I’ll start at the beginning. I like most people didn’t grow up and atheist. I was raised to believe in god. I was always in Sunday schools, and faith based day care, summer camp, choir, church basketball, etc since before I could remember. As I got older and more into the bible I tried to integrate it with my worldview. I wanted to see the world as god would have me see it. Over time, I found that view was limiting and the contradictions were so glaring I couldn’t ignore them any more. From the creation story, to Jonah, to the resurrection I pondered the possibilities that might make these scenarios plausible. I generated elaborate rationalizations to explain how it was possible that we have modern laws concerning rape, crime, and the protection of human rights that seemed more enlightened than the supposed “good book”. I read the works of apologists. Later I divorced myself from the title Christian to be “spiritual”. This was merely a way to continue believing in the aspects of the faith I liked and ignoring the parts I didn’t (as I generally suspect is the case with many people who label themselves as “spiritual”).
It was during this “spiritual” period I decided to read about other religions. I was primarily looking for some common thread that I could use to string them all together because surely they should all reveal the same god or character behind it all, right? Wrong. While I found some similarities, what I mostly found were contradictions. I read about Islam, different sects of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and myths from different cultures. I was convinced by these contradictions and studying these faiths that religion was not the way to god, while still maintaining many of the religious beliefs that I felt suited me. Eventually with all the contradictions I discovered, nothing made sense.
I started questioning the existence of god altogether. I felt surely there must be some evidence of whether god exists, or loves us, or has a plan. Beginning with the notions of god I had grown up with, I had to confront the different ideas concerning god, such as is omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence. These are fairly easy to dispense with even using the bible.
-IF god was omniscient why would god create man and put him in the garden with forbidden fruit that god knew the man would eat?
-Why would god create man knowing that man would become wicked in a manner that could only be solved through global catastrophe and genocide?
-IF god was omnipotent why wouldn’t go just destroy Satan and evil and be done with it?
-Why would god being supposedly all powerful choose to honor a blood sacrifice (that god came up with in the first place) with the death of Jesus? IF god is all powerful god makes the rules, right?
-IF god was omnibenevolent what justifies the suffering of the innocent?
This is a conversation to which most believers including myself at one time justify by saying its a test of our faith or it builds our character. I now find this explanation not only meaningless but callous. Its especially callous coming from people who live in relative comfort who can look at a suffering of other people in the world and say that. I might rant about that another time.
Once I confronted all of my ideas about god and looked at the claims about others about god I realized I was an agnostic. I was really an agnostic atheist but I denied the fact I was an atheist because I didn’t understand what atheism was. Honestly, I really didn’t understand what agnosticism was either. Now I realize I didn’t understand what atheism is for the same reasons many other people. I was raised with the notion that atheists were angry people, mad at god, they lacked morals, that they were only atheists because something bad happened to them, that they were arrogant, etc. (I will deal with these myths in a future post). But reading, listening, having conversations, sometimes debating, and meeting different atheists and non-theists I came to realize how false those stereotypes were. So what is atheism?
Atheism comes from the Greek word “theos” meaning god and the prefix “a” meaning without. Atheism means without god. But for those of you who would prefer the definition according to Merriam-Webster, atheism is:
2 a: a disbelief in the existence of deity b: the doctrine that there is no deity”
See? There is nothing in there about hating god, eating babies, worshipping Satan, or what have you. The only thing atheism refers to is the lack of belief in the existence of a deity. There are atheists that believe in all kinds of things from souls and ghosts, to astrology, and more. Before you ask, I don’t believe in those things but I know of atheists that do.
How is it possible that atheists can believe in these things?
Well for one atheism is not a religion we only have one thing in common, we don’t believe in god or gods. Not all atheists come to atheism the same way. There are atheists who had something bad that happened to them and stopped believing. There are atheists that determined they didn’t believe in god based on scientific evidence. There are atheists who dont’ believe based on their studies of religious doctrine or using simple logic and philosophy. There are atheists that cannot even articulate why they are atheists.
So I’ll tell you what makes me an agnostic atheist although more often than not I simply refer to myself as an atheist. I don’t believe in god but I don’t know that there is no god. Thats where the agnosticism comes in. That pesky “a” again means without and “gnosis” means knowledge. So how can I call myself an atheist if I don’t know (this is a question I get a lot)? Because the two are not mutually exclusive, they deal with different aspects of the god question.
Now all of this is shocking for some people, especially in the black community. Faith is a staple in black culture. The roots of this come from the legacy of slavery and racial discrimination. Churches were one of the only places where slaves were allowed to gather and theere they were indoctrinated with notions of their inferiority based on certain interpretations of scripture. There were even bibles manufactured that highlighted verses relevant to servitude, slavery, and obedience (UNHOLY: The Slaves Bible). However, faith had an upside as well, it helped many blacks persevere through many challenges and many blacks continue to see faith as a source of strength. And because of this faith heritage and the idea that black people need to believe in god or ought to believe in god that put those of us who don’t believe in god outside in the cold. Many aspects of black culture are interwoven with faith and divorcing ourselves from faith can put us at odds with our families and social/cultural values. Church, for instance, obviously a center of faith, is also a major social institution in the black community. Church members can replace extended family becoming “play cousins”, surrogate parents, grandparents, aunties, and uncles. These are the sorts things we give up when we declare ourselves atheists. The gain however is authenticity. So whoever reads this, I hope you learned something about me and perhaps atheism, but I hope you can get to a place in your life where you can be authentic about whatever it is you are or believe- or disbelieve in this case. 🙂
If you are interested in finding resources or meeting other atheists there are lots of organizations and groups on facebook and elsewhere but two I’ll recommend are:
Black Atheists of America
Black Atheists -more of an informal group but its a good way to meet others
I’ll update my blogroll and post some links of interests at a later date.