Go List for Unbelievers

Looking for reader contributions here.

Say there are two or three levels of atheism – like Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, or maybe Novice, Intermediate, Advanced. Or possibly Apprentice,  Journeyman, Master.

And say there were some things you should probably do at each level in order to qualify – in your own mind if nowhere else.

What would those things be?

Here’s my tentative list for the Novice Class:


Go List for Unbelievers, Beginner Level

No, you don’t have to do them all. But you probably should do at least one or two. Then go on from there, at your own pace and comfort level. Think up other things for your own personal Go List.

1. Switch to saying “Happy Holidays!” if it suits you better, and don’t let anyone tell you different.

2. Go someplace private and admit to yourself, out loud, that you’re an atheist. Explain why.

3. Write down one or two (or 20!) reasons why religion no longer makes sense to you, and why you’re giving it up.

4. Stop saying and writing “God” when you refer to supernatural superbeings. Start saying “gods.”

5. Every time you secretly still wonder if God is watching and judging you, deliberately reframe it as “I wonder if the Flying Spaghetti Monster is watching and judging me?” And then laugh.

6. Come out as an atheist to one person, even if it’s only an online friend, or a complete stranger who sits next to you on a train.

7. Write a letter to the local newspaper about a religious issue in the news. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of them – political candidates pandering to religious voters, for instance. Reasonably and calmly state your unbeliever’s opinion.

8. Stop going to church. Taper off if necessary.

9. Join an online community, and contribute! Whatever you can do – taking the time to think and comment about the issues, giving money, giving support – do it.

10. Give yourself whatever room you need at home.

Hey, we all need our families, and our old friends. Nobody’s saying you need to leap into your grandmother’s hospital room and shout, “Granny, I don’t believe in Jesus, so you’re going to die and rot!” If you feel you need space from your family on the subject, it’s probably best if you don’t tell them, or don’t discuss it. You can smile pleasantly at all the god-bless-yous and I’ll-pray-for-yous, and simply decide not to respond.

The Great Big Thing won’t be decided by a breakfast table conflict at your own personal home, but by the massed aggregation of thinkers and voters and wielders of economic clout out in larger society. As long as you think and buy and vote and argue on that larger stage in a way that supports your personal convictions, if you don’t want your family to know, you never have to bring the subject up.


What else should be on this list, and the others? What shouldn’t be on it?

Beta Culture: Seeing The Brackets
The Book of Good Living: How to Avoid Being Killed By A Train
Zoning Out on Liberal vs. Conservative Issues
Drum Roll, Cymbal Clash, Fanfare of Vuvuzelas!
  • johnhodges

    Someplace in your list, for level 2 or something, would be to read something, educate yourself, about such topics as the history of religion (for example, Andrew White, A HISTORY OF THE CONFLICT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND THEOLOGY IN CHRISTENDOM), the history of atheism (Jennifer Hecht, DOUBT: A HISTORY, and FREETHINKERS by Susan Jacoby), the existence of secular philosophy, especially regarding ethics (GOOD AND EVIL: A NEW DIRECTION by Richard Taylor), or just the Bible (GENESIS ILLUSTRATED by R. Crumb, the website http://www.thebricktestament.com , or just read through the four gospels, noting down everything Jesus is reported to have said about what his followers should DO.)

    Atheism is much, much richer than a simple absence of god-beliefs.

  • davidct

    “Switch to saying “Happy Holidays!” if it suits you better, and don’t let anyone tell you different.”

    Remember that Holidays if a contraction of “Holy Days” and as such is not a secular alternative as “Seasons Greetings” would be. It only bothers the fundies who insist on the specific reference to Jebus.

    • Hank Fox

      Ooh, good point!

    • Robert B.

      I think “holidays” is as much a part of the language now as “goodbye,” and wouldn’t go away even if everyone deconverted. And in any case the reason that there are special greetings for the season of winter is because of religious holidays. If you actually want to be purely secular go straight to “Happy New Year,” but I think you’re overthinking it.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      It only bothers the fundies who insist on the specific reference to Jebus.

      Which is a fine goal of itself.

  • grumpyoldfart

    5. Every time you secretly still wonder if God is watching and judging you, deliberately reframe it as “I wonder if the Flying Spaghetti Monster is watching and judging me?” And then laugh.

    I like this one.

  • http://www.arizona-writer.com Kimberly Hosey

    I’m doing pretty well at this level, I think!

    It’s amazing. My whole family is nominally to super religious, and I really never have had to bring up the subject. I haven’t told them, and it’s better this way. I guess they’ll figure it out, eventually, but until then, it’s just an aggregation of a million little things, a million little times where I’m less superstitious, more rational; less fearful, more free. The weird thing is my husband (who’s still a believer, and totally not OK with having The Conversation) does some of the things on this list! I guess there’s hope yet. You just have to be REALLY patient.

  • https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=720170497 Michael Fisher

    Hi Hank ~ IMO you’re one of the best bloggers around ~ extra points for plain speaking too

    Perhaps you’re writing more for an American readership where appearing to be a Christian can be a social advantage in many parts of the country, but this here wouldn’t wash in the UK:

    1. Switch to saying “Happy Holidays!” if it suits you better, and don’t let anyone tell you different

    …where it would just sound silly (unless used ironically) ~ the idiom is too American & just like “awesome” it no longer carries weight because of lazy, casual & insincere overuse. Nearly all the dozen British non-believers that I know just say “Merry Christmas” without worry.

    Over here swearing is very popular so I guess a level 1 could increase the use of blasphemous curses as a detox from any lingering religious infections of the brain :)

    • http://www.arizona-writer.com Kimberly Hosey

      “as a detox from any lingering religious infections of the brain.”

      I totally agree. That’s what I took the “Happy Holidays” point to mean in the first place. Do away with entrenched religious terms, even in subtle ways, and introduce more secular/neutral terms in their place.

      • https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=720170497 Michael Fisher

        I like your blog Kim. Added it to my reader feed. Cheers.

        • http://www.arizona-writer.com Kimberly Hosey

          Thanks! I’ll have to make sure to update soon! :-)

  • theScreeble

    While I think a list like this can be helpful to people who are leaving faith based thinking it really seems to only apply to those who were formerly indoctrinated into religion, specifically those who dealt with guilt and second guessing from leaving their previous faith. As such it really doesn’t apply to those who never had a god complex or those who left guilt free. So this really isn’t a list of levels of atheism in general but levels of someones acceptance of their new-found atheism.

    That said I would add something along the lines — The ability to take wonder in reality as it truly is, the good and the bad, and know your part in improving it. — Of course most Humanist values would apply here.

  • Ken

    At the Master level, obviously you should be required to eat a baby.

    I suggest a good wiener schnitzel from the best German restaurant you can fine.

    • Ken


  • R. Johnston

    For English writers and others writing in languages with similar rules, stop capitalizing the names of religions and denominations of religious believers unless the word is the first word of a sentence. Ideologies and philosophies do not get capitalization. The capitalization of religious ideologies and philosophies exists as a sign that they have more merit are worthy of greater respect than other ideologies and philosophies.

    We have atheists, capitalists, socialists, christians, jews, hindus, solipsists, and conspiracy theorists, and religious denominations deserve no special respect built into the structure of our language.

  • Phledge

    One thing that might help–call it a baby step–is what I did: join a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Lots of opportunities for the comfort and ritual of church-goin’, while at the same time meeting secular humanists and engaging in social justice causes. For me, the UU congregation and its mission played a huge, HUGE role in my dismissal of religious belief.

  • Grendels Dad

    Level 1. Is about content. You realize the religion you were raised with has problems, but still think there is “something to it.” Brief explorations of other faiths show many of the same deficiencies. You may still feel an urge to say something about being spiritual.

    Level 2. Is about epistemology. You realize that why you believe something is as important as what you believe. The scientific method and evidence become important in your deliberations about nearly everything. You will probably feel a need to ask people to show their data.

    Level 3. Is about action. You realize that so much of the effort put into various religions is, at best, wasted, and much of the rest does outright harm. Now is the time for activism, for letters to the editor, for challenging the unearned privilege or unstated assumptions. You will be amazed by the push-back from the slightest criticism.

    • Hank Fox

      Very nice!

    • TX_secular

      This is a good way to categorize the list Hank provided. I like the three levels, they make intuitive sense.

    • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

      I have a buddy who is an atheist that was was raised by atheist parents. He hasn’t really given any serious thought about the absurdities of faith and doesn’t seem to easily fit in your three categories (which I like by the way). Perhaps there should be two methods of categorizing atheists, a system for the first generation of godless and another for the second generation of atheists?

      • Grendels Dad

        I could see fitting people who had never had any faith into this framework. At level one they encounter faithful people in society and find the content of their beliefs a bit off, but society does give the faithful special privileges so maybe there is something to it?

  • http://societyofreason.com Blaise

    I love this idea, Hank! I’ve been trying to figure out how to write a sort of “beginners’ guide” to non-belief for the Society of Reason website for months, but I couldn’t get a handle on it.

    This would be perfect! Do you suppose we could make it a feature there when you’ve finished your lists? I’d love to work with you on it.


  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    I was having a conversation with another atheist blogger the other day, and I mentioned that at the very least an atheist should understand that theists have the burden of proof.

  • Bob Jase

    So how come no one has addressed the pressing issue of how many hit dice one gets when progressing up a level?


  • Dave

    One little thing I did when I became an atheist was to stop saying “bless you” when someone else sneezed, and I always say “excuse me” when I sneeze.

    I also do not ever thank anyone for saying “bless you” when I sneeze. May be petty, but I live in the buckle of the bible belt, so I take my victories where I can.

    I like Grendel’s Dad’s structure. I also think at level 2, you have a tendency to look around and realize that a humanist approach to the world is best, and you do a better job of recognizing the harm done to others through the prejudices and bigotry of organized religion. Or maybe that’s just me.

  • http://www.prosperityenglish.com/clases_particulares_ingles_en%20_madrid.php Senaida Huskins

    I’m upwards for carrying out a link swap if you want, you employ a useful blog.

  • Erica Kalomeris

    There is a reason you have to force yourself to think of God. It is because we were made with the need and understanding that there is a creator. And if you think it is society, well where did society get it? From the beginning of man kind who came up with such an abstract idea if it werent true

    • Erica Kalomeris

      I meant to say “refrain from thinking of God initially”

      We were made for this.

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