The Blessings of Atheism

From The New York Times:

Published: January 5, 2013

In a recent conversation with a fellow journalist, I voiced my exasperation at the endless talk about faith in God as the only consolation for those devastated by the unfathomable murders in Newtown, Conn. Some of those grieving parents surely believe, as I do, that this is our one and only life. Atheists cannot find solace in the idea that dead children are now angels in heaven. “That only shows the limits of atheism,” my colleague replied. “It’s all about nonbelief and has nothing to offer when people are suffering.”

This widespread misapprehension that atheists believe in nothing positive is one of the main reasons secularly inclined Americans — roughly 20 percent of the population — do not wield public influence commensurate with their numbers. One major problem is the dearth of secular community institutions. But the most powerful force holding us back is our own reluctance to speak, particularly at moments of high national drama and emotion, with the combination of reason and passion needed to erase the image of the atheist as a bloodless intellectual robot.

The secular community is fearful of seeming to proselytize. When giving talks on college campuses, I used to avoid personal discussions of my atheism. But over the years, I have changed my mind because such diffidence contributes to the false image of the atheist as someone whose convictions are removed from ordinary experience. It is vital to show that there are indeed atheists in foxholes, and wherever else human beings suffer and die.

Now when students ask how I came to believe what I believe, I tell them that I trace my atheism to my first encounter, at age 7, with the scourge of polio. In 1952, a 9-year-old friend was stricken by the disease and clinging to life in an iron lung. After visiting him in the hospital, I asked my mother, “Why would God do that to a little boy?” She sighed in a way that telegraphed her lack of conviction and said: “I don’t know. The priest would say God must have his reasons, but I don’t know what they could be.”

Just two years later, in 1954, Jonas Salk’s vaccine began the process of eradicating polio, and my mother took the opportunity to suggest that God may have guided his research. I remember replying, “Well, God should have guided the doctors a long time ago so that Al wouldn’t be in an iron lung.” (He was to die only eight years later, by which time I was a committed atheist.)

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2 Responses to “The Blessings of Atheism”

  1. Debbie Brady Says:

    I don’t believe in God but I don’t consider myself a atheist, I guess I am a pagan. I came from the earth and I will will return to the earth. The earth is our mother and nurtures us as we progress through life and welcomes us back to her bosom when our time is over.
    The greatest sin we can commit, in my opinion is the over exploitation of her gifts in the name of greed.
    Our children will condemn us for the world we leave them. ,

    • Suzan Says:

      I’m an Atheist and proud to wear the title. I don’t believe in any gods, no heaven, no hell, no after life. I also don’t believe in unicorns, astrology, homeopathy, angels, etc.

      I’m not spiritual. I view all religion as an oppressive tool of tyrants. It is the personification of the patriarchy and the patriarchy’s main tool for oppressing women as well as LGBT people.

      I believe we have privileged religion for way too long and have been way too polite to bigots who claim their bigotry is god based.

      I see absolutely zero reason to believe in a magic invisible sky daddy or for that matter mommy.

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