This post isn’t for confirmed atheists, nor for confirmed theists. It’s not for people who’ve already made up their minds, one way or the other.
No, this post is for the seekers, the in-betweeners, the tormented doubters. It’s for the uncertain agnostics, people who aren’t certain what they believe; it’s for people who feel like they no longer belong in their church, but don’t know of an alternative; and it’s for people who are experiencing a full-blown crisis of faith and don’t know where to turn. If you found this post through a web search, it’s probably for you.
There are countless reasons why you might have come to this point. You may feel rejected or unwelcome at your church or your religious community, perhaps because you hold some views that are different from the orthodoxy. You may feel betrayed by a religious leader who turned out to be a hypocrite, or who abused the trust he was given. Or you may feel disappointed with God himself, perhaps because faith doesn’t offer the comfort you thought it would, or because promised miraculous help didn’t come when you needed it most. You may feel that your prayers aren’t being listened to, that there’s no one on the other end of the line. But however you came to this point, I’m almost certain that you feel like the only one who’s different, the only one who doesn’t fit in.
If you’re one of these people, I have a message for you: Atheism is an option. You don’t have to believe. You don’t need to belong to a religion to lead a fulfilling, moral, and happy life. You can be an atheist, and you don’t need to feel guilty about it. On the contrary, being an atheist can be a positive achievement to celebrate and take pride in.
The second most important thing I want to say to you, the seekers and the doubters, is this: You are not alone. There are others like you. In fact, there are more of us than you probably think. I’ve heard from other people who feel the same way, and nearly every prominent atheist I know can say the same. There are people in the pews and even behind the pulpits who no longer believe, but can’t say so because they don’t want to lose their major source of community, because they fear reprisal, or because they know no other way of making a living. I’d wager it’s more common than people think. Like an iceberg whose depths lie below the surface, the number of visible, outspoken atheists might well be dwarfed by the number of those who are still counted as religious only by default.
I have no doubt that you’ve heard plenty of gloomy and frightening stereotypes about atheists, and I can assure you that they are not true. Atheism is not incompatible with morality, nor does it require hating religious people, nor does it mean a life lacking happiness or meaning. In fact, the journey to atheism can be a wonderful, exhilarating liberation, as many who’ve walked that road can tell. The only thing being an atheist means is that you don’t believe in any gods. In every other respect, you can live your life however you want and be the same person you have always been.
If you’re intrigued by these words, or if you’re merely curious, there are plenty of resources where you can read and learn more, and numerous online communities – such as this one! – where you can participate.
If you choose to take the plunge and become an atheist, I can’t promise that you’ll never face misunderstanding, hatred, or prejudice. In fact, depending on where you live and how open you are about it, it’s likely that you will. But I and many others can testify that, in the long run, being true to yourself is far more satisfying than trying to live a lie. You don’t have to shout your nonbelief to the rooftops, but if you’re doubting your religion, consider atheism. You may find it far more fulfilling and liberating than you expect.