concept of Yin-Yang, one side cannot exist without the other, and so in knowing everything God would be unable to know nothing. And for a God that has unlimited power, what happens when he goes from knowing everything to knowing nothing is a question to which he simply couldn't help but learn the answer.

And now we have come full circle, back to the beginning. When someone tells me that they believe in both an Omnipotent God and Free Will, I take a breath, and casually apologize to them for their loss. When prompted with the question of why, I state: Because unfortunately, the only way that an Omnipotent God and Free Will could exist together would be if your God was already dead, and your life was simply the aftermath of his destruction. Only then would you have a choice, because the God that once had all the answers has chosen to know nothing, and in doing so he gave you Free Will.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Chapter 6: The Effects of Free Will

I hope that by now you understand my point of view in regards to the importance of religion. I say this because the rest of the novel may seem confrontational if you don't understand my beliefs. Maybe that isn't such a bad thing, though. Confrontation is the only way to inspire change, and given the fact that this entire book is being written to motivate readers to change their beliefs about Atheists, confrontation may not be such a bad thing. But that isn't really the way I like to do things when it comes to religion. Religion is, and has been, a taboo subject for a very long time for many reasons, the most important being exactly what I said in the previous chapter: Faith is a choice, and every single persons religion is part of who they are deep into their being. It's personal.

Now though, we need to touch on the subjects that make Atheists turn away from organized religion, and I believe there is no better place to start than with what is considered to be one of the most common Atheist arguments; Religion is the birth of all evil.

Choosing where to begin with this argument is quite difficult. I suppose I should start by saying that though I see where Confrontational Atheists get their opinions from, I don't really agree. In the long run, the argument doesn't make sense. See, the Confrontational Atheist mindset tends to blame religion for the worlds problems because they take the actions of radical extremists and blame the entire population for that sub-groups actions. If that's not the case, then they claim that this belief in God is a weak-man's way of dealing with the problems of the world. They tend to consider themselves above Believers, and for this reason they treat the believing population as if they are second class citizens of the world. In my opinion, how is that any better than the hostility created by radical Believers?

The true problem with religion has absolutely nothing to do with God. The flaws lie in the individuals who have chosen to believe extremist views. It is unarguable that religion has been, in documented history, the birth place for some of the most violent and horrific slaughters of human beings, but I refuse to believe that it was God that did this. And that's because, as an Atheist, I believe in Free Will.

Free Will is one of the most important facts of life to most Atheists. By claiming that there is no ultimate being ruling the world, we automatically subscribe to the belief of Free Will. In doing so, we accept that every single thing a person thinks, feels, and does comes from their own mind, a decision they have made on their own without any other form of external control. We believe that every single person has a choice in everything, and their actions are the fault of nobody but themselves.

I believe that this is where religious hatred is born. When you have a man or woman motivated by the word of God, believing that they are causing harm to others for a higher purpose, then they are wielding a weapon so powerful that it cannot be stopped by any mortal means. Though they may be going against everything they believe in, they have been told that it's for a higher purpose, and are therefor operating against the code of their creed. Like a Christian in the Crusades, the violation of the commandment "thou shalt not kill" means nothing when you believe in a free-pass system. And yet, there it sits, one of the 10 laws of the Christian faith that was transcribed in stone for one purpose and one purpose alone, to never be changed, altered, ignored, or violated by man for the rest of their existence on Earth. Let me continue the First Crusade metaphor as an example to explain myself further:

Imagine that you are a Christian European. You have been told by Pope Urban II, a man you believe has a direct line to God himself, that you are tasked with returning the Holy Lands to your own people. In doing so, you will kill countless thousands of others, spill the blood of hundreds upon the soil of a place that they too consider to be holy in their faith. But you are told that these people are savage beasts, and they have no claim to the land because the one true God is yours and yours alone, and that the Holy Land belongs to Him and all those who follow Him. So, you march across the world, and you meet these foreign people, these men who pray to a different God and live their lives by His teachings, and you kill them all because you know that they are following a false God and are sinners. And as your sword strikes every man you come across into the ground, you feel no shame because you are killing for God, and the Pope himself has promised you that you will be absolved of all your sins because killing these people means returning a piece of dirt to the hands of its rightful owners. So with that thought in mind, you assault the grand city of Jerusalem, and you charge through its walls and you kill everyone you see, man, woman, and child. You kill them all not because they pose a threat to you, but because they threaten your God by not believing in him, and by killing all these false-believers, you are sending the sinners to Hell where they belong, just as all your religious leaders have told you.

Now, as graphic as that may sound, I want you to look at where this all began. Try, for a moment, to see it from an Atheist's point of view, even if you are not an Atheist yourself. With such immense bloodshed, it becomes clear why Confrontational Atheists hold so strongly to that belief that Religion is the root of all evil. It's understandable, at least in some degree, to read about something as horrific and senseless as this slaughter and draw the conclusion that all of this was done because of a being called God, and the power he has over all the people beneath him. It's also makes sense why those same Atheists would believe that if you cut the head off the snake, and removed God from the equation, none of this would happen.

But how can we blame God when it was he who told his people never to kill another? How do we blame this all on God when we believe in Free Will?

Almost all of the Atheists that believe that religion is the source of all evil believe in Free Will. They also do not believe in God. So, in not believing in God, there are several very important steps to be taken before making such a rash statement as "without God there would be no evil." First, you must acknowledge that by being Atheist and not believing in God, you also believe that the Pope's direct line to God in this situation is a lie. He cannot hear the voice of God, he does not speak with him regarding issues of the world, and he was not chosen by the ultimate creator to lead his people. He is just a normal man who has reached a seat of political and social power by saying and doing all the right things in the eyes of those who will elect him. With this being the case, the Pope's actions cannot be viewed the same way. It is not Religion or God or any other faith-based power that has motivated him to action. He is just a man in a position of immense power who has chosen to misuse his authority, no different to a King or Queen of a country who becomes a tyrant and kills off his or her own citizens. He is motivated by selfish gain. Be it for wealth, authority, or to be remembered for all eternity, he is just a man, a man who has chosen to take something beautiful like Faith and use it for evil.

The fault here lies not in Religion or in God. The majority of the worlds religions were born through the struggles of life to motivate the people to keep living. Religions gave people strength when they had none, taught men and women to treat each other like equals when those in power refused to do so. They gave the tired, the hungry, and the unfortunate something to live for, because after all, their God or Gods loved them.

The fault lies only in the hands of man. Throughout history, people in power have chosen to abuse it time and time again. They have taken the Free Will that was handed to them at birth, and have used it for terrible terrible things. The only problem is that with religion, the power of warped-faith is one that is almost unstoppable. After all, what better army exists out there than one which believes that even in death, they will live on for all of eternity in the bliss of heaven?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chapter 5: The Importance of God

Before I become overly critical, a state of mind I fear is inevitable when writing an entire book with this topic as a foundation, I must take a step back and let you know where the "Religious" part of Religious Atheist first came from. Remember though that this was just the birthplace. The Religious part of my faith was only began here, and has since developed into a much larger idea. But it all started here, with the fundamental belief that God, despite my lack of faith in him, is absolutely essential for humanity.

Gods have been part of human life since we became capable of intelligent thought. They started off as the source of all things the world had to offer; They would raise and lower the sun, they would appear at night as stars in the sky, they would blow in rains to water crops, they would control the supply of animals harvested for food, they cause fertility in people, and would have influence or control over every single other aspect of the events of the world. They were the centre of life for the people of Earth, offering meaning and reason behind all the actions of universe. When the rains did not come and crops faded away, the blame lay only in the hands of the people for not satisfying the needs of their Gods. By having a being that controlled the outcome of everything, it gave the people hope. The belief that if one worked hard enough, gave enough back to the Gods, then they and their civilization would prosper made life worth living. Faith gave early humanity a fighting chance in a world that was completely unforgiving.

As time progressed though, and we discovered that in reality it's the rotation of the Earth that causes the sun to rise and set, that the stars are not Gods but thousands of other suns of various sizes across the galaxy, that rain is produced by evaporating water and high density precipitation, that animals migrate on their own accord for the best chance of survival, and that fertility is based on an very delicate balance of human biology, those jobs the Gods once possessed faded away. And new Gods were born with new roles in life, and new histories of the Earth were born.

The truth of the matter is that Gods have existed in our lives for as long as we can document intelligent human life. They may not have been the same Gods, or even shared the same roles in the lives of those they presumed to influence, but they have always been there, always. And so, through their existence, they have been a foundation of human life.

As for the question I have raised in the previous chapters: With all these Gods, with all these different religious views, how do we know which one is real? In my opinion, the opinion of a Religious Atheist, real isn't the question we should be asking ourselves. The reality of every single religion in the history of the world sits in exactly the same place, because each religion is just as real as the next. But it's not the validity of the word of God that I hold true. It's the power each religion has over the lives of the people who follow it. It's this influence over human life that makes God real. And it's this very concept that stems the Religious part of the Religious Atheist.

And now I believe it's time to expand on this idea, to explain to you further why to me, someone who claims to be an atheist, believes that God is so important. It's true that I don't believe God, the being that created the universe and sits up in the sky watching over us exists. It's true that in my world, every decision I make is because I have free will and nobody or nothing is guiding me to say or do anything but myself. And probably most importantly, it's also true that many of the ideas embedded in organized religions threaten this very idea of complete and total human freedom by which I live my life. So why is it that the Religious Atheist believes that God is so important?

I want you to think about Believers for a minute. You may be one of them, or you may be any form of the Atheists I have detailed in this book. Regardless, you know many Believers, and you know many different types of Believers. So pick any religion you know of, any friend you may have who believes something different to yourself, and ask yourself how what they believe shapes their life. Think about how their day-to-day life differs from your own because of a belief system that they subscribe to. And then ask yourself what it is that makes them do all they do to live their life by such a specific code.

Regardless of what religion you picked, the answer will always be the same. They do it because it makes them happy. They have faith in something bigger than themselves. If they subscribe to Fate, for example, they are happy in knowing that everything that happens to them happens for a reason. God has a grand plan, and every single aspect of their life is working towards something amazing. If they subscribe to certain eating habits, be it no meat on Fridays, no eating cow or pork, or no consuming raw foods, they do so because they believe that it will make their lives better. Though they may do it for themselves, they do it more importantly for God, to try and make him happy. And in doing so, they make themselves happy.

Religion also offers an extremely strong sense of community. Human's have always banded together. It's how we survive. Even now in the twenty-first century we are acting exactly as we did at the dawn of human life. We are working together to prosper. We install the ideas of patriotism into our youth, supporting our country and working together for mutual gain. We make friends because we like the company of others, and enjoy sharing our lives with those around us. And through religion, people are given one of the strongest bonds of all. Together people believe in one thing, with no if and or buts, they follow the same scripture and code. They are part of an almost completely unchanging society that motivates them to do better and brings them closer to one another. And if that weren't enough, most of those religions offer the promise of not only spending this life with your community, but spending eternity with them, never once leaving the Believer alone.

It's this grand idea of happiness and self advancement in the eyes of something bigger than yourself that makes God such an essential part of human life. And though I may not subscribe to the practices of any organized religion, I do so because like Believers, my decisions makes me happy. So who am I, or anyone else, to tell you that what you believe isn't right when the indisputable truth is that your beliefs make you happy.

God may not be sitting in the sky, and he may not have created the universe. But no matter what we all believe, it's indisputable that he exists in the hearts and minds of billions of people everywhere. And you, like every other person in the world, are entitled at birth to believe whatever will make you happy. And if that doesn't make him in some sense real, then what does?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chapter 4: The Change in Faith

I assume that by this point you are asking yourself what happened to me to make me choose Atheism as the religion in which I give my faith. It's a fair question, after all. There are many different choices to pick from when it comes to religion, and I find myself always wondering why each individual chooses to believe whatever it may be that they have put their faith into. So if I ask them why, then why should I expect nothing but the same from you to me?

I have said before that like most Atheists, I wasn't born Atheist. I do know a few Atheists that were born into an Atheist household and grew up under that mindset, but I have also noticed that almost all Atheists that are born into the Atheist idea are the most easily converted away from their beliefs. This comes from children believing anything that adults tell them. The ignorance of a child is something I often wish I could remember, but sadly, those days are long behind me. But what tends to happen, at least from my experiences, is that a child in an Atheist house will go through two possible experiences:

The first is concern for their ongoing existence. Children don't have much of an understanding about life or death. Realistically, adults don't either, but ignorance and parental protection puts a blanket of security over most children blocking them from understanding how life and death really works. So, when they are told by a parent that when they die, that's the end of everything, the natural response is fear. A child, who only knows what the world around them and what their parents and other adults are willing to explain to them, only sees the idea of "absolutely nothing" as horrifying. This "nothing" is absolutely impossible for them to comprehend, just as it is for adults. And so, because of this complete lack of understanding, children will hear from a friend or another adult that there is a place called Heaven where once they die they will go and be with everyone they love because of a man called God. And because that is so much better than losing everything, so passes an Atheist, and a Believer is born.

But there is another possibility. One that tends to bother me because it doesn't just affect Atheist children, but all children of all faiths. It involves the manipulation of childish ignorance and their willingness to believe and please grownups. It happens when an adult uses fear to make a child believe something, regardless of whether or not the child wants to believe it. And unfortunately, it happens all the time. Sometimes using fear to stop a child from talking to strangers or trusting people they don't know is a good thing. These are dangerous situations, ones that have evidence and support backing concern. But when it comes to faith, that's a different story. Faith is a choice for everyone, because in its very existence there is no proof. That's the point of faith. And so to use fear to force a child to believe something that cannot be proven and should be a decision they should make when they are old enough to analyze a situation is incredibly wrong. Many Sunday Schools are prime example of this, this being something I know from experience. They are quite renown for forcing children to sit and talk about eternal damnation of the soul for misbehavior or the abuse of God. Just like in the previous scenario, if you are to tell a child that God is real, they will believe you. The younger you start telling them this, then the more you will ingrain this idea as a fact instead of a faith. If you tell this child that if they don't believe in God, in your God specifically, then they will burn in Hell for all of eternity, then they are going to believe you. I have spoken to many Believers that became Believers at a young age from exactly this kind of religious fear, and a handful of these Believers were once Atheists who didn't want to burn. And yet, even though they know now as grown adults there are no facts to support these accusations, they still can't shake the fear that has been embedded into their subconscious mind from what can only be described as a childhood trauma.

So I suppose I can start here. I believe that part of me turned away from God because I firmly believe that the people who control how God moves through the world have a horrible history of of not treating the being with respect. God is supposed to give people freedom, a hope that they never had before, and a promise of joy. But for some reason, people seem to forget that. I see that love and respect towards God sometimes, but honestly, I don't see it often. Not as much as you would expect. Not as much as any sane person would hope. So maybe God isn't part of my life not because of people's lack of respect towards him, but because if he's as powerful as most religions say, then why would he let us manipulate one another so extremely and blame it on "His will"?

But the abuse of God is a subject for another chapter.

The biggest reason that I have chosen Atheism, though, is because it's the only option that makes any sense to me based on everything I have experienced in my life. I was born in England, and since then I have moved all over the world, lived in many different countries, and visited more than I can count. In each of these places, I have experienced cultural differences far beyond the imaginations of those who have not been as fortunate to travel as myself. I have been to places in the world where God is outlawed. I have seen places of worship that believe in two completely different faiths built side-by-side and living in total harmoy. I have seen conflict born of opposing faith commit crimes because God demands it. And yet, in all these religions, in all these places all around the world that all believe such vastly different things, no one seems more right than anyone else. Each and every person has their own set of beliefs, and their faith gives them a confidence that, if seen in any other aspect of their lives, can only be found if it's backed by unarguable evidence. And yet faith offers up no evidence. So how can so many people know beyond any doubt that they are all right? How can any one religion say that what they believe is the only truth in the world when there are so many countless different religions, literally an uncountable number of faiths that all claim to know the true answer?

The only conclusion that I can draw is that they can't all be right. If there is only one right answer, then the odds certainly aren't in your favour to pick the right one. I have heard people use the argument for believing in God that your options are simple: (1) Believe in God, and go to heaven when you die. (2) Believe in God, and nothing happens when you die. (3) Don't believe in God, and go to Hell when you die. (4) Don't believe in God, and nothing happens when you die.

But what's the point in believing in God when there are over 30,000 different Christian faiths alone. That's 30,000 different choices based around one central religion in which each denomination states that only theirs hold the truth. Now imagine just how many other religions there are, and how many different denominations there are within each of those religions, almost all of them with the shared idea that when you die you can only get into heaven by picking their God or Gods to believe in. So don't bother throwing the argument my way that you may as well take a gamble. I have better odds in winning the lottery 5 times in a row than I do in getting into heaven. Especially because even if I did somehow pick the right religion, but then happen to make one or two minor mistakes in my life that said religion doesn't condole, I still might not have a pass into eternal bliss. So really, the odds aren't exactly in my, or your, favour. Truth be told, I probably have about as much of a chance of getting into heaven as you, regardless of where you have chosen to put your faith.

If that came off as offensive, I apologize. I am not trying to offend. I am simply trying to explain why I'm an Atheist. It may seem like a awkward way of doing that, but it's hard. Explaining why one has put their faith in anything is difficult. But I am doing my best to step up to the challenge. Though I will admit that I won't answer the question completely within this chapter. This entire book, its every topic, will answer the question of "why" all the way up to the final line of the final chapter. This is only the foundation, the beginning of the rest of the novel, and the start of ideas that will be further explained and expanded upon.

So, for the sake of creating the groundwork, I became Atheist because as far as I can see, there is no logical alternative. Ultimately, I feel that God is nothing more than the creation of humanity for many reasons, all of which I will be sure to address. But I also believe with all my being that though God is too often treated with disrespect by those who are in power, be it political, religious, or both, the belief in someone or something greater than ourselves is a fundamental part of life and happiness for many people. Everyone copes with the world in different ways, and a lot of good people really do make their own lives better by believing in God. Unfortunately, not everyone who believes in God can be considered "good people," and it's there that the real problems are born.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chapter 3: The Birth of a Name

Writing a book about being an Atheist is no easy task. The differences embedded into the system makes it almost impossible for me to talk about every single aspect of our lives. But this book isn't about every single little denomination that Atheism has to offer. This book is about what I and a fraction of other Atheists like me believe. It's about the Religious Atheist, and what it means to be just that. So if I have taken the time to explain to you what other Atheists believe, it is only to give you a frame of reference.

And so it's time to dive deeper into what it means to be a Religious Atheist. I have already laid the foundation of our beliefs, but there's a whole lot more to it. The term "Religious Atheist" is clearly an oxymoron in its existence. I have had many arguments with many people, Religious and Atheist alike, about the use of this term. So I will start here.

I have heard it all when it comes to the title Religious Atheist. More often than not, I get to hear how it's stupid to say I'm a Religious Atheist when one cannot be both Religious and Atheist at the same time. People will argue to the grave that being Atheist means, by definition, the complete absence of religious faith.

Before anything else, let me give you the real definitions of both of these words:

A person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings

Member of a religious order, congregation, etc.

It's impossible to argue then that by definition, one can't be religious and be atheist, nor can they be atheist and religious. I will agree that the two terms don't seem as if they should go together, but the truth of the situation is that the reason they don't sound right back-to-back is because of a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be an Atheist or to be Religious.

Being Religious doesn't mean that you believe in God. Look at the Buddhist faith, one of my personal favourite religions. People have so often told me when talking about Buddhism that it isn't a religion. In a way, that's true. It's certainly not what we consider to be generic religion that stems from many of the same origins as most other world religions. One of the many definitions of religion is the belief in a supreme being or beings. Buddhism doesn't quite meet that quota. However, just because it falls short on one definition of religion, it doesn't mean that Buddhists aren't Religious. The definition of "Religious" clearly states that a Religious individual is someone who is part of a religious congregation or order. And fortunately for us, another of the many definitions of religion is the following:

1. A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.
2. The body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices.

So, though Buddhists may not believe in a supreme being, they clearly meet the quota of being both a religion and being religious.

Which brings us to Atheists. Based on both of the definitions of religion and Atheist, we atheists are just as religious as everyone else. We have our beliefs, but our faith lies in the idea that there is no God. And just like Believers, we Atheists have chosen to put our faith into something that we cannot prove. All that we have to convince you of our belief is the world around us, showing you what we see and proving what we know. But in the end, there is still this massive canyon of empty knowledge and lacking proof. Our only proof that there is no God is the fact that nobody can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there is one. In a beautiful parallel, the only proof that believers have that there is a God is the fact that non-believers can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there isn't one.

And so I state to you, as I have every other person who has told me that "because of the definitions of the words Religion, Religious, and Atheist, the title Religious Atheist can't exist because of its oxymoron quality," perhaps it's time you pick up that dictionary and have a quick look at what the words really mean. If anything, the words Religious Atheist go hand-in-hand, and the only problem the two words have is redundancy. Saying someone is a Religious Atheist is like saying someone is a Religious Jew or a Religious Christian.

Though I have addressed the main concern people seem to have with the name Religious Atheist, I would also like to quickly comment on another smaller concern I regularly get over the title. Though not as frequently as peoples concerns regarding the words Religious and Atheist going together, this comment does spring up from time-to-time. I have had people tell me on multiple occasions that I can't call myself a Religious Atheist because an Atheist is an Atheist. That is your belief. If you are an Atheist, then you are simply an Atheist. No matter what you add in front of the word Atheist, you will always be an Atheist just like all other Atheists.

I hope that by now, you as a reader have realized that this statement couldn't be further from the truth. Atheists seem to me to be more diverse than any other religion. Sure, we are grounded in one fundamental belief, and that is the belief that there is no God, but as I have stated before, we have no community or rules with which to bind ourselves. Once the declaration that there is no God has been made, then we are on our own to figure out what it is that makes up the massive tower that will become our religious beliefs. Sure, we may take a few ideas from a few passing Atheists, but for the most part these beliefs are our own with nobody telling us how or what to believe.

For this reason I believe that it is absolutely essential to give ourselves titles. We have for too long been just "Atheists", all lumped together without any real definition. It's this massive lumping that has caused so much static-ridden communication between Atheists and Believers. Believers are completely incapable of understanding us when we don't even have a way to express our own beliefs. But by telling us that we aren't allowed a title because all Atheists are just Atheists is like saying that all Religious people within the Christian faith are Orthodox. I doubt that Protestants, Lutherans, Baptists, Catholics, etc. alike would approve of this statement. In fact, I have a strange feeling there would be a lot of public outcry if anyone tried to make this the case. So if Believers are allowed to develop a new name for every minor change they make to their interpretation of a religion, why are Atheists not allowed to do the same?

I know that this is all just about a name, but a name helps both a group and an individual reach a level of self-definition it never could have achieved without a name. It lets others know before we even begin talking about a subject who we are, and in some cases, how we feel about certain issues. A name is a form of self expression and individuality. It can group us together or set us apart. A name is one of the most important parts of self-definition for many people, and so I stand by my name for both myself and all other Atheists like me. I am James R. Mitchener, and I am a Religious Atheist.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Chapter 2: Our Many Faces

So like many other faiths, Atheism is extremely denominational. Our roadblock, however, is the rather large fact that, unlike the religious, Atheists don't bother to declare their specific belief or bother to search out those who feel the same. They simply make the declaration that they don't believe in God, and then keep all the details to themselves. I suppose that this is one of the only solid consistencies amongst Atheists. We all tend to be loners in our 'practiced' beliefs.

It's this loner aspect of our lives that makes it so difficult for each Atheist to know what the other believes. And with our difficulty, we simply choose not to care. So imagine, then, how hard it must be for the religious to know our differences when we ourselves are incapable of knowing. The poor religious, only trying to understand what it is that we believe and why we believe it, are thrown up against a brick wall of communication that moves for nobody.

Occasionally, however, one will stumble across a fellow Atheist who is very willing to talk, sometimes endlessly, about what he or she believes. But like I have stressed over and over, this individuals beliefs are not the beliefs of us all. this particular Atheist could talk for hours about what he or she considers the essential or true Atheist, but just like no Christian belief is more right than another, nor are this Atheist's beliefs more right than any other Atheist's.

All this dodging and weaving around what makes up an Atheist only raises one question, one I can hear others screaming constantly in their heads whenever I try to explain this to them. We are a creature of knowledge, and that knowledge is born of experience and question. The question you are most likely asking now is: 'Who the hell are you, and what the hell do you people believe then?!'

I promise, I will do my best to explain. I will do my best to answer your question, along with any other questions you may have as we progress through the rest of this book. But before I tell you who I am and what it is that I believe, let me first tell you about some of the Atheists I have come across in my life. Some of them I have loved, some I have hated. AS I said before, there is no community amongst Atheists. I make each decision on whether or not I will like a particular Atheist based on each one I meet. They are no different than anyone else. their beliefs do not sway my perception of them one bit. It's all about the personality.

That being said, let me begin with a type of Atheist you all probably know. This specific 'denomination' tends to be the most vocal. They are the only type of Atheist that I have met which forms up into pseudo-communities in order to achieve their goal; to make others believe that there is no God. Though their intentions could be paired with the intentions of any religious convert, it's their actions that separates them from these other groups. We will call this type of Atheist, thanks to their behaviour which will be further explained, the 'Hostile Atheists.'

My first prolonged experience with Hostile Atheists wasn't until I attended University. I went to school in San Antonio, TX, south of what is known in the United States as the 'Bible Belt.' There are plenty of Christians in Texas, much more than anywhere else I've lived. Largely because of this, there aren't many Atheists, or if there are, they don't make themselves known. I was in a graduating class of over 700 people in high school in Houston, TX. I was the only Atheist I knew.

I believe that it's largely because of this Atheist isolation that so many Hostile Atheists sprung up in University. You throw a large collection of similarly aged and minded students together in their first parent-free environment, it becomes almost inevitable that you will have people acting in ways that they never were able to before. It's not really their fault most of the time. If you suppress self-expression, it has a tendency to violently erupt when the restraints are removed.

It's all these characteristics of development that produces Hostile Atheists. These particular Atheists voice their opinions in rather insulting ways. They use guilt and aggression to attempt to sway others. but oftehn, their goals are not to convert. They don't care about making you believe what they believe. They already have their fellow believers, and they consider themselves elite in their understanding of the world. So instead of converting or sharing their beliefs, they focus on segregation and isolation. Like children in an elementary school, Hostile Atheists bully the religious with slogans like 'Without god there would be no more war!' and 'You can't believe in science and God!' Their goals aren't to convert the believers, but instead to rally support targeted towards making the religious feel unwanted. Hostile Atheists are manipulators, and quite often cruel ones at that.

We aren't all bad. I know I started with one of our least lovable denominations, but I'll try and redeem us a little here. Another type of Atheist is one which tends to keep all beliefs hidden. We will call this denomination the Secret Atheist. Secret Atheists have their beliefs, and then keep them all to themselves. They believe what they believe, but don't have any desire to share it with anyone. My grandmother was once a Secret Atheist, until the years rolled by and she became a little more vocal. Once upon a time, no matter how hard you probed her for answers, she wouldn't even give you a hint. That's just the way the Secret Atheist lives. Like Atheism requires, they live alone and silently, going about their ways with friends and family, but keeping their social lives and religious lives separate.

The Secret Atheist has a very close cousin called the Quiet Atheist. The Quiet Atheist is much like its cousin in many ways. They're non-confrontational, relaxed in their beliefs, and unwilling to share what they hold to be true. The only difference really is that Quiet Atheists will actually discuss what they believe when probed by people they trust. This is the type of Atheist my grandmother became in the later years of her life.

Now we are starting to get to Atheists who are more like myself. This type of Atheist we will now discuss is one I like to call the Conversational Atheist. This particular Atheist tends to be quite willing to talk about his or her beliefs, even if he may not fully understand them himself. Education and culture aren't part of the Conversational Atheist's arsenal. He isn't smart or worldly or wise. he is just a regular character who has, for whatever reason, chosen not to believe in God and wants you to know about it. Fortunately, the Conversational Atheist is a harmless breed. Often he has chosen to become an Atheist because he feels wronged personally by God. I find this to be most common with Conversational Atheists; when a person falls from religion, he most often ends up here in the Conversational Atheist corner. They are unable to convert others because most of the time their beliefs are grounded in personal history rather than logical reasoning. So though a Conversational Atheist may seem as though he is trying to sway your opinions, he really isn't. All he really wants is a bit of your time to talk to you about his life and where he's coming from.

This next denomination I would like to call the Evolutionist Atheist, but thanks to people not understanding that evolution isn't debatable, it's proven science, people have decided that 'Evolutionists' are a faith-based group rather than just people trying to progress human knowledge. So, I will instead call this denomination of Atheists the Darwinist Atheists. These Atheists are the next step from Conversation Atheists. They also enjoy talking about their faith, but they have chosen Atheism because their education has taken them there. They simply can't juggle faith in God and an extensive education. This happens a lot with people who follow the researcher or life-time student track. I think it has to do with the fact that they spend so much time focusing on what they can know for sure that they forget how to just believe in something. Without solid evidence, they are unconvinced, and the less grounded in reality that evidence is, the harder it is for them to believe. It's either that, or after a lifetime of education and studying how the world works, they lose all hope in both humanity and God. All I know is that these Atheists are one of the most common types of Atheists in the world. They have the most varied belief system and all come to their beliefs in different ways. They are the missionaries of the Atheist faith, using what they have learned throughout their lives to teach people how God simply cannot exist. They are probably the strongest willed Atheists as well, because no matter what anyone says, a Darwinist Atheist will never change his mind. He will always be an Atheist, no matter what, and he will try to tell you why he's right with equal dedication.

Which brings us to the final main category of Atheists that I will be talking about in this chapter. This denomination is the title denomination, and the type of Atheist that I consider myself to be. We are Religious Atheists. The Religious Atheist believes that there is no God thanks to a life of Religious exposure. I am not talking about experiencing just one religion, or two, or three. Religious Atheists have experiences countless different faiths from all reaches of the world. It's this extreme religious exposure that overloads the senses, rendering us unable to believe that with so many different faiths out there, how could it be possible that any one of them is the correct one? And so it seems to us that religion must be the creation of man, not the requirement of God. But the most important part of being a Religious Atheist is this: We will never say that you, regardless of your faith, whatever it may be, are wrong. Like you, we have chosen a particular belief system that works for us, and our is simply to not believe in any God at all. But it's still faith. Just like for whatever you believe, this is what works for us.

So, by doing my best to scratch the surface of the Atheist faith, I believe I have given you some of our most commonly occurring denominations. But there's an extremely important side note here that you must pay attention to in order to fully understand how we work. Unlike with religious denominations which are secure in their beliefs, the Atheist's lack of community allows for a pick and choose quality to our denominations. Any aspect of any of these faiths can cross over into another, depending on the believer. For example, I am a Religious Atheist. However, I have a hint of Darwinist and Conversational Atheist in me as well. I absolutely love to talk about God. Unlike Darwinist and Conversational Atheists, however, I speak of God as if I believed in him myself. But that's a subject for a later chapter.

Just know, as you turn the pages of this book, that though we have many denominations like many other faiths, ours are open to be twisted and manipulated based on the believer. With no one telling Atheists what to believe, I'm afraid this is inevitable. But maybe that's one of the most attractive qualities of our faith?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chapter 1: Your Friend the Atheist

Chances are good that I'm not the only Atheist you know. I for one have several Atheist friends, and my friendship with them has nothing to do with me being an Atheist myself. The religious tend to assume that Atheists all have this strong connection or bond, that we are all part of this massive team of people with a single goal in mind, and that goal is to disprove God. Though I know several Atheists who believe exactly that, for many of us, the desire to disprove God isn't our driving force.

You see, being an Atheist is extremely different from being religious in one major sense when it comes to community. The religious are joined together by whatever form of congregation their religion takes part in. Now, I realize that not every religion requires its believers to come together and pray, but for the most part, this is a fairly common rule. In order to truly participate in an organized religion, one is required to attend regular services to their God or Gods. In these services, the community comes together and shares in what they believe by expressing their faith as one giant body of believers.

If Atheists were to come together in such a manner, we wouldn't exactly have a whole lot to talk about. This is largely because the term Atheist is an overly general term used to describe any individual who doesn't believe in a supreme being, or really any form of post-mortem activity. But like many religions, it's impossible to give a single title to what we as Atheists believe.

Take for example the Christian faith. There are in the Christian faith several thousand different denominations. Granted, most of these are insignificant and consist of only a handful of believers, but even in the most predominant denominations there are drastic differences in what each believes. And yet, they still consider themselves to be Christians, regardless of their differences.

The point that I am trying to make here is this. Let's say I were to meet two people at the same time, both of them friends, and both of them religious. For the sake of discussion in the rest of this book, all the religious and atheist characters created here will, for the most part, be willing to discuss their faith with each other and myself. I know that in real life, this makes these characters confrontational, but this is a book and the characters aren't real, even if they are modelled off the experiences of my life and the people I have met. Now, returning to the problem at hand, the first of the two people, who we will call Luther, introduces himself, shakes my hand, and tells me he is Lutheran. Then, the next person introduces herself, we will call her Cathy, shakes my hand, and tells me she's Roman Catholic. If I were to then say to both of these individuals 'Ah, so you are both Christian! So then you both believe the same thing then, don't you?' Cathy and Luther would very quickly correct me and detail the differences in their faiths.

But what would happen if Cathy or Luther met two Atheist friends who we shall call Ethan and Niki? Because Atheism is such a neglected belief system, by both the religious and fellow Atheists, I can't say with any certainty how this situation would unfold. From my experiences, this is the most commonly occurring answer to the question of a religious confronting two or more Atheists. Cathy or Luther would ask 'Ah, so you are both Atheists? Then you both don't believe in God. Why?'

And then Ethan and Niki immediately accept that they are in one category of disbelief and are now on a united front to defend themselves. What unfolds from here is an interesting balancing act that can't be seen by either Cathy or Luther, but is constantly being watched by Ethan and Niki. You see, Ethan and Niki know that they won't see eye to eye on many topics in the Atheist arsenal. They may not even fully understand what they themselves believe. What they know is that they both don't believe in God, and that they are both in the act of defending their beliefs, whatever they may be. So they watch each other carefully, listen to what each other says, and pay far more attention than Cathy or Luther to the words that are coming out of each others mouths.

This is all because of one of the biggest flaws in the Atheist faith, and that's the shared belief amongst most Atheists and the religious that just because we have chosen not to believe in God, that we believe exactly the same thing. The truth of the matter is, our faith can be as different as any two denominations of the same religion. In fact, Ethan and Niki could believe such extremely different things regarding their Atheism that they could be akin to a Taoist and a Roman Catholic.


Welcome to The Religious Atheist. I believe, before I begin explaining the purpose of this endeavour, it is important for me to express my thanks for you actually taking time out of your day to read these words. My gratitude and concern are born of two inevitable responses of hearing or reading the word 'Atheist'; The first being the response of the religious, which is always a cocked head and a disagreeable look, as if by hearing the word 'Atheist' it just became the job of the listener to immediately save me from my eternal damnation. The alternative response is that of a smile, a hand shake, and a compliment from a fellow atheist for being something 'different.'

As sad as it may be, this is how the world seems to view Atheists. We are either a problem to be fixed, or a select few elite that are only recognized as elite by others of our kind. Both of these ideas are massively flawed, and both of them portray atheists as something different, some sort of massive problem or an egotistical cult. Perhaps both.

The truth of the matter is quite different. Atheists are, like all believers, drastically varied in shape, size, form, and faith. Atheists are not all of the same mindset. We do not all agree on every idea that comes out of every other Atheists mouth. And most importantly, we are not all stuck-up, self-centred, egotistical pricks who believe that the only way to achieve a perfect world is to remove God completely from our minds.

That being said, what is it that makes this collection important to you?

The purpose of this is not to convert you from your beliefs. It is not to plant a seed of doubt in your mind to later destroy everything you have ever known. The reason for creating this collection is simple: It's to show you, whatever you may believe in, that like yourself, Atheists aren't all bad. Sure, we have our assholes. But so do you. Sure, we have our extremists whose voices are loudest. But so do you. And sure, the facts that support our beliefs only take us so far, and then we are forced to take one massive leap of faith and just say 'This is what I know!' But so do you.

So, as you read these chapters of what it's like to be what I have coined 'A Religious Atheist,' know that what you are reading is simply a way of life. It's the belief of an individual amongst many. I am going to show you a side of a community that is often portrayed in a far too negative light. I am going to show you a life that requires just as much in terms of faith as any other believer, anywhere in the world. I am going to show you that, despite what you may or may not know about the Atheist community, we do not believe we are all knowing or all powerful.

I am going to show you what it means to be a real Atheist.

Welcome, to The Religious Atheist.