National Atheists Day

Although I had read online about the joke that 1 April is “National Atheists Day,” it was not until yesterday that I saw a bumpersticker with this message on a vehicle while driving around town. At the top it had the name of the day, then “April 1st” in large lettering, and then “Psalm 13:1 The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God.” I fully support the constitutional right of citizens to express their opinions, including views directly antagonistic to mine. I wish to point out, however, that this message is the paragon of “preaching to the choir” as it says nothing more than, “We are smart. They are stupid.” Deprecation of the intelligence of unbelievers is a completely ineffective method of evangelization.

Purely linguistic considerations

  • Why is the day national instead of international or even universal?
  • Why is atheists plural? It's grammatically incorrect to use a plural in a compound noun.
  • Why isn't it Atheism Day? I know of no actual observance that uses the term for the person rather than the idea.



How Religion Handcuffed My Social Life

Near the end of last year I noticed that my social life had been particularly active during that time. After about five consecutive years with very few to no dates, I had dates with about ten different women that year. I even had a wonderful relationship with a gorgeous, intelligent, responsible yet delightfully fun-loving and playful woman for about eleven weeks until she moved back home across the sea during the summer. My social life has remained fruitful since I made the observation. Until then, I hadn't pondered why there was such a tremendous change, but upon reflection I soon realized the reason: my deconversion!

When I was a very devout Catholic, I never would have considered dating a non-Catholic since I wanted someone who shared my faith, especially if I were to marry her. More than that, I wouldn't even date a weak or even moderate Catholic since I was so committed to living my life according to absolutely everything the Church taught. This meant that my potential dating pool was extremely small and on the rare occasions when I did find a woman who fit my stringent religious requirements, whom I liked, and who liked me, she almost always lived far away. This all meant that I didn't really date for about five years because of my religion.

I wouldn't have dated any of the women I've dated in the past year and a half except for my deconversion. None of them were practicing Catholics, most of them were not religious, and a few of them were even nontheists. While I would ideally prefer to be with another nontheist now, I am completely open to dating someone who believes in the supernatural as long as it doesn't adversely affect our relationship. This primarily means that she doesn't let attendance at religious services significantly interfere with our plans, she doesn't ask me to attend them, and her beliefs don't negatively affect our sex life. Obviously the field isn't totally wide open, but there are many more nontheists, apatheists, nonreligious and nonfundamentalists than truly devout Catholics. Dating is easier without one's choices shackled by religious fundamentalism.



The Invisible Minority

Though atheists are the most mistrusted minority in the United States, they are in a unique position among mistrusted minorities: they can be practically invisible at will. Racial minorities cannot hide their physical features. Immigrants cannot hide limited English language ability and can never completely lose their accents if they began learning the language after a certain young age. Religious minorities cannot hide their attendance at services, special diets, special dress, or other public practices; their religions might even demand them to boldly proclaim their faith publicly. Homosexuals and bisexuals cannot hide their relationships without difficulty and considerable inconvenience, and sometimes cannot hide their orientation due to their voice and mannerisms. Atheists, however, differ from the mainstream only in terms of their beliefs, which are inherently undetectable unless expressed by the one who holds them. Atheists remain invisible until they choose to reveal themselves.

Fear of Rejection
This is a decision, however, which atheists must make, repeatedly in the case of new acquaintances. The only substantive reason either to actively hide or to passively conceal one's atheism is fear of rejection. Upon acknowledging their disbelief, some atheists are disowned by their families, some by their husbands, wives or partners, and some by their friends and co-workers. It is for good reason that revealing one's atheism is occasionally referred to as “coming out of the closet”, a term normally used in reference to revealing one's unorthodox sexual preference or identification. Fortunately not all atheists experience such negative and unpleasant reactions from those closest to them, but almost without exception they encounter varying levels of rejection from at least some people who learn of their lack of faith, ranging from a slight cooling off of fomerly fully amicable relations to immediate, hateful and highly vocal repudiation. Occasionally atheists will receive a positive reaction upon professing their disbelief, almost exclusively from fellow nontheists, with whom personal connections can often be more easily established due to mutual empathy.

Coming Out of the Closet
Despite the power of potential rejection, there are numerous motivations to reveal one's atheism:

  • to feel honest with oneself and with the world
  • to establish personal connections with other atheists
  • to increase the political influence of atheists as a group
  • to educate believers that atheists are normal people, not evil or crazy, thus reducing the stigma of disbelief and making it easier for other atheists to reveal themselves
How does one reveal his atheism? The easiest way is just to tell someone when asked! Occasionally the topic of religion arises in social settings, and when it's contextually appropriate, one may express his views clearly and without equivocation. Of course, one should expect to be asked to explain his reasons, so it's good to have an answer prepared. There are more active approaches such as wearing clothing or decorating one's car with certain messages, or purposely raising the topic of religion and then discussing one's disbelief. While their are certain advantages to these approaches, one should be aware that a vocal atheist can be just as annoying as a vocal believer!

Personal Experiences
My personal experiences in acknowledging my disbelief have been somewhat favorable as compared to other atheists. The reactions have ranged from loud exclamations asking how I can possibly not believe in God to friendly respect from other atheists. Some people tell me that they had never met a professed atheist before. Without my actively raising the topic, my family and friends have all learned of my atheism. I am grateful that my mostly religious family has been so understanding and respectful of my position, and that my relationship with them has not suffered at all. My employer and co-workers remain unaware of my atheism, despite occasional opportunities to address the issue, because I consider it unprofessional to discuss religion in the workplace unless absolutely necessary. I have, however, never lied or mislead them about my beliefs.

Anonymity of Secular Planet
Readers may question why this blog is completely anonymous after hearing the author advocate openness regarding one's disbelief. The answer is quite simple: the internet can be very dangerous. One should always be cautious in revealing one's identity online, especially when promoting a minority opinion which is so reviled. Consider some of the various terms used by the religious to refer to the irreligious: infidel, heretic, heathen, apostate, wicked, impious, idolatrous, godless, ungodly, unholy. In a world of violent lunatics, I will choose my battles carefully. An anonymous blog acheives the goal of championing atheism without endangering my personal safety.



Unbelief & Disbelief

Although I am no proponent of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, it is notable that our language fails to clearly distinguish two distinct but similar ideas which often confuse unreflective intellects. It is precisely on this account that I must explicitly delineate my meaning in order to discuss the topic. Thus, I present three definitions for the purpose of this entry, the second and third being of greater interest:

  • belief: an opinion that a certain proposition is true
  • unbelief: lack of an opinion regarding a certain proposition
  • disbelief: an opinion that a certain proposition is false
The first concept is fully understood by the general public, though I should still indicate that my use of the term belief does not at all imply the grounds for a such an opinion; it applies to opinions based on reason as well as those based on faith. The differentiation between the second and the third concepts, however, is frequently lost in common parlance. Before we continue, it should be noted that my choice of terms for each is somewhat artificial and the reader should not expect them to apply outside of this entry.

Let us consider an example to understand the three concepts. Say someone tells you that you have won the lottery. If you accept this as true, you believe that you have won. If you reject this as false, you disbelieve that you have won. If you fail either to accept this as true or to reject this as false, you neither believe nor disbelieve that you have won. The three choices correspond to the three most basic responses to a question: Yes, No, and I don't know. When the question is whether you believe a certain proposition, the second and third options are frequently lumped together in the minds of many.

The implications for atheism are evident. Atheists may be divided into two main groups: those who don't believe in any gods (unbelief; often called weak atheists) and those who believe that no gods exist (disbelief; often called strong atheists). Unfortunately weak atheists are very often labeled, and even often label themselves agnostics despite the original technical meaning of the word which can apply not only to both varieties of atheist, but even to theists! This usage causes many to assume that atheist always means strong atheist. To further complicate matters, many also quite wrongly assume that strong atheists must necessarily claim absolute certainty.

Additional linguistic considerations
There is one additional word similar to disbelief and unbelief which further complicates the situation: nonbelief (also spelled non-belief). Moreover the statistical inequality of these words in their various inflections and derivations indicates deserves special notice. I present the following the table comparing the three words based on the number of hits at Google on each term:


The numbers for nonbelief include the alternate spelling of non-belief.

The table sufficiently demonstrates why English speakers at least might have difficulty with the important distinction of not believing something true and believing something false.



A Symbol for Atheism

I would like to indicate my support of the null set symbol as the unofficial symbol of atheism. I don't know the origins of this idea, but the symbol possesses the following features which make it eminently appropriate:
  • Simple and clear: Simplicity and clarity contribute to aesthetic value and to ease of recognition and mental association.
  • Connected to concept: Atheism, the negation of theism, is inherently a negative concept and as such requires a negative symbol. Religious symbols indicate a positive religious belief, and the null set indicates a lack of religious belief.
  • Devoid of unnecessary conceptual baggage: Other proposed symbols often seek to attact certain values, such as rationality, skepticism, science, or tolerance, which are not essential to the concept of atheism.
  • Culturally neutral: Due to its mathematical origin, the symbol is familiar to all cultures. Additionally it makes no specific religious reference.
  • In the public domain: As a pre-existing symbol, it cannot be copyrighted or controlled by any private or government party.
  • Easily reproducible: By virtue of being a part of the standard character set, one can create computer graphics of any size, color and style by simply adjusting the font.
Additionally, the symbol could be interpreted as a representation of the spherical earth with a tilted axis, which makes it the perfect symbol for a secular planet!



From Catholic to Atheist

In the interest of providing additional perspective to my thoughts, I will now share the tale of my journey from Catholicism to atheism.

The circumstances of my entrance into the Church are very commonplace. My Catholic parents had me baptized shortly after my birth, brought me to Mass each Sunday, and sent me to formal religious education until I received the sacrament of confirmation at the age of thirteen. Around that time, I developed a serious interest in religion and became relatively devout in my faith. I sought to understand the teachings of the Church more deeply. I read the Bible, the newly published universal catechism, and a few books on apologetics, though my forays into online apologetic debate were largely uneventful. Discussion of religion with two atheist friends at the end of high school, however, planted seeds of major doubt in my mind, which seemed to flower immediately before being quickly crushed by fear and anxiety.

At university I entrenched myself even more deeply into religion, leading to serious considerations of entering the seminary or the monastery, but the fear of an eternal hell which had forcefully preserved me in the faith soon created a terrestrial hell for me in form of scrupulosity. I will not discuss the details of the situation, but I will say that it truly was a nightmare. The condition persisted for years with only temporary, partial, and sporadic reprieves despite extensive assistance from the clergy and other persons. Eventually, however, the issue of doubt became a major focus of my obsession and the seeds planted years before germinated such that they were ready to blossom with the proper amount of cultivation.

A frank discussion with a friend who had earlier made a similar journey provided the catalyst to a thorough investigation of my doubts over the course of several months. During this time I read everything that I could find, online or in print, pro- and anti-religion. I spoke with family, friends and priests. I spent much time in prayer and in thought. In the end I found that I had lost my faith from a combination of the obliteration of my former justifications for belief, the establishment of numerous insurmountable objections and difficulties, and the realization that everything in life makes much more sense if Catholicism is indeed false. I left the Church almost four months after my initial decision to question my religion.

Though my sufferings certainly helped prompt the investigation, my loss of faith and subsequent apostasy were the result of logical, systematic inquiry rather than an emotionally motivated escape from the torment I experienced at the hands of religion. I am certain, however, that many believers will dismiss my reasons as less than noble. In response I would like to indicate that my decision to face my doubts and fears demanded a certain amount of courage. With my understanding that to entertain and indulge one's doubts was a sin grave enough to merit eternal damnation, I willfully endangered my soul in order to satisfy my sense of intellectual honesty and desire for truth. Additionally, I realized that it would perhaps be impossible to feel sorry and thus seek forgiveness for the sin of doubting if I found the Catholic faith to be true, meaning that I effectively had to surmount a point-of-no-return in order to even begin. Whatever the case, supposed emotional motivations do not discount rational argumentation and criticism.

My scrupulosity immediately and substantially diminished upon my apostasy, though the fear of hell lingered for approximately six months before fully dissipating. I initially considered myself an agnostic, but the more appropriate term would have been weak atheist. A further examination of the problem of evil a few months later prompted my transition to strong atheism. I have maintained that position since and that is where I stand today.




Welcome to Secular Planet, a blog for sharing my personal thoughts on religion and irreligion.

Although the primary focus of this blog will be secularism, I intend to address issues such as language, culture, society, history and politics. At times I also expect to discuss completely unrelated topics which I simply wish to write about. As such it will be a series of reflections on life from the perspective of a godless earthling. My principal aspirations in writing are to be coherent, rational, insightful, eloquent, and above all else, sincere.