“Atheist” Is Not a 4-Letter Word

It all started with one of those Facebook “share” posts. My husband shared a picture that I’d shared from someone, like an international game of Telephone. Daniel Radcliffe is staring into the camera with the caption, “I’m not religious. I’m an atheist and a militant atheist when religion starts impacting on legislation.” One of his old school friends replied, “Religion shouldn’t impact legislation. Our morals should. Our morals come from our beliefs. Our founding fathers believed in and founded this country on ‘religion.’ Call it whatever, they founded it under God. God is the basis of any good we have in this life, and if we no longer want Him over us, it will show in our legislation.”

Of course I had to counter with John Adams quote from Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, “The government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” I noted this was in regards to the U.S. not forcing Christianity onto Muslim nations.

What is it about the word “atheist” that gets people in a lather? Why don’t people trust atheists? It’s as though an atheist cannot be trusted because they don’t believe in a higher power of some sort.

As a life-long non-believer of any sort of gods, this perplexes me. I was reared in a non-theistic home. My mother was told she was going to hell if she didn’t believe that Jesus was her lord and savior when she was 10. She maintains a strict agnostic viewpoint to cover her bases. My father would issue vague threats of “going to church this Sunday” but he’d never follow through. To this day I have no idea what my father believes in or doesn’t.

Even without some sort of faith, I don’t think I’m a terrible person. I don’t have a god to pray away any indiscretions. I have a definite sense of right versus wrong. I’m kind to children and animals. I try to drive the speed limit and I try not to perform any illegal acts. I show up to work on time and I’ve been married to the same man for 19 years.

And I do this all without the safety net of a god.

If I come out as an atheist, responses vary. I’ve lost friendships. I get looks of disbelief when I reply, “You only go to Hell if you believe in it!” But I can’t fathom living my life in fear of an imaginary friend who’s kicking back in a celestial Barca-lounger ready to pass judgment.

I’ve long maintained that as an atheist, I must live my life to a higher moral code than those who do believe in gods. Because I cannot pray for forgiveness, I only have myself to answer to if I do something illegal like shoplifting, graffiti, or kill someone. Yet I’m not to be trusted because morality can’t exist with a god.

Personally, instead of focusing on someone’s faith I’d rather focus on someone’s actions. I don’t care what one chooses to do on a Sunday morning be it going to church, reading the Sunday funnies, or tending to your garden. No amount of belief in a higher power makes one a better person over their neighbor but basic courtesy and kindness can make all the difference in the world.