How can I be a good Atheist?

So by my own self admission I am not a very good atheist. I am a self-described agnostic and I have a sort of, love hate relationship with that term. Honestly I feel it just confuses most people I tell it to and, this as far as I am concerned, is the point. If you describe yourself as agnostic, most of the time you will feel the need to follow that self-description with another non-committal response. My favorite is “I believe in the possibility of something greater than myself, but have not defined it”. If there was a more tactful way of saying “I don’t know but let’s not talk about it”, then please feel free to tell me in the comments. Many of those that describe themselves as agnostics tend to be apathetic. I find this trend stems from the innumerable options on belief and how could one go about differentiating between them in the first place. Secondly I have heard so many stories of people that have gone looking for what may be meaningful to them only to see judgment, coercion or extremism. Many of these agnostics have a very “leave me alone” attitude and I completely understand that sentiment.

I haven’t found my path to be indicative of the apathetic, but of the exhaustive. I have experienced more different spiritual associations than I can count. In some of these cases I have been a silent observer, in others a full-fledged parishioner, and in more than one case a fish out of water. It did not matter if I found the experience exhilarating, enlightening, or frightening, they were all still experiences that shaped my life and my view of the universe. When I read Karl Marx’s quote about religion being an opiate, I took that as a challenge. I might need a stint in a rehab.

Lately I have found myself leaning toward atheism almost by default and I feel that does a disservice to atheists. Yes, I have always been fascinated with science, the discovery of knowledge, and so many of the scientific concepts that atheists identify with, resonate with me as well. There are a few of the ground floor philosophies that I still don’t know enough about to have a firm debatable viewpoint on. As I move closer to the central themes of what constitutes a modern atheist I want to learn from other atheists. I want to know how they form their opinions on so many very important matters.

A fellow atheist once told me she kept her own version of a holy text, or a book that was filled with what constituted her sacred ideas. I find this idea infinitely fascinating and very useful, although the more I learn about atheism the more I realize it requires more of a library than one book. I want to know what ideas you keep close to your heart, and your mind. What books do you fall back on when you need a reaffirmation of your beliefs, who do you go to, to feel secure in your decision, where do you go to feel safe and accepted. As a fledgling atheist I need a few “shoulders of giants” to stand on to get my own foundation in this belief structure. In short, I need a few lessons on how to be a good atheist.

-Adrian

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6 thoughts on “How can I be a good Atheist?

  1. Here’s a quote I’ve always liked:

    “My philosophy remains Transcendental Agnosticism. There are realities and intelligences greater than conditioned normal consciousness recognizes, but it is premature to dogmatize about them at this primitive stage of our evolution. We’ve hardly begun to crawl off the surface of the cradle-planet.”

    – Robert Anton Wilson

  2. Adrian-
    Atheists don’t have beliefs when it pertains to supernatural gods. We have no books. Jen kept quotes that inspired her-not necessarily on the topic of atheism.

    The way you frame the questions, such as “what do you do to feel secure in your position” makes me wonder what your definition of atheism is. To me, it’s like asking “what do you do to feel secure in your position that Zeus does not exist”. It’s a question that does not really compute with me. And I would also argue that many positions are, or at least should be, provisional. New evidence in some cases can come forth and stances may change in light of new information.

    I’m not looking for reassurance of my atheism. I would gladly change my position in light of substantive evidence to the contrary. The evidence for a god is much too weak at this point to warrant belief- at least in my opinion.

    I will recommend again Carl Sagan’s Demon-Haunted World. I can’t remember if you said you read it but it is a great tribute to science and critical thinking, which is what led me to my eventual atheism. You can get the PDF for free online!

    1. I have found that even though the literal definition of atheism is the non belief in gods, that a practical definition involves a lot of lifestye choices. So in essence I see modern athiesm as a more encompassing definition than the literal one…

  3. As far as lifestyle choices go Peter Singer is a splendid atheist ethicist. You can check out his TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Diuv3XZQXyc It offers a evidence-based approach to charity. You might also be interested in his book Practical Ethics which is a very approachable, yet rich, introduction to applied ethics.

    As far as arguments for atheism and theism go, this is a more than half-decent list: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=7647

    One book that isn’t on that list that is a decent introduction to the philosophical landscape of the debate (with an atheistic tilt) is Nicholas Everitt’s The Non-Existence of God.

    On the other hand, you might be suspicious of trying to look for a “reaffirmation of your belief” (or rather disbelief). That sounds like the tricky confirmation bias at work!

    I would at least read Swinburne’s book Is There A God? and then perhaps check out Schellenberg’s book (who is an atheist (but not a naturalist!) but defends a particular form of religion). This might sway the effect of confirmation bias.

    Finally, if you like interviews check out the show Closer to Truth: http://www.closertotruth.com/ It has a number of solid interviews with excellent philosophers (such as Schellenberg, Tooley, Law, Swinburne, etc.). There are also a variety of topics covered!

    Cheers.

  4. There is only one requisite to being atheist – not believing the claims that gods or the supernatural exist. Being a good atheist is the same thing as being a good human. I assume you are not asking for help in being a good human.

    Learn what you can to understand and investigate the claims of theists and believers of the supernatural and in fact, of everyone. Be a skeptic. There are many sources for such knowledge. Do not choose one or a few, use them all. When skepticism becomes natural to yourself, looking for guidance won’t be an issue.

    http://wiki.ironchariots.org has many resources there and there are many more sites to find more. The main point here is study, even read the christian bible, whatever it takes but have the goal to end up being the source you rely on all by yourself. Do not for a second think that you have to be a PhD or physicist to be a good skeptic or atheist.

    I have posted on this topic before: So now I’m an athiest, what now? There is no next step because that is the launching pad to a life long journey of learning about the world around you and the experiences you have. There is no next step, you’ve arrived, now enjoy, learn, live, love, laugh… this is your life and you’re in control of it.

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