To whom it may concern
In planning this letter, it was difficult to know exactly to whom I should address it; the clergy? The President, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of the church I was raised in? Could a multi-addressee solution be what I needed, dedicating my words to every religious authority available to me? Perhaps even a message addressed directly to God him/her/itself? Or would that be more-than-slightly above my station, an example of Richard getting way too big for his britches way too soon? At the end of the day, what does it really matter? None of the aforementioned potentials will ever see the words I put down, partially because this isn’t actually a real letter (obviously), but mainly because they aren’t fans of people telling them, ostensibly, to piss off.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good fairy story as much as the next guy, and I even more love serious conversations about the history and study of theology and the current state of religion in the world. However, despite these admitted loves, I’m not particularly interested in making the leap from storytelling and discussing, to evangelizing and attempted conversion. Spirited debate is fine, too, argumentative discourse is always welcome, but what is not nearly as welcome is the arrogant, self-righteous, puffed-up conclusions that my opponents in those debates often decide to end their arguments with, always spouted forth as part of an attempt to win me over with the last word. No doubt they hope that if I would only listen, really listen, to the earnestness with which they preach I would begin to see the truth of it. Unfortunately, I always end up falling into the role of de facto heartbreaker when I assure them that their earnestness is as nothing in the face of my disinterest and unbelief.
Throughout my travels I’ve discovered that nothing confuses my theist pals more than my absolute lack of interest in the possibility of god’s existence, and moreover my lack of desire for one. Even if I was capable of belief in god – which I’m not on any level, to do so would be to fundamentally alter the way I think about life and the universe – I still wouldn’t want there to be a god. I find god, to put it frankly, to be utterly useless to me in every conceivable way; there is quite literally no aspect of my life I feel would be improved by theistic belief.
Look, I don’t mean to be offensive, dear theist friends, but I’m getting insanely tired of the incessant nagging that I get from your side of the fence. Trust me, I do understand what you’re shooting for, I really do understand that you’re worried about my eternal soul and what not; but what you need to understand in return is that as much as you are worried, I am absolutely not worried. Your religion is useful to you, your religion matters to you, your religion brings a level of comfort and joy to your life. It does none of these things for me, nor will it ever. You have to trust me, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings when I say these things, I’m just attempting to be honest with you, because obviously the hints I’ve been dropping haven’t been working. And just for the record, I’m calling you my friends as a way of being polite, but most of you are far from anything I would consider a friend.
I used to refer to myself as an agnostic, did you know that? I used to be able to comfortably count myself amongst the multitude of agnostics in the world, sometimes sub-labeling by calling myself “technically agnostic” when pressed, but never going so far as to call myself an atheist. I did this because I gave you all the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to believe that the term “agnostic” hadn’t been misconstrued so much that regular, intelligent, lovely people like yourselves were completely misunderstanding it. Most unfortunately for me, that is exactly what’s happened, and a very large group of you, whether intentionally or otherwise, did misunderstand. And still, you misunderstand. Absolutely, you misunderstand. Positively, you misunderstand. Amazingly, you misunderstand. Bafflingly, you misunderstand. Every time I open my mouth to use the word, you misunderstand.
You see, agnostic does not mean “in the middle,” or “on the fence,” or “50/50 both ways, so who the hell knows?” At least, it doesn’t always mean that, in fact it doesn’t mean that most of the time. Most of the time it simply means that the agnostic does not know for sure either way; what side of the fence the individual agnostic leans towards is a matter of personal belief or lack thereof. Further understanding of what the agnostic actually believes requires further investigation, and that necessary investigation apparently requires a level of focus and inquiry you all can’t be bothered with.
No, no, instead you make the decision, for no reason at all, that the agnostic you’re dealing with is a middle-of-the-road fence sitter who only needs a gentle push in one direction or the other and they’ll be sold. Well, here’s the thing, that’s not always the case. I would go so far as to say that’s almost always not the case, actually. My level of agnosticism is very specific to me, as it is to everyone who flies under that particular banner, and it most certainly isn’t 50/50. I do not believe in god, and I live my life based on my assumption that there isn’t one. While I can’t prove there isn’t a god – no one can – I’m not particularly interested in trying to, because I genuinely fail to see the point. I am an agnostic only in the strictest sense, I can’t disprove the existence of god, nor can I prove it, therefore I am technically agnostic on the question of the existence of one or more deities. But again, only technically.
However, that doesn’t make me some sort of free agent for any of you to try and recruit to your particular brand of supernatural, theistic beliefs. I’m not, for example, agnostic about Christianity. I’m not agnostic about Mormonism or Islam, nor am I agnostic about Scientology or Buddhism. I’m fairly sure that none of these particular religions hold even a modicum of truth in their individual myths. I’m simply agnostic about the mere fact of the existence or (more likely) non-existence of a creator. I’m agnostic about whether or not a creator explains the origins of life on this planet. But, I have to admit, based on the evidence I don’t a creator is very likely. So, once again, I live my life based on the assumption that there isn’t one. But hey, since you absolutely ruined the word “agnostic,” I’ve taken on the more forceful title of atheist. Does that work better for you? I used to hate that word because it seemed to imply as much certainty as you all claim to have, but I’ve really grown to love it. It makes the point and it leaves no room for doubt: “I will not be recruited, and I do not believe.”
And you’d never think so, but I’m actually quite happy with that perception of the universe. I find beauty and poetry in a reason-based, evidence-centered view of life and the entirety of creation. The natural world without god fills me with just as much, if not more wonder, joy, and awe as any of you get from your religion. Why is it so difficult for you to understand that I’m not lacking anything meaningful? The only thing I lack is your same need for the divine. I have chosen to use my understanding of the laws of the universe to understand that numinous experiences need not automatically be associated with the supernatural or paranormal. That feeling of deep spirituality is a feeling that I also experience, I just choose to use my faculties of logic when those same chills run up my spine. With that use of logic I’ve become so very aware of what exactly causes my hair to stand on end and the goose bumps to shoot up my arms. Those feelings are caused by the sheer beauty and terror of the natural world. Pardon me for saying so, but I find that explanation far more poetic, far more beautiful, and far more satisfying than anything in any of the so-called “holy” books.
An atheist is what I am, and I’m happy with that. A belief in the divine seems so wildly unnecessary to me that it’s almost to the point of ridiculousness. Actually, you know what, it is to that point: It’s just damn ridiculous. The universe that we are fortunate enough to live in is magnificent enough without needing to add miracles to it. Unlike you, my theist friends, I don’t feel the need to sully what a wonder nature truly is with fairy stories. I understand that your religion brings you comfort. I understand that you are, like the rest of us – yes, even the atheists – afraid to die. And yes, I understand that the idea of life after death brings you a great deal of solace when contemplating your own mortality. I get it. You’re afraid of the dark. I’m not trying to be mean when I say that, I really am quite sympathetic, but that is what it really comes down to: The childhood fear of the darkness, fear of the unknown.
Well, I’m not afraid of the dark. I’m not afraid of the void that waits for us after our brains shut down and we cease to be. I’m not afraid of no longer existing. Certainly I fear death, I’m no more immune to the fear of my imminent doom than you are. I fear the potential pain of dying. I fear the fear itself. Death is scary, you’ll get no argument out of me about that. But when it’s all over, when the lights go out and my time is up, what then is there left to fear? There are no boogiemen in the darkness that waits for us any more than there were boogiemen hiding under the bed when we were young. The idea of god may spell comfort to you, but to me it only serves to cheapen the beauty that is our time here among the living.
We are so incredibly lucky to have even been alive in the first place, why should we waste what precious time we have scurrying around, looking for a god-shaped torch to light the path when the time finally comes for us to shuffle off this mortal coil? That sounds like an absolutely horrible way to live if you ask me. Endlessly preparing for and even looking forward to death under the auspices of religious faith, well, that doesn’t really sound like living at all if I’m being honest. So thank you, but no thank you. God, even if he/she/it does exist, doesn’t appeal to me in the least. I’ll take my atheism, along with the freedom and joy that comes with it.