Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Atheism: Questions and Answers

So SA got a bunch of emails from an English class in Chicago asking us about our religious beliefs. Apparently they’re doing some kind of project on religion, so Mike Mei and I gave them our answers on the condition that I could post them. Here they are; I’d love to know what you think! (Note: Yes, there is some overlap, which I warned them about, and yes they are fairly short. Whatever.) If you have other questions you want us to ask about atheist (or in my case, Jewish atheist) identity, please ask in comments! Similarly if you disagree with any of our answers. 

Click read more to see the questions and answers.

Question Set 1 (Chana):

1. What made you want to follow the faith that you are following?
I am an atheist, and I identify as such because I desire powerfully to have an accurate and true understanding of the world around me and my best rational inquiry has led tme to the belief that there is no god.

2. How has your religious belief affected you and those around you?
My atheism, perhaps surprisingly, affects my life relatively little. Most of the time, the notion of god happening not to exist is not on my mind. However, the secular community has become one of my communities of choice, and spending time with such people has enriched my life, the way that such communities do. Similarly, I feel that my atheism has not affected those around me, except that I perhaps engage in more friendly debates about religion than I otherwise would.

3. What is the main concepts/pathways your religion follows?
There is almost certainly no god, meaning is to be found by individual humans through choice and ethics are to be derived from science and human values.

4. How do you define the relationship between the sacred and its followers?
The sacred is a cluster of powerful human intuitions and emotions surrounding these intuitions; followers of the sacred are people who have decided to dedicate some portion of their physical or mental lives to considering and engaging with these intuitions, either individually or in groups with shared tenets or practices.

5. How do you know that you have accomplished your purpose on Earth? Why do you believe you were put on Earth?
I do not believe I was placed on Earth; I believe I was born. I have no external purpose, and the only guidepost I can use to decide whether I have achieved any purpose at all is my own reason and judgment.

6. Describe how you find meaning in your life?  What steps have you taken to achieve completion?
Meaningfulness is also a constructed social understanding of shared human intuition, and so I find it in many of the ways that most humans access those satisfying and powerful emotions: I learn about the things I find interesting, I spend time with people I admire and care about, I set goals for myself that I think are useful, ethical and challenging and try to achieve them and I try to think deeply about the world.

7. Describe how the followers of your religious belief find meaning in their life? What are the steps necessary?
Because atheists are not bound by a series of strict beliefs, tenets and laws, they all find meaning in their own ways. Some are existentialists, who find meaning through choice and experience, some are humanists, who find meaning through ethical practice and community building, some are nihilists, who do not believe in meaning, and some are something else altogether. There are no prescribed steps, nor prescribed meaning.

Question Set 2 (Chana):

1.      What kind of religion do you believe in? ex. : Christian, Jewish, Buddhist
I am an atheist.

2.      How long have you been practicing this religion?
I have been an atheist since I was approximately 11 years old (8 years ago) but have been actively engaging with the atheist community for 3 years.

3.      Do you participate in daily or weekly meetings/worship services? If so, how often?
Yes, I go to weekly secular meetings at my school.

4.      Why are you drawn to this particular religious philosophy? Why do you choose it?
I desire powerfully to have an accurate and true understanding of the world around me and my best rational inquiry has led me to the belief that there is no god.

5.      In your personal experiences, what did this belief bring to you? How does it influence your life? Why this is important to you?
Atheism has been tremendously liberating and satisfying belief to hold. It makes me feel like a more rational person, a more consistent person, and a more thoughtful person. I can feel proud of this belief, knowing that it is supported by evidence and that it is commensurate with a worldview in which empiricism, science and critical thinking are privileged above dogmatism and tradition. It is a progressive approach to the world, and best of all, it is true.

6.      Can you list and briefly explain some specific events that happened in your life, which this specific religion was involved? (it helped you to make decisions, it told you how to deal with the relationship with people, etc.)
Because atheism is simply the lack of belief in a god, it has never helped me make a specific decision, but the belief that there is no afterlife has certainly made me have much more of a concern for human life now.

7.      How do you identify the word “God”? How do you describe your relationship with the god?
The word God refers to our cultural understanding of a being which intuitions and emotions we have about the need for objective truth, meaning and morality, the existence of vast and majestic power and the desirability of the existence of an eternal onlooker, judge, king and parental figure.

8.     (Optional) Do you have any friends or family members who are also believe in the same religion?
Yes. Both of my parents are atheists, as are many of my friends and community members.


Question Set 3 (Mike):

1.   Did you choose this religious following or belief because it follows family or cultural tradition of following?
I did not. Although I would not consider my family or culture (Chinese) religious, I have grown up in an American culture that is predominantly Christian. In fact, as I've described below, I used to believe in Christianity. The fact that I am an atheist now has little to do with my culture, either Chinese or American.

2.   What are the principles that the religion follows that make you believe in it?
Atheism is the lack of belief in any deity. Aside from this principle, atheism as a philosophy has no other claims. I am an atheist because I find no reason to believe in any supernatural deities, much less in any specific religion. I hold the principle of atheism to be true because no human being has ever demonstrated that god(s) exist, just as no person has ever demonstrated that the flying spaghetti monster exists. I am even more skeptical when human beings not only claim to know that god(s) exists, but to also know that god's instructions, opinions, and nature. The burden of proof lies on the theist to show how he/she can have such incredible knowledge about the supernatural.

3.   Was this your original faith & belief or have you converted over time?
In a sense, I believe all people are originally born as atheists. Many are indoctrinated into a particular faith (determined arbitrarily on where/when one is born) when they are young. This happens to be part of my life story. I was sent to a Christian pre-school and participated in Christian summer camps. I really believed in the Bible and the things I was told by adults. I did Bible study in junior high. However, when I discovered what "atheism" was by reading an FAQ online , I realized I had to be honest with myself and admit that I did not know all the things I claimed to know when I was a Christian. Eventually, I learned more and more by reading the arguments, by questioning people of faith, by reading about other major world religions, and by reading books like Paine's "The Age of Reason" and Dawkins' "The God Delusion". Over time, I have also been influenced by a huge social movement that is currently taking place: an explosion of Americans who identify as nonreligious along with the popularization of prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.

4.   What does your belief hold sacred?
As I've said before, atheists by definition can have very different beliefs aside from their lack of belief in god(s). However, in general, atheists tend to value rationality and skepticism. We tend not to take things on face-value. We tend to believe that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". That is why atheists value the method of science as one of the best, if not the best, way of understanding the world. Many atheists are also humanists, which means they follow a philosophy that espouses ethics, reason, and justice in the human experience. While atheism is a diverse camp, it is often associated with many of the positive human values that will ultimately make this world a better place to live. I do not know if these values are "sacred" in the sense that they are associated with the supernatural and/or they cannot be questioned or touched. But the values of scientific inquiry, rational thinking, and humanist discourse are very important to many atheists.

5.   What keeps you believing in your faith and not following another?
Atheism is not a faith. It does not require a belief in things without evidence (or against the evidence). I will continue to be an atheist until somebody from one of the thousands of religions in the world can show convincingly why his/her religion is true. This means that I am generally open to any debate, argument, or evidence that could brought forth, and if there are adequate reasons to convert to one particular faith, I would happily do so.

6.   Does this religion or following work to recruit others into your faith?
In general, atheists do not proselytize. However, there has been a recent social movement, especially in America, to challenge religion in the public sphere. Polls have shown that atheists are the most distrusted minority in America (more so than homosexuals, Muslims, etc.) even though atheists in America tend to be more educated and have a lower crime rate than most other religious groups. Therefore, I believe it is important to engage the public. We should do so not to convert others, but to present atheists (and the arguments for atheism) in a positive way.

7.   Do you follow a deity in your faith?
I think it is clear that we do not.

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