“I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.”
I hear this from time to time, and it makes me sigh as I try to answer as respectfully as possible. Here’s my best effort:
“As an atheist,” I say, “I have no faith at all. Instead, I look for truth through direct examination and critical thought.”
It took a few years to get comfortable with the term “atheist.” I was raised to equate atheism with evil, and I had to summon my courage to come out and say I was one.
I finally got past the discomfort. However, I’m still not particularly satisfied with the term because I don’t like defining myself by what I don’t think.
My values define me better.
I often call myself a humanist because I value people and have spent my life helping them when possible. I value qualities that aid in the betterment of humanity, such as compassion, bravery, and generosity. I also love humor, beauty, passion, creativity, and human connection.
I value gentleness, truth, and love, and I think those qualities can’t exist unless they are connected with each other. I hate lying and greed, which are also often associated with each other. I’m outraged by poverty, cruelty, unfairness, and violence.
I value the scientific process, although I leaned more toward the humanities in school. I support education that teaches critical thinking, which can lead people to confront fallacies, correct mistakes, and motivate them to grow. I ask questions and engage in critical thought, and I appreciate clarity but leave room for discovery and possibility.
Proponents of religions claim to promote virtue and wisdom, which, if true, would lead them to value many of the same things I do. But instead, they are often threatened if confronted by facts that challenge their assumptions based on their faith, and their fear can lead to denial, anger, and even violence.
Some say my atheism is a form of religion. I don’t think so, but for the sake of discussion, if I were to establish a religion, here’s what it would include:
First, no evangelism. By all means, let’s discuss, persuade each other, and even argue. But combining the promise of love with the threat of condemnation is manipulation, and even brainwashing.
Second, I enjoy watching events unfold, so I don’t need to guess the future and call it prophecy.
Next, I welcome empirical study but not groundless faith.
Most religions establish rules for moral conduct. I realize that society must have various forms of legislation, and I am content to let the established entities continue to hammer those out, sometimes with my participation. But my religion does not have elaborate doctrinal laws to inflict on others. As a minister, I expended a ton of energy telling people what to think and do, but my new religion requires respecting people’s right to have their own thoughts and make their own decisions.
Grammerly has just informed me that I’ve used the word “religion” too many times in this text, and I agree. This is why I left it behind for a life where I help others, observe what’s happening, and watch for what happens next.
So a religion with no faith is no religion, and that suits me fine.