Live Through This

Beyond Belief

A conversation about atheism, between atheists.

JENNY: When I was a kid, I started thinking about how I couldn’t remember what it was like before I was born, how we have no memories of what it’s like to not exist, and then I thought, So this means that when we die, we will have no memories of what it was like to ever have existed. That scared me, because I wanted to remember my mother and my father and my LIFE. I wanted to live my life and always live it—but always living it was as scary a thought as one day never living it again.

Then I thought maybe reincarnation would be a nice thing, but the thought of dying and being born all over again was terrifying too. All of it was terrifying. I wanted to believe in God, and I wanted the comfort of believing in heaven to keep me from obsessively thinking about death; but every time I tried to imagine heaven, or reincarnation, or life after death, the thought just felt completely empty. I felt no connection to the idea of an immortal soul—it didn’t have the urgency of truth. The only thing that felt true was that when we die, we cease to exist—and that was terrifying. Some days I’d be watching cartoons and eating Twinkies and then suddenly it would hit me: I’m gonna die. I won’t know any of this one day or remember it ever happened. I wanted so badly to believe otherwise, but it just didn’t feel right.

DANIELLE: I think for a lot of people religion is mainly about finding a community that shares your beliefs—getting together with family and neighbors over a common idea—which can be rad. I don’t want to discount the positive side of religion, you know?

JENNY: I sometimes envy the instant community that religion affords. And I’m very moved by the ways in which organized religion has contributed to so much beneficence in the world. I’m thinking about the very important and deep connection between the civil rights movement and Christianity in America, just to point out one of many, many examples. When I moved to San Francisco after college, I realized that most of the city’s services for homeless folks were being run by churches, and I was like, “Dude, atheists, STEP UP YOUR GAME.”

DANIELLE: Sometimes being an atheist feels like there’s extra room for apathy. Then again, maybe that’s just who you are as a person—if you’re apathetic, religion isn’t going to fix that. But too often atheists are pitted against people who believe, and that’s just damaging and shortsighted.

JENNY: Yeah, it’s not a good idea to pit atheists against people of religious faith like I just did right now. A love for compassion and a desire for more of it in the world does not have to come from religious faith, but it also very well can. I feel like not growing up religious has helped me recognize the things I think are good about religion, as well as the things I think are not so good.

DANIELLE: It helps you stay a little objective.

JENNY: Do you think it’s arrogant of us to say we are atheists and not agnostic—that we don’t leave room for the possibility of God or any god(s)?

DANIELLE: I don’t. When I was a teenager I used to work at a Catholic convent (long story), and I would constantly ask the sisters questions about their role in the community, or why they drove brand-new cars if they had taken a vow of poverty—things like that. The only answer I ever got was “Because!”—like I was a toddler asking why the sky is blue. But one day, one of the sisters said, “It is not wise to question religion as if you could possibly know the world at your age.” And I was like, Did you just dismiss my curiosity because I’m a teenager? How rude! At that point in my life, I still thought that maybe one day I’d find the “right” religion—my atheism was more about not wanting to be Catholic than it was about knowing what I really believed or didn’t believe. But that nun was so dismissive about what she saw as my arrogance that she didn’t even recognize her own.

I’m not saying that it’s OK to be arrogant as an atheist because others are arrogant about their religions—I’m saying that it’s not arrogant to know what you do or don’t believe, as long as you don’t dismiss the beliefs of others as ignorance or naïveté. Being an atheist, for me, isn’t about condemning religion or pointing out fault—I just want to go through the world without someone else’s consciousness oppressing me.

Do you feel arrogant because you don’t call yourself an agnostic?

JENNY: I don’t know. I guess for me it’s like, how can it possibly be arrogant if my beliefs will never affect anyone other than me? If I don’t try to convince anyone that I’m right and they’re wrong? I will never shame someone for not believing what I believe. (And I will never support any legislation that restricts anyone’s freedom to believe what they want.)

DANIELLE: Preach.

JENNY: I will never go to another country and try to convert the people who live there to my system of beliefs. I will never ask anyone to donate money to me or my religious beliefs so I can persuade other people to believe what I believe. I mean, I could go on and on. But it just seems the opposite of arrogant because I am not denying anyone anything.

DANIELLE: I want to print that on a pillow.

JENNY: It can be powerful to ask yourself, OK, what if there is no higher power? What if there is absolutely no one, no deity who cares if I exist or don’t exist? What if there is absolutely no reason or purpose for why I was put on this earth? Would I still want to be a more loving person and want the world to be full of more compassion, more kindness, more beauty? I’ll answer for myself, and the answer is yes, yes, YES. ♦

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106 Comments

  • purrr December 11th, 2012 3:28 PM

    I think it’s strange how religions are these compilations of beliefs about how people came along to exist, what will happen when they seemingly cease to exist, explaining the “supernatural”, and being some sort of moral guidance.

    Also I think it’s extremely strange how people still debate about religion. And politics.

    When I was a little kid, I thought I lived in this really great progressive world, that when people vote, they vote for the “good guy”, and that everyone is respectful and understanding, and that women and men are equal.. And then I grow up into this big world of confusion.. Honestly, I don’t know what to believe in at all.

    anyway, thanks for talking about faith in a way that doesn’t try to go and “convert” me. that’s always something that really sets me off from exploring new religions/non-religions.

    http://sanctifiedyouth.blogspot.com/

    • wuhme December 11th, 2012 10:17 PM

      I just want to ask why you think it’s strange for us to debate about religion and politics?
      There would be constant debate of such matter until we truly have equality for everyone. People fight for freedom of religion… and we should until everyone’s beliefs are respected without discrimination and prejudice. I also want to point out that good “guy” doesn’t include women. If you truly believe in equality… please do not suggest that we stop fighting for our rights.

  • joenjwang December 11th, 2012 3:29 PM

    I just wanted to say that it’s not like “religious” people don’t question and critique their religion as well. For me, I believe in the Bible, but wonder if the religion of Christianity has not muddled things. I think my family’s beliefs are sort of very Levinas-esque and……gah. I would love to give a more coherent and thoughtful input, but I can’t right now (finals!!!). Regardless! lovely article.

  • moonchild December 11th, 2012 3:41 PM

    This is awesome! As a Buddhist, I kind of don’t really know where I stand. I guess I’m not really a “religious” Buddhist, in that I don’t really know if/think I believe in reincarnation or spirits etc. but I really just like the teachings of the Buddha, like compassion and love, and I love the whole atmosphere and feeling of the monastery I go to.

    Also, I talked to one of the nuns at the monestary, and we discussed how Buddhism, or any religion/philosophy/group is just exactly what you want it to be for yourself so I really like that.

    I guess I am pretty much atheist, but I feel like maybe something happens after we die… maybe we are all one collective consciousness and we all come together like waves into the ocean… I really just don’t know.

    Love,
    Gwen
    http://under-a-bridge.blogspot.com/

  • WitchesRave December 11th, 2012 3:43 PM

    My answer to people who find it incoprehendable that i do not believe in god is asking them do they believe in Zeus, in Krishna and that they dont believe in 2378 gods, i dont believe in 2379 gods.

    witches-rave.tumblr.com

  • Ladymia69 December 11th, 2012 3:55 PM

    Witchy, atheist, Christ-lover, Krishna-lover, there is a place for us all here…on Rookie. <3

    • marimba_girl December 11th, 2012 7:00 PM

      This ^^^ exactly my thoughts

  • Kasey December 11th, 2012 4:01 PM

    This resonated with me so much <3 When you're an atheist, the general assumption people make is that you "lost your faith" at some point. While that is the case a lot of the time, I'm one of those people who never really had a faith.

  • HomieV537 December 11th, 2012 4:16 PM

    I hope what I’m about to comment doesn’t make me sound like a hateful Christian fanatic who can dish judgement but can’t take it.

    I’ve noticed that many of the Rookie articles (and in no way do I mean to target this one) about religion seem to bash Catholicism, way more than they bash Protestant Christianity. I mean, I guess I wouldn’t be so offended if the authors merely said that they converted from Catholicism, and left it at that, but the authors seem to fixate on their claims that Catholicism is not accepting and hates anyone who’s different. Even this would be okay if Rookie published any articles pro- Catholicism, but, if my memory’s correct, so far there hasn’t been any. I just feel like this site emphasizes all of the bad things about Catholicism, and never mentions any of the incredibly good things about Catholicism. I’m not even super religious… I can admit that the Catholic Church has a history of being fucked up, but it’s also produced some really good things as well (Mother Teresa, anyone?). And like, you guys seem to think that Catholics try to convert people to Catholicism, but I’ve never known a Catholic who has done that (maybe it’s just where I’m from?).

    Also, now that I’m on the topic, those church candles that you guys covered with lindsay lohan’s & justin bieber’s faces (it was part of an xmas gift article i think?) were extremely offensive. It’s like covering Buddha’s face in a poster of Buddha with a celeb’s face. Something you guys supposedly deemed as wrong and politically incorrect in that cultural appropriation article.

    • Anaheed December 11th, 2012 4:22 PM

      You want to write something for us about Catholicism? Please do! We’d love to publish something smart by a young Catholic. (That goes for all of you readers, whatever your religion: submissions@rookiemag.com) xxAA

      • noquierodecir December 15th, 2012 10:31 AM

        I mean, yeah, I know this is from a little while ago but I was hoping you guys could address those candles.
        I’m not Catholic, and when I first saw them I wasn’t, like, super offended, but I do NOT understand how you guys reconciled posting that with, for example, some of the stuff in the cultural misappropriation article.
        Can we talk about that, or get an inner look at why that was?

        • Anaheed December 15th, 2012 4:12 PM

          Jamie, who did that piece, doesn’t write for us anymore, and I don’t want to speak for her. But as an editor I can say that those candles seemed, at the time, similar to other ways in which people use sacred symbolism as metaphor—making a shrine to Morrissey, for example, or drawing a halo above someone’s head, or saying you “worship” Beyoncé, or calling someone an “icon,” or whatever. And I had seen so many of those kinds of “celebrity prayer candles” in random knick-knack stores and on Etsy that I was inured to them, I guess. But now that so many of you have told me otherwise in the comments, I wouldn’t make the same judgment call again. So, sorry and thank you!

        • noquierodecir December 16th, 2012 7:16 PM

          @Anaheed,
          That makes loads of sense!
          Thank you, as always, for replying.
          :)

    • ICantThinkOfAUsername December 11th, 2012 5:58 PM

      Just on the topic of those candles and appropriation, I was curious as to whether anybody could clear something up for me.

      I had always considered cultural appropriation to be based in culture, and taking things from a culture that you are not a part of and do not necessarily understand. However, many would argue (including myself) that we in the West (I know that not everybody who reads Rookie is from the Western World, but I believe that it is geared towards Western, especially North American, audiences) live in a Christian culture. Our history revolves very much around the advent of and challenges to Christianity, and our societies and shared customs are very much based out of Christian beliefs and values; for example: the widespread value of “pure” virgin women above all else is very much a product of the Medieval Christian belief that virginity is a woman’s ideal state; our societies’s marked celebration of Christmas in public spaces.

      I would further argue that many of us who have grown up in Christian societies as non-Christians still have a significant knowledge of its various religious teachings, as they exist in our societies as cultural knowledge.

      So, my question is this: If one lives in a Christian society, does not subscribe to any Christian faith, but does play with the symbols/icons of that faith (which this person is somewhat/well acquainted with), should this be considered cultural appropriation, or something different?

      If anybody has any thoughts on this matter, they would be greatly appreciated :)

      • periwinkle_dreams December 11th, 2012 8:25 PM

        I’m an American Christian who’s grown up in a town with some legitimate Catholics/Christians, but not a ton. It’s a big town with only two small Christian churches. My experience in English classes was the opposite of Jenny’s – besides the teacher, no one else understood the literature’s allusions to the Bible, and sometimes even the teacher wasn’t sure. So, I ended up in the slightly awkward situation of explaining everything…it just felt weird to be talking about my faith in school, like I was doing something wrong.

        Anyway, my point is, I didn’t grow up in a place where Christian culture was as pervasive as it is in other places. Christianity wasn’t really respected. A lot of well-meaning people said things like, “It’s not that I don’t respect Christians, I just don’t think you can believe what they believe and also call yourself a rational, intelligent person.”, or “I can’t say I respect Christians…but, I mean, I respect YOU.” I hear a lot of qualifying statements like that from friends.

        Long story short: Often, appropriation of Christian symbols/etc by non-Christians is done without respect or appreciation of the Christian tradition, and, in my opinion, that’s wrong. But I don’t really get angry when I see an artist like Ke$ha wearing a cross necklace as part of her “look”, or when my friends use Jesus’ name as a swear word, because I feel like there’s nothing I can do about it. If I said I found that offensive, people would say I was being too sensitive.

        I think before we appropriate anything, we need to understand and respect the tradition it came from.

        • ICantThinkOfAUsername December 12th, 2012 12:54 AM

          Thanks for replying. I agree 100% with you that understanding and respect need to be paramount when considering the customs and traditions of others, especially when they are sacred.

          I’m from a sizeable city in Australia, and Christianity is such a tangible aspect of our culture that the majority of the people I know who grew up in non-Christian households are still very well versed in Christian narratives and contemporary Christian teachings. That’s why, for me, it doesn’t seem like cultural appropriation Christian culture is appropriated by people in the West, because these people are members of a Christian society.

          I guess the issue of contention is the fact that while Christianity is omnipresent (no pun intended) in Western culture (or cultures), it is also deeply personal, which is why respect is so important.

          Also, if you think appropriation is being carried out in a disrespectful manner, I think you absolutely have the right to say something about it without worrying of being perceived as “too sensitive”.

          P.S. I hate it when intelligence is brought up as an issue when discussing matters of faith/religion!! I have run into many fellow-atheists who expect me to justify them in their belief that they are mentally superior for not having a god/gods. Like, no, intelligence has absolutely nothing to do with it!

      • Kasey December 11th, 2012 9:17 PM

        This is mainly based on experience: I made one of those “celebrity religious candles” for my friend who lives in a very Catholic household. I was nervous to see what her mom would say, but she said she didn’t think it was offensive at all and thought it was cute.

        In my opinion, for this specific case, I think because Catholicism is more focused on the figures ON the candles than the candles themselves, it’s generally ok. It’s instances where like, people take pictures of the Virgin Mary crying blood with pentagrams everywhere that it gets not-OK.

    • AnguaMarten December 11th, 2012 6:30 PM

      i’m… gonna have to disagree with you here. because the catholic church does have a history of being fucked up. it’s still fucked up. and i think it’s important to call out fucked up shit. i’m not denying the good catholics have done and are doing, but it’s not like any of that’s a secret. like, we all expect an organization built on ideals of love, peace, generosity, etc to do good things. so when that doesn’t happen, it’s frustrating and disillusioning. i have a really complicated relationship with the catholic church, as an institution, because it has done a lot of good things and a lot of bad things, neither of which negate the other. i don’t even know what i’m trying to say. i guess, if the catholic church ostensibly supplies the sole moral compass for millions of people, then it really really makes me angry when they do things that are just incredibly awful? it just sickens me that this supposed paragon of goodness had unchecked sexual abuse being committed by its members. i can never support an organization like that. i’m not saying that catholics are bad people, not at all. i just have no love for the church.

    • marineo December 11th, 2012 7:23 PM

      As a “non-practicing” catholic (raised catholic, confirmed, but i still have issues believing in god), I’ve noticed that is culturally trendy to bash catholicism. Catholicism in pop culture as seen as the only “bad” christian religion. That is not to say that other Christina faiths don’t get bashed, just not in the same manner, with the same vehemence.
      In freshman year, there was a girl in my English class who proclaimed “All Catholics are horrible, disgusting people” right to my face. This was someone who was (and still is) my friend. I was hurt in a way that is very hard to explain because although I did not actively believe in God, Catholicism is a part of my identity and childhood, and the identities and childhoods of everyone in my family. And she wasn’t doing this to be mean or because she actually believed it, she said it because she was trying to be trendy. This hateful sentence was supposed to make her cool. And it probably did, everyone laughed and said haha you’re so right.
      I mean, come on, we didn’t even have a Catholic President until Kennedy because people were afraid that the Pope would control the white house. If you look back to almost any point before that, Catholics, especially Irish Catholics, were considered one of the undesireables. That is not to say in any way that they recieved the same discrimination as non-whites, but treating Catholics as evil is something that goes back to the beginning.

      However, I have no great love for the Church as an institution.

      & as homie said, no catholic i’ve met has ever tried to convert anyone…

      • Kathryn December 11th, 2012 8:32 PM

        I think it totally varies from church to church. There is a Catholic church in the Twin Cities area (MN) that my relatives attend called Joan of Arc Church. Gloria Steinem was a guest speaker there one time. (This church is routinely “getting in trouble” with the Church, apparently.) The Catholic church I’m getting confirmed in, Our Lady of Victory, would NEVER allow someone like that to speak here. OLV obnoxiously hung a giant banner over the doors urging us to “VOTE YES: MARRIAGE = ONE MAN, ONE WOMAN!”

        There Catholics who are wonderful people and there are Catholics who suck. There are Catholic churches that are very open minded and Catholic churches that are very closed minded, just like any other religion. I think that the “bad” Catholic people get more attention, because, you know, the whole sexual abuse thing and all of the other icky things are going to cover up the Catholics who are good people. So when you think about it, it’s not surprising that Catholics get bad hype, but that’s not to say that all Catholics are bad people!

        On the subject of the candles: I’m glad you brought it up, because I was wondering that too. I felt conflicted because I wasn’t offended and thought they were kinda funny but also felt like they could be really offensive to some people.

        • Kathryn December 11th, 2012 8:45 PM

          Also, I don’t think that “Jesus was a boy” is a good enough reason to not allow women to be priests, but whatever. Just thought I’d throw that in because I’ve commented on like 3 different articles now about Catholicism but haven’t mentioned that. Sorry to whoever is moderating, haha

    • Bug December 11th, 2012 10:08 PM

      Totally, totally, agree with you. I was raised Catholic, and even though I’m practicing at all anymore, I would still consider myself *culturally catholic* or something like that. Like I went through all the rituals (as bored as I was) and it’s part of who I am.

      Really sick of the “let’s dress up like catholic girls and wear crosses while at the same time laughing at anyone who isn’t as ~teen witchy~ as we are” thing going on here.

    • NotReallyChristian December 12th, 2012 4:16 PM

      Mother Teresa is a somewhat controversial figure – I personally wouldn’t be thrilled to be treated by someone who refused to administer painkillers because patients (including non-Christian ones) should be super-excited to be experiencing the suffering of Christ. I don’t think she was a bad woman or anything, but I do think some of her teaching and treatment did more harm than good, and that we are failing ourselves if we refuse to look critically.

      (In case you’re worried about my username, I’m not a big bad Christian-hater: it’s a pun on my real given name, which is ‘Christian’).

    • Martinapovolo December 12th, 2012 7:19 PM

      I am very glad you said this because i feel the same way but im not very good with words

  • Abby December 11th, 2012 4:25 PM

    You two just managed to sum up basically everything I feel about being an atheist in one blog post. Maybe I should pray to you or something.

  • alisatimi December 11th, 2012 4:58 PM

    I think it’s interesting that you approach atheism with the perspective that religion is the norm and as non-believers you kind of feel like you have to explain yourselves. I’m an atheist as well, and having lived in the Czech Republic (one of the least religious countries in the world) for most of my life, I’ve always seen it as the standard. I think that though sometimes people go overboard with denouncing religion as some kind of brainwashing, they’ve managed to strike a nice balance with educating people about alternative views – we were required to read the bible at school, and had some very interesting discussions about it.
    I sometimes wish I’d been exposed to religion more, but I think an atheist environment gave me more freedom. It would be simplistic to say that atheist = liberal, though.

  • aliosh December 11th, 2012 5:20 PM

    I think it would be interesting to investigate atheism also within Judaism. I struggle to feel any connection to religion and believe in a God, but a lot of times in Jewish families it’s more than just beliefs that are so important. It is the most important thing to my grandparents and parents that I marry a Jew and identify as a Jew, because so many Jewish people died and fight daily for their beliefs. I fully agree with Jewish teachings of morals and stuff, but I have trouble backing up the things about God and heaven and that kind of stuff the same way. It’s hard for me to accept these things, but I feel like I am letting down my family and ancestors if I choose not to believe in God.

    • inkandhonesty January 31st, 2013 6:47 PM

      I’m glad Judaism was brought up. I’m Jewish, and I definitely feel the pressure from my family to marry a Jew. I feel like Jewish culture and tradition is just as important as the actual religious side in Judaism. Like, my mom asked me if I was Jewish when I told her I didn’t like locks (smoked salmon). Anyway, I love the cultural side. But sometimes I look at the Torah and other text and it doesn’t match up with my feminist and socially liberal beliefs, and my ideas of love and compassion and forgiveness. But I think that’s ok, because I don’t believe G-d will damn me for not agreeing fullheartedly with the Torah.

      And I don’t want’ to seem like a know it all, but I don’t think Jews believe in a heaven or hell, just an afterlife with G-d.

      Rookie needs an article on Judaism.

  • Helenus December 11th, 2012 5:25 PM

    I don’t think religions and their beliefs/practices are especially fascinating, and not really worth debating. As an atheist and a nihilist, I think they’re creepy and pointless. But hey, do what you want and believe what you wish, so long as you aren’t telling me how I should live my life or what I can/cannot do with my body.

    Religious ART, on the other hand, is incredibly interesting. It doesn’t matter if you’re admiring the art from a spiritual or secular standpoint, religious art is amazing and can be appreciated by even the most militant atheist.

  • unicorn December 11th, 2012 5:26 PM

    When I tell people I’m an atheist, I feel like the one think most of them can’t get is how I don’t believe in any higher power. People will try to come up with situations like, “But if someone died, you would pray to God, right?” and when I reply that no, I wouldn’t, I get looked at like I’m a soulless heathen.
    The adults in my life seem to think that I’m just going through a rebellious phase or something, and one of my teachers even told me that I would grow up damaged and murdering people if I didn’t have faith. It’s frustrating!
    Even though I can’t articulate it as well as the article did up there, being an atheist doesn’t make me a bad person! I’m not going to start stabbing people! I’m not some sort of cold, rational, scientific person who doesn’t care about anything!
    Thank you, Danielle and Jenny. This helped.

    • Jen L. December 11th, 2012 11:41 PM

      Ahh totally with you! I think it’s incredibly empowering to be able to say that as atheists we don’t need the idea of a higher power (or the threat of hell) hovering over us in order to make good decisions… That we make them just because we can and because the only thing we know for sure is that we have life right now, so might as well make the best of it!

      • Kathrin Franz March 27th, 2013 8:07 PM

        you can have both ;)
        i was long agnostic but then had a kind of epiphany.. and am not muslim. and there are lot of thing which i have problems with-but these problems with fellow believers arent undoing my experience and this relationship to god.
        and i think-well now i cant choose not to believe and so i want to try to live my life as good as i can-but i dont think that you need god for this-i think my belief is my belief-thats the point. if someone other want s or dont want to believe thats fine. you dont need god to get ethics-if you life up through the golden rule-dont do something to others unless you want it done to you then everything should be fine, i hope.

        and-pro gay marriage. i am bisexual so i am biased. and pissed of by the homophobia in our world. but i wont chance that with only saying “i wont believe until your people, dear god starting to getting decent”… sadly that doesnt work^^.

        so. everything for the win if you are happy.

  • Me December 11th, 2012 5:31 PM

    I feel like where I live, in a semi-rural town in England, Atheism (or being agnostic) is the norm. I would say about 70% of my classmates don’t believe in a God. I find it so weird hearing about people finding atheists weird and questioning them, when I’m used to the questions being aimed at those who are religious rather than those who aren’t.

    • jayne12 December 11th, 2012 6:47 PM

      I feel the same way! I guess most parts of America are ‘more religious’ than most parts of Britain?

    • bewarethejabberwock December 11th, 2012 7:36 PM

      I’m the same way! I live in a city in England, and I’d guesstimate about the same proportion atheist as well (maybe slightly less).

      I’m atheist and left-wing (not saying they are the same thing, obviously, but I do think where I live religion and politics can be tenuously linked) and so is my immediate family and wider circle of school friends.

      For this reason, I sort of take it for granted that my friends are at least KIND OF similar to me, but I had a wake-up call recently because two of my best friends (whom I knew were Christian, but I didn’t realise they were STRONGLY Christian) said that they were offended by something I said about the disestablishment of the Church of England, and women bishops and gay marriage.

      I’m still very atheist and left-wing, but I guess it’s always a good thing to have my ideas (and, more specifically, how I express them) challenged. I suppose what I’m trying to say is I realised narrow-mindedness still applies to me, even as I claim to be all ‘accepting’ and liberal-minded. LIFE LESSONS, PEOPLE.

      • RhiaSnape December 12th, 2012 5:13 PM

        I’m also from England – the south west to be exact. Also where I live, though there are plenty of religious people, it is the norm to be an atheist.
        I’ve never ever had someone ask me why I’m an atheist apart from in R.E lessons, which are just there to provoke conversation. No-one has questioned me or thought it was weird, and so I also find it so strange that in parts of America, people will be so shocked and will even ask questions like “Surely you must pray to God though?”. I actually went to church as a kid, but I didn’t see it as religious. I didnt underastand. I thought I was there to sing hymns, eat biscuits and make crafts. I went because my Mum actually believes in God, though she doesn’t practice christianity. My Dad however….has strong views on being an atheist. Even when I didnt understand that going to church was religious though, I remember finding it strange that I was praying to something that I’d come to know as ‘the man in the sky’ and that people kept telling me to thank God. Even when I was so young and simplistic, I just thought, well where is this God? I can’t see him, and can’t hear him and there is absolutely no proof that he is there. So what am I doing?

        Although I find it hard accepting that there is nothing after we die – I’ve played in my head different scenario’s about souls and reincarnation and afterlife – I’ve never believed in God. But what would you define as an Atheist? I’ve always thought that it was someone non-religious, but you mentioned not believing in an afterlife of any sort Jenny, and I kind of do. So what does that make me?

        • Rae0320 December 12th, 2012 6:49 PM

          RhiaSnape – you are whatever you want to be!

          I’d say you don’t have to sit within a label on this. Believe what you believe and that’s all that matters.

          I agree with all of you on this one – I am an atheist who lives in South West England and this is totally the norm. Religion isn’t discussed much to be honest. At school, I wouldn’t know which friends did/didn’t attend church.

          Death doesn’t scare me, I mostly view it as a kind of inevitable infinity of unconsciousness…but I won’t know about it to worry about it, right? Comprehending our tiny galaxy in a massive universe scares me more!! I always wonder how religious people reconcile their religious ideas with the facts of science? Genuinely curious.

          Anyhow, I’ve personally always viewed it as: we can’t answer the question ‘what happens next?’ so don’t try. Accept our human limits. Live life to the full and enjoy it. And that’s all that matters.

        • berrykins December 13th, 2012 3:08 PM

          yeah im from the UK also and it seems particularly weird to “come out” as an athiest. I would say that religion and in particular Christianity isnt very well respected here. Theres more of a view that there’s something slightly wrong with people who ARE religious which sounds terrible and i know is terrible. But then i also cant keep from asking theists “but why do you need there to be a God?”

        • RhiaSnape December 15th, 2012 7:58 AM

          Rae0320, I think you put that beautifully…and thanks too. I suppose I don’t need to put a label on my faith. But the whole idea of viewing death as inevitable and not trying to answer it is sort of how I feel.
          But I too wonder how peoples views of religion match up with scientific evidence?

          and berrykins, thats one of the main things that I can’t comprehend. Why do you need a God to give you hope and to pray to and to rely on? You can do all of these things by yourself. I know, because it’s what I do. I sometimes feel that people use God as an excuse, although I mean no disrespect by that. I appreciate that everyone has a different view and faith.

  • JennaNoelle December 11th, 2012 5:37 PM

    I agree with HomieV TOTALLY. I feel there is a sense of condescension upon Catholics, even to an extent Christianity. I am a Catholic, and I am often told I am one of the most non-judgmental people that they know. I personally believe in God and that Jesus is his son, and the Lord. However, I respect the views of my Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, and Agnostic friends just as much. I do not try to change my atheist nor agnostic friends, I simply inquire why they feel that way. I respect them.

    I almost didn’t even get offended by jabs that were set at the Catholic church, because I am personally so used to these things. What both Jenny and Danielle said were things I have heard over and over by atheist friends and acquaintances. However, I think it should be noted that just because I have heard these things so many times does not make it okay. For example, my ex-boyfriend and his roommate would spend tons of time interrogating me and essentially telling me I was stupid for believing in God, let alone Jesus. Even when I would give answers, they wouldn’t accept them. Sadly, I wish they were the only two atheists to do this to me, but alas, they are not. I have found through personal experience that as a whole, the Christians in my life do not push their faith upon atheists, but that atheists push their faith upon us, often through insulting means. Just because I believe in God does not mean that I am uneducated or naive.

    Against the Catholic church, I know too many wonderful people who do wonderful things who are Catholic. It’s unfair to apply a small group to the whole group.

    • JennaNoelle December 11th, 2012 5:42 PM

      Also, I would like to note that I LOVE Rookie and I, too, admit that the Catholic Church has some bad policies (The Priests who molested the little boys did NOT get even slightly what they deserved.). However, I just felt that I needed to defend my religion. It gets far too much censure than it deserves.

  • gloomyflamingo December 11th, 2012 5:47 PM

    All of this seems just bizzare to me, because I grew up in Czech republic, one of the least religous countries in the world, and atheism is the standard here. To me, religion was never a thing. It wasn’t like I was preached how there was no god etc. I remember learning something about various religions when I was a kid, and I thought “okay, that is weird, but each to its’ own” – only after I had found out how religion has for centuries been one of the biggest centres of hatred and wars, and I really couldn’t believe it. Why don’t countries argue over which color the people like, which career their citizens aspire to etc. And this has stayed with me ever since. I’m an atheist, yes, but it’s not what I live by – my decisions aren’t influenced by my religious views. So anyway, thanks for opinions of atheists that happen to be in a minority, which is something I yet have to discover, since I’m planning some traveling around the world very soon.

  • thebrownette December 11th, 2012 6:13 PM

    I Have to say, thank you for this article. I may be a Lutheran, but though I do have “lutheran pride,” (or lutheran swag as my friends say,) I’m not 100% chill with all of the things the official church is “for.” I wonder if other so-called “Protestant” religions question the church “authority?” However,I’ve always been taught, even by the church, to always ask questions.

    • Graciexx December 12th, 2012 2:32 AM

      I have also been taught by my church, school (both uniting church of Australia) and youth group (Anglican) to always ask questions. For me, organized religion is nice and a really good way to meet people of the same frame of mind. However, I also feel that unlike the Catholic church, my faith is more based on my relationship with God, not on sacraments and ceremonies.

      I completely understand why you may not be 100% chill with everything your church stands for, as I am not 100% chill with everything the bible says. I am lucky to be a part the Uniting Church because they are very open-minded. We have an openly lesbian minister, but the majority of the rest of them are white men, so we still have a long way to go.

  • Jes December 11th, 2012 6:43 PM

    ra ra ra atheists unite!

  • BritBeth December 11th, 2012 6:51 PM

    I have to say, I am LOVING this month! I’m half way through a degree in religious studies so these kind of conversations are basically my life!

    One thing I don’t quite understand about this article is the authors understanding of agnosticism. This is just coming from the perspective of me and all my agnostic course mates, but I don’t see agnosticism as being undecided about religion – it’s not “I don’t know what I believe”, but “I don’t think it is POSSIBLE to know” – even Richard Dawkins (King ‘Atheist’) will quite happily admit to being agnostic not atheist, because he thinks saying there definitely ISN’T anything out there is just as much as a statement as saying there definitely is.

    But that’s all part of the ‘atheism is a religion in itself’, which is a HUGE area of interest in RS, but some atheists I know find offensive – what do Rookie readers think about that – is atheism a religion?

    So conclusion of this massively long comment – I find religion and opinions about it WAYYYYYY too interesting, I use and abuse caps lock on a regular basic, and I’m very proud to say I’m agnostic

    • bewarethejabberwock December 11th, 2012 8:16 PM

      I’m atheist, because I always thought agnostic meant you’re equally persuaded either way?
      I also find religion SUPER INTERESTING to discuss, and this month is WAY AWESOME. Regards to ‘is atheism a religion’ – I would say not. My general reasons for thinking this:

      Firstly each religion, while obviously containing internal factions, has a GENERAL set of beliefs that their followers adhere to. Obviously there are similarities and crossovers between religions (eg the Abrahamic faiths) but there is a general, core set of beliefs, which I guess is how they can be set apart.
      In contrast, you don’t have to have a ‘set of beliefs’ to be atheist. There are groups within atheism (Humanists, Atheism Plus) but not ALL atheists belong to one or any of those groups. You can be atheist and socialist, atheist and neo-liberal, atheist and open-minded, atheist and close-minded ETC.

      Secondly, and kind of linked, religions generally have a sense of community and tradition and gatherings and stuff.
      The nearest equivalent I can think of for atheism is science fairs? But you don’t have to be atheist to be a scientist (I saw an interview a while ago with a Christian astronomer which was interesting), and you don’t have to love science to be atheist.

      Thirdly, atheism insofar as it is based on science (see the point above – it doesn’t HAVE to be) can change its explanations as scientific discoveries are made. Religions are based on FAITH, which is rooted more in feeling rather than evidence.
      Not that feeling and faith isn’t enough for others! Just not for me.

      Aaand this was hugely long! Sorry! :/

      • olive December 12th, 2012 1:09 AM

        A lot of people think of agnosticism in that sense, but I always found it to be a misunderstanding of it’s ‘true’ meaning, despite that it’s used interchangeably at times. So technically speaking, both are correct, but I think it typically refers to the belief that it is either unknown, or unknowable all-together.

        I identify as an agnostic-atheist, meaning I do not believe it is possible to know whether there is a god, but from our current, earthly, and humanly views, I can conclude that there would not be one– emphasis on the “but from our current, earthly, and humanly views”, which could be FUNDAMENTALLY flawed because it is coming from the singular perception of a human being, and we have our limitations.

        • BritBeth December 12th, 2012 5:05 AM

          Yeah I think I’d probably identify as agnostic-atheist too, although that’s a lot harder to explain to people that ‘oh I’m a Christian’ – I’m lucky that the majority of my course share the same standpoint, so we’re all looking at religions from the outside in, which can be a limitation in itself, but I’ve found while the Christians on my course get more from Christianity modules, they seem (massive generalisation here!) to find modules on other religions harder, perhaps because they aren’t as neutral. Although of course even the agnostic-atheists have been bought up in a Christian country, so that bias is still there, but not quite so overtly.

          And this is why a month of Rookie on my pet subject is bad – I’ll talk your virtual ears off and get way too into it!

      • BritBeth December 12th, 2012 5:10 AM

        I spent 30 out 120 of my first year credits on a module called ‘what is religion?’ – and left with more questions that answers. I have to say, I’m not convinced by atheism as a religion, but part of the reason it crops up so much is because it’s entirely dependant on how you define religion. If anyone’s interested, Ninian Smart’s 7 dimensions of religion is a good place to start. Using that definition, atheism isn’t a religion, mainly due to the lack of community elements, but interestingly sports fandom is – which raises the equally interesting question of ‘can you worship at two altars (church and sports ground)?’

        I’m still not sure about sports either, but my favourite lecturer has a theory that at any time, somewhere in the UK an undergraduate is writing their dissertation on ‘is sport a religion?’

        Once again, got carried away! Hope someone’s found my ramblings useful anway!

      • Helenus December 12th, 2012 10:56 AM

        I think, classically and literally speaking, atheism is simply that: a-theism. The absence of a belief in a God. It isn’t a belief system itself. But you’re right! It definitely depends on which sort of atheism you personally identify with.

        Also, I know it’s usually difficult to find communities for atheists, but it IS possible. For instance, my university has an atheist association/club/group of people who get together and drink and talk about life and death, etc. There’s also a pretty strong atheist community on the internet, and I’ve heard they have gatherings every once in a while. You should check out what’s available in your school/city/. Hell, you could even start your own clubhouse for atheists if you’ve got the time!

      • NotReallyChristian December 12th, 2012 4:19 PM

        As an agnostic, if proof turned up for God I’d be down with that. Personally I’d be pissed if it turned out to be judgy Middle-Ages-Catholic God, but shit happens!

    • olive December 12th, 2012 12:58 AM

      Well, to put it simply: Atheism is not a religion by definition.

    • olive December 12th, 2012 1:12 AM

      Also, a good quote concerning this:

      “Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair colour”

  • lookatstars December 11th, 2012 6:52 PM

    I have always thought of myself as a Christian, but (especially lately) have felt like i don’t agree at all with some aspects of my religion. I go to youth group, and as we were talking about evolution, and how “wrong” it is. Same goes with a lot of science-type things, like other universes and such according to these people. I have always loved science and have been so so interested and i was so taken aback by all of it just being so “awful” and stuff, and everyone seeming to agree. I do believe and Jesus and the Bible, but i felt bad for the other things i believed in, like evolution and science. I don’t know if this is just maybe the church i go to or if anyone else feels this way, but i felt like it was bad for me not to agree with everything that was said, like i would disappoint God or something by not being completely 100% full trust into every thing the Bible says, word for word. I don’t know, just thought i would but that out there : )

    • periwinkle_dreams December 11th, 2012 8:57 PM

      I’m a Christian, and I don’t think my faith has to conflict with science at all. I go to a Christian college, and often am awkwardly asked if we have a science department. YES, we DO, and it’s great! Views vary widely among the students, but when it comes to creation, most of our science professors believe in concepts like theistic evolution and non-literal days of the week. I think science is really cool, I know many scientists who are Christians and don’t feel like they have to choose between them.

      This is short and might interest you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbvDYyoAv9k

      • MichelleCarneece December 11th, 2012 10:25 PM

        periwinkle_dreams: That’s awesome! I attend a Christian college as well, and we have a stellar science department. I used to be incredibly self-conscious and depressed that I couldn’t “justify” my faith scientifically, since my strengths are more literature/art based, but I’ve come to realize that, a.) I shouldn’t feel guilty for not having the same gifts as others, and b.) God has supplied other avenues for His existence other than science (philosophy, history, etc.). However, I’m in no way dismissive of science (especially since the church has too often used that as a cop-out) and I’m glad that there seem to be more Christian scientists who’ve made themselves visible over the past few years. It’s definitely encouraged me to actively investigate my theology and scientific views.

  • marimba_girl December 11th, 2012 7:11 PM

    Wonderful piece. I am no longer Catholic, for a multitude of reasons, and I am struggling with my spiritual path. Having read many books and listened hours of podcasts, I follow an odd arangement of pagan and philosophic beliefs. I am so glad that Rookie is exploring the topic of faith because it is considered taboo on many other sites geared for young people.

    Will you still be accepting submissions this weekend? I’m not sure if I could send something in before then.

  • HeartPlant December 11th, 2012 7:31 PM

    As a former atheist, I imagine if I’d seen this article over a year ago I would have been punching the air going ‘yes!’. It’s odd now to be a part of the Christian community and read this with a totally different perspective.
    My atheist friends are quite keen on pushing their views as the norm, which for a while I was a part of too, sharing pictures that mock Christianity as ludicrous, out of date and a method of suppressing people.
    But finding God and religion has changed me – as far as the East is from the West – and now I feel much freer to be who I am, to have a community that supports me and cares about me. I’ve definitely undergone a massive character change, I’m more tolerant than I was ever before, I have a desire to help other people, I feel I’m less self-obsessed. Christianity has made me question a lot of things about myself that I took for granted – my fear of not ever having enough stuff/money, or fearing people who were different to me, or not having a purpose in life other than to live to excess. My character as a human being has developed in a much more positive way.
    It took a long time to start trusting in God, but I feel better this year than I ever have, especially when the closest I got to atheistic fellowship was making fun of other people.

    • Ruby B. December 18th, 2012 8:15 PM

      That really surprises me. It’s great that your faith has been so good for you, but I’ve never felt that atheists tend to be less tolerant. That’s an interesting perspective.

  • junebug December 11th, 2012 8:06 PM

    This is a great article. I wish I could have a sane, rational conversation with my parents like this. They’re born-again Catholics (AA..) and although they are generally understanding people they are complete tyrants about my fuzzyish views on faith. When I was a little kid I was read-the-Bible-for-fun-religious. But when I was like 11 or so I realized that it was more an appreciation for the storytelling in the Bible and the moral code presented through Jesus’s parables. I kind of realized that there was no ‘belief’ for me in any sort of Higher Power, just an agreement with a lot of the ideas in the Bible. It was really hard to tell my parents that, but I did when I was 13 maybe and they freaked out. They know I’m an agnostic now (or at least NOT Catholic) but they don’t respect it at all. They still make me go to church every Sunday and try to guilt me into praying when a relative is sick or something. The hardest part about it is that they just feel like I’m rebelling or this is a personal attack on them, when in actuality it was a deeply difficult personal decision that I take very seriously.

    On the Catholic appropriation/hate though: I agree with what many have said. I think in the context of Rookie reader we are a very similar demographic (libs) that share similar childhoods, etc and I think we often spend a lot of time focusing on not offending religious groups like Muslims, Buddhists, etc rather than taking into account the importance of not respecting other religions more than Christianity purely because they’re minorities. ALL major religions have major flaws.

  • jackybella December 11th, 2012 8:12 PM

    “atheism [the view that there is no god or “higher power”] and agnosticism [the view that we can’t really know if there is or isn’t a “higher power”]”

    Thank you for this definition. As someone who is agnostic, I always find that people confuse it with atheism.

  • Kathryn December 11th, 2012 8:36 PM

    Also, the part about religion being the only means keeping people from stealing and murdering people was insane to me. It’s sad that people even slightly consider the prospect of going to hell as the only reason to not do terrible things.

  • Yayo December 11th, 2012 8:40 PM

    Currently, if I was asked by a stranger, I’d tell them I was an Agnostic-Humanist interested in Buddhist and Existential philosophies.
    But honestly that’s just an edgier way for me to say I-actually-have-no-fucking-idea-what-I-believe-and-I-question-life-itself-regularly-so-just-give-me-space-and-don’t-judge-me-or-push-your-own-beliefs.

    Spirituality and philosophy as a whole really really interests me – to a point where I open to door to Jehovah’s Witnesses and I’m like ‘No thank you, I will not join your cult but PLEASE DISCUSS RELIGION WITH ME’

    That whole part of my life is so BLAHH FUCKITY ARRRHH right now, some nights I just cry for hours (angsty, ha) thinking about how I might never really believe in anything, which would make my life totally meaningless. Or would it? Do I need faith to add meaning to my existance? And then I’m back to the beginning again, questioning again and again. Every tiny detail of my life and what it means.

    Most days, I wish I could just be little again, where belief was handed to me on a plate. I wouldn’t have to think about it at all.

    • raggedyanarchy December 11th, 2012 11:24 PM

      Oh I know! Like, I’m just trying to figure out what I think on my own. Kind of sort of making up my own religion as I go along, trying on ideas and rituals to see what feels RIGHT. And I think that maybe that it’s okay to have no idea what you think.
      And I think I’ve finally figured out I believe in something more than mortality, but I went through a horrid rough period where I just had no idea what I thought. And that was kind of scary, because thinking and knowing who we are is supposed to be this intrinsic thing. Idk, man.

  • periwinkle_dreams December 11th, 2012 8:45 PM

    After reading this article and a lot of the comments, these are some things I think:

    1. It seems like almost everyone, regardless of their religion or lack thereof, feels attacked and like they’re in the minority. So, I think we should purposely talk about our experiences in a way that is honest but not defensive or accusatory towards another group.

    2. I think we should all be more open-minded to what others have to say. You are not “betraying” your religion if you question your beliefs or feel confused sometimes. Also, you can consider/understand/respect someone else’s belief/non-belief without having to agree with them.

    3. We should remember that as Rookie girls we are all part of a community, and while discussion and even respectful debate is great, we should be kind to one another. Not to sound like everyone’s mother or something.

    Just some things to think about :)

    • Jenny December 11th, 2012 10:11 PM

      Whoa, this is an awesome set of guidelines to abide by when talking about religion or really anything at all. Bravo, girl! You’re awesome <3

    • raggedyanarchy December 11th, 2012 11:29 PM

      Aww, you’re so right. I have noticed a trend of people assuming they’re not only in the minority but their beliefs are being attacked when this is not the case (um, YouTube comments section, kinda looking at you). Like, I have literally seen people argue over something they agreed on, simply because they kept on assuming the other was “attacking” their views.
      This, of course, is not at all ignoring the many beliefs/views/people who ARE being attacked.

  • LilySew December 11th, 2012 10:04 PM

    I think that the whole thing about candles & appropriation and misrepresentation of [insert religion here] are sometimes pitted against atheists because when you think about it, atheism is simply (or not so simply) the belief that there is no higher power. And so when a person of faith, whatever faith it may be, hears this they naturally relate it to themselves and think “Oh, this person does not believe in [the God/s of their own faith].” and alot of the time the idea comes out that the atheist is ‘against’ that one faith and not all faiths. So when I hear stories of people of faith feeling like their religion is under-represented in whatever situation they may be in, and then complaining about how atheism is represented far more, I can’t help but find the reason for this. It’s because atheism is the only faith/non-faith, that dismisses everything and so whenever there is an absence/under representation of faith the only thing it can be pitted against is atheism, it’s the only thing that possesses such dismissal.

    I really don’t know if any of that made any sense, but this topic is so diverse and complex that my thoughts are coming out through a filter of ‘Will this offend people?’ and ‘Is this making sense?’. I hope I haven’t offended anyone, and this article was great by the way. :D

    http://sewoverdressed.blogspot.com.au/

  • Jen L. December 11th, 2012 10:18 PM

    Loved this article! I am teetering on the border of agnosticism and atheism and it’s cool to know that other people are too. In other news, I highly recommend Bill Maher’s documentary “Religulous.” It really cuts right to the core of all the things that are questionable about organized religion… And it’s also hilarious.

  • kirsten December 11th, 2012 10:33 PM

    I think doubt is healthy in one’s faith…how do you know if you really believe something without asking why you believe it? I wish that doubt was more accepted in churches/religions.

  • tangratoe December 11th, 2012 10:36 PM

    As an atheist, I really enjoyed this article. It seems when I proclaim myself to be an atheist, many people think the term is synonymous with “religion hater” or something of the like. Atheism is actually defined as a lack of beliefs, not someone who is against them. I also enjoyed reading the bit about how people can still have morals without religion; I have volunteered across the world with people obtaining religious beliefs whilst I have none and there is no difference in our volunteer efforts, morals or anything of the like.

    Thank you so much for including atheists in this months theme :)

  • Loops December 11th, 2012 11:41 PM

    Even though I, myself, am an Atheist, I really hate it when people shove their non-belief in religious people’s faces. Like, for example, my cousin has a friend who, under “Religious Views” on Facebook, had “God didn’t create man, man created God”, and I got really pissed off because it’s such an insensitive way to bring about your Atheism. Religion is such a touchy subject, and something like that would’ve unnecessarily offended so many people.

    A beautiful, carefully-approached article!

    • olive December 12th, 2012 1:22 AM

      To be perfectly honest, I don’t see how that can be seen as offensive. In fact it really only shows that we live in such a religion-saturated environment that we find anything that doesn’t subscribe to it to be offensive.

      Such would imply that if saw a religious person write “God created all! We are his children!” under their religious views that I would be offended, but clearly I wouldn’t, because 3/4ths of the US population agrees.

      You see what I mean here? Please question WHY you think it insensitive. Is it because it is a minority challenging the majority’s norm?

      Also, I’m not saying you should fight fire with fire, but lets be serious– religion has, and is, hurting people and being “insensitive” in more ways that atheism ever could.

      Religion is still, to this day, marginalizing women and the LGBT community– SYSTEMATICALLY.

      • inkandhonesty January 31st, 2013 7:13 PM

        I have to disagree with your last sentence. Some religions might be against LGBT, and they might not let women be ministers, but that is not the purpose of religion. I feel like you painted religion as this evil thing, which it’s not. All religions teach compassion, forgiveness, love, and many other things that are similar. Is that really that bad?
        Since I’m on the topic, I hate how a lot of LGBTs and feminists will think that they can’t be religious because of who they are. If you’re truly an atheist/agnostic, I’m fine with that. But if you want to believe in a higher power but think you shouldn’t because you’re LGBT or a feminist, that’s something I have a problem with. You hate the Catholic church, but love G-d? I suggest searching for a religion that is the right fit for you, or creating your own religion.
        So in summary, religion isn’t here to marginalize LGBTs or women. Religion is here to guide people and give people community.

    • olive December 12th, 2012 1:37 AM

      I also thought I’d mention that the way you treat atheism is strange to me– like it’s really something to be ASHAMED of. That you should be putting your beliefs under wraps, it’s witchery! You compose only 0.7% of the US population after all!

      I mean, really, what that person wrote is something that is fundamentally apart of atheism. I’m just sort of baffled. It’s not like your cousin said something along the lines of “Religious people are big dumb poo poo heads!!!” (I just didn’t want to put anything truly offensive, but you can definitely think of things that one could say)

      Are you trying to tell me Dawkins is offensive? I mean, at times he is because of his personality, but his BELIEFS, is that offensive? But what about a preacher, is he offensive? And why is it more socially acceptable for people to try to convert people to religion, but such an ~unthinkable sin~ to convert people to atheism?

      Do you see people knocking on your doors to tell you about evolution and how atheism can change your life for the better?

  • Emma December 12th, 2012 2:05 AM

    to be honest, reading this makes me kind of confused about my own beliefs. I definitely DON’T believe that there is a god in the sky who watches over the world and cares about every person etc etc…but I DO feel that all people are united with a kind of universal love that can be found internally by turning to yourself, your “soul” so to speak, for answers. I agree with you guys, for example, that things such as murder or rape do not need to be labeled wrong by an organized religion in order for people to KNOW that it’s wrong. It is simply a moral issue that anyone can see, if they look deep within themselves. Anyway, my question is- are my beliefs “atheist,” since I don’t really believe in god? or are they unclassifiable? (not a word ;) )

    • Afanen December 12th, 2012 3:54 AM

      I think it’s not actually that complicated: If you don’t believe in any sort of higher being, or supernatural force that watches over us, you’re an atheist, or -if you “just” say “I don’t know if god(s) exists”, you’re an agnostic. Technically, the word “Atheist” means “Non-Theist”, and theism is defined as the believe in a single omniscient and omnipotent personal god. In a wider definition, you might ask yourself, do you believe in the soul as an entity, that exists independently of your body, and outlives the physical body -that would be a religious idea, or do you define the “soul” as this universal sense of “being connected” to every other human on the planet?

      As you pointed out, religion is not a neccessity to define ethical values. Actually, one of the most important documents on morality and ethics of the 20th century, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is explicitly not based on religious teachings, but finds its philosohical foundations in the works of philosophers such as Thomas Huxley and Immanuel Kant.

      Well, that was not that helpful, I guess? In the end, I think, everyone has to decide for themselves, whether they are religious or not.

      • Emma December 12th, 2012 8:55 PM

        thanks, that actually helps. Though I guess in the end it doesn’t matter what you label your spiritual beliefs. That’s one of the issues I have with organized religion- I have a hard time believing that everyone who is in a certain religion truly BELIEVES all of that religion’s teachings. I mean obviously everyone’s beliefs are unique at least to some extent. There is really no point of labeling them. Does any of that make sense?

  • baratully December 12th, 2012 2:59 AM

    i have a funny relationship with religion. i have very catholic grandparents and my mother is mildly religious. i’ve only been to catholic schools.i just don’t know if there’s a god, that’s all.
    i identify as queer and a feminist, which means that my ideals will pretty much never line up with those taught by the catholic god or those in the bible. but my life is extremely tied up in religion. i know many bible stories extremely well, i think that many christian saints are INSANELY interesting (especially the ones who died in really grisly ways) and use religious sayings ALL THE TIME. oh my god, i hope to god, jesus christ, good lord, etc etc. i also attend church sometimes, celebrate christmas and easter, and take communion at mass. i sometimes feel a little bit guilty, but my family would definitely give me a lot of hassle if i told them i was agnostic, leaning towards atheism.
    really excellent article. “I live up to my own expectations” is probably the best way to sum up how i feel about morality w/o religion, thanks jenny!

  • ashtheley December 12th, 2012 4:22 AM

    My father is Catholic and my mother is Buddhist, so they never pushed religion on me out of respect for each other. So they were pretty disappointed when I told them that I couldn’t understand how faith in a religious sense worked :<

    This article makes me feel just a little bit less weird about it!

  • rose-nymph December 12th, 2012 6:27 AM

    Yay Rookie! I’m not saying both of your opinions are incorrect, but to me, I find full atheism slightly not arrogant but….. ignorant? I’m not sure of the word. I consider myself agnostic atheist. I don’t believe in any religion or faith but I still don’t think you can ever prove either argument. Thank you for the lovely discussion, it really made me think.

    • Rae0320 December 12th, 2012 7:02 PM

      I am an atheist and find it slightly baffling and a bit offensive that you dismiss atheism as ignorant? I don’t see religious people as entitled or enlightened above others who don’t believe, just like I don’t believe we (atheists) are entitled or enlightened above people of any faith.

      I simply live my life by my own ‘beliefs’, adhere to them, do not preach them, and most importantly, respect others who choose differently.

    • unicorn December 12th, 2012 11:26 PM

      Ignorant? I take offense to that. My atheism doesn’t make me ignorant, just like someones Catholicism, Christianity, Hinduism, etc. doesn’t make them ignorant.
      Religion (or lack there of) isn’t an argument. It isn’t something that has to be proved. It is whatever you believe, and however wrong or right that belief may be, it doesn’t matter. If it isn’t hurting someone else, it isn’t anyone elses business, and you cannot call it ignorant.

      • Kathrin Franz March 27th, 2013 8:38 PM

        if you put it scientific then atheism is a religion and as ignorant as other religions because it states “i am SURE abut___________(something which cant be scientifically proven)

        so this is not about arguing against religion or for it it says-if you are based on science, then you based on the premiss that if you have a theory you have to prove them but this is only possible if this theory could be false… falsification..doesn’t say that it has to be false-but we cant prove that god exists, but we also cant prove that he/she/they exist..

        so that would be the ignorant to state something which cant be proven. then agnosticism would be scientifically correct because ..you never know.

        bit as i say-this is only if yu want it scientifically proven.

        if its only about belief, then fuck proven and falsification, do and believe what makes you happy and doesn’t harm nobody-thats the important thing i think

  • suze December 12th, 2012 8:20 AM

    Loved this article! Especially Jenny’s last words are so inspiring. I’ve been an atheist all my love, as are my parents. They were raised christian, so I know lots of christian stories, but to me, the idea of a God… I don’t know, it just doesn’t work with me I guess.
    I send in a submission two weeks ago, a story that has a lot to do with this subject, but haven’t received a reaction to it… do you react to every submission?

  • emine December 12th, 2012 9:14 AM

    I grew up in a very religiously mixed environment – I live in Turkey, a country that has a mostly muslim population, have a family that doesn’t practice religion but is “technically” muslim, and go to a French school (I have for about 12 years) so I’m also used to christian traditions such as christmas, etc.. I’m an atheist now, maybe because I wasn’t sufficiently exposed to any religious culture enough to identify with it, but also because my country has had a lot of issues in the past with government and religion.
    I don’t want to delve too much into history but it’s written in our constitution that we’re a secular country, so technically there is no “Turkish” religion, however the dominating religion is islam and there’s always been at least a slight fear in my family that one day maybe the government will make religion and religious practices mandatory, meaning that women would be forced to cover themselves, etc… So I’ve always thought of religion as being oppressive and controlling, and I just want to be the only one in charge of my own life.

    Despite my atheism, I respect everybody’s beliefs as longs as they’re not forcing them onto me, trying to convert me. Honestly, I think that believing in somethings is beautiful and sometimes I wish I could have faith in a higher power – it’s a comforting and lovely faith to have. But I just don’t believe, and it’s not a decision as much as it is the way I am. You can’t force anyone, much less yourself, to believe in something if you simply don’t.

  • caro nation December 12th, 2012 9:43 AM

    I’ve been raised…. I don’t want to say ATHEISTIC, because I haven’t been completely cut off from religion; I went to preschool at a Jewish Community Center, my grandparents are Catholics and my dad was raised Baptist, so religion was always off in the corner, like I would go to Church just to make my grandparents happy, but inside, even when I was little, I was always rolling my eyes or sighing, because I didn’t understand any of it and anything my grandparents were really into must SUCK. I felt so at home with my Jewish friends, and I liked a lot of aspects of their culture, but when I experienced my Jewish friends or teachers speaking about their beliefs and the spiritual solidarity within my preschool’s community I remember feeling intrusive and left out all at once. When had my first bout of pseudo-intellectualism in the 7th grade, I was PREACHY about my atheism, and disgustingly and condescendingly PITIED my own grandparents for their faith. But when my grandmother died not too long ago, right before she went, she said that she was concerned about my religious education and exposure, and that she respected my dad’s choice not to raise me with these things, but that she wanted me to someday experience enlightenment, and to know the kind of faith she was harboring even on her death bed. Suddenly I felt so lonely as an atheist. I feel like I want to explore.

  • Moili December 12th, 2012 11:07 AM

    Living in Sweden, the “religion norm” is almost transverse to the norm written about here. If anyone knew that someone belived in God or Jesus or whatever at my previous school, that someone would have been made fun of, teased or anything such. Maybe it’s because a lot of us were so unaware of belives and how to behave back then, but the fear is still around I’ve noticed. Now, I’m an atheist myself and I have nothing agaist religion as long as it don’t hurt anyone, but some of my friends are christians and they were really cautious when they told me about their faith, worried that I would be like one of those assholes at school. But as you know, I’m not.

    Just to clarify some stuff here we still celebrate christmas, easter and the other holidays celebrated by christians (even though it sometimes feels like it is more muslims here then christians (in Sweden there’s a lot of immigrants from Somalia and the Middle-east you see)), as you might have guessed.

  • Abby December 12th, 2012 11:43 AM

    So… I don’t know if anyone is still reading these comments… but I wanted to pose a question to the Christians out there:

    I am essentially an atheist, but my family doesn’t know (and they would flip out if they did). I’m at college and I don’t go to church here, but when I go home I go with my family because I don’t mind it that much (people there are generally nice). When I do, and there’s communion, I do take it, because again, my parents don’t know that I’m an atheist. It doesn’t mean anything to me… but is this offensive for me to take it even though I’m an atheist? I’m just curious as to what you guys think.

    • Rae0320 December 12th, 2012 7:13 PM

      Abby, I dithered about replying because I didn’t want it to seem like I was telling you what to do or something, or that I was biased in some way, but anyways, I’m replying.

      I am an atheist too. I went to a Roman Catholic funeral today. When they said the prayers etc, did the blessings etc, I didn’t join in, because I felt that would be false. I felt it would in fact be somehow ‘invalidating’ or ‘undermining’ their beliefs, you know? Like, I would have been joining them with no conviction, no meaning, and that would be wrong, right?

      But then I started to think: I’m at a funeral here. Is it more respectful to join in?

      I honestly couldn’t figure it out. How could I respect everyone best?! In the end, I stayed silent.

      Why? Because it felt right. I made a decision using my own judgement that I felt comfortable with. And I did it for myself.

      If you feel uncomfortable in your situation, perhaps tell your parents. It’s most important that, whatever you decide, it sits right with you and sits right with your own beliefs, and not someone else’s. Live your life as you see fit. Selfish maybe, but you can’t live life by someone else’s rules.

      This probably didn’t help at all, as I am a non-religious person and their reply might be quite, quite different. But still. x

    • Kristin December 13th, 2012 2:36 PM

      Actually, I’m an atheist, but I might be able to answer your question!

      I was raised and taught in the Catholic church, so the answer is specific to whether or not the communion you’re taking is Catholic. Because Catholics believe the wine and wafers become the actual body and blood of Christ, yes, it is considered offensive to take it if you’re not Catholic. (Which is why children and converts don’t partake- because they haven’t become full fledged Catholics yet.)

      I’m not totally sure about other Christian denominations.

      And, yes, even though it’s offensive, I still take communion when I’m home. It’s easier to do it than to have a very difficult conversation with my parents about how I’m going to hell.

  • MegAntonia December 12th, 2012 11:49 AM

    It’s very interesting to me how open and honest some people are about such heavy matters at such a young age. Thank you for sharing your story.

    I grew up Mormon in Utah and had a hard time with a lot of the doctrine concerning life after death. By the time I moved out on my own, I was on the fence with the belief in god all together.
    At some point in my 20′s, I just hopped the fence to the atheist side. But this doesn’t mean that I believe there is “nothing” after we die. I’m still a highly spiritual person and have a deep belief in life after death – both spiritually and physically (reincarnation). Atheism only means you don’t believe in god. That is all.

    Thanks again for voicing your beliefs with confidence. That is something I would’ve never dreamed of doing when I was younger.

    You are amazing!

  • rockslita December 12th, 2012 1:56 PM

    Hey Danielle and Jenny,

    It’s so funny to read it’s such a big deal if you are a nonbeliever in your country. In my country it is actually more normal if you don’t believe in God than if you do. My school is Catholic, but there’s almost nobody who believes truely in God or goes to Church or prays. I am going to the USA next year (living in a hostfamily for a year) and I am very curious if religion is really as important as you describe it (I mean, I guess it is, if people are like “You mean you don’t believe in anything?”) :-)

    Thanks for sharing this article! I loved to read it!

    Lots of love,
    Rosalie

    http://www.rockslita.com

    • Abby December 13th, 2012 10:55 AM

      I think it depends where you are whether it matters a lot or not… In my county in Maryland (well where I live when I’m not at college), religion is super-duper important, and a lot of people are really surprised and judgey if you say you’re an atheist. They’re definitely all like, “You don’t believe in GOD??? How could you not believe in ANYTHING???” And a lot of them are really nasty about it. I hate that it seems acceptable to question peoples’ atheism even though you would never be like, “WHY do you believe in God/Allah/Buddha/etc.?????”

  • alix December 12th, 2012 3:24 PM

    Oh my *gosh* this hits so hard with me.
    I come from a catholic family, in northern ireland. I think that effected choice to leave religion behind. I feel like religion causes nothing but war and hate in my country. I don’t know how much you know about norther irish history and the troubles but it was bad.
    I talk about religion a lot with my some of my athiest friends and friends who also question religion and also my dad. My dad was brought up in a normal religious irish house, in the middle of what was really a war over religion. He has expressed athiest views to me and I to him. I’ve never actually said to my family “I’m an athiest”, but I think they know.
    About the praying thing, I have the exact feeling. If someone is ill or dying, I have the urge to pray for them, but I know I don’t believe it and then I feel so helpless. But in the end I rather the idea of being in charge of my own life and if I die I die, rather than the idea that “god” has a plan and I’m just like a Sim, doing what the player tells me.

    I really liked this article. a lot.

  • Lomo December 12th, 2012 7:39 PM

    I don’t believe religious beliefs should not be exempt from scrutiny, especially ones that condemn homosexuality and women’s rights.

    I’m perplexed at why so many people in the comments believe that Catholicism is being unfairly targeted. First off- I don’t think there is any popular website more tolerant/PC/walking on eggshells than Rookie. Someone explaining their negative experience with religious beliefs/institutes of religion/religious people is not targeting anyone. And even if they were ‘targeting’ catholicism, is that such a bad thing? Not the people of course, but the institute and the things it advocates and condemns. I think that an organization that has such a dark history, has concealed child abuse, and has continuously condemned homosexuality and other progressive things DESERVES to be questioned. I don’t think that religious beliefs should get a free pass to be as oppressive and repugnant without being addressed. It’s hard for me to see how such progressive people can reconcile feminism and gay rights with their religion.

    I say question everything, including the majority religions. People can obviously believe what they wish (otherwise it would be thought policing) but nobody should be afraid to take a critical eye to such institutions.

    Just my two cents… I don’t even know if that made much sense. I’m a secular humanist (categorical atheist) just to throw that out there.
    Anyways, peace, love, and Carl Sagan.

  • dharma94ara December 12th, 2012 8:11 PM

    This is such an interesting view, I actually just today had a discussion with my friend on evolution. She recently got into an argument with our science teacher about just the entire theory of evolution and her belief of it being nonexistent. It’s struck me as being a little off. Her agruement was God made us this way, how could the Earth possibly change things so drastically. It’s definately a topic that hits hard. I could not understand her point because evolution just seemed like a natural process. For me it basically represents age and maturing, but for her it something that will forever be unproven. It strange how the topic of religion has created these black and white groups, on whether you believe this idea or not, when religion itself is such a complicated idea. Another thing that I realized after talking to my friend is that I have to be much more careful with what I say. I myself am agnostic, but my friend is a strict Catholic and after hearing her beliefs on evolution, it’s hard to not categorize and judge someone after they have told you their religious preference. I feel like I can’t say certain things now. I feel a little distanced from her with the idea of religion being brought up, when I was taught that religion should bring people closer together. It’s often a hard topic to discuss epecially when you’re atheist and you don’t want to seem as if you’r putting the other person’s morals down. Thank you for the article :)

  • pizzagoria December 12th, 2012 9:45 PM

    Both of your beliefs are so uncannily similar to mine. I feel my throat tighten whenever I think about my eventual demise. I ball up in the corner of my bathroom, shrouding my face with my hands, reaching for an intangible universal thread, failing because it doesn’t exist, and knowing that I am utterly alone. The only thing that keeps me going, other than not thinking about death entirely, is trying to approach it with curiosity rather than anguish. Sometimes that strategy doesn’t work and everything is bad and hopeless and I cry and cry. I cried reading this article. Whenever I feel stressed my instinct is to connect my earthly problems with my absence of spiritual fulfillment. I NEED TO STOP

  • Kristin December 13th, 2012 2:30 PM

    I grew up strongly religious, to the point where I wanted to join the Catholic church- I really felt being a priest was my calling, even though I’m female, but I was far more interested in the rituals behind everything. I’ve struggled for a belief in something ever since I can remember. It just didn’t make any sense to me, and it still doesn’t.

    All through my childhood, while being very strongly Catholic, I would try and supplement my longing with other religions or attempting spirituality. Nothing ever filled that void and in college, finally, I met a group of atheists who showed me it was okay not to believe in anything. A year after, I finally gave up searching for answers, and now I’m ridiculously happy and content in a way I never was before.

    I’ve never come out to my family though. People here and there know, usually because they’re atheists as well. Living in NYC now, I’m surrounded by a lot of open minded individuals and it rarely comes up, but it’s always bizarre going back to the south where religion is so ingrained in the culture.

    Anyway, thanks for posting. It’s so amazing to see something on atheism on a site like this!

  • Julia December 13th, 2012 3:41 PM

    Even as an atheist I cannot stand it when people shit on other people’s religions. I personally don’t agree with a lot of Christianity and I personally don’t believe in that, but it drives me absolutely insane when other atheists think it’s okay to openly mock religions (“the Bible should be in the fiction section”).

  • Juli December 14th, 2012 7:33 PM

    I just got a scarily ironic message telling me that the Literally The Bes Thing Ever:God page does’t exist.

  • dorkbait December 14th, 2012 11:26 PM

    First off, I just want to say that I have been struggling a lot lately with the preoccupation with death and believing that absolutely nothing happens afterwards, so when I read this:

    “Some days I’d be watching cartoons and eating Twinkies and then suddenly it would hit me: I’m gonna die. I won’t know any of this one day or remember it ever happened. I wanted so badly to believe otherwise, but it just didn’t feel right. ”

    I teared up because I just felt so good reading someone expressing the same crushing fears that I have been dealing with lately. (I just turned 25 and sometimes I feel like this is a legit quarter-life crisis).

    I think you guys have a slightly more enlightened viewpoint than I do, because as someone who grew up in an oppressively Christian hometown, as one of only 2-3 people in my high school who would openly identify as an atheist, I was pretty ruthlessly bullied about it. I still struggle mightily with the notion that organized religion is not, in itself, bad or evil. I’m working on it, though, especially because that gut feeling doesn’t fit in with the rest of my exceptionally rational worldview.

    Thanks for this article.

  • tone December 21st, 2012 6:21 AM

    As I see it, you don’t become an atheist by refusing religion. I was never religious, all raised in an ateistic family and that. I think atheism is really not just a contradiction to religion, but a set of mind. I think I “became” and atheist when I started being curious about the world around me, started learning about science, started searching for my own answers, which is a thing that os very importnt to me as an atheis.
    Of course you can be an atheist any way you want, that is the beauty of it :)

  • RhiaSnape January 3rd, 2013 12:30 PM

    If anyone wants to read some more about athiesm – I wrote about how I feel on my (new and quite empty do far) blog.
    http://teenagegirlrambles.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/faith.html

  • barbroxursox January 29th, 2013 5:47 PM

    Rookie’s reading my mind again… “I feel like we don’t have a model, outside of faith, for valuing or demonstrating hope.” That. is. perfect. Literally two seconds ago I was on the phone with my mom, who called me because a big storm is heading towards us. She said that the weather’s bad where she is, so I said, “I’ll pray for you on your way home.” But I didn’t mean pray. I meant. hope. I don’t believe in God or praying. But saying “I’ll hope for you” sounds weird. What should atheists say when they’re hoping/wishing/praying for someone else? I don’t know, but I wish there was a phrase that could communicate those sentiments without having to do with a religion.

    http://lizard-on-a-window-pane.tumblr.com