Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist, #1: Matt

Boston Atheists member Matt writes:

My path to atheism is a completely spiritual one. I was raised Catholic and was almost kicked out of public school for getting into too many fights and generally never doing what I was told (despite this, I was a straight A student). I was first sent to a parochial school, then a Catholic High School and finally a Jesuit College. I am all too familiar with Catholic underpinnings.

In High School I began to read certain books like “Zen and the Art of Archery” and “The Art of War” primarily because I was a martial artists and these were classic books associated with the sport. Eventually I read the Tao Te Ching. When in a high school religion class I was assigned a to write a paper on an alternative religion, it was a no-brainer. I chose Buddhism (Taoism was not on the list). After studying it, I was surprised to find that Buddhists have no gods.

They revere Buddhas, living people and teachers who passed on. They are more like saints. But there are no gods. If you asked a Buddhist what they believe, they might tell you of the nine-fold path to enlightenment or other tenets of their religion. Nearly all of Buddhism centers on cultivating the self. Some might believe in karma and reincarnation. But I found these pretty easy to grasp. Karma just says if I am mean to you, you will be mean to me. In fact, you’ll probably tell others I am mean and they will act the same. I never saw it as some divine power rewarding or punishing you. Reincarnation is another one. I simply saw as another way of saying something similar to what Einstein said - matter and energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed. Buddhists do not believe your soul comes back complete with memories, but rather the essence of your being returns to the earth in a new form and most scientists would argue that at it’s fundamental level, that is true.

If you ask a Catholic what they believe, well, just read the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed (I still have them memorized due to rote repetition). You are required to believe many supernatural things. But in both of these, none concern themselves with how you deal with your fellow man or how you should attempt to make yourself a better person.

Before me were two paths, one in which I must believe supernatural claims and another that was concerned that I cultivate my self to become a better person. One said I was saved just by believing something regardless of the evidence before me. Another said I should work my whole life at being the best person I could. I felt the one the Buddhists were taking made more sense. Buddhists were far more moral in their beliefs because they were concerned with being good people. And they had no gods and very few supernatural beliefs. They didn’t need them to be good people.

I still believe that you do not need a god to be a good person.

A decade ago I would have fought for anyone to hold whatever religious belief they want. This was America were religious freedom is an important right. But in the last few years we have seen fanatics begin to pull far more attention from the media and from politician than they deserve. They undermine equality in the name of religion. They defeat science with dumb mental gymnastics. The ignore facts, evidence and reason and claim religious freedom demands that their beliefs be treated with equal weight. They impose these beliefs on others. In my time I have seen religion become more misogynistic, homophobic, anti children and protective of pedophiles. I found that the best way to defend yourself from such ignorance is to side with the atheists who nearly always can defeat the machinations of the religious agenda with facts and reason.

As for the belief that there is a man in the sky who punishes people he doesn’t like, I’m completely atheist. As to whether there is a greater order to the universe that we cannot comprehend because we are ants on rock floating in the massive expanse of space, well consider me agnostic on that front.


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email bostonatheists@gmail.com.