I’m an atheist and I’m proud of it.
As an atheist I reject the idea of a “Supreme Being” or a set “Destiny” or a “Master Plan.” I don’t believe in burning bushes, arks, or naked people with snakes. I don’t believe in the authority of the Pope, the power of prayer, or Heaven & Hell.
I do believe a man named Jesus lived but that he was no different then Gandhi, King, or Lennon, just a man with a message of love and peace.
I tell you this because there is a lot of doubt about atheists. In a 1999 Gallup Poll, the most recent on the topic, atheists were trusted the least. According to the poll atheists were trusted less than African-Americans, Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, and homosexuals.
Now why is that?
Have we done something to offend you? Is it the fact that we believe in the evolution of man using scientific theories, instead of taking our history from a centuries old book that itself is based on myth?
Author Sam Harris, “The End of Faith,” proclaims to have the answer as to why atheists are so distrusted. According to Harris it’s the term “atheist” that is to blame: “We should not call ourselves ‘atheists.’ We should not call ourselves ‘secularists.’ We should not call ourselves ‘humanists,’ or ‘secular humanists,’ or ‘naturalists,’ or ‘skeptics,’ or ‘anti-theists,’ or ‘rationalists,’ or ‘freethinkers,’ or ‘brights.’ We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar — for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.”
When I first read Harris’s remark, which he made at an Atheist Alliance International conference I was impressed. It is true.
The moment I tell anyone I’m an atheist, the tone of the conversation changes; as if I just admitted I am a communist committed to tearing down capitalism. It does not matter what the conversation was before, apparently my atheism holds sway over every decision about anything that I’ll ever make, ever. As you can assume, this makes it difficult to share your political ideologies or (gasp) discuss religion.
So maybe Harris was right. Maybe I should not tell everyone that I was an atheist. Maybe I should not be proud of my decision to question blind faith, maybe I should be ashamed? I mean when has being labeled by the public as an outcast minority and allowing yourself to be identified as such ever helped move the cause of said people? I mean aside from oh, the Civil Rights Movement and Gay Pride.
And when I think about it, it is the pride shown by other atheists who publicly identify themselves as such, that first got me involved in atheism and still inspires me. People like Bill Maher, Eddie Vedder, Bill Gates, and Lance Armstrong have all made public the knowledge that they are atheist and have done so at considerable grief. These people persevere in their belief, or a lack thereof, and realize that in society it is not the majority that ever brings about any real change, but the outspoken minority that challenges the way we think, the way we believe, and for that atheists need never be ashamed.