Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.
My atheism has been the easiest intellectual decision of my life, a view I’ve held since I began forming conscious memories as a child; indeed, I honestly have no recollection of ever seriously believing in god. After all these years of non-belief, and not once wavering, I’d say I’m just not wired for belief in god, gods, religion, or “spirituality,” whatever that means or entails. I’ll be even more honest in saying that it has required little or no contentious thought, or intellectual effort, to be atheistic. I just am.
However, atheism is also difficult intellectually because, in denying the power of god, gods, and religion, and all the intellectual certainty that comes from such belief systems, doubt plays a much heavier role in how atheists view everything. But, to be honest, I welcome the doubts as one of the greatest gifts of pure freedom we humans possess, but are mostly afraid to confront.
Atheism is not a “religion” or school of thought. It simply means not believing in god, or gods, or a spiritual existence of any kind. Moreover, I don’t belong to any kind of organization, movement, or group associated with atheism, nor do I follow any leaders or gurus. On this matter I am completely and wholly on my own, a free-thinking, free-living individual, alone in my (non)belief system, willing to stand on my own two feet and face the world on my own intellectual (and non-spiritual) terms.
Ever since the Age of Enlightenment, and especially since the formation of the United States of America, with its brilliant First Amendment Establishment and Free Exercise clauses (which have made the USA a secular nation by law), organized religion has slowly lost its ability to coerce belief from a position of power and authority, and eventually more and more people have slipped through the cracks of the religious majority. With each new generation the number of non-believers grows, and with each new generation the oppression, abuse, and denial of rights by the religious majority upon the non-believers has been reduced through countless challenges to, and victories over, unconstitutional laws that supported the religious majority.
To me, atheism is simply the last—and most important—step to complete freedom and liberty. The formation of the USA was the first step in creating a democratic republic free from the rule and power of the Ancien Régime that lorded over Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire and enslaved a vast majority of the people. However, in the last 200 years the USA, while ridding itself of kings, princes, dukes, and other hereditary rulers, could not quite become the secular state it intended itself to be by its founders. Religion, though not formally sanctioned by the government, still found ways to exert its power over the people simply because a vast majority of American citizens supported religious authority over the supposedly secular institutions and power structures of American government.
Luckily, a brave few have challenged religious authority in American governance by appealing to our excellent check against majority power, which is the judicial branch of our government, and it has been in the courts where religious authority and power over the secular government has been defeated and denied. America is not a theocracy ruled by the Christian majority, and although this was the original intent of its founders, it didn’t truly come to pass until late in the 20th Century after many contentious court battles and judgments, many of which were extremely unpopular with the Christian majority.
Atheism, however, goes one step beyond that in establishing freedom for individuals. Ultimately, religious belief is an individual intellectual choice. In choosing to believe in religions and god or gods, individuals subjugate and submit themselves willingly to a higher power and authority, whether spiritual or temporal, or both. Whether religious people will admit it or not, this subjugation to a higher power and authority begins to strip them of their intellectual freedom and individuality, creating for them a “safe” belief system free from doubt and filled with absolute certainty egged on by false hope, group think and coercion, and phony religious fables, hotly writ, and folklore masked as dogma and, to a lesser extend, philosophy.
Atheism frees an individual from subjugation and submission to any and all authority, spiritual and temporal. For me, this choice was made easier simply because my not believing in god, gods, religion, or spirituality was never challenged by much internal intellectual debate or contentious thought. For me it was more or less inherently embedded in my intellect that I do not believe. All the evidence presented in my life trying to change my mind and coerce me to believe was rejected as easily as my mind rejects fairy tales, folklore, superstition, and phony or fallacious philosophies.
Pardon me for sounding a little arrogant here, but maybe the next step in the evolution of the human mind begins with the rational mind gaining better control over the irrational. Maybe that’s why religion, god, gods, and spirituality—or, for that matter, any kind of superstition or supernatural thinking—have never gained even a weak foothold in my intellectual being. Maybe my mind is less encumbered, by design, with irrationality and illogical thinking. I think more and more humans will be wired this way in the future. I’m one of the lucky ones who got it early in the curve.
Here’s what I have difficulty expressing to the believers out there. It’s not just that I don’t believe, it’s also that I don’t, even for one millisecond, understand your belief at any intellectual level. It makes absolutely no sense to me. It never did. Moreover, while I certainly respect your right to believe whatever you want, the truth is I do not, and never will, respect your beliefs.
This isn’t an essay about morality, right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, or even the primacy of belief vs. non-belief in the shaping of a culture or society. I am merely declaring, as simply as I can state it, my non-belief. I don’t have great certainty about much in this universe in which I live, especially about the existence of god, or gods, or spiritual beings, I am just certain I don’t believe in them, nor has anything in my 48 years of living done much to change that view.
I am sure this essay will upset a few people. Just remember this before you reply: I am not attacking anyone personally here. If you take it personally, that’s your choice. But please refrain from personal attacks against me. I find ad hominem attacks to be the lowest form of intellectual discourse, wielded by ham-fisted lunkheads who do not have the intellectual ability to express themselves logically and rationally, or with much eloquence.