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I just saw a friend post on FaceBook that christ is the reason for the season. It made me realize that this will be the first year holiday season where I have admitted to myself and others that I am an atheist.

Over the last few years, I have essentially taken all “religious” tokens out of my private thoughts on the holidays. However, I think this year I’d like to revamp the entire way I celebrate the holidays. I do want to continue to enjoy the season, but without the religious connotations. Any ideas?

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As I came out as being atheist to some of my very christian family members last week, I thought of how they would process this new information. They knew my husband and I have not been attending any church for at least seven or eight years. I know they thought we were just sick of being around mean spirited, hypocritical christians – and to some extent that was the case. However, this change to atheism wasn’t something that was decided overnight.

calendar pagesSo I decided it was time to backtrack to figure out when it was that I rejected the notion of christianity’s god. I remembered writing in one of my columns (I used to write for a national newspaper in South America) about how religion should not play a decisive roll in political decisions. In this column, written in July 2007, I admitted that I was not religious. Truth was, newspaper readers in one South American nation knew about this important information before my family did. But I knew this was not the time of my de-conversion.

I don’t know the exact date that I chose not to believe in god. I do know that it was during the fall before we moved from the Washington DC area (we moved in July of 2006).  I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when it hit me – there is no god. Thirty-six years of living and breathing – and yes, preaching – christianity, and in a split second I realized it was all futile.

However, I did not automatically call myself an atheist…or even an agnostic; though, that is exactly what I was. In fact, I did not make this stated decision until a couple of months ago. That’s 3.5 years! What did I do during that time? Well, for a few months I did explore some other religions, including some pagan religions. Truth was, I did not believe in any of those gods either. After that, I did nothing.

I didn’t talk about religions or gods. I didn’t care. It simply was not an important factor in my life anymore. Moreover, I needed space. I needed time to heal from the many, many, many years of living life as a christian. I had to get all those skewed notions of morality out of me. I needed to replace my knee-jerk christian responses to life with rational ones. I had to come to terms with the reality that there is no god, there are no angels, there are no demons, there is no hell – and my life is my own to live.

Free. I was so free.

Earlier this past summer, I finally put a tag on myself again. I was an agnostic. Now I even say I’m an atheist.  I am also a humanist, thus the name of this blog (which is the phonetic pronunciation of human).  Since I no longer believe in a god that can right injustice, feed the hungry or heal the sick; there is so much humans need to do. Starting with this human.

One of the things I like most about being a non-believer is that whatever I do now to help another human, I know for sure I do it just because I want to. As a christian, you may want to help others, but there is that nagging feeling of guilt if you do not help. Guilt here. Guilt there. Guilt everywhere. It really does take the joy out of helping others.

The guilt is gone now. If I can help another person, I have a choice in the matter. Moreover, if I don’t want to help – for whatever reason – the choice is mine and I don’t feel guilty in the least.

Helping others really is a beautiful thing when it is just one human giving help to another human. That is how it should be. It becomes far more self-serving when there is an invisible deity standing over your shoulders threatening you with visions of a fiery condemnation if you don’t want to help.

Humans have outgrown their need for gods and religions. We are capable of making decisions for the betterment of our species outside of religious dogmas. We don’t need to pretend there’s a god watching our every move to make sure we don’t mess up. And when we do mess up, we don’t need to run to a god for forgiveness, we just need to clean up our own mess.

We are not like our forebears who did not know about viruses, weather patterns or radio waves. They felt the need to explain the unexplainable through divine intervention. Humans have made great advances in medicine, technology and science to shed light on the unexplainable. We don’t have to fear the unknown anymore – or temperamental gods.

Now if only humans could lay down their superstitious and mystic ways and embrace the promising future.

a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially : a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual’s dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason

(Webster Dictionary)

Can I be a good person without religion? Many religious people do not seem to think so. I once connected my morality with religion too, believing that apart from religion there was no way to define morality. However, the longer I live the more I realize there are bad people who claim to be religious and there good people who do not believe in the existence of a god.
Ethics
To go one step further, some of the meanest and most depraved of mind that I have known in my life were religious. Moreover, I know a man who is one of the most honorable humans I have ever met – and he is an agnostic atheist. This fact alone breaks down the argument that humans need religion to be moral.

In fact, although we very seldom have this choice, I would rather choose leaders without any religious affiliation. Just look at what George Bush has done to the world with his brand of Christianity. Look at what Osama bin Laden has done with his version of Islam.

There are some who believe religion could help rid the world of its moral ills. However, I cannot help but wonder if religion is not what helped to usher in these moral ills in the first place.

I grew up in a very conservative Christian home in Middle America. The church I attended was so strict that women were not allowed to wear pants, makeup or jewelery. Those in my church were not allowed to go to the movies, drink any type of alcohol or dance to music. As I said, it was a very strict church.

The fear of hell was preached from the pulpit should I stray from living “right.” Of course, anyone who rejected this very narrow way of thinking would never make it to paradise. This is quite a guilt trip to put on a young woman growing up in a big city.

As the years passed, I moved further and further away from that conservative stance and that framework of morality, which was near to impossible for any human to maintain. I do not know that I ever truly believed this staunch dogma in the first place, but it was imposed on me from infancy so it was all I knew for decades.

Even as I came to the end of my religious journey because my mind rejected the logic of the existence of a god, I feared whether my moral compass would fail because I was always taught that my religion defined my morality. My fears were seriously misplaced. After stepping outside of religion, I took on far more responsibility for my actions.

Outside of the context of religion, I could not lie, cheat or steal and think that some god would forgive the deed and thus make my sin not really count. I could no longer wait for some unseen hand to supernaturally feed the poor or to help the weak.

Moreover, I could not sit idle when I see others do evil because I no longer believed they would get their due in the next life or burn in hell. If anything, my religious upbringing held me back from being a truly moral person.

I am a far more moral human today than at any point in my life when I practiced religion. As such, I do not see a decline in religious practice as the cause of a moral decline in society.

On the contrary, as I have said before, even religious people do immoral things. I have spent so much time around very religious people that I have seen them use their theology as a way to justify their evil deeds – much like how George Bush justifies his war on Iraq.

If not justification, then humans can use their religion to dismiss their immoral actions by simply asking for forgiveness or paying penance. Moreover, even apathy concerning universal issues like global warming, AIDS in Africa and genocide in Darfur can be excused by a religious person if she/he believes that an all-powerful god will one day intervene.

Although fear of hell or desire of paradise might turn an immoral person around for a short period of time, fear and desire are fleeting emotions and not proven to be a long-term remedy for morality. Therefore, I do not believe the religious state of the world has anything whatsoever to do with the mankind’s dilemmas.

Our dilemmas are human problems that can and should be handled through human intervention. I believe with everything inside me that if humans were not so distracted by things such as religion, racism, sexism, petty rivalries and power struggles that we would be capable of accomplishing miracles.

We could feed every mouth, cure every disease and rid the world of war. I believe we could end racism. I believe we could end sexism. I believe every child could receive an adequate education. I also believe we are capable of instituting a moral system outside of the framework of religion.

I believe that if humans were capable of ridding themselves of its many distractions, they could do more good than any religion humans have ever created.

Thought Of The Day

God probably does not exist and if she does, she looks nothing like any gods created by humans.
The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism

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