I was raised in various Protestant denominations, converted to Catholicism in my early twenties while dating a Catholic, and then lapsed into an unhappy state of deism and agnosticism for many years. I picked up The God Delusion while passing through the first of several airports on a 26-hour trip from Inverness, Scotland to Anchorage, Alaska. I couldn’t put it down. It encapsulated my beliefs in an organized coherent way that I had been unable to arrive at on my own. It addressed issues that I had found frustrating to articulate, ideas that I couldn’t put into words – it was simply illuminating. It underpinned my decision to openly define myself as an atheist, and to be willing to talk about it with friends and family, as I was now armed with a factual structure for discussing the issues in a rational, hopefully non-emotive way. It has allowed me to be ‘comfortable in my skin’ – open about my beliefs and able to share them with others who don’t share my views in what I believe are beneficial exchanges of thought.
I am a bit concerned though, as I troll through the atheist literature and discussions available online. It seems that atheists, like those of deistic faiths, are primarily engaging in talking to each other (preaching to the choir), venting our frustration with those who don’t see things our way, and in some cases, mocking the traditions of religious belief. Would our efforts not be better spent trying to have rational discussions with these people? To at least build their tolerance and acceptance of atheism? Expand the number who at least accept the facts and timescales of evolution (even if they believe a deity started the process)? The importance of reducing faith-based education, or at least controlling what they can/can’t teach? As non-atheists are still in the majority, it seems that our challenge is to encourage them at every turn to ‘evolve’ toward rational thought underpinned by scientific fact.