Because I am an atheist

The Crommunist has a thing. The basic idea is something I like, even if the task itself (teasing out all the ways in which atheism has affected me) is somewhat daunting. With the exception of the last one, these have hybrid causes in which atheism is a part.

Because I am an atheist I no-longer feel guilt about charity. As I was being raised (catholic) I learned to give unthinkingly. It was a reflex; I had no more control over it than Pavlov’s dogs. My motives bothered me, too; giving always felt selfish if I thought I was going to be rewarded. For the most part this made me confused and it always made me miserable. As I was deconverting this got much simpler; my motives were clear. There was something in the world that I did not like or felt was wrong and I would help fix it. Rewards are irrelevant if you don’t think they exist. This cleared my perspective and let me analyze my charity to the point that I felt empowered by it. In some (very small) way I can shape my community- my world- to be more like the world I want.

Because I am an atheist I feel free to openly reconsider the culture that has shaped my own morality and free to reject untenable foundations for morality in general.

Because I am an atheist I understand the gay rights movement orders of magnitude better than I did before. There was never a point at which I was against gay rights in particular, but somewhere in the back of my head I thought it couldn’t be that bad. They can always pass. There was some time between my deconversion and the next time I got into a discussion about religion with a believer. It took me seconds to realize what was wrong. I didn’t want to pass. It was wrong that anyone else wanted me to pass. The calculation is not “What do I have to give up to avoid making waves and make my life easier?”. It’s “Why do I have to pretend every minute of every day to be something else just because you want everyone to be like you?”.  That is not to say I never pass, but I do think differently about how perceptions other people have about my religion affect them.  Short jump from there to taking gay rights more seriously.

The Scarlet Letter campaign and the experiences of Damon Fowler and Jessica Ahlquist also figured into me understanding the importance of coming out for any minority that can pass. Admitting my atheism publicly has cost me nothing of value. This is not the case for everyone. There are places where religion makes any dissent intolerable if not physically dangerous. We need to ensure that minorities have a visible community so that children growing up are not forced to sacrifice their families, community or physical safety just to be open about who they are. Because that will make it better for everyone.

Because I am an atheist I no-longer believe that religion helps to build communities. Communities are built by people, not gods. Personally, I have seen no compelling evidence that people would suddenly become horrible to each other and society would fall apart in the absence of religion. In my limited experience, people who observably engage in prosocial actions or constrain their immoral impulses due only to religion are already disinclined to build communities. They tend to be poor contributors or find ways to be actively spiteful within the technical observance of community norms.

Outside of anecdote, a fairly recent study indicates that religion only contributes to happiness if everyone is doing it. A less charitable interpretation of the study might read that religious people are happier than non-religious people only in countries where they have the power to make the non-religious miserable. In any case, atheism pushes me to advocate for building social structures where the penalty for apostasy is something a little less drastic than being disowned by your parents or threatened with physical violence as a teenager.

Because I am an atheist I understand my privilege well enough to check it sometimes before I fuck up instead of after (or never, when people don’t call me out). Jen McCreight gets approximately half the credit for my improvement in this skill since deconverting; observing the attitudes of various white people, males and christians from third person/outsider perspective did the rest. I have far to go, but if not for my deconversion I would barely have moved at all.

Corollary; because I am an atheist, I contain approximately 47.3% less White Knight. For better or for worse.

Lastly because I have changed the most on this point.  Only because I am an atheist have I had the chance to understand transgender issues at all. Natalie Reed has done everything which has been done to me on this subject. Other people have shifted my paradigms. Natalie has shattered them. Repeatedly. I am still not the person that I want to be here; I am better than I was, and better than I ever would have been if not for the existence of atheist communities that gave Natalie access to my brain where she can fight the good fight against my inner coward. A hero is she.

I am better than I would ever have been if I had continued to take religion seriously; better than I would have been if I had continued to offer unearned respect to priests and ministers of all faiths; better than I would have been if I had continued to search for meaning instead of building it.

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