Thursday, July 1, 2010


Sean Moore posted a question on Facebook earlier today that touched me deeply:

“I’ve been thinking, as Atheists, we should all examine whether or not we are an Atheist because we were 'hurt' (use the term broadly) by a religion, and due to that we focus on anti-Theism, or if we want to abandon a belief/faith so that we have more of a chance of productivity in life.. any thoughts? ... by productivity, I mean going downhill all the way to abandoning morning prayers for making coffee or pop-tarts.. that's the lowest example, I think.. Hell, man, prayer is wasted time to me. So I make up for the time, even sleeping in.

I’m not a huge fan of anti-theism; at least, not when it’s manifested in mockery and derision (Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster excepted, ‘cause that’s just fun!). Still, theist dogma and culture have hurt so many people for so long that I can understand why a person would become anti-theist. But I am not anti-theist. Not pro-theist, either, for that matter.

Regarding productivity, it could probably be argued that there is good productivity involved in being a theist. Theism can inspire acts of compassion, magnificent works of art, and profound works of charity. It can also inspire unspeakable evil. The ratio of good to evil varies, depending on who you talk to.

I am an atheist for a different reason. Outrage was what provoked me to come out as an atheist, thirteen years ago, but that cooled. Which isn’t to say that religion and faith don’t sometimes appall me. They do, they do. But they’re not the reason I choose to be an activist.

A while back, Phil Plait argued that religion, like science, is a tool, a method, and as such, religion is essentially neutral.[1] I agree. Religion evolved as a way of explaining the universe; it went on to help structure civilization, and since then is often used as a means of subjugation. But its original purpose, explanation, continues to strike a chord in the hearts of many. They seek ultimate truths through their faith and/or religion. I, too, seek truth, and that is something I have in common with many of the faithful. The difference is the method I use to discern this truth. My methods of choice are reason and science. I suspect that many other atheists ultimately share this aspiration for truth in their decision to leave faith behind.

I frequently mention this when called upon to explain my atheism by theists. In my experience, admitting that we share a goal in seeking truth tends to establish a kinship that probably wouldn’t be achieved otherwise. It helps them to understand that, like them, I am trying to comprehend and appreciate the universe in the best way I know. And every once in a while, I’m lucky enough to be asked whether the theist could sit in on a Center For Inquiry discussion, or ask more questions about atheism.

At the CFI Leadership Conference in June, CEO Ron Lindsay mentioned that we’re not here to be “anti” anything. We’re here to engender mutual respect, responsibility, and compassion through science, reason and secular values. I think, as atheists, that should be our primary mission.

Many of us, myself included, have been hurt by religion. I think loss of productivity counts as a hurt, as well. I understand where anti-theists are coming from, I truly do. But it’s important to rise above the pain. There is a point when we must stop being victims and start being survivors. Remember, being a survivor doesn’t mean the wounds go away; it means that you get on with your life, scars and all. Anti-theism is a reaction to the pain, the suffering and misery, the losses of human rights. Secular humanism is a thoughtful response to the pain and loss—and maybe, just maybe, a solution.

Anyway, that’s why I’m an atheist and a secular humanist. How about you?


Amy Frushour Kelly


  1. I like this article, more than I thought I would. Self examination has been important to me for a while, now; this proves its worth. The comparison between 'victim' and 'survivor' is the distinction for progress, in my eyes. Oddly, though, that made me think back to Alcoholics Anonymous (I spent a while there, 'finding a higher power') and the 4th Step, of 12, in which one does a searching and fearless moral inventory.. That "step" can easily apply to everyday life for me, and most likely more people. Just think about being blessed when you sneeze and whether contempt arose, you brushed it off, or realized someone was being reflexively polite.

  2. Glad you liked! I reflexively say "bless you." A searching and fearless moral inventory is ALWAYS a good idea. Glad you brought it up!!!


  3. "Theists who believe they can't handle pointed, direct, and even harsh criticism of their religious and theistic beliefs always have the option of just not bringing them up. This is precisely the same choice facing every person and every belief: you can either put your belief out in public for comment and critique, or you can keep it to yourself. You don't have the option of putting your belief out in public and then insisting that everyone respect it or not criticize it. "

  4. Thank you Amy!! Very lovely article!

    Can I repost it on SheThought?

  5. I appreciate this, Amy, and will share it with some people new to the community who are a little put off by what they see as a requirement to be atheist if they want to call themselves skeptics.

    I do want to say two things, though:
    1) The question Sean seems to be asking (and you seem to be answering) is why you are an activist. For my part, I am not really an activist for atheism, but I am an atheist because I have no belief in a supreme being. It's not a goal or a purpose or an action, but rather a conclusion drawn from my epistemology.

    2) I am concerned that CFI seems to be synonymous with "promoter of atheism" in so much discussion, when, as you note in the end, their goal is to promote secular humanism. An agnostic or even a theist should not feel like an outcast in such a community. They do.

    I just wanted to bring that into the discussion, because I see it as a serious problem in our efforts as a community.

  6. Heidi: You may absolutely re-post! I'm flattered as all get-out! You may have noticed I have in my link section. Hope that's okay!
    ~xo, your pal AMY

    Badrescher: I don't think Sean's question asked why I'm an activist, but what our motivation is as atheists. I'm an atheist regardless of whether I'm an activist. My motivation for atheism is a search for truth. At the same time, while I am ethically and aesthetically an atheist, in epistemological terms, I'm technically an agnostic. I don't believe in a theist god because there is no evidence to indicate one exists.

    Regarding CFI promoting atheism, well, that's true. Secular humanists are atheists. Secular humanism is a particular brand of atheism/agnosticism; as far as I'm aware, you can't be a secular humanist and believe in a theist god.

    Which agnostics or theists feel like outcasts in the CFI community? We're a very welcoming bunch -- in fact, there are several agnostics in our local CFI group, as well as an evangelical Christian. At one of his first meetings, the Christian came up to me and joked, "I bet you wish I didn't come to these!" I was glad to reassure him that he's welcomed and encouraged. It's important to be exposed to differing viewpoints, because they make us re-examine our own beliefs.

    If you happen to be on Long Island, please feel free to join us for an event! We're always excited to make new friends. =)


  7. The comparison between 'victim' and 'survivor' is the distinction for progress, in my eyes. Oddly, though, that made me think back to Alcoholics Anonymous (I spent a while there, 'finding a higher power') and the 4th Step, of 12, in which one does a searching and fearless moral inventory.