Atheism and atheists. Two words which have negative connotations to society at large, especially in the United States of America. In part, this perception comes from the prejudices of those who believe that morality and goodness are the sole province of the religious. However, some of the blame for this perception also lies with the atheists themselves.
Understand I do not say that atheists should be quiet, and not complain or try to change things. Far from it. Rather, my problem is with the manner in which many atheists choose to express themselves, and to try to change things. In the face of a majority religion, which preaches of love and unity, atheists often respond with anger and cynicism. Granted, from our point of view the religions do not always practice what they preach. And granted, there is much in this society to anger us.
However, it must be understood that anger and cynicism will do our cause no good. Society will not change its perceptions of atheists or atheism on its own. It is up to us to help change that perception. And as long as the attention that we garner is negative, the perception will remain negative. It is only when we are able to garner attention in a positive manner that the perception will begin to change.
That is where positive atheism comes in. Atheism is not inherently a negative world-view. Atheists are not inherently bitter or cynical people. Granted, there are atheists who are that type of person, just as there are Christians who are the same. But that has nothing to do with the world-view, with the lack of a belief in god.
Atheism has the potential to be just as positive, as life affirming, as any religion. Atheism grants individuals the freedom to be who they are, and to follow whatever path they choose for their lives. Atheists are unconstrained by a set of morals that have been chosen for them. Rather, they choose their own morality, based on societal good and the principal of doing no harm to others, if it can be avoided. You could say that we borrow the Wiccan credo of "Harm ye none, do as ye will." Please note that I cannot speak for every atheist, I speak only of the prevailing attitudes that I have seen.
Atheism means that you never have to fear being judged by a supernatural power for doing what you feel to be right. It means that it is up to you to judge yourself, and that you must hold yourself accountable for your actions. There are those who believe that humankind is not capable of that free a system of morality. They believe that anyone who does not fear supernatural repercussions will choose to abandon morality completely, and will do whatever harm they feel is necessary to further themselves personally. I have never seen that to be the case in the majority of people, and the crime rates today prove that religion alone is not sufficient to curb criminal tendencies.
Atheism means a dedication to the realities of life. It means a dedication to living with what is, rather than what we wish. It means living with the possibilities of what might come someday without fearing our own progress for no reason other than a refusal to face the future. It opens the doorway to an uncluttered scientific understanding of ourselves as humanity, and an understanding that humanity is in fact one.
Atheism can be an affirmation of humanity, of our potentials and our successes. It also means an acceptance of our darker tendencies, and with this acceptance perhaps more successful ways of dealing with them. And atheism must, for its own survival, come to embrace tolerance.
This also is positive atheism. The acceptance of atheists for who and what we are, while we in turn accept the religious for who and what they are. Only when we can look the religious in the eye and show them that we believe in love and peace as much as they preach it, only then can we begin to gain ground.
But as long as the public sees atheists as bitter people, trying to keep others from practicing their religion, we will gain no ground. As long as atheists launch bitter diatribes against religion, claiming that they wish to eradicate it from human society, we will gain no ground. As long as atheists remain misunderstood and unknown, we will gain no ground. We must show the public the best side of atheism. We must show the public the positive gain of our philosophical views. We must show the public that atheists are dedicated to a people united to better ourselves, and then we can gain ground.
This is positive atheism. Atheists working together to help society, to help each other. Atheists speaking out with solutions to problems, instead of just complaining about them. Atheists working to provide benefits for all those around them, regardless of their beliefs. This is positive atheism, and this is what will help us become respected citizens.
No, it is not an easy solution, or a short cut to happiness. But when acceptance comes as a result of threats, it is no acceptance at all. When we must bully our way into people's minds, they will remember us as bullies. Education is a longer road to acceptance, but is the only one that will last. You cannot fear a man who has stood beside you and fought the same troubles you have. And the public will not fear us when they know us for who and what we really are.
February 28, 2001