I am an atheist. My wife knows I’m an atheist. Some of my friends know it. I haven’t exactly kept it a secret, but it just doesn’t come up in conversation that much. I think it’s something that many people don’t want to talk about. Maybe everyone I know agrees with me on a level basic enough that the issue doesn’t require discussion. Or maybe everyone is horrified but just too polite to say anything. Either way, for a little while now I’ve been wanting to come out of the closet, as it were. I want to go from being a secretive behind-closed-doors atheist to a flaming, ride-my-own-float-in-the-parade atheist. We do get a parade, don’t we? No? We should work on that.
I remember during the 2004 elections thinking that I rarely got to participate in any good political sparring matches because everyone I knew was a good devout liberal like myself. Secretly I was relieved that I never was forced to defend my position, because I do not have the head for facts that skilled debaters need. I knew what I felt in principle, but the moment someone threw a statistic at me I was screwed. I worried about defending atheism in the same way, until I discovered this whole modern movement — the so-called New Atheists. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris. A new trinity. Not unholy; antiholy. I found them through their prophet, or perhaps gateway drug, PZ Myers.
Professor Myers is a terrifyingly smart man who writes in a style that makes me feel comfortable in my own level of intelligence while still being awed by his. Being a biologist, Myers’ writing often delves into, well, science, which I do not always understand, but it is impossible not to be caught up in his enthusiasm. Through his blog I discovered something that liberated me. He made me realize that I do not need to be a genius to be an atheist. I just need a little common sense.
The whole point of atheism is admitting that we do not know everything. For some people, an admission like that requires greater personal sacrifice than trusting in some unseen, unknown force to make sure everything turns out all right in the end. Atheism is not a statement of fact; it is a simple request that you support your claims with evidence. I think there is no god, or gods, who created the universe and everything in it and watches over it and possibly directs its affairs. Why do I think this? Because I have seen no evidence of it. John McCain can say he sees the hand of God in a Grand Canyon sunset, but so far all I know is that erosion occurred over millions of years, and sunlight refracts as it passes through the atmosphere. Does that make the view any less spectacular? I think not. I still have the capacity to be awed by the beauty of nature, even — perhaps especially — if there is no mysterious hand shaping the scene.
I remember reading several years ago about whether or not William Shakespeare was in fact the author of the plays credited to him. I couldn’t help but wonder, would Hamlet or Macbeth be any less brilliant if it turned out someone else wrote them? Of course not. And by that reasoning, is our universe any less wondrous because it shaped itself over billions of years rather than being swirled into existence in a week? Would the fact that you and I are even here to have this discussion be any less miraculous?
I know, that last bit sounded all light and fluffy, and that’s not the kind of atheist I want to be. I want to be IN YOUR FACE, please, if you don’t mind. I want to rage about the blurring of the line between Church and State. I want to wax incredulous about proponents of “Intelligent Design” being elected to school boards. I want to shine a harsh light on the bizarre aims of the Religious Right. Mostly, however, I want to live my life, write some stories, work on some plays, maybe raise a family. But that may be too much to ask.