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05 December, 2010

Came to Unbelieve, Pt 1

It was springtime. I had recently started walking with a friend of mine around her neighborhood to try to shed some extra pounds. Up and down the steep hills of her Placerville neighborhood we would trek, catching our breath to talk about life, love, and any number of things that troubles twenty-somethings these days. I knew she felt the same way about religion as my own recently found feelings, but I didn't know how to express them.

"So, you know I took that philosophy class a while back, and I've really been looking into faith and I have come to realize I don't know-I mean I don't think-well, I just-I don't really believe anymore. In God. But atheist is treated as such a bad word that I don't even really want to use it yet. So what do I say to people when they ask me?" The question was sincere. I really hadn't wanted to start using the "A" word. I was hoping there was something else I could say that might be clear enough to end any conversation about religion and not bring anymore questions that might lead to me having to say, "I'm an atheist."

She put it simply for me, "My mom tells people she's a Secular Humanist." Zing! And that was what I went by for months, not realizing that there was a whole organization out there that called themselves just that. It was perfect, but for the purpose of softening the blow (especially to my mother) I opted to add in addition to this "Secular Humanism" that I was also a strong believer that something like "The Force" was at work in the Universe; some unknown, impersonal and unconscious power was at work, as long as a person was willing to use it.

Later, when I made the switch to "Atheist," I definitely got reactions from people. By then, I expected it.  Bill Maher's "Religulous" inspired me to seek out videos regarding creationism on YouTube. There, I found that hundreds of scientists and educated people had started channels for the sake of debating and informing people about science and scientific discoveries while showing the absurdities of Intelligent Design and the 6,000 year old earth. Further clicking led me to more sites where users were debating the major philosophical arguments for the existence of God, familiar to me through the class I had taken. Around this same time, someone close to me who had recently converted to Baptism had let me borrow, "I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist" by Geisler and Turek. All arguments in that book were addressed by these amateur film-makers and YouTube scientists and activists.

I had to relearn the definition of "Atheist." I was told my whole life that they were close-minded people with bad intentions and no moral ground. After all, how could they be so certain there was no God. I got my answer: they aren't. An honest atheist, or an atheist who came to be an atheist through searching for God, or one who grew up in a secular household will never tell you they know there is no God. They simply reject the claims of theists. Atheist isn't a belief there is no God. It's no belief in any God.

If a person tells me that elves make shoes every night for an old man on Main Street, I don't believe that extraordinary claim until that person shows me proof beyond a reasonable doubt that elves are in fact making shoes. If someone makes the extraordinary claim that there is a magical, immeasurable and perfect being who made the universe and that everything science has studied about life is wrong, I need to see some definitive evidence.

It can't be flimsy, either, because of the sheer nature of such a claim. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt. I wouldn't send anyone to the electric chair for less, why would I base my entire world view, and possibly my "soul" (and my Sunday mornings) on anything less?  What if I got the wrong God? I realized that this was the approach I had been taking the whole time I was on my journey to find God, I just hadn't realized that I was already an atheist when I started. I thought I was "agnostic," a term often confused with "unsure one way or the other." (Agnostic really is a position that no one can ever know whether God exists).

Having finally defined myself as an atheist, I started coming out. The reactions were huge and emotional at times, and even harder inside my own feelings toward the prospect of a universe without any supernatural authority or justice, but I slowly began mustering the courage to tell people that I no longer believed, and why.

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