Have you heard the Good News?

I am not looking to convert you!

I am an atheist. This means I don’t believe in god. Period. That’s it. Really.

I know the label comes with a lot of baggage. Some people immediately think anti-theist: someone who wants to fight all religions. Some people think god-hater, which doesn’t even make sense (do you hate the unicorns you don’t believe in?). And while I’m sure that there are things many atheists have in common, you have to get to know the person to know more about them than their simple lack of belief.

I don’t think trying to “convert” people to atheism makes sense, anyway. I think many times atheists believe that the world would be a better place without religion, and from that place comes the drive to convert. We see all the negative things religion brings to the world – fighting against women’s rights, systematic abuse of children in the Catholic church, terrorist activities against groups who do not share the same religion. And we think, “Remove religion, remove motivation to commit these horrible acts, better world.” And on some level, I agree with this thinking. It pains me to read about things done in the name of God, Allah, whoever, that are awful – and I’m sure it pains many religious people as well. I also wonder if, without belief in supernatural things, people would be more rational/scientific/open to new knowledge.

But I don’t think the answer is to actively try to get rid of religion, or to try to convince people to lose faith in God.

I do think it’s important to call out when religious groups are spreading negativity and doing things that are not moral, because religion has had a special status for far too long. Removing criticism would allow the dark places to remain covered up, and more vulnerable populations would be hurt, and that’s not what anyone wants, right?

But I don’t want to forget that belief in God can be helpful to some. It can motivate them to be a more selfless, moral person (although I think you could be awesome without God). And in the case of my liberal Christian and Muslim friends (sorry to report I don’t have a lot of friends from other religions), we’re more often on the same page with how we think the world could be better.  Really where we differ, as I’ve talked about in another post, is just literal belief in a supernatural being.

Basically the question I have to ask myself is: Who am I to question individual faith? Who am I to look at a person’s life – even if I know them well – and say, “I have concluded that your life will be better without god. Here are reasons x, y, z not to believe.” Are books and blog posts and information about lack of faith important? Absolutely yes – The God Delusion was particularly helpful to me when I first became an atheist.  But to shove it in someone’s face?  No.  Then I’d be following the Evangelical Christian logic that hurt me so much growing up – “I have concluded that your life will be better with God, even though I don’t know you at all.  Here are reasons x, y, z why you NEED to believe.”  This approach is only popular with those using it, never those on the receiving end.

There are plenty of atheists who disagree with me in this area – which is one of the things I love about being an atheist (we don’t have a creed or set of beliefs we have to follow; we can disagree on a large number of topics and still be atheist).  And I would love to hear arguments for actively trying to convince people to become an atheist as I might change my mind.

But for now, I am not seeking to convince any friends or family members to lose faith in god.  I might try to convince them to change their minds in other areas, or point out inconsistencies I see in their professed faith, but the fight against belief in literal supernatural beings is not one I see as so important.  I do have a vision of the world as religion becomes less and less important and revered, and I think it will be a better place.  But even then, literal belief in god, for some people, might be important and might give them individual hope and peace.  I haven’t been convinced that I need to try and take that away from them.

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