Morality, Sin, and I over E (I/E)

Disclosure: I’m of the there are no gods variety of atheist. Consequently, there’s no sin. Since we can’t have one without the other, sin is a word I use only because the majority use the word, even if they’re agnostic. But, there is some general agreement about what is or isn’t moral behavior.

 

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The past few weeks, I’ve posted about the seven deadly, and predominantly Christian, sins of greed, pride, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. I also provided a brief contrast with an opposite word. My approach was based on the source of our behavior, our human mind and emotions. Each of the seven begins with an emotion that may later be manifest in behavior – we act based on how we feel.

Writers have a phrase: show me, don’t tell me. In movies, the words and actions of the actors are used to portray thoughts and feelings. In my opinion, we cannot choose each emotion. Happiness is a little different. We can be happy people and still experience dark-side emotions. Furthermore, we can usually choose our behavior. Some comments have implied that we’re in total control over emotions, and then control our actions, as well. While I don’t share that opinion, my behavior is based upon my emotional state has led to more apologies from me than I care to admit – slow learner.

As a society, a nation, or arguably, within a religion, we subjectively decide what’s moral. It changes over time, and we routinely disagree about what’s unacceptable (political-type disagreements). While we don’t always agree, often we do.

In the title equation, I = intellect, and E = emotion. When we experience emotions, we follow that feeling with behavior. To the degree that we can, ideally, we choose the behavior we morally and intellectually we want to display. For example, if someone elicits our anger, jealousy, or some other feeling from our complex emotional spectrum, we then pick our next move. I over E implies that we select our words or actions based on our intellect (good judgment, wisdom), rather than the emotion we feel. It’s not easy to behave contrary to how we feel. Nor is it always necessary. Going with our emotions (following our heart) is very often our best and most sincere option. We love with not only our personal emotions, but often those of others. How others tug at our emotions makes life magical. Life is wondrous, but not simple.

The common thread that I’ve stitched through each of the seven is that emotions are not sins. Feelings are legitimate. Be they good or bad feelings, it’s our behavior that determines anything about moral standards. And it doesn’t make a tinker’s-dam if one believes in a god, gods, or none. Each of the seven have opposite virtues. Every good person has a dark side. Every saint has a past; every sinner a future.

Humans are very much part of nature. We are where we belong. Our greatest need is for each other. Our greatest challenge is in dealing with each other.

Our lives are full of stepping stones to make life better and with stumbling blocks that bring us incredible amounts of pain and suffering – and valuable lessons.

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Let’s be accepting and understanding of ourselves and others to the degree that we’re able. We are not static beings. We’re who and what we are, but we have opportunities and futures. We come into this world as we are – a combination of physical and mental paradoxes and mysteries. A lot happens between the average birth and death. This includes running the bases of virtuous and bad behavior, and the personal experience of staring into the abyss that is us.

Look both ways, and mind the gap.

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Atheist Perspective on Christmas

 

atheist-xmas-3Since this is my first December and holiday season as an admitted atheist, it seems fitting to discuss Christmas from my nonbeliever perspective.

Much has been said and written about the secularism surrounding the holidays, and I’ve decided to provide my personal perspective. This is my 70th time partaking of the Christmas season celebration. So, much of what I say and do has precedence in that it’s what I’ve been doing for years.

As I write this I’m hearing the news from Germany of a large truck being driven into a crowd of people celebrating the holidays and the Russian Ambassador to Turkey being assassinated. The majority opinion seems to be that both events may be related to terrorism and religion, or at least god politics of some kind. And the list of such deeds goes on. None of this is in the holiday spirit. But as Christopher Hitchens subtitled and wrote in his book, “Religion poisons everything.”

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.” (To such heights of evil are men driven by religion) ~ Lucretius

For years, this was the season when we tried to spend quality time with family. Beginning with Thanksgiving, it’s a busy travel season in America as families reunite for celebrations. We’re surrounded by hype. But I enjoy the hype more than I like to admit.

I look forward to Halloween each year, partly because it marks the start of this season. Christmas is a happy time, a great time for most children. There are football playoffs, and bowl games. Winter begins, Yule is celebrated, and I like to look at snow. Dealing with it sucks.

In the home of my birth, the smell of the house changed, mostly due to the tree. But the house would also take on the aroma of whatever adult beverage had been opened. Aunt Lorry, who seldom drank alcohol, always brought port wine. Port is some powerful vino.

The thrill of gifts and happy people occupied our thoughts. We went to church. A little hut was built in the yard next to the church with a nativity scene inside it, behind thick glass and a locked door. There was a slot to deposit money for the poor, until someone started to rob it. Then they stopped using the box, and eventually the little hut went away. They must have assumed the thief was not one of the poor.

I don’t recall going to midnight Mass as a kid, but I probably did once or twice. Years later, I went several times. It was always crowded. All those Catholics who only went to Mass on Christmas and Easter would show up. By then, there was only one Mass on Christmas Day — all the others were vigil Masses on Christmas Eve. Going to church on Christmas day was inconvenient, at best.

Christmas was a “holy day of obligation” which meant that if you did not go to Mass that day, you would burn for eternity unless you made it to confession. I’m oversimplifying, but I was a child back then.

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Some Christian denominations don’t celebrate Christmas at all. And for non-Christians, it’s not celebrated as anything more than a secular holiday. But Christian or not, no one in the USA escapes the hype of Christmas. I provide gifts and greetings appropriate to this time of year and the holiday. I helped to decorate a big tree and to put up other decorations this year. I went to our party and may have sung some Christmas songs.

I fully understand the religious aspect of the holiday season (be it Christian, Pagan, Jewish [Hanukkah], or others). While I don’t agree with any religion, I think the intended spirit of caring is good. For me, family, friends, caring, giving, and delighting in nature are all the good things. So, like many atheists and other non-Christians, I join the party as I have for almost ¾ of a century.

atheist-xmas-2I’ll continue to celebrate the season much as I always have: eating and drinking too much while overdosing on football. It’s a fun cultural and secular holiday with many features that benefit life, whether one believes in any god or not.

I don’t see my enjoying the holidays as a big deal any more than I do saying “bless you” when someone sneezes, or “God damn it” when things go wrong, or when I use the word “god” or “Jesus Christ” to express pain or anger. But cussing is another story for a different blog. Unfortunately, the holiday season is a stressful or bad time for some people.

atheist-xmas-5If it busts someone’s chops that atheists enjoy the holidays, that’s a bummer. We intend no harm by joining the festivities. I suggest those humbugs pass a law that says one must be Christian to enjoy the holidays. Until then, you’ll find me hangin’ ’round the mistletoe.

 

I suggest you try Joey’s take on this by clicking here.

 

Happy Holidays.
May there be peace, love, and a thousand sugar plumb fairies dancing in your heart.
Look both ways and mind the gap.

“There are no gods”

 

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One definition of the word believe is to “accept something as true.” Synonyms include credit and trust. A second definition is to “hold something as an opinion, to suppose, or assume.” Synonyms for that definition include reckon, figure, and guess.

In her book Writing Down the Bones, the chapter Make Statements and Answer Questions, author Natalie Goldberg advises, “So even though life is not always so clear, it is good to express yourself in clear, affirmative statements.” I leave no doubt and no wiggle room with my clear declaration (albeit, not stated affirmatively). I’m not assuming, guessing, reckoning, or supposing. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, what part of no don’t you understand?

That’s how I choose to say it: “…no gods.” My reasoning is that saying I don’t believe in a god or gods is insufficient and could be misleading. I don’t need weak qualifiers to protect my position—nor do I need to prove it to anyone.

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I am not simply accepting anything as true or false. I am not supposing or assuming anything. I am stating my position as a fact. While some may use some esoteric scale (like the above) to argue that I must wear the label of gnostic atheist, as opposed to agnostic atheist, I disagree. I have one position that determines my point of view on many other things such as there are no ghosts, no devils, no angels, no unicorns, pigs cannot fly, and Mrs. O’Leary’s cow cannot jump over the moon, but may have caused the Great Chicago Fire.

I enjoy Halloween and ghost stories around a camp fire as much as I ever did. It’s unnecessary to believe in spirit-world entities to enjoy being frightened by them. Reality, however, should be frightening in some circumstances.

no-god5Picture this. You’re sitting quietly in a random crowd of 100 people in the United States. Suddenly one person jumps up and yells loudly for all to clearly hear, “There is a god!” Let us now assume that said person had a good, but personal, reason for this announcement. None of the other 99 know it. What happens next?

Perhaps 40 or 50 people will say, “Amen.” Even more will likely applaud. Everything is fine and the feeling of the crowd is positive. Right? People have every right to their beliefs. In a random group of the remaining 99, not everyone will have the same beliefs. But there would be no grumbling, no accusations, no death threats, and not one person of the other 99 will stand and say, “Prove it.”

Add one person to that crowd – me. What if I stand up first and announce loud and clear, “There are no gods.” Keep in mind that of the thousands of gods humans have believed-in and worshipped over thousands of years, at least 70 people in the crowd agree with me, with one exception – the god they happen to believe in. Despite this, what likely happens next?

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Even when people know of my atheism, if I make that statement, I’ll be challenged to prove it. They see no oddity in asking me to disprove something more than 70% of the people claim to believe, but are equally unable to prove. Even some agnostics and atheists would challenge me by asking if I know it for a fact.

I had the opportunity to spend time with my grandchildren this past summer. A friend wondered what I might say if one of them asked me if I believed in god. At the time, I wasn’t sure how I would answer. While it never came up, should it now, my answer is “No.” If a discussion or Q&A ensues, I would manage as honestly as I could. I am not afraid to use the words, I don’t know.

So, by stating that there are no gods, I’m establishing my position. I’m not a person who believes in god. I am not agnostic. While I have interest and curiosity about all religious beliefs, It’s not my intent to change anyone’s mind, unless I’m asked. But belief in god or not, I think religion is harmful. I am not trying to ruffle any feathers or destroy any fantasies. I agree with Ms. Goldberg and I’m thus making a clear statement – there are no gods. I’m keeping it simple.no-god3

Confidence and assuredness are good things, but we should consider all options.
Look both ways and mind the gap.

Evil’s Not My Problem

Monotheistic believers have no convincing way to deal with this issue. Because it has been around for a long time, it has been written about, answered, explained, taught, or discussed in groups of one kind or another. But it remains a problem that can only be settled one way—ignore it. Ignorance is bliss.

problem-of-evilOr, you might end up where I did, facilitating a classroom discussion of the topic in the Adult Education program at my Catholic church. Preparation for teaching, and then leading the group discussion, led me to an enlightenment. I was not, at the time, spiritually or religiously challenged by the problem of evil, but I learned a lot.

Most of what I learned involved getting deep into a topic that I’d not seriously considered. As I was reading the Bible, especially the Old Testament, I started coming to terms with my own evolving beliefs and conclusions.

I was a believer (or wannabe) at the time. My biggest aha moment was when I realized that I had no qualms pinning evil on god. And, of course, that led to the uh-oh moment. That’s when I realized that god could not be so good after all. That disconnect was not gunna work for me. “Houston, we have a problem.”

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If you’re fuzzy on what the problem of evil is about, click here  to link with a youtube that provides a quick-n-dirty review in ten minutes. Pay attention because that guy talks fast and covers a lot of ground.

I’m intrigued when a priest, deacon, nun, or any religious person says, “I can’t understand why God allowed that to happen.” Pick any natural disaster, which some people do not consider evil, or some other moral evil such as mass murder. We have heard it said.

In the case of Islamic terrorism and other nut cases, evil is even done in the name of god, ostensibly with god’s help, followed by a hefty reward from god. (WTF does anybody want with 72 virgins anyway?). I know there are other kinds of murderers, but everyday that religion is used to justify slaughter around the world.

I know, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” But, along with most Americans, I consider 9-11 the mass murder of innocents. My point is: there is evil—lots of it, and all kinds of it. If you believe in a god who knows, cares, and can fix it; you should radio Houston Control with your problem.

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We mere humans, when not being the perpetrators of some evil, expend energy preparing for and dealing with it in some way. We know it’s coming. So, in that way, it’s logically a problem that is often taken for granted (i.e., shit happens). Even the religious folks mentioned above devote their lives to promoting the goodness of god and fighting evil, albeit usually they focus on moral evil, as defined by them, of course. Other groups do a wonderful job of providing aid to victims, after the fact.

Since there is evil, it must ultimately be permitted by, if not created by, the god one believes exists. Depending on the religion, reconciling this with religious belief takes some doing and may call for a heavy dose of denial. Maybe a little help is in order? Enter the best scape goat ever—Satan. Next best are Adam or Eve. If someone says, “It’s god’s way,” you should be reaching for your bullshit flag because here it comes.i-dont-care4

In some way, religious folks must be working through or around this problem. Last I checked, monotheists aren’t switching to polytheism or finding another way to make it work. Or are they?

Atheists and believers seem to agree; there is evil in abundance. My definition of it is probably broader than many religious folk, but it’s close enough.

Atheists don’t have to determine why evil is permitted. We only need to acknowledge its existence, do what we can to make others aware of it, and prevent it when possible. If not, maybe we can find ways to deal with it when we must, which is more often than I like. I never have to ask why god did, or didn’t, do something. But you have every right to ask me why I don’t do something.problem-of-evil2

There is both good and evil in the world
and too often within us. Look both ways.

Are You an Enigma?

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I’m comfortable with not understanding everything and everybody. It has little to do with what I want, but more to do with my level of acceptance. I can be curious, and sometimes I’d like to know more. But I’ll never know everything.

Here’s an example. About a year ago I was in a discussion group talking about the US Government, and the government of another country that many of us consider an enemy. One lady said, “All I want is to know the truth.”

I watched her to be sure she was serious. Then asked, “The truth about what?” Following her tongue-tied response, I asked why she thought she could learn the truth. I explained that we had all the information available, filtered by the providing media source. Her problem was, and ours is that we usually form opinions and make decisions without knowing the facts. She said, “Well, that’s interesting.”

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The first time that I recall anyone calling me an enigma was back in the mid-1980s. I was walking back to my office when one of my staff looked at the contents of my hands he said, “You’re an enigma.” I looked down at my hands, smiled at him, and asked why. “A Snickers candy bar and a Diet Pepsi. That makes no sense.” I hadn’t considered the conflict of the combo. I answered, “It does to me. I like them both. If I was interested in diet, it would be celery sticks and a glass of water.”

If an enigma is a person or thing that is “mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand,” may I add “and interesting” without changing the definition? If you are an enigma to me, that means I find you difficult to understand. So what? I may see you as interesting for that same reason. I should accept that is who you are.

If I ask you to explain what I see as a puzzling conflict in your behavior or opinions, and you do, are you still an enigma? Or is it my failure to understand the makes you an enigma?

The enigma phenomenon pronouncement is an outside view. The inside view usually makes perfect sense. Furthermore, if people change behavior or opinion, are they still enigmatic?

I am an enigma to many. Here’s why.

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I spent over 45 years working in the Department of Defense (military, contractor, and civil service). I graduated from the most conservative (by most measures) public university in the country. I’m an old white guy who lived in Texas most of my life, and most of my long term acquaintances are conservative, republican, and religious. Stereotype me based on that and you’ll get me wrong, as many do.

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Politically, I’m a left of center moderate democrat. Depending on the issue, I’m often liberal, but I often find myself defending traditional things. I am fairly disciplined, but a good and flexible listener. I am an atheist who spent too many years trying to be that church guy. My past, age, race, education, and former residence belie the real me.

Love and peace are the answers. We should do all we can to avoid wars. After that, I think the limited, partial measures war-like actions of the past were folly. War should be fought to win. Because war is so ugly, that goal is only reasonable after all peaceful measures have failed. Talking war is a murky swamp full of traps. But I think we need to apply logic to our policies so that we can stop being on the losing end.

I’m neutral regarding the term open minded. I prefer a willingness to hear some other points of view, to be accepting of what I can, but to hold to my beliefs until information changes my mind.

I’ve done a lot, seen a lot, and lived a lot; but I can still be perplexed about myself. So, if you’re confused, maybe you should be. My wheels turn slower than they used to, but they’ve not stopped.

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To keep an open mind, look both ways.

Are Atheists and Believers on Equal Moral Ground?

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Yes. We are. In most cases, for exactly the same reasons. But too many believers are taught that atheists are worse than immoral. They’re taught that atheists are evil. The following quotation was reported as being recently sent by an orthodox priest to his followers (meme found on a WordPress blog).

One priest’s view

“Lots of sicknesses have come out [of] the closet, and unbelief has come out of the closet too. And unbelief is the worst of them all. Better to be an adulterer…. Better to be a killer…. Better to be any of those things, brothers and sisters, than an unbeliever. There is nothing more foul, there is nothing more grotesque, for a human person to do than to embrace atheism”

At least he seems to see us as human, or almost. When I challenged the person who posted this, she tried to explain that he did not mean to say what he obviously said. Unless the man is grooming for a political campaign, I’ll take him at his word.

A governor’s viewRepublican presidential candidate Ohio Governor John Kasich speaks at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor

Then there is the reported statement by the Governor of Ohio, and former republican presidential candidate, John Kasich. His reaction to actor Daniel Radcliffe’s (Harry Potter) disclosure as atheist is revealing.

“You know that Daniel Radcliffe has declared himself an atheist? I’m serious. What a weird thing. Why would a guy who has had all that success just, I mean, what the hell is wrong with him?” ~ John Kasich

Read about it by clicking here.

The public’s view

atheist-morality6I recently read about research conducted by two prominent universities, one in Canada and the other in Oregon. Their general finding was that people trust atheists slightly less than rapists.

It’s easy to find more, but you get the point. And people wonder why atheists might object? Seriously?

While I am neither surprised nor angry, when some moron priest with a following says that I am worse than a serial killer, a jihadist bomber; that I am nothing but a grotesque, foul human being, please forgive me for being offended.

I’ll face palm, have a beer, and forgive this Christian for his stupid, insulting remark. Which, no doubt, at least hundreds of followers now believe. The clown who posted this seemed to think that atheists might be offended by it. Do ya think? Are you gunna tell me that people like this make the world a better place? These trolls think they are legitimate, and their followers agree.

Another priest on morality

Well, I have a priest to quote too—a Roman Catholic Parish priest. He told us that we should do the right thing. Not to keep out of hell, not to please god, not to impress anyone, not because the Bible or some bishop or pope told us to, but simply “because it is the right thing.”

This atheist agrees. I think most atheists believe in following, or changing, the laws. Even the ones that should not be laws, but are religious rules forced on everyone (civil disobedience protests notwithstanding).

We may protest, object, file law suits, or ping some governor, but we will usually follow the rules. It is the moral thing to do. This is partly why athesists are underrepresented in prison populations. Statistically, the proportional numbers of believers compared to the number of atheists in prison may be worth considering. I’ll let you look it up.

Nihilism (<—click for wiki)

Many believers confuse atheism with nihilism. They’re not the same. It’s unlikely that a moral nihilist would be a theist. Conversely, few atheists may be nihilists, but they could be. Understanding the difference helps, even if it is confusing. Another consideration for believers, be they doubters or true believers, is to ask themselves these four questions.

If I stopped believing in God tomorrow, would my morals change?
Would I become a criminal?
Would I be more willing to rape or murder?
Would I change so much that I would become a different person?

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The other day I read a comment by someone who, while quite confused about Christian moral standards and values (and he is one), was even more out of line with his view of atheism. He implied that if I was Russian or Chinese, I might view human life as a “warm bucket of spit.” I’m sure that his opinion is held by too many Americans.

That would be nihilism, which is a philosophy—atheism is not. When someone asks an atheist how life can have meaning without god, they’re often thinking philosophically, and probably of some kind of nihilism.

Those loving Christians

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I’m trying to figure out why so many Christians work so hard to make atheists look so bad. What do you suppose that is all about? Some lie knowingly (as in bear false witness), some may misunderstand, some may be warning their own group not to look upon nonbelievers or free thinkers as being just like them. Otherwise, the believers might become apostate and walk away from that religious fantasy (and take their money with them).

Atheists want a better world

atheist-morality2Whether someone dislikes the fact that nonbelievers exist, that we work with believers to keep church and state separate, or that their family members may embrace atheism; we will continue to come out. We will continue to speak up. We will continue to deny the existence of any god. And, we will continue to share the moral high ground with most believers and to counter all claims to the contrary.

Believe as you will, be sure to look both ways.

Why be Atheist?

Disclosing as atheist is personal. Each person’s circumstance and disclosure story is different. The real question is: why should anyone publicly acknowledge being atheist? For some, it’s best kept private. There are legitimate reasons to hide not accepting the existence of any god. The reason is always the same: believers.

coming-out2For many of us, the importance of religion is stressed from a young age–religion must be taught. Logically, we are usually taught that our religion is the correct one and all others are wrong. While atheists have a similar conviction of accuracy, it’s not the same since the basis is no god exists, and consequently no religion is right.

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Regardless of the religion or denomination, it seems that most believers don’t understand or accept atheists or atheism without extreme prejudice. Unitarian Universalists are a possible exceptions, as well as a few others such as some pagan groups and Buddhist schools, divisions, or sects.

From my teenage days, I recall my mother telling me that she didn’t care what religion I was, as long as I had one. Mom was raised in a multi-denomination Christian family. I don’t recall Dad saying anything about it. I think he’d approve any religion as long it was “Cat-lick.” I wouldn’t risk telling him anything he might not agree with, certainly not that I didn’t believe in god.

coming-out3I haven’t had to deal with negative family or friend issues regarding my public atheist disclosure, which was fairly recent. Other than a hint or two about someone praying for me, it’s been quiet.

After reading my spiritual memoir blog, Free from Religion, my wife said, “I could have written that.” Her experience was like mine, but she remains a theist. While supportive of my decision, she wonders what our religious friends think.

I’m old and can be cantankerous, but I’m usually laid back, quiet, and friendly. I’m retired, and have outlived many of my friends and family. While I want to be liked and loved as much as the next guy, I stopped caring so much about what anyone else thought of me long ago. At least I no longer care in the foolish manner that I once did. By remembering that what others think of me is none of my business, I find that I function much better in life.

For me, accepting my atheism involved learning, personal analysis and self evaluation—all done on my own over many years. Deciding to go public required me to think deeply about it. I wondered, why bother? I’m out, but I still think about it.

coming-out4While my disclosure has been inconsequential, I’m concerned for anyone struggling with it. While the decision is personal, I think atheists should disclose (come out) as soon as they’re ready. But, preparation and timing are important, if not critical.

We should not disclose when angry, arguing, or with any motive other than share something about ourselves. Even simply answering a question, as in my case, should be at the right time.

My answers to the question about coming out, posed in the first paragraph are:

  • Honesty is the best way to deal with some of the challenges. Experiencing guilt from being deceitful is an unnecessary burden.
  • Support. Depending on where one lives, there are groups of other atheists willing to provide advice and support. Being open allows us to take full advantage of such groups. On line groups are plentiful and helpful. The names and contact information for these groups are available through blogs and books.
  • Mental health. It feels good. Along with the lifting of a mental burden, many of us feel a new enthusiasm for embracing atheism. My experience is like that.
  • Social contribution. It is good for the individual, good for society, and good for atheists and believers alike. The stereotypical view of atheism and atheists is unfair, damaging, and wrong. By allowing others to know we are atheist, it helps them to know the truth. While I’ve been incorrectly labeled an exception, my openness is beneficial to every atheist.

To deal with the idea of disclosure, I recommend the following.

This book: Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist, by David G. McAfee

Good blog article: 3 Doubts Closet Atheists Should Have Before Coming Out (And 3 Reasons To Do It Anyway)

And another one: Why Come Out As An Atheist?

coming-out1A second book that I’ve not read, but looks promising, is Coming Out Atheist by Greta Christina.

Each of us should stand up for our rights. To do that, we need to be out of the closet. Being honest with ourselves and others isn’t easy, but there’s abundant testimony regarding the lifting of a burden that we can only achieve by letting the truth be known.

Making life changing decisions can be difficult.
Look both ways.