What I Believe as an Atheist

When someone finds out that a loved one is an atheist, they tend to have a lot of questions. One question I was asked when coming out was “If you don’t believe in God, then what do you believe?” I was confused by the question at the time. What do you mean, what do I believe? I thought. About what? Morality? Science? The cosmos? Music? Pineapple on pizza? After thinking about it further, I think that “So, what do you believe?” is a pretty good question to ask an atheist, since all you can assume to know about an atheist is that there’s one thing they certainly don’t believe in, and that’s a god or gods. Everything else is up in the air.

It’s true that a lot of atheists do tend to share similar beliefs about many things outside of the existence of God, like social and other philosophical issues. The most common worldviews that I know of for nonbelievers include naturalism, humanism, nihilism, and existentialism. I have a pretty good idea of what all of these worldviews are (except I admittedly don’t yet know much about how nihilism and existentialism are different), and I feel myself pulled towards each one in different ways.

When I was first learning about these worldviews in college, we were taught about “positive naturalism” and “negative naturalism,” which I believe are normally just called humanism and nihilism in the real world. In this class, I decided I aligned with positive naturalism (humanism) rather than negative naturalism (nihilism) although now I kind of feel split between them. I’d say I have the values and lifestyle of a humanist, but some more nihilistic beliefs about reality. I’m still working out the technicalities, so don’t come for me.

It was three years ago when I first wrote the paper that made me really consider God’s existence and who I am, but other than my disbelief in God, my other beliefs are still in fluctuation. I think that finding out what you truly believe can take decades, and I’m only three years in, so think of this post as a snapshot of where I am right now. There are some things I’ve extensively thought about and some I’ve only considered a few times. If you consider yourself an expert on philosophy and different worldviews, feel free to tell me which worldview you think I best align with based off of what I say.

Keep in mind as you read that what I believe, or what you believe, doesn’t really change what is actually true. In my changing views, I’m trying to get them closer and closer to the truth, and chances are, they’re not all 100% correct. Professing my beliefs feels a bit strange because I feel like I’m trying to determine what is true. In reality, I’m just trying to determine what I believe to be true and doing my best to, as Matt Dillahunty says, “believe as many true things and as few false things as possible.”

The Origin of the Universe – I believe that the universe began with a big bang. Well, the Big Bang, not a big bang, as it wasn’t really a bang but rather a sudden rapid expansion. I also believe that it is extremely complicated, dealing with physics and the existence of space and time, and I’ve accepted that I will never fully understand it.

The Multiverse – In the past I wrote that I don’t believe in a multiverse, but since writing that post, I’ve read more good arguments for a multiverse, but I haven’t extensively looked back into it. Reading Stephen Hawking’s thoughts on multiple universes made my head hurt, and I might just be too stupid to really understand this highly complex scientific question.

The Supernatural – I don’t believe in any supernatural beings. No ghosts, angels, or demons. I’ll note here that I’ve never taken any hallucinogenic drugs, which I feel like would influence my perception of the existence of things like auras, which at this time I also don’t really believe in.

Astrology – Stars exist. Planets exist. The Sun, Moon, and Earth exist, and Mercury goes into retrograde, but that doesn’t have any effect on our personalities or our luck or anything like that. Thus, I believe that astrology is bullshit.

What Humans Are – I believe that humans are animals. Specifically, humans are primates. We share a common ancestor with chimpanzees, but also with cats, and sharks, and fungi, and trees, and every other carbon-based organism on Planet Earth that our species has split off from over the last three billion years in biological evolutionary history, what Richard Dawkins calls “the greatest show on earth.”

Souls – I don’t believe in souls. I believe that what you might call a soul is all of “you” that can only exist because your brain exists. Without your brain, there is no you, and when you die, no soul floats up out of it and goes anywhere.

Death – I believe that after I die, I will experience what I experienced between the moment of the Big Bang and the year 1995. I wasn’t bothered by my nonexistence then, and I predict that it won’t bother me later on, either. That being said, I can’t help but fear death, as I imagine everyone does. I don’t let it render me hopeless, but rather the time limit reminds me not to waste the time that I have. This is probably the greatest manifestation of my humanism/nihilism mix that I mentioned earlier.

Morality – At this point in time, I believe that morality is subjective. I’ve grown my book collection on this subject, so I’m ready to dive into it further, but I haven’t started yet. For now, I’ll say that I do like the idea of moral consequentialism, which is judging your actions by their outcomes. It’s not as simple as it sounds, but nothing in ethics really is. That’s why I don’t buy the Divine Command Theory, because it’s so, so oversimplified.

Free Will – I base my beliefs on free will mostly on one source right now, which is this episode of the Here and How Podcast. It’s not really something I’ve studied in depth, but I do think that the argument in this podcast is pretty solid, and free will is probably just a strong illusion.

Abortion – The idea that abortion is always wrong was a belief that stuck with me from my time in the Christian church for far longer than their other teachings did. Over time, this belief has waned, and I would say at this point I am more pro-choice than pro-life, but there are just so many factors that it might be the type of thing to take on a case-by-case basis. I will say, however, that nothing involving abortions should be up to the government. It should be between a woman and whoever she can trust in her situation, like her family, her doctor, or her significant other. It’s a hard enough decision as it is, so demonizing people who consider terminating their own pregnancies is nothing but polarizing. Love, understanding, and sympathy are key.

Veganism – I believe that veganism is one of those moral decisions that isn’t really as complicated as people think. Veganism seems to me to just be the ethical choice. At the very least, we should be eating local, ethically-sourced meat from animals who were treated well. That said, I’m not a vegan, but I don’t eat a lot of meat anyways because, honestly, I think it’s kind of gross. It hasn’t been hard for me to cut meat-based dishes out of my diet, and one day, I might end up vegan or vegetarian.

LGBTQ Issues – I don’t think there are really any secular arguments, or any good arguments at all, against LGBT rights. To me, homophobia is no different from racism. Just don’t judge people or try to take away their rights based on qualities that are out of their control and that don’t affect your life. How hard is that?

The Meaning of Life – I don’t have a definite answer for this one. I’d be lying if I said I believe that there is one meaning of life for everyone. If there was, it would just be a drive for progress and the continuation of society and the human race, driven by evolution and Dawkins’ concept of the selfish gene. Even in people’s individual lives, your purpose is always changing.

For me, as I reach a goal, I create a new one. In high school, my goal was to find a boyfriend and choose a good college (one of those choices was a good one, but the second was not so good, other than leaving me with a handful of good friends and a passion for atheism and this blog). In college, I was just trying to survive with my sanity, and my goal was to get the eff out of there, marry my fiance, and be free.

Now, with a husband and a job, I have time to breathe and decide what I want to do next. Maybe I’ll help others in the process of coming out atheist and step further into this role of atheist activism. One day I’d love to write a book, and I work towards it in just reading and writing, which I already love. Recently I’ve been learning more about how to combat climate change, and I’m trying to do more than just recycle, but take the environmental impact of my actions into consideration with everything I do.

So these have been my current beliefs on 13 important topics that aren’t just the existence of God. Obviously, there are a lot of other things that I do or don’t believe as well, so if there is something I haven’t mentioned, feel free to ask!

16 Replies to “What I Believe as an Atheist”

  1. Thank you for sharing your beliefs. I’m not sure if spirituality is a middle ground between religion and science (it definitely affects the way you see the world as religions do), but I believe in the universe and trust its guidance.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My post-religious beliefs were the subject of my first WordPress post, A Rather Catholic Sort of Atheist (https://lionsdan.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/a-rather-catholic-sort-of-atheist-2/). Personally, I find veganism/vegetarianism rather bizarre as ethical issues, especially the counterintuitive (as I see it) idea that it is okay to kill and eat animals if they are treated well first. Obviously animals deserve to be treated kindly as much as possible, but everything humans do has such a detrimental impact on animal life that to suggest that we are being humane simply by not eating them is remarkably naïve. Which is not to say that the utilitarian dilemma of human rights/animal rights is not interesting and worth discussing.

    I struggle with abortion too. It was one of the few subjects with which I still half-agreed with the Catholic Church back when I realized I was an atheist. I currently lean toward the idea that a fetus is entitled to human rights once it can survive outside the womb (my boss has a friend who recently gave birth to a super-premature baby, which has required a great deal of care to survive and yet is currently doing well, a subject which disquieted my very pro-life mother, go figure – although it is easy to mock conservative pro-lifers for not caring about children the moment they are born, in my mother’s case it seems to stem also from her upbringing on a farm). Either way, as much as I have come to believe in the importance of a woman’s right to choose, I’m afraid no amount of feminism will ever make me find the out-of-sight, out-of-mind argument anything less than cringeworthy.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Some of my thoughts:
    – Origen of the Universe: I love both explications (creation and big bang) as exercises of imagination, but I do not (read; cannot) understand them. The same goes for the notion of more than one universe. Now, do I HAVE to understand them? I do not see the need, since I’m fine with these – and some other – mysteries. If I would ever get to know the correct answer, it will not diminish my awe.
    – Supernatural, Astrology, Souls: Amusing nonsense.
    – What humans are: Extraordinary animals. Unable (up to now) to create themselves but perfectly able to destroy themselves.
    – Death: Just like I am blissfully unaware of my birth, why should I worry about my death? What I do fear is to suffer; well, who doesn’t? I try to make the best of life before the full stop is placed.
    – Free Will: The complexity of life makes free will a pleasant illusion.
    – Abortion: Like, for example Death Penalty, more than one answer is valid.
    – LGBTQ Issues: Sad to conclude that these will exist as long as monotheistic religions prevail.
    – Meaning of Life: Nobody can give meaning to the life of someone else. Similar to free will, we can only pretend that we are giving meaning to our own lives. “My way”…
    Cheers!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. You spoke of nihilism and existentialism. I’ve been attempting to read Nietzsche’s Will To Power and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Here’s his take on nihilism:
    “Nihilism would be a good sign,” Nietzsche writes in his notebooks. It is a necessary transitional phase, cleansing and clearing away outdated value systems so that something new can rise in their place. He writes about two different forms of nihilism, active nihilism and passive nihilism. Passive nihilism is more the traditional ‘belief that all is meaningless’, while active nihilism goes beyond judgement to deed, and destroys values where they seem apparent. Passive nihilism signifies the end of an era, while active nihilism ushers in something new. Nietzsche considers nihilism not as an end, but as a means ultimately to the revaluation of values. He stresses repeatedly that nihilism is a ‘transitional stage’.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree or agree-ish with most of the things you said. I like what you said about death. And now I am going to be weird and write a few of my opinions.

    veganism: I am a vegetarian and might go vegan at some point in my life, it’s just too hard right now. But it’s not okay to kill animals just so we can eat. Meat doesn’t even taste that good. It might have been necessary in other times but today you can be a vegan or vegetarian and be healthy as well as have a lot of choice in the foods you eat.

    death: I am not sure, but I like to think that what happens to people after they die is whatever they believe happens to them (yes, I got this from Percy Jackson). I like the idea of going to a different world but on the other hand it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    abortion: abortion is not killing a person because that person was never even born. Abortion is an amazing opportunity to choose your future and this choice should happen in the head of the person carrying the baby. But I don’t think I can judge or have an opinion about abortion because I was never in that situation.

    Queer stuff – being anti-queer is stupid because it’s not like being queer is a choice, so what do you want people to do, hate themselves? Lie to themselves? Have an unhappy life?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for a good discussion.

    My views are close to yours, but not identical. I’ll just comment on a few.

    Multiverse: I only get to live in the one universe. So whether or not there is a multiverse does not seem to matter to me. But I don’t have any objection to people studying the idea.

    Death: As I get older, the idea of death becomes less scary.

    Morality: I’ve been through enough discussions to recognize that neither “objective” nor “subjective” fits all that well.

    Abortion: A woman is a moral agent. It is not up to me to take away her rights to her own moral decision making.

    Veganism: I eat a lot less meat than I once did. But I’m not doctrinaire about it. We evolved as creatures with a mixed diet.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Thanks so much for taking the time to post some of what you believe. It is interesting to hear all the different views people have. I think one of the things you said ( Keep in mind as you read that what I believe, or what you believe, doesn’t really change what is actually true. In my changing views, I’m trying to get them closer and closer to the truth, and chances are, they’re not all 100% correct. ) stood out to me. It seems that no matter what we believe, christian, atheist, gay, straight etc. none of us have it all figured out or are 100% correct. We will all continue growing and learning over time and our beliefs and views will probably change many times. Thanks again for your post.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. “Now, with a husband and a job, I have time to breathe and decide what I want to do next. Maybe I’ll help others in the process of coming out atheist and step further into this role of atheist activism.”
    I have a similar “mission”; to get atheists to focus on the basic delusions of souls and the supernatural.The basic delusion is that the supernatural (heaven/paradise) actually exists. Religion, most notably the monotheists, is a scam selling eternal life for a measly 10% of your income! GROG

    Liked by 4 people

  9. You are obviously way more right than wrong on all these cases, but in the interest of commenting usefulness, in what “case” is it right for any human to demand that another female have to deliver their own child?
    Unless that faux-suffering person is going to step in and have that child through their own uterus, with all the dangers of childbirth, and then, in addition to that, then bring up that child for life with all the demands and instability and terminally fraught obligations of parenthood, then what is this “pro-life” business about anything other than bigotry and hatefulness? It just makes no sense – it’s not in the least “pro-life,” just an exercise in terminal stupidity.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Regards the multiverse – there’s a sub section of physics and cosmology that’s called string theory. With the math of string theory it’s put forth there’s way more than just our universe. It’s even present in fiction I’ve read.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I was asked the same question. I posted my response 2.5 years ago: http://pluviolover.com/2016/09/20/what-do-you-believe/
    When I read you, I am aware that while about 50 years separate us in age, we have claimed atheism for about the same length of time.
    For this list, I try not to worry much about the other ‘-isms.’
    I fear dying, not death. Morality (it is always forming), Free Will (agree, also S. Pinker’s books), Abortion (prevent unwanted pregnancy), Vege-isms – do animals have to die so I can live? (no, but carnivorous seems natural).
    We have some differences, but more similarities of thought than I would have assumed. I agree that this is a question we should be able to answer. Well done! Thumbs-up to your book and writing goals.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Good article. It is sometimes helpful for us to just get what we believe straight in our own minds. I have been on a similar quest, but starting from the theistic side of things. Trying to avoid the pitfalls of confirmation bias one issue at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s not what you believe but belief itself that is the seedbed of division, pride, hate, political strife. Why do you have to align with anything? Belief is only effective as a transition, not an end in itself, yet were forced to take sides in a guess because of tradition.

    Liked by 2 people

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