A New Year’s Resolution: Admit You are an Atheist

December 31, 2011

It’s only natural that many atheists have trouble admitting to themselves that they are atheists.

The way people categorize themselves is often tightly linked to the way we want others to see us. The negative social connotations attached to atheism are familiar to everyone. That’s why polls that ask “Are you an atheist” find few people willing to self-identify as an ‘atheist’, even to an anonymous pollster.

It’s a sad psychological condition -- the level of self-deception involved can cause people to resort to all sorts of silly defense mechanisms. For example, Sally Quinn, an atheist and a moderator at the Washington Post’s On Faith section, describes her struggle with the label of ‘atheist’ in “My Five Lessons from On Faith”. In this essay she announces that she really isn’t an atheist.

What turned Quinn around? Not a “come to Jesus” moment. Not an flash of inspiration from a sermon. Not a solid conclusion from a theological argument. Her colleague Jon Meacham had a big role, she says. But Meacham wasn’t trying to convert her to a religion, it seems -- he was just persuading her to abandon the label of ‘atheism’. As Quinn reports, he said to her, “You don’t want to define yourself negatively, and you know nothing about religion.”

Huh? That’s all it takes to stop being an atheist? Avoid ‘negative’ labels, and don’t avoid something unless you know all about it first? This is ridiculous and illogical. I assure you, Sally Quinn, that you are an atheist, and if you can’t admit it even to yourself, the sad anti-intellectualism and perverse social rhetoric that has infected so much discussion about religion has come to infected you.

Think about it. You know enough about religion by now, surely. What have been religion’s two main strategies against unbelief? First, proclaiming that religion has crucial knowledge so valuable that anyone and everyone must get intimately acquainted with it: read our scriptures, come to our worship places, try to follow the theological mazes – do whatever it takes to really, really, understand what’s so wonderful about what our religion is saying. Second, after all that, if you still won’t agree with us, then we will slander you with the nastiest, filthiest labels that gutter language has to offer. We will publicly humiliate and shame you until you cower in fear and never show your atheist face in public.

Religion is a master of instilling self-degradation and self-deception, and it can do that for nonbelievers, too. That’s why religion conveniently defines atheism as “Claiming to know there’s no God” so that religious people can seem much humbler by comparison. And that’s why religion shames atheism as “Having no morals or meaning to life” so that religious people can seem so ethical by comparison. Can’t you see how your mind has been infiltrated and distorted by these viral insinuations?

Being an atheist is simple: lack belief in God. If you honestly don’t think there is a God, you are an atheist. On the other hand, if you now suspect that there could be a God, tell us why you think that. We’d love to hear your thoughts on God.

But no, you don’t sound like you are admitting that God now looks plausible to you. You are as much an atheist as ever. Religion has labeled you as an atheist, and all the self-deception and public squirming can’t change that. Religion regards you as an atheist, and all of your kind words about nice religious people hasn’t changed that. Those religions really don’t respect you.

A New Year’s Resolution: Admit to yourself that you are an atheist. It’s not a matter of faith, but fact. In the long run, you’ll feel much better about yourself. And having confidence and pride in yourself is the only genuine way to receive respect from society around you.