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21 March, 2011

What Is An Atheist?

I got my first question in the comments section of my last post. The user asks, "What is an atheist?"

A simple dictionary reference is insufficient and often-times misleading. Many dictionaries name an atheist as "A person who doesn't believe God exists." That definition itself assumes that something called God exists and that there are people who don't believe in its existence. The definition is actually more simple than that. In fact, it should be the default position and not have a label at all. The reason that atheists are labelled as such at all and have come together to form a community is because theism has been the majority world view for the entirety of human history.

Think about all you know about the Christian God. (I'm directing this post to the Christian God but, these same points are valid with any deity). You first learned about God from church; people told you about God. You learned about his history and qualities by reading the Bible. Along the way, you've no doubt changed your perception of God if you are a person who has switched denominations at all. Some things one church tells you doesn't sit well with something you've already been told and so you either adapt or discard the new information. Nothing is constant, even among Christianity. There are over 3,000 different denominations and sects of Christianity and none of them agree on even the basics.

So to take a step back from what all these people have been saying about God and the nature of God, the atheist takes the position that whichever one is right has to prove that their position is true and correct. The first thing they have to do is prove that God exists at all. God is invisible, highly inconsistent at answering prayers and goes against the observations that scientists have made about the natural world. If something exists, it must be observable and measurable, because that is how we've determined everything in our world to be. "Extraordinary claims call for extraordinary evidence."

That God exists is the hypothesis, therefore, the null hypothesis is that God does not exist, the basis at which we start our investigation. There are many philosophical arguments that theists use for the existence of God, including but not limited to:

The Cosmological Argument

The Ontological Argument

The Teleological Argument

Evidence from Scripture

And many more, however, they fail to stand up to not only philosophical scrutiny, but the scientific method as well. Therefore, until God shows up, the atheist does not accept the claim "There is a God" as a true statement. Could there be a God? Of course. Anything is possible. Of course, if it were true, it would make our Creator out to be quite a faulty being, but that's a theological argument for another day.

So that's an atheist. A person who rejects a hypothesis. The thing is, we don't label people who don't believe in homeopathy ahomeopathists or people who don't believe in Nessie alocknessmonsterists. So really, an "atheism," "darwinism," etc, aren't really anything. The reason that atheists get together and form groups and speak out against religion, and even in the belief in God itself, is because religion is so good at undermining secularism, controlling politics and nations, and causing a lot of harm and wars along the way. The first 1500 years since Jesus supposedly lived is a great example.

Of course, I don't speak for all who don't believe. There are atheist religions, such as some sects of Buddhism. There are atheists who don't form groups or speak out. There are people who call themselves atheists because they are mad at their God without ever really looking at what they do or don't believe and why.

Is atheism a religion? No. Is atheism a movement? Perhaps. Is atheism bad? Not at all. Is atheism trying to make everyone believe the same? No, many don't care what you believe as long as you keep it out of our lives, our schools, and our laws.

I hope this answers your question. If you'd like to ask more, feel free.

20 March, 2011

Ask Anything

I'm thinking about changing this blog to a question-answer format for the people in my life that have questions about the road to non-belief, or about atheism itself as I see it. Obviously, I can't speak for all atheists. I don't actually know that many personally, though there are a lot on blogs and YouTube, so I can't say what everyone thinks about atheism, but there are common misconceptions that I might be able to clear up about atheism. I had someone confuse atheism with polytheism once and so I feel like there is a need to create a forum for people to ask what they want. Anyway, I'll let you all know how it goes.

15 March, 2011

Sobriety, 2

I've continued this entry from the previous blog post. It had originally been a single article, but turned out to be really, really long. The first part can be read here.

I was told that doubting God would just get me in trouble. I was told that if I didn't go to meetings every week, I would drink again. I was told to "stick with the winners," which were people who really acted outside of the program like nice people, which was sound advice, but the biggest "cliques" in AA were the groups of people, mostly young, between 3-7 years of sobriety who constantly talked about other members, and would go out of their way to exclude people who weren't cool like them. I was told that hanging out with people who drink would lead me down the abyss and back to where I had been when I was drinking. If I didn't end up drinking, I was doomed to become a "Dry Drunk," a person so miserable and angry because they couldn't drink but who didn't have the program to prop them up and make them happy again.

I've been sober eight years. I'm not miserable. I have as many problems as anyone would expect me to have, not really any more or less than I had when I was in recovery (actually, probably less because I don't have that bad, bad advice anymore or the "cool" crowd to try to keep up with). I've seen rants online by people who spent time in AA and are very, very angry. Perhaps they are "Dry Drunks," but I can only go off of the angry tone they use in their blogs. I didn't come away from AA with the feeling that I had been brainwashed by a cult for six years. I simply didn't believe in God anymore and so the paradigm didn't work for me anymore. I didn't have an AA message.

I was told that no one ever comes back to AA after leaving and says, "It's so great out there, you all should join me and give up this AA stuff." But then again, why would any happy person do such a thing? I won't go back because I have no need to. I'm thankful for the things I learned about living with other people. I learned how to see how my own behavior creates conflict in my life. I learned that I need to mean what I say and say what I mean. I learned that my word is my bond. I learned how to meditate and concentrate and use tools during emotional times so I don't have to drink. No one can say those are bad things.

To the atheists that are adamantly against AA, I can just say that AA is not where your fight against theism should be. Fight the courts who demand that people go get their "slip signed" at these meetings. Many AA's also don't like this idea that the courts send people their way as a get-out-of-jail free card. The Higher Power of AA is not one God Head with holy book and a defined set of charicteristics like Christianity. Each person decides for themselves what they believe and arguments between members about the nature of God are almost non-existent. Atheists, there are bigger fish to fry.

If atheists really want to help change the way alcoholics and addicts are given treatment, we need to become counselors or start sobriety groups of our own, based in science and reason. We won't convince anyone by telling them the place they finally found relief from addiction, if even just for a short while, is a cult.

To the AA's who look down their nose at atheism: read again the quote I included at the top of this blog entry.

To the AA's who may be doubting the existence of whatever Higher Power you've chosen and still don't understand: You are not alone. You won't get drunk just for asking yourself questions. Alcoholism is not as simple as what your religious beliefs entail. You can stay sober and find answers for yourself. I know because I did and I know there are more people out there. The fact is, you have as much chance of staying sober on your own as with a religious support group, statistically. If you want more information, a quick Google search for "secular recovery" will bring up more information, or you can go to LifeRing's website here.

Sobriety, 1 (Or perhaps, Came to Unbelieve Pt 3)

"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation." (Incorrectly attributed to Herbert Spencer in Alcoholics Anonymous, aka: The Big Book of AA).

I've already explained some of the events or realizations in my life that attributed to the back-and-forth between belief and non-belief, culminating in my realization that I was, in fact, an atheist. They can be revisited here and here. This time, I want to talk specifically about Alcoholics Anonymous and my six years as an active member and my last two as a sober atheist.

First, it's all true what people say about AA. They do tell you that you are powerless without a supernatural being. They do recommend reliance on the group and building a social network of like-minded sober people (the latter of which is excellent and I have no qualms with). Yes, they do tell new members that they have character flaws that cause them to drink and that doing the steps will allow them to stop altogether. They have books that they recommend reading, repeated slogans and catchphrases. They are often found in church buildings.

Whether anyone has a problem with what they do is up to them. To me, being in it, working the steps, having that support group-all of it, was the best thing that ever happened to me. Yes, I could have had the same thing without belief in a Higher Power. I realized later that believing helped salve the pain of my addiction while I worked through those character flaws I mentioned. I have no shame or guilt in regards to my time with AA, no regrets. In doing the steps I learned how to be a better person. I learned how to talk about my feelings, to be friends with people, to show up and be responsible. I learned to volunteer for a cause greater than my own selfish ends. I learned how to not run to alcohol or drugs when I was having problems. I make no excuses for my time there; I was addicted to alcohol and drugs and I have still been clean and sober since February 3, 2003.

That being said, I am still aware that I didn't need a Higher Power. There are secular recovery groups, but none are as widespread or well-known as AA. I wouldn't suggest an atheist who was having trouble with drugs or alcohol go to AA. In fact, I would point them to a group like LifeRing, which operates with the support group/commitment to abstinence principles of AA without steps or God, and suggest finding professional support for emotional issues.

My first experience with "God" in AA was a list of characteristics on a piece of paper that I would attribute to a Higher Power. It was God by design, basically, and I could discard the angry, jealous figure that had hung over my head during my upbringing as a Christian. I've found that many, many AA members have this same view of their own Higher Power and that even recovering Christians tend to discard the dogmatic, concretized God of their own Bible; they are the most open-minded theists I know.

There were many coincidences that led me to believe that God was "working in my life." I was hired by Starbuck's in August of 2003 and the next year I got a 200 dollar bonus for all baristas hired from that August on as a thank you for the great year Starbuck's had. It was enough to cover the rent that my live-in boyfriend had squandered going out to eat and movies with his AA sponsor. There was a time I was driving on the freeway and noticed two cars on the side of the road and glass and taillight plastic all over the road. The accident had been about five minutes ahead of me and I thought, "God kept my at my house looking for my keys longer so I wouldn't be in that accident." (Today, I realize that with a three-lane freeway in a pretty rural area at a time of the evening when there weren't very many cars on the road, the accident would have been pretty easy to avoid and, if by chance, I had been involved, I wouldn't have blamed God for making me on time for it). All it was was coincidences, though. I never got a "burning bush," (some members did have such strong religious experiences, but I can't base my own faith on someone else's word).

There were, however, problems. I was told that "In AA, families stay together because alcohol had been so good at ripping them apart," which contributed to my staying in a two-and-a-half year long abusive relationship with said live-in boyfriend who spent our rent on hanging out with the guys. I should have known better, as one of the people telling me this bad advice had been indicted for felony embezzlement the previous year. After I finally escaped from the relationship, my ex's sister, who worked for a rehab as a counselor, threatened my life while I was at work because her brother had threatened suicide if I left him.

Update: After posting this, I decided to make it into a two-part entry because of it's length. This is continued on the next blog here.

11 March, 2011


A quick Google search brings up plenty of ways to help the people in Japan that doesn't include "prayers and thoughts," for you atheists out there that want to do more.

The Red Cross is a large, trusted (and of course, secular) organization that sends relief around the world. You can visit their website here or text "REDCROSS" to "90999" to send $10.

Charity Navigator put out their list today. A few listed are faith-based, so do your research.

Facebook also has a page. Again, I recommend visiting websites to ensure that your money is going to actual aid and not to set up prayer groups or hand out holy books.

09 March, 2011


Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta posted the other day about cohabitation, or as some people know it, shacking up. An article in the Christian Relevent was providing a lot of information about relationships where people live together before marriage. It was saying things like, "Although an expanding body of evidence shows that “shacking up” damages individuals, relationships and communities, acceptance of cohabitation is growing, even among young Christians." Rob McNiff, the author, also says things like, "As it turns out, cohabitation actually weakens relationships and promotes divorce. Cohabitors break up at a rate much higher (up to five times higher) than married couples," and, "Research also shows that..." but doesn't provide any sources for any of these claims or "research."

Hemant cites his own sources and provides links to the National Center for Health Statistics that show that there's really no difference at all between living with someone before or after marriage. As you would guess with any article that pins one reason for the success or failure of marriages in the US today, the issue is much more complex than that and probably completely unrelated to whatever any non-expert is willing to spout for his own political or religious means.

I wonder how many people actually read the article by McNiff and scrolled down to see if he cited any sources for his numbers and, seeing none, researched more or disregarded the post entirely versus the number of people who took it as word and started sharing it with all their friends and pointing their noses down at people who choose to live together without getting the piece of paper first. I'll bet the ratio doesn't look very good on the side of critical thinking.