“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.



  1. Atheists are a funny group of people. They crack me up. The overwhelming majority of “atheitsts” are people who believe in a higher power but didn’t get what they want out of life so they think that by denying that higher power, they are somehow getting even with it.

    They are a funny bunch. I don’t know of anyone who actually hates or considers atheism to be a “four letter word.” Most of the folks I know just look at them as people who haven’t had the same set of experiences that provided the enlightenment we have experienced. We kind of feel bad for them that they haven’t had the opportunity to join us. Granted, the Christian Conservatives have an issue with them but the Christian Conservatives are really a small but really vocal group. They don’t represent mainstream Christians very well at all.

    • Mark Pagliarini says

      Tim, what part of the word “atheist” don’t you understand? Atheism is the lack of belief in a supernatural god or gods. We don’t BELIEVE in a higher power. You cannot deny what does not exist.

      • Tim Shannon says

        I’m completely aware of what the word means. I just also know that people claim to be atheists when in fact they are not. Hey, people make all sorts of crazy claims in life. Why not this one too? My point is, there are people who are angry at God and so to get even with God, they claim to be atheists, thinking that will somehow make God feel bad and get them revenge of some sort. I find those “atheists” to be a pretty funny and nutty group of people.

        • Where in the world does it say I’m “angry at god” in my column? I never said anything of the sort. As atheists, we are sick and tired of being rated lower than rapists in terms of trustworthiness. And nowhere did I even claim to ever have believed in gods of any sort so how can I be angry at an imaginary friend?

    • Well, Tim, I’m so happy you have “enlightenment.” But you needn’t feel bad for me and my fellow atheists. We were born just fine the first time. Plus your post is a perfect example of the bigotry atheists face on a regular basis, the “Oh, feel sorry for them for they just haven’t felt Jesus’ love.” You can keep it for yourself.

      • I don’t feel bad for you and your fellow atheists. If you haven’t been touched by God, then that’s not part of God’s plan. Not my business to question it. I’m just along for the ride.
        Bigotry? Me? Wow, that’s quite a stretch. I’m a bigot just because I believe? Well, excuse me. I don’t stop you from believing what you want to believe or not believe. I wish you believed the same thing I did because I think it’s pretty cool. I wish everyone owned the CD Farmhouse by Phish also, because I think it’s a damn cool CD. I guess that makes me a bigot too.

        If there is one thing atheists do not believe in, its laughing at themselves. What a humorless lot you folk are. I’m glad God graced me with a sense of humor and the ability to see things from more than my own perspective.

        • What I see from your comments to my column is arrogance. Trust me; I’m the first to laugh at myself. I’m just tired of sanctimonious people like you.

          No thanks to the Phish CD. Give me a great mash-up by Titus Jones any day.

    • Oh, Tim. You just don’t get it, do you? Being an atheist means that we don’t have a “Santa Claus” in the sky. And we don’t *need* one, either. You believe? Goody for you. I prefer science, thank you very much!

      • Tim Shannon says

        No Annie, I get it just fine. Thank you very much. What I stated, and continue to believe is that the majority of people who claim to be atheists are people who actually do believe in a higher power but are lashing out at that higher power by saying they don’t believe in it. A lot of them aren’t even aware they are doing it. It’s human nature. I’d say since you refer to God as “Santa Claus,” you are likely in that number. You are angry with God so you think you can get back at God for not giving you what you want by denying God’s existance.

  2. This blog was… how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped
    me. Thanks!


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