Who’s The Better Atheist?

 Lately my husband and I have debated about which of us is a better Atheist.

He is from a country where religion is less central to society and there is little pressure to have any belief. Many people there probably walk around their whole lives without ever having to think about or discuss their beliefs concerning a deity. He has always been an Atheist, although he never felt the need to label himself until coming to America, where the assumption of belief is part of the dominant culture. 

I however, am deconverted from a devout belief in god. I also grew up in rather conservative parts of America.

We often discuss the extent that religion is institutionalized in American society. The differences in our previous programming are evident. He doesn’t fully appreciate how most Americans view non-belief. He is proud of our non-belief and does not hide in any closet. He sees it as the most normal thing in the world.  On the other hand, I, the VisibleAtheist, am more cautious.

Visible is a notion I aspire to, not one that I have accomplished. I walk more gently when I am on “hallowed” ground. I know that some people WILL be uncomfortable if I inject the ‘A’ word into a conversation. And sometimes, I just need to get some work done, need to advocate for my child in a delicate situation or don’t feel like watching others squirm when I am trying to make friends. He is perplexed by my relative timidity in such situations.

I also have a profound respect for the few positive roles that religion plays in culture. I don’t know whether this sympathy is rooted in my personality or my religious past. Maybe it comes from a bit of both. However, my husband is more in line with the New Atheists in that he believes all religion is harmful, even in the context of culture. Perhaps this is part of his personality or comes from never being part of the “The Fold”.  Perhaps it’s a bit of both for him too.

On The A-Unicornist a fellow blogger referred to “Cultural Atheists.”  Adding this term to my lexicon gave me a framework for deconstructing our tension on the issue.  The definition of a Cultural Atheist according to The A-Unicornist is a person:

“who hails from a place where there is far less (if any) sociocultural pressure to accept supernatural magic as infallible truth. Thus, they tend to treat theistic claims about reality the same way they treat any other claim about reality – as claims whose credibility is contingent upon evidence

It reminds me of the different ways that Atheists often incorporate or claim Atheism as part of their identity. In my research I found that those who deconverted generally held their atheism very dear, were sensitive to societal exclusions and defended non-belief with passion. Anecdotally, I find that those who have always been Atheist are less connected to their non-belief as a part of their identity.  In short, I am more sensitive to just about anything having to do with religion and he is much more matter of fact in his knowledge that this is the way and the truth.

When we got married almost a decade ago I expected some cultural adjustments for each of us, but I never expected we would argue about who was a better Atheist. I guess it could be worse.


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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mandy on March 10, 2010 at 2:31 am

    I have just been asked to complete a questionnaire on spirituality related to medical professionals and it raises some interesting thoughts.

    What is spirituality, is it just related to a deity or religion?
    Can someones spiritual needs can encompass deep value and meanings which are not driven by religion?
    Can athesists be spiritual?

    Certainly raised plenty of thought provoking things in my mind and I enjoyed thinking about all the issues. Would be interested of any thoughts on this topic.

    Reply

    • Hey Mandy.
      My thoughts: yes, yes and yes. I have never considered myself “spiritual” because it begs definition, which would be subjective – and I’ve spent so much time looking at the objective when I left religion. From what I hear other non-believers say, “spirituality” ranges from a sense of connectedness to the world, a vague “feeling” that there is something ‘bigger’ or in control in the universe and the values based meaning you mentioned. I realize that many people who define themselves as “spiritual” are attempting to truly put words to their own experience, but I can’t help but wonder if others are simply trying to justify and “make ok” the fact that they do not believe in God. It seems that people tell me they are spiritual in the course of a conversation about non-belief, as if to distance themselves from Atheism… Perhaps this is just me “makin’ up stories in my head” though.

      Reply

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