Coming Out of the Atheist Closet

from here but
grammatically correct
There are way too many people in the atheist closet. I used to be one of them, and it might even be a little risqué to come out as an atheist here on this blog, although I pretty much already have in other contexts. Now, don't get me wrong - this post isn't trying to draw a parallels between stigma against atheists and the sort of intolerance and hatred faced by homosexuals and other people who don't comply with hetero-normative culture. I think those issues are far more important for us to challenge than issues of religion - but that goes along with my being an atheist. I think it's about time that being an atheist stopped being a big deal and stopped being treated as negative. I think it's also an identity that many more people need to own up to.

Conversation between dudes
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For too long, "agnostic" has been a popular label with all sorts of people, youth as well as others. I even called myself "ignostic" for a long time - up to very recently - because it expresses a rejection of the "question of god" entirely, and I really couldn't care less about that question. But let's think critically for a second. What does "atheist" mean? It means a person who is not a believer in a god - the prefix "a-" (not) and "theist" (believer in a god). If an agnostic is someone who isn't sure whether a god exists or not (they are literally "without knowledge"), or even someone who believes that the existence of a god or gods is unknowable, then they are obviously not a theist, and therefore an atheist.

People seem to equivocate theists with atheists, as if being an atheist means actively believing in the nonexistence of gods. That's why you get the following from Urban Dictionary, of all places:
Agnostics on atheism: On the other end of the spectrum, unlike atheists, an agnostic uses a more scientific approach to their belief system. An agnostic knows that just because there is no physical proof of the existence of a higher being, it dose [sic] not automatically mean that one does not exist. An agnostic views an atheist on the same plane as a religious zealot; often because the belief [sic] that human beings are the pinnacle of intelligence and there are few things that we do not or have the potential to understand. 
The realization of knowing that “we cannot know everything” is the backbone of the agnostic belief. 
Christian Zealot: God loves you and everyone. He will save you
Agnostic: Prove it. 
Athiest: There is no way that a god can exist.
Agnostic: Prove it.
Non-believers of the world, unite!
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This sort of characterization is ridiculous, and it's divisive. Every atheist that I know of looks to science as the foundation of knowledge, not belief, and everyone who understands science (or history) knows that there is much we do not know, and maybe even cannot know. Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, two of the most prominent atheists of our day, both stated that if they were given incontrovertible evidence of a god's existence, they would become theists. Sure, many atheists act as if they are 100% sure there is no god, and that's understandable considering how frustrating it can be arguing with some theists. The fact is, though, that it's only theists who make an absolute claim of anything, whether it's as a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Bahá'í or whatever: They believe and have certain faith in a deity, without leaving it up to evidence-based knowledge - and atheists just don't.

So, if you're a closeted atheist, it's time for us to band together. Sure you can still call yourself an agnostic or a secular humanist, but admit that you're an atheist too. Even if you're "spiritual but not religious" you might also be an atheist. With infighting and self-division, we obstruct the progression of our cause, which is to free ourselves from a religio-normative culture that insists everyone must belong to a religion and that belonging to a religion is natural. We don't want freedom of religion - that leaves out those without it; we want freedom of conscience, and we want stigma against atheists to end.

Most people don't consider the fact that humanity has, for the vast majority of its history, done just fine without institutionalized dogma and mandated loyalty to one or more liturgical supreme beings. Most of the time, people have just believed what they wanted to, making things up as they went along. Now we live in a world of mega-religions that choke diversity of thought. I still remember an idea I read while flipping through a random book last year: The Americas were more religiously diverse in 1491 than they ever have been since. It's worth remembering that even some people who belong to a religion may be atheists - Buddhists, for example (though that may negate what I said two paragraphs ago). We need a society in which honesty about one's beliefs is valued and rational debate about one's beliefs is valued. Engaging seriously with important ideas can only be a good thing, right?

If you're in the atheist closet, please come out. No matter who you are (well, especially if you're a nice person) you will help non-belief to become more accepted and respected in society. A Mormon president? Hell no. I want to have a self-avowed atheist president, by 2024 at latest, please.

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