In the past I have felt the need to hedge when it comes to describing my beliefs, or more accurately my lack thereof. It is not that I am not an agnostic, I am, but I feel sometimes like I am trying to be safe for my less tolerant believer friends and family to know. I am well aware of just how much readier religious folk in general, and Christians in particular, accept agnostics over atheists. I sometimes feel like I am betraying my atheist comrades, and that they feel that way too. It rather reminds me of how bi sexual men feel and are sometimes treated in the gay community: “you’re just afraid to come out of the closet.”
The difference being is those that have a beef with gay people have just as much of one with bisexuals (sometimes even more, perceiving bisexuals as being “sex fiends”) whereas agnostics often are treated as the better option over atheists. I suppose this comes from the very wrong headed notion that somehow agnostics sit in the middle and therefor can be swayed to the believer’s way of thinking. Let me explain to you why that is wrong.
I withhold belief. That is never going to change. I understand that knowledge of metaphysical principles, such as the existence of the divine or lack thereof, are ultimately beyond proof. I will not insult the gravity of these claims by tackling them here. If push comes to shove and you need to have it explained to you, I suggest you read some David Hume. Short of your spontaneously creating life through an act of will nothing you say or do has even the slightest hope of ever getting me to believe in a god, gods or goddesses.
You may ask why I am telling you all this. Wouldn’t it be safer for me to just let the believers in my life (those that might have a problem, there are at least two that I know that do not) go on thinking they have a prayer, if you will, of changing my mind? That may well be, but a recent blog I read led me to believe that we non-believers need to do a better job coming out of the closet. We need to stop being so timid and letting those believers that try to force their way of life on others know that we will not quietly take it anymore. Starting today, I will not let bigots control others’ perception of me.
For reasons I cannot quite wrap my head around nearly half of all people surveyed said they would be upset if their child married an atheist. A slim majority, but majority nonetheless of Americans say they would not vote for an open atheist. By wide margins we are less trusted than any other group. Which is funny to me, because every atheist I know is a caring, open minded and honest person.
I don’t need some omnipotent parent figure to make me an honest person. I am honest because if people are going to act the way I feel is best, then I need to give them accurate information. I am honest because if I am not, others will (rightfully) no longer trust me and I will not be able to act in civil society. Fear of eternal punishment does not keep me from hurting others, the knowledge that I may be hurt myself, or at least kept from loving relationships, does so. Most of the moral behavior that any believer holds up as a virtue have a perfectly logical rationale devoid of the need of the divine to engage in it.
Please don’t mistake this for an attack on your beliefs. I know there may be a few of you who will have a knee jerk reaction to believe so and frankly the radical religious right does a good job of conditioning even their most open brethren into believing that any claim contrary to their beliefs is some how oppressing them. Really, though, I don’t care. Go ahead and keep on believing in your gods and goddesses. As Ricky Gervais recently tweeted “If you really think you need to believe in one of the gods to be a better person then that’s fine with me. Kindness for any reason. Peace.” The minute you use those beliefs to attack others however, by denying them simple human rights, by bullying them out of the public eye and yes, buy actually physically attacking them, you and I are going to have a problem.