My First Time

Last night was my first attendance at any kind of atheist gathering. It was a meetup called Atheists United, San Fernando Valley. I went “blind,” knowing no one. The meeting was about fifteen miles from my house and I don’t take the freeways. So, as I drove, I had time to contemplate what I was doing.

 

I thought of how much we are communal creatures, how important it is for us to find like-minded people to go through life with. I thought about how our likes, dislikes, interests, and passions can bring us together with strangers and pull us away from the people we already know. And I thought about how good it would feel to actually speak freely with people who agree with me.

 

Although my expectations were low, I was more than pleasantly surprised. I was received warmly and the ensuing discussion did not disappoint. People made reasoned comments with humor and grace. People listened respectfully to others and never seemed to take themselves too seriously.

 

My previous notions of atheists were that they were angry, condescending, humorless creatures with dysfunctional private lives. This is probably why it takes time for new atheists to even use the “A” word. I, myself, refer to myself as a “naturalist” in public. (Someone in the group last night quipped that “naturalist” sounded kind of like “nudist,” so maybe I should revise my label!) In any case, my own atheism is part of an overall evolution in my consciousness. I have felt that I am traveling this journey alone, which I have been okay with. However, it is much nicer to have some sympathetic people to relate to. I look forward to engaging further with this group and possibly others.

 

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The End of My Faith

“For anyone with eyes to see, there can be no doubt that religious faith remains a perpetual source of human conflict. Religion persuades otherwise intelligent men and women to not think, or to think badly, about questions of civilizational importance. And yet it remains taboo to criticize religious faith in our society, or to even observe that some religions are less compassionate and less tolerant than others. What is worst in us (outright delusion) has been elevated beyond the reach of criticism, while what is best (reason and intellectual honesty) must remain hidden, for fear of giving offense.” –Sam Harris, The End of Faith (2005). W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. p. 236-237.

I just finished the above book and loved it. I am new to exploring the idea of “no God.” I have been moving in this direction for years, but never understood enough about the origins of the universe to feel comfortable eschewing God completely. I acknowledge there is a lot we don’t know about the world and about ourselves. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that none of the extant religions have a coherent narrative to explain much of anything. Also, if there were a personal, omniscient (and decent) God who demanded that we know and serve him on threat of eternal punishment, there would be no ambiguity. There would be no “interpretations.” No all-knowing God would rely on hearsay to get his message out, and then torture people who don’t get it.

No, religion was created to help us explain our surroundings, to comfort us when we are afraid, to give us that sense of awe that feels so great, to provide a sense of law to keep our communities in order, and to give us a sense of family with one another. The good news is that religion is completely unnecessary to experience any of these things. Reliance on any church, guru, or institution to tell you what to do with your life is an abdication of your responsibilities as a human being. It is also a waste of a perfectly healthy brain.

It is not easy to live free of god/religion in our society. Skeptics make people uncomfortable. People think the only way to have morals is to sign up for a religion, or, more likely, to stick with the one imposed on you from birth. However, the reality is that religion encourages tribal thinking – us vs. them hatred, condescension, and animosity – not peace. It also encourages passivity, magical thinking, and superstition. It only encourages peace and love between those within one’s religion – those with whom one already agrees, or those one can convince to sign up. I fail to see what is impressive about that. Although I have no desire to make people uncomfortable just for the heck of it, or to impose my lack of belief on anyone, I am unwilling to force myself to believe in things that aren’t real.

There is enough true beauty in the world to celebrate without having to bother with fictitious beings in the sky. Loving one another is a humanist idea that transcends man-made religion. My goal is to make this world a better place because there is no evidence of any others.

Love and peace,

Raven