This post is based on a YouTube ‘tag’ game (which operates in the same way as a game of tag in a playground, where one person is nominated as ‘it’ or ‘on’, then they tag someone else who becomes ‘it’ or ‘on’ etc). A predetermined set of questions about life as an atheist are answered by all players when they are tagged. While most replies will inevitably be on YouTube, where the game began, I prefer to keep my internet presence on a text-only basis, at least for the time being, so I have answered the questions here. I came across these questions after previously answering the Tag games on YouTube relating to being a writer and to being childfree.
- Were you raised atheist or did you have a religious upbringing of some sort?
I was raised in a Christian family, so I have attended church services for several denominations of Christianity (including Methodist, Church of England and Evangelical) and was made to attend a Roman Catholic high school. Religion was a massive part of my life when I was growing up and I wholeheartedly believed in it. I would have told you at that time that I had a personal relationship with God and believed that miracles were possible and all kinds of things which I now find outlandish and, in some cases, bizarre. Of course, I now recognise those things as being experiences which I wrongly attributed to religion, either through ignorance or conditioning.
- If raised religious — When and why did you become an atheist? Was this a quick transition or a slow one? Was it easy for you or difficult?
It started really slowly, when I was about 14 years old. By the age of 16 I was agnostic, but am now definitely an atheist. It started with simple doubts and grew into massive skepticism, partly based on conversations with atheist friends, partly based on my own reading and research, which was all being cemented by the regressive attitudes and culture surrounding Christianity. I studied philosophy at both college and university and found that the more I read, the less I believed religion to be true. I found that in particular, the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and Joseph Campbell were hugely influential in my rejection of christianity and seeing religion as simply mythology.
- What was this transition from religion like for you and for your family?
At the time that I first stopped going to church, I know that there were family members who were unhappy with it, but there was plenty of other family turbulence at the time to distract from this becoming a major issue. It has caused slight contention at times in the first few years, but that has faded over the years and it is now not an issue in the slightest. It certainly helps that I was not the only one to turn away from christianity, so I’m not seen as the one ‘black sheep’ of the family or as an evil influence on my otherwise devout family.
Aside from that, I found the transition very hard on a personal level. Unfortunately, I had built so much of my identity, mindset and outlook around religion that it required a massive overhaul of my entire life and psyche. It had a negative effect on my mental health because I had no benevolent safety net to rely on anymore and had to take full responsibility for myself and all of my actions and mistakes. Essentially it was like the process of transitioning from being a child to an adult, but being thrown in at the deep end without training or safety gear. This is probably why the transition took so long between calling myself a christian to calling myself an atheist, because I was naturally resistant to the harsh realities that I would have to face without the all-powerful spirit-guide that I had been brought up to believe I had.
- Overall, would you say that other people’s belief in God is a good thing, a bad thing or something you’re indifferent about? Why?
On an individual level, religion can be a good thing which inspires and motivates people to be good and kind to each other. As far as that side of it goes, I am happily indifferent to people believing in whatever they want. Unfortunately, religion is not designed to work on a solely individual basis, because the followers are inevitably told that there is one distinctly right way to live and think, so therefore any other way of life or mentality or behaviour is inherently wrong. This divisive culture is unquestionably harmful to the human race in general and is abused and manipulated to further agendas which stunt progress. The regressive attitude of religious factions is often the cause of scientific advancements being fought against or restricted and it results in more war and acts of terrorism than any other cause.
- Have you ever been treated differently by people because you’re an atheist? If so, please describe this in detail.
Not that I can remember at the moment. There was an incident while I was still a christian where someone assumed me to be an atheist because of how I was dressed (I was an alternative kid with long hair and baggy jeans etc). They were very rude to me on the basis of their prejudicial assumptions and didn’t even give me the chance to tell them I was a christian. I’d like to think they would have been ashamed of themselves if they had realised, but the truth is they should feel ashamed of themselves for speaking to anyone like that. Hardly a positive image to be portraying of the christian population, but definitely a typical one as far as my experience has shown me.
- If not a religious person, do you consider yourself to be a spiritual person? Why or why not?
I am not spiritual in any way whatsoever. I do not believe in anything supernatural and can often find myself being very skeptical of any opinions held by people who do believe in those things. That being said, I absolutely love supernatural fiction and find that it can be a fantastic basis for entertainment, just not to be taken seriously or adopted as an actual belief. This is often evident in my own writing, with supernatural elements often playing a role in my fiction. In real life, I am purely scientific-minded when it comes to anything ethereal or metaphysical, so if a belief system is based in any way on unreliable sources or requires any element of faith, then I remain dubious until such time that empirical evidence can offer concrete answers.
- For many people, belief in God provides hope or comfort with respect to suffering in the world and to the inevitability of death. As an atheist, how do you come to terms with these things?
I find it very hard to understand how a belief in God is any comfort with respect to suffering in the world. When I was a christian, it was one of the hardest things for me to reconcile with my beliefs because of the inherent contradiction of there being an all-powerful, all-loving God who allows suffering, starvation and all of the horrific things going on in the world at any given time. It was no comfort to me that God was there when I knew that there are people in desperate need of help, which I could not give myself. Being there is no comfort if people are still left to suffer. The only thing belief does offer in those bleak situations is a sliver of false hope that one day, God might end the suffering and torment. Unfortunately that hope is misplaced, but hope itself can be a source of incredible strength, so obviously I would not want to deny that to anyone who has literally nothing else to get them through. Still, to anyone on the outside of that situation, I would think the existence of suffering should be enough to call belief in God into question.
As far as the inevitability of death and the hope or comfort brought by religious belief, this is actually the area I had the least problem with when transitioning from christian to atheist. For a lot of people, the idea that they would not live on forever in heaven as they had previously expected would be a huge disappointment and probably the cause of a lot of angst or sadness. For me, I simply looked at it as a state of non-existence. I did not exist before I was born, and the thought of that is not scary to me at all, so the thought of not existing again after I die is exactly the same to me. I will simply not exist any more, which can’t be scary, because I won’t exist to know about it or be scared by it. It will just be nothingness, like endless space, which is literally nothing to be afraid of.