Dear Baby Atheist,
Welcome to the world! This world is bigger than the one you’ve known before now, and it might be overwhelming, but many of us have walked this journey and are here to help show you the ropes.
First of all, let’s make one thing clear: we can show you the way we took and try to steer you away from obstacles, but this is your journey. Atheism is not a religion, so it doesn’t require a capital A (except at the beginning of a sentence, or when it’s used as your last name, as in the greeting). That means that there’s no unifying doctrine to adhere to. It’s great! You’re free! But it also means you have a lot more responsibility, and you’ll need to do more work yourself than you would if you had a nifty reference book that told you how to live.
So you don’t need to capitalize god, and you won’t be hearing about the capital G/capital N “Good News”. However, I do have good news for you! You do not need to fear eternal punishment. You are not being watched over every moment of your life. You do not need to collect points by showing up to worship services. You do not need to desperately try to decipher a cumbersome, counter-intuitive, contradictory book! That means you can live your life as you see fit and finally feel like you have privacy in the bathroom.
You’re probably going to experience various phases through this journey. You might be thrilled at first -- enjoy that. This is an exciting time! But you’ll also probably be terrified. That’s when you come find us, the adolescent atheists (or if you’re lucky, you’ll get to talk to a mature atheist) for support. There will be challenges finding a community, being accepted, and figuring out how to live your life from scratch. We’re here to chat. We’ll let you know what we’ve figured out, and we hope you’ll join in and tell us why you think we’re wrong.
Part of this skepticism thing (which is separate from atheism, technically, but often intertwined) is being willing to re-examine what you believe and why. So you’ll never know an answer for sure, and you should always be looking for a better answer if one comes along. Help us build on our good ideas, and point out the weaknesses in the ones you find flawed. That’s how we can all get better at this.
You might be wondering if you should shout from the rooftops the good news of your nonbelief. It depends on your situation, and we could go on for hours about this one. Your safety is paramount; don’t out yourself in the name of activism if you’ll get hurt as a result. There are cases for and against telling family and friends when your safety is not at risk, and you’ll have to weigh those options. Even if honesty has been preached to you by these folks, they might prefer hearing lies, or otherwise being blissfully ignorant. That being said, you should be able to live your life as your genuine self, in which case just be mindful of the time, place, and manner of your announcement. Some of us have broken the news ungracefully to say the least, and it can take years to repair the damage.
At some point, you will probably go through an angry phase. For some, this phase never seems to end. Your anger levels will likely be influenced by your religious background. It’s ok to be angry. There are some things that merit anger, and we can channel that anger toward positive change, but we need to pick our battles. More often than not, we should avoid battles and build bridges instead. Religion helps some people through life. My hope for you is that your atheism will help you through life. But try not to get wrapped up in the myth of pure evil: religion is not all bad. It can be tough to see the bright spots when it’s legislating your uterus, or the uterus of a loved one, or when it’s being used to deny people their rights, but it has had some positive influences over the millenia. We could go into much more detail about that, but you’ll need to find those reasons along your journey. If you hear them before you’re ready, they won’t sink in.
You’ll need to do some work redefining what is “right” and “wrong” now that you don’t have a book that tells you explicitly. This can be challenging, but at the same time, it’s not much harder than with the book because that thing seriously could not make up its mind. Murder was ok for about the first half, because the writer was too worried about food and clothing choices. So take some time to explore. Have some fun with it and find your favorite philosophy, or just talk with folks around you and figure out what makes sense based on logic, reasoning, and empathy instead of “because Dad said so.”
Don’t feel like you need to convert people. Or deconvert them. Or whatever you want to call it. If you happen to come from the Christian tradition, you should feel free to indulge in a DIY ritual of de-baptism by hairdryer, but please do not de-baptize others without their permission. We cannot choose what to believe; we can choose where we get our information and we can choose our influences, but when it comes down to it, we can’t choose to believe something that we don’t believe. And we usually need to figure these things out on our own. So save yourself the trouble of argument, and instead focus your energy on finding common ground with believers. They have loads of ancient wisdom available to them. Take the good and leave the rest. Remember that water wears the stone that can’t be hammered to pieces. So live your life and be an example. Let believers get to know you and see you as a non-evil example of a non-believer.
You are now free to enjoy a life without sin. Behaviors are no longer arbitrarily deemed sinful, so just try not to be a jerk. This is the only life you’re guaranteed, so make the most of it.
An adolescent atheist
Guest Writer Contributions are direct-published opinion pieces. They are not always edited and reflect the views only of the author.