This week, Catholic in the 21st Century asked me on Twitter if I would do a Q & A with him for our blogs. As you can see, I agreed. We each asked each other five questions and responded in a post. You can read the one on his blog here. So without further ado, here are my responses to our Catholic-atheist Q & A!
1. As an atheist, what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? (The reason I ask this question is: Speaking from my own experience, as well as what I’ve read about other Christians’ experiences, a desire to please God is what motivates people of faith to live their lives to the fullest.)
Coffee. (to be specific, about 75% coffee and 25% hazelnut creamer. Yum!!)
Just kidding. Mostly. But to be serious, I would say it’s a weird question for me to consider. I understand how a Christian is motivated by God to get up, work, do their life’s work to fulfill their worldly purpose and to glorify God, and I understand that from a Christian viewpoint, an atheist doesn’t have any of that motivation going for them. But if you try to see it from an atheist perspective, I have never had any of that as my motivation, so to me, I’m not missing out on anything. You might get a better answer from an atheist who used to be a Christian, but I only ever vaguely believed as a young child, so I don’t have any legitimate experience being a Christian myself, thus no point of comparison.
To answer your question, what primarily motivates me to get up and go to class or go to work is where it will lead me. I’m excited to graduate and have a career, but moreso, I’m excited to use my money from that career to buy myself a car (I’m in my twenties and I still don’t have a car) and a house and a life to myself and my future family. Speaking of which, another motivator for me is my boyfriend and our hope of one day getting engaged and married and raising a family. Plus, once I’m married, I hope to finally come out to my siblings and parents and the world and be freeee!
2. What is one thing that you wish Christians understood about people who are atheists, and atheism itself?
Mostly, I wish that people understood what atheism is in the first place. That it’s a lack of belief in any gods or deities. It’s not a belief in anything, it’s not a lifestyle, it’s not a worldview, not a belief system, and especially not a religion. When I presented to my atheism to my culture class last semester, one girl asked at the end, “When did you start believing in atheism?” and I immediately (metaphorically) kicked myself for not having defined it as a lack of belief during the presentation. Atheists still can’t assume that people know what atheism is, even though it’s such a basic and simple statement. And while we’re at it, I wish that people understood what evolution was too. If people took the time to understand what things are, they wouldn’t be as quick to reject them.
As for a misunderstanding about atheists themselves, I would say that people don’t realize that anyone can be an atheist. Male, female, straight, gay, black, white, cis, trans, left, right, young, old, anyone. There is no “stereotypical atheist”; we are all very different, and we often disagree with each other. I can almost guarantee you that if you met me in person you wouldn’t think I’m an atheist at all. (Similarly to how a preacher once said that Jaclyn Glenn didn’t look like an atheist…?) Basically, you can’t predict someone’s beliefs (or lack of beliefs) based on their looks or their personality (note that this is true for more than just atheism). I’ve often heard people be told “chances are, someone you know is an atheist, and they just haven’t told you.” And it’s true, definitely in the case of my family, some of whom might be under the impression that they’ve never met an atheist in their entire lives. We’re everywhere, but we haven’t come out yet.
3. What advice would you have to atheists who want to “come out of the closet”? i.e., Atheists who want to tell their friends or family about their reasons for no longer believing in a god. (Imagine if a Christian classmate at your college confided in you that they were an atheist and wanted your help in telling the other people in their life.)
It really depends on the person. It’s hard to give that kind of advice, because it differs depending on their circumstance, and I’m still in the process of coming out and figuring this all out myself. Sometimes, like in my case, you can’t fully come out yet and have to find other outlets, and in some cases, if you’re ready, it’s time to navigate the way out.
If I were to give advice to a fellow atheist student who was ready to come out at school, I would suggest starting with close friends who you trust and whose friendship can withstand this. If it’s not a best friend, sometimes it doesn’t even make a big difference if they know or not. This is something I have had to learn, mostly through this blog and the comments on my post about trying to tell friends. If it’s not vital information for the relationship, then it can be awkward to bring up in conversation. I suggest only telling them if you have a purpose; in my case, that purpose is that I want to be able to talk about how I have a blog, I want to be able to honestly answer the question “read any good books lately?”, and I want to be able to wear my atheist tank top out in public. (Actually, I’m considering wearing it at band camp at my college this fall. Yay or nay?)
When it comes to telling family, I would have them make sure that it is safe to do. I think that you know your family better than anyone else does, but there are ways to see if they would react well. Do they have atheist friends? Have any family friends deconverted? Try mentioning that you found out that someone at school or an old high school friend is an atheist, and see how they react. You can also drop hints and try to engage them in discussions about evolution or ask if they have ever doubted their faith. If you do think that they would react badly, but you still want to tell them (I recommend telling them unless for some reason you absolutely can’t), you can wait until you’re living on your own and have a place to go so you’re not relying on them for a place to live. You can read more in-depth on my plan for this in this post.
4. What is the hardest thing about being an atheist in a Christian-majority country like the US?
I think that one of the biggest things is that Christians don’t see how Christian our society still is. When I was more religiously apathetic, I had accepted that religion was just a part of normal life. I didn’t realize that having prayers in schools or a bombardment of religious books or symbols actually bothered people. Religion was everywhere since I was born, and even if I didn’t completely believe it myself, any time a friend said they weren’t religious or that they had never gone to church, I was dumbfounded. I still am. A couple months ago, I looked up what secular wedding ceremonies are like, because every wedding I’ve been to included scripture and hymns and creeds (basically a church service with an “I do”). The site I was on mentioned that the couple could ask a friend to get ordained to perform the ceremony. I was completely amazed that there are people who don’t know any pastors or ministers. It was and still is unfathomable to me, simply because of the way I was raised.
Even when I’m not with my Christian family, Christianity and crosses are everywhere I go. My boyfriend play a game where we count how many Christian bumper stickers or cross necklaces we see in a day, and we’ve seen upwards of ten in a day when we’re just out and about, or going down the highway, not at my college or a church. I go into a bookstore looking for atheist books, and I might be lucky to find a couple mixed into the philosophy or science sections after passing shelves upon shelves upon shelves of bibles, Christian journals, Christian living books, creationism books, and much more. And this isn’t even in Family Christian Stores. This is in Barnes and Noble and Half Priced Books.
So the hardest thing, I would say, is that Christianity is inescapable in our society. I don’t have strangers forcing it on me, but I am constantly reminded that I’m in the minority. It’s frustrating that they can be open about their religion, but I’m afraid to show my lack of it. And no, I’m not offended by it. I do think it can get annoying though…really, really annoying.
5. Atheists place great emphasis on knowing things through logic and reason. i.e., People are atheists because they don’t see the logic in, for example, a being in the sky who demands that his followers kill in his name. My question is: When, if ever, do you believe it is permissible to set aside logic and make a choice — any choice — based on emotion or, to put it another way, “gut instinct”?
I think there’s a big difference between making a choice because of an emotion and basing a belief off of an emotion. In the case of beliefs, I think that there may be a couple times when gut instinct can contend with logic; for me, an instance of this would be something like the existence of ghosts. My reason for saying this is because I feel as though there are times when ghost encounters can seem so real and otherwise unexplainable that the existence of ghosts is hard to deny. The reason why this feeling does not convince me of their existence is because I don’t believe that it is physically possible. It requires a dualistic way of thinking, in which a person’s soul is not tethered to and can exist separately from their body, which I personally find ridiculous and not scientifically or logically sound.
As for using a gut instinct rather than logic to make decisions, I think that this is common for people of any type of belief. It depends more on a person’s personality than on whether they are a skeptic or an atheist. I think the easiest of example of this is romantic relationships where we often think with our hearts rather than with our heads. Even if you are extremely logical and skeptical, you’re not exempt from being overtaken by emotions. You’re still a slave to your hormones. There are many other examples of this type of thinking, but I think it would be unnecessary for me to list more.
Thank you once again Timothy for the thoughtful questions! I hope I answered sufficiently. If anyone finds any of my answers lacking, let me know in the comments!