Fellow Atheists/Agnostic Atheists - Let's Chat: Do you feel it is risky being "out" these days?

Thank you to all who shared on their relationships, glad to see it's at least potentially workable.

On the national day of prayer; There's also a push for today to be national day of reason (and some movement for an 'international day of reason').

Grubber788 wrote:

Again, I don't want to say every atheist is this way or that the religious are incapable of this, but I do think it takes some balls to admit that this life might be all we get so we should live in a way that maximizes our happiness and joy.

I don't think it takes balls to admit that this is all we get, I think it's a matter of simply examining the rest of nature, and realizing that we acknowledge that everything else gets a short blip of life and is then gone. Bacteria, bugs, rodents, birds, up to chimpanzees, dolphins and blue whales. The problem is, humans (which are just higher primates) believe they are special in regards to our existence. I don't think I'm special, I think I'm just another life form in a cold, indifferent universe.

On a cosmic scale, we are so utterly small that we are a hair's breadth from non-existence. To call us a speck of dust would be a gross overstatement. We have cognizance, we are sentient, but we still live and die in a lightning flash of time.

Jeff-66 wrote:

I don't think it takes balls to admit that this is all we get, I think it's a matter of simply examining the rest of nature, and realizing that we acknowledge that everything else gets a short blip of life and is then gone. Bacteria, bugs, rodents, birds, up to chimpanzees, dolphins and blue whales. The problem is, humans (which are just higher primates) believe they are special in regards to our existence. I don't think I'm special, I think I'm just another life form in a cold, indifferent universe.

And herein lies an important issue that I think the atheist community needs to recognize. Atheists are united only by their disbelief in deities. Personally, I couldn't abide the concept that my life is utterly devoid of meaning.

Maybe I'm mis-reading you, but how do you apply value to your life? I think if I honestly believed that I was just another collection of cells in a cold vacuum, with no philosophical purpose (that part I might be misreading), I would probably spend all of my money on the most hedonistic activities. In a life without purpose, what's the point of living?

For me, that question is much more interesting than the stuff floating around r/atheism. Instead of answering bigger philosophical questions, they prefer to mock Christians. Sure, there's plenty to mock, but just because one does not believe in God, does not mean we can exist without a philosophical purpose--even if that purpose is simple objectivism or hedonism.

And herein lies an important issue that I think the atheist community needs to recognize. Atheists are united only by their disbelief in deities. Personally, I couldn't abide the concept that my life is utterly devoid of meaning.

Maybe I'm mis-reading you, but how do you apply value to your life? I think if I honestly believed that I was just another collection of cells in a cold vacuum, with no philosophical purpose (that part I might be misreading), I would probably spend all of my money on the most hedonistic activities. In a life without purpose, what's the point of living?

For me, that question is much more interesting than the stuff floating around r/atheism. Instead of answering bigger philosophical questions, they prefer to mock Christians. Sure, there's plenty to mock, but just because one does not believe in God, does not mean we can exist without a philosophical purpose--even if that purpose is simple objectivism or hedonism.

Part of the reason many of us don't see the sense in religion is that we're not tempted to live a selfish, hedonistic, screw-you-all valueless life just because we don't think a god gave us the rules we live by. We simply believe in things like the Golden Rule, helping others and trying to do the right thing without having anyone threaten us to do it. Our lives are far from purposeless; we're surrounded by others just like religious people are, we care for them in the same way, and we have the same feelings about them that lead us to behave well towards them.

Meaning in life comes from your own experiences, and how you apply them to help those around you. And you don't have to be religious to have that kind of meaning in your life, even though it's something that any religious person would recognize as legitimate.

Does that help you understand? If we feared the idea that the universe doesn't care, then we'd *be* religious. That would give us comfort by allowing us to pretend that the universe *does* care about us. Make sense?

An interesting question is that if religion keeps us from being, well, evil, how can so many religious people be right bastards? If you think it through, that reasoning - atheists don't have a basis for moral behavior - falls right on it's face, because Christians who *do* have that belief system often violate it. (In fact, it's said to be the basic state of mankind, which I find a horribly pessimistic view of humanity, as an atheist.)

Grubber788 wrote:

I would probably spend all of my money on the most hedonistic activities. In a life without purpose, what's the point of living?

Honestly, I don't think you're far off the money. In a cold and uncaring universe, my idea of purpose has always been to enjoy what time I have as much as possible, so long as it doesn't hurt others.

The trick here is that spending all your money on one hit of hedonism isn't a good way to go, you'll probably die of a drug overdose. You might be ecstatic for an hour, but then you're dead, or broke, or both. I feel like living responsibly and practically is the best way to stick it to the universe (not that it'll care), because I'll probably still have those moments of ecstacy: from love, from gaming, from something I haven't even discovered yet, but I'll be having them for decades to come.

You can believe you live in a cold and uncaring universe, and still live life in a responsible fashion, respecting others, simply because it's the pragmatic thing to do. I'll also try to leave the world in a better place as much as possible, because I don't see why my time on the planet should ruin it for those yet to have their turn.

Grubber788 wrote:

And herein lies an important issue that I think the atheist community needs to recognize. Atheists are united only by their disbelief in deities. Personally, I couldn't abide the concept that my life is utterly devoid of meaning.

Heh, well, that's just it ... nature (the universe) couldn't care less if you/we can abide that reality or not. I do not claim that there is no meaning, however, I do say that there appears to be no meaning to any of it. I do not see any "meaning" (whatever that means anyway). That said ...

Maybe I'm mis-reading you, but how do you apply value to your life? I think if I honestly believed that I was just another collection of cells in a cold vacuum, with no philosophical purpose (that part I might be misreading), I would probably spend all of my money on the most hedonistic activities. In a life without purpose, what's the point of living?

I live according to my nature, same as any other species. What is the point in a dog, or a lion, living? who knows, maybe it sees a "point" or maybe it doesn't ... but it strives to live nonetheless. Almost every living thing fights to survive, to continue to live and exist. This is a byproduct of nature, of the laws and operation of our universe. Why things are the way they are ... I don't know. Why do we exist at all? Who knows, but we do, and that's that.

For me, that question is much more interesting than the stuff floating around r/atheism. Instead of answering bigger philosophical questions, they prefer to mock Christians. Sure, there's plenty to mock, but just because one does not believe in God, does not mean we can exist without a philosophical purpose--even if that purpose is simple objectivism or hedonism.

It's very difficult to get to the root of what we feel, believe, and how we see reality in a few paragraphs of text, but we can try I suppose. My views are not to say that I do not enjoy life, or that I don't strive to live. I'm a highly empathetic person, and I enjoy helping others, and enjoy being happy, having family members, etc etc. But, I believe that we are -- for the most part, functioning much like a computer program does, within tight limitations of our 'code', and with certain drives that are beyond our control (e.g. the drive to sexually mate and reproduce)

As for the point of living, I'm not sure there is one, and that may not even be the right question. I think it might be better to ask why we exist, and why do we behave the way we do. My best guess, and this goes back to observing other species -- is that the 'point' of living, is to survive and reproduce.

Keep in mind, I tend to look at things on the macro scale.

I don't want to imply that religion is prerequisite for being good. I think atheists and religious people are every bit as capable as being good or evil--it is just a matter of justification at that point.

A religious person can justify evil by saying that they are ultimately working through God's will. An atheist might use a pragmatic view of the world to justify evil. Similarly, a religious person can act according to the Golden Rule and an atheist can hold the rational view that he or she must live according to the social constructs of the society in which he or she resides. Functionally, there's no different between not killing because God forbids it and because it would heart society's stability (and ultimately your standard of living).

I guess my objection to the idea that humans are insignificant in the universe isn't that it is true. I believe we are tiny and we could be wiped out by an asteroid and nothing else in the universe would suffer for it.

Having said that, I do believe it is very important to explore one's personal beliefs, no matter what they are, to better understand ones position within society, which is a slightly more digestible concept than the universe itself. It's important to ask why you should treat people with respect, why you should obey laws and when it is appropriate to go against society.

This is an important problem facing atheists today, and it doesn't surprise me why so many people hate atheists. We tend to focus on the negative rather than providing alternative ways of living ones life. Even if the question is ultimately insignificant in our mortal spans, I personally still find the question of "why?" to be critical to my own existence.

I think I'm babbling, but the tl;dr is that I think atheists as a whole need to move away from talking about a God we don't believe in and start talking about what we do believe in. We would do so in the face of vitriol from many theists, but I think a rational philosophy that "turns the other cheek" in the face of adversity would do much to help our "cause." (Not sure if we really even have a "cause" but that's a discussion for another thread)

Grubber788 wrote:

And herein lies an important issue that I think the atheist community needs to recognize. Atheists are united only by their disbelief in deities. Personally, I couldn't abide the concept that my life is utterly devoid of meaning.

Maybe I'm mis-reading you, but how do you apply value to your life? I think if I honestly believed that I was just another collection of cells in a cold vacuum, with no philosophical purpose (that part I might be misreading), I would probably spend all of my money on the most hedonistic activities. In a life without purpose, what's the point of living?

For me, that question is much more interesting than the stuff floating around r/atheism. Instead of answering bigger philosophical questions, they prefer to mock Christians. Sure, there's plenty to mock, but just because one does not believe in God, does not mean we can exist without a philosophical purpose--even if that purpose is simple objectivism or hedonism.

Since when does not believing in god mean that someone's life is utterly devoid of meaning? Are you honestly saying that all meaning in your life comes from your belief in god? That your friends and family and the relationships you have with them hold nothing for you?

The purpose of life is what you make it. I don't believe in god, but I still love my family and friends, treasure the time I spend with them, help people when I can, want to grow personally, learn new things, and more. More importantly, I do these things because they're good in and of themselves, not because I fear that I'll spend eternity burning in Hell if I do/don't do certain things.

Recognizing that life is, indeed, short and that death is permanent makes you want to get the most out of your time on this planet. And that doesn't instantly mean going on a 75 year long bender anymore than merely believing in god makes you a good person.

I'll flip your question around a bit. What do you think us atheists think about the religious assertion that the entire universe--trillions of solar systems--were all created for us, a species that, to paraphrase Ripley, regularly screws each other over for a goddamned percentage? There's arrogance and then there's the belief that humans are the center--and sole reason for--the entire universe.

Never mind

OG_slinger wrote:

I'll flip your question around a bit. What do you think us atheists think about the religious assertion that the entire universe--trillions of solar systems--were all created for us, a species that, to paraphrase Ripley, regularly screws each other over for a goddamned percentage? There's arrogance and then there's the belief that humans are the center--and sole reason for--the entire universe.

Jeff-66 is correct; I am atheist.

However, I will try to answer this question, because I think it's an interesting question.

So what if we say we're the center of the universe? It doesn't change anything. Ultimately we are just a point of data collection for our brains to process the world around us. We cannot look at it from any point outside of the "center." If the universe is an impersonal collection of matter and energy, then arrogance means nothing to it.

OG_slinger, I think you've misread Grubber's posts. He's not a theist.

In short: Atheism provides no reason to reject philosophy, or even the philosophical ideas and ideals of humankind's historic great thinkers (many of whom did their work in a religious milieu). It does provide, even in its weaker forms, a reason to be [em]skeptical[/em] of universal philosophical claims. But skepticism and rejection are not the same thing.

The lack of a base authority means we must always ask "why?", but so long as we remain willing to ask that of our most fundamental beliefs, there is no stigma in answering "I don't know... yet."

I suspect I might be too agnostic for my own good, asking pointed questions like:

Why not kill?
Why not steal?
Why love your own children more than a random stranger?
Why do we exist?

It's not that I walk around wanting to kill or steal or that I don't understand the rationale behind having strong feeling towards ones own offspring or that I would spend my sanity dwelling on questions that may or may not have answers, but I guess so long as I am troubled philosophically by my own existence, I will just have to keep on asking why to even the simplest of questions.

Grubber788 wrote:

I suspect I might be too agnostic for my own good, asking pointed questions like:

Why not kill?
Why not steal?
Why love your own children more than a random stranger?
Why do we exist?

It's not that I walk around wanting to kill or steal or that I don't understand the rationale behind having strong feeling towards ones own offspring or that I would spend my sanity dwelling on questions that may or may not have answers, but I guess so long as I am troubled philosophically by my own existence, I will just have to keep on asking why to even the simplest of questions.

It's hard for me to respond to this in a way that doesn't come off as proselytizing, but keep looking man. If you hunt for the truth long enough, whatever it is, chances are you just might find it.

Nomad wrote:

It's hard for me to respond to this in a way that doesn't come off as proselytizing, but keep looking man. If you hunt for the truth long enough, whatever it is, chances are you just might find it.

No need to worry about sounding like you're proselytizing... It's that hunt for truth which is responsible for why most of us are atheists in the first place.

Grubber788 wrote:

I suspect I might be too agnostic for my own good, asking pointed questions like:

Why not kill?
Why not steal?
Why love your own children more than a random stranger?
Why do we exist?

It's not that I walk around wanting to kill or steal or that I don't understand the rationale behind having strong feeling towards ones own offspring or that I would spend my sanity dwelling on questions that may or may not have answers, but I guess so long as I am troubled philosophically by my own existence, I will just have to keep on asking why to even the simplest of questions.

Murder, theft, wonton acts of destruction, skateboarding in the park, etc - all these things serve to undermine society, from the largest of countries to the smallest family unit. It's in our collective and often individual best interests not to do these things. Relative peace and stability within any collective is paramount to it's survival; so in a way, we don't do these things because it's antithetical to our biological imperative: to propagate the species. We also abstain from such behavior for other, philosophical reasons, too; Hypatian rightly noted that atheism does not need to include a rejection of human philosophy. We can come together, assess our situation as rational beings, and say "it's probably a good idea to help feed the poor, protect the environment, and, you know, not murder each other and sh*t". We may create these ethics, but that does not mean they are devoid of meaning simply because an all-mighty space dictator didn't give them to us. They have meaning because we agree they do.

As to your last question, I retort: Who cares? Honestly, must these be a deeper, meta-meaning to why we are here? Can we not simply be? We seek answers and meaning in things where they may not be a clear answer, or any inherent meaning at all. As evolved primates with pattern-seeking brains, it's part of what we do. We're hard-wired to want to see connections and meaning.

We are here because our natural world allowed it, on a planet evolved as the laws of the universe allowed, in a solar system that operates according to other laws, in a galaxy and - as far as we know - a universe that is by and large super hostile to most forms of life. This planet just happened to allow for carbon-based life, and homo sapiens as we know them just barely survived. We're a product of the world, of the universe, not with a grand purpose or design, but because that's how nature rolls.

Grubber wrote:

I think I'm babbling, but the tl;dr is that I think atheists as a whole need to move away from talking about a God we don't believe in and start talking about what we do believe in. We would do so in the face of vitriol from many theists, but I think a rational philosophy that "turns the other cheek" in the face of adversity would do much to help our "cause." (Not sure if we really even have a "cause" but that's a discussion for another thread)

This is a good idea, but one thing to consider is that many religions, including the Abrahamic ones, take the self-protective stance that atheists are evil people who lead the faithful away from the true path. That's why you see atheists presented as deceivers, saying one thing but really seeking to do another. (And that's applied to other groups, too, whose outward behavior is not damaging to society, like gays.)

Grubber wrote:

So what if we say we're the center of the universe? It doesn't change anything. Ultimately we are just a point of data collection for our brains to process the world around us. We cannot look at it from any point outside of the "center." If the universe is an impersonal collection of matter and energy, then arrogance means nothing to it.

Well, but it does. It changes our relationship to the truth, the way the universe actually is. If man is in control, then the universe should bend to his will. That can lead to problems dealing with "inconvenient truths" and pain and misery for many people affected by flawed doctrine.

Note that part of being sentient (according to humans) is the ability to recognize that other creatures are their own conscious selves. We *can* put ourselves outside of our viewpoint, psychologically, and it's been argued that that is one of the most important things about being human. We are not limited to our own viewpoint, we are not locked immutably to the view from within our own skull.

Last, we are not separate from our brains. We are emergent from them. Dualism is an illusion.

Hypatian - Atheism provides a reason to reconsider philosophies based on religious "truths". Usually, that means separating out the useful stuff from the mythical.

Nomad wrote:

It's hard for me to respond to this in a way that doesn't come off as proselytizing, but keep looking man. If you hunt for the truth long enough, whatever it is, chances are you just might find it.

Very true. It's just that some of us have to ditch religion to get to the truths of the world, while others have to dive in to religion to get to them. I'd venture to say that the actual truths are the same for all of us, regardless of beliefs. How we get there matters internally, but not to the universe.

I'm married to a Southern Baptist and more than once arguments between us on things entirely unrelated have ended with her saying "It's because you have an entirely different value system", which I just take as her way of saying "I can't think of a reason why you're wrong, but I want to denigrate your argument anyway". That happens less now than when we first got married, but it does crop up from time to time.

I think the biggest challenge you'll have is that many folks from a religious background are stuck in the paradigm that goodness and good motivations all come from gods and that without them you are necessarily lost, mistaken, or selfish. As a result, every disagreement of opinion often gets examined through that lens. In my own marriage, it's been a struggle getting past that considerable barrier at times.

The only thing I find that works is to act in a loving manner despite this. If the relationship is important enough and you really do love her, you have to love her despite her religion. Love is an active verb and requires action. It's what you do when you really don't want to. It's listening to her being crazy or abusive at times because she can't see past her gods and the prejudices that her preachers insist are their will. Eventually, reason prevails.

Drop by drop, water cuts through stone.

Redwing wrote:
Grubber788 wrote:

In a life without purpose, what's the point of living?

Honestly, I don't think you're far off the money. In a cold and uncaring universe, my idea of purpose has always been to enjoy what time I have as much as possible, so long as it doesn't hurt others.

*snip*

You can believe you live in a cold and uncaring universe, and still live life in a responsible fashion, respecting others, simply because it's the pragmatic thing to do. I'll also try to leave the world in a better place as much as possible, because I don't see why my time on the planet should ruin it for those yet to have their turn.

This is my perspective.

I view the universe as cold and uncaring, but yet I still think that as a member of humanity who wishes to see us build and sustain a healthy and caring civilization, I have a responsibility to do more than just live for the moment.

Grubber788 wrote:

Jeff-66 is correct; I am atheist.

However, I will try to answer this question, because I think it's an interesting question.

So what if we say we're the center of the universe? It doesn't change anything. Ultimately we are just a point of data collection for our brains to process the world around us. We cannot look at it from any point outside of the "center." If the universe is an impersonal collection of matter and energy, then arrogance means nothing to it.

My apologies for my terrible reading comprehension skills last night. My only lame excuse is I spent seven hours in the sun helping a friend tear down his old deck and I was almost falling asleep when I replied to you.

Saying humans are the center of the universe, however, does change things. It changes our perspective. For theists, it reinforces the falsehood that god created everything just for us and only us. Again, that's the arrogance: we're the only thing worthwhile in universe.

Seeing Earth as just another planet in just another solar system out towards the edge of just another spiral galaxy and even remotely coming close to comprehending the numbers and scale involved is humbling. And much, much more accurate than saying everything exists just so we can have something to look at in the night sky.

Paleocon wrote:

I'm married to a Southern Baptist and more than once arguments between us on things entirely unrelated have ended with her saying "It's because you have an entirely different value system", which I just take as her way of saying "I can't think of a reason why you're wrong, but I want to denigrate your argument anyway". That happens less now than when we first got married, but it does crop up from time to time.

I think the biggest challenge you'll have is that many folks from a religious background are stuck in the paradigm that goodness and good motivations all come from gods and that without them you are necessarily lost, mistaken, or selfish. As a result, every disagreement of opinion often gets examined through that lens. In my own marriage, it's been a struggle getting past that considerable barrier at times.

The only thing I find that works is to act in a loving manner despite this. If the relationship is important enough and you really do love her, you have to love her despite her religion. Love is an active verb and requires action. It's what you do when you really don't want to. It's listening to her being crazy or abusive at times because she can't see past her gods and the prejudices that her preachers insist are their will. Eventually, reason prevails.

Drop by drop, water cuts through stone.

I'm in much the same boat, except that my wife is Mormon (and a Republican at that - double whammy!). It doesn't really factor into our life unless we're already in an argument and then suddenly whatever bad I've done - real or imagined - is because I'm an atheist and / or liberal with no morals. The fact that she trusts me enough to look after my stepdaughters, married me, and loves me, kind of undermines that argument. Like Paleo I find that responding patiently to this is far more effective than lashing back at her, though at times it is very difficult.

Nicholaas wrote:

Murder, theft, wonton acts of destruction, skateboarding in the park, etc - all these things serve to undermine society, from the largest of countries to the smallest family unit. It's in our collective and often individual best interests not to do these things. Relative peace and stability within any collective is paramount to it's survival; so in a way, we don't do these things because it's antithetical to our biological imperative: to propagate the species. We also abstain from such behavior for other, philosophical reasons, too; Hypatian rightly noted that atheism does not need to include a rejection of human philosophy. We can come together, assess our situation as rational beings, and say "it's probably a good idea to help feed the poor, protect the environment, and, you know, not murder each other and sh*t". We may create these ethics, but that does not mean they are devoid of meaning simply because an all-mighty space dictator didn't give them to us. They have meaning because we agree they do.

Yeah, societal rules don't exist because God made them, it's because they're (for the most part) in everyone's best interest. Everyone agreeing to not murder each other pretty much works out for us all...

Reminds me of The Tick:

TV Reporter: "Can you blow up the Earth with your mind?"
The Tick: "I hope not, that's where I keep all my stuff!"

I selfishly follow society's rules, for my own well being, because I believe it's a good idea.

Late to my buddy Krev's heartfelt question. I doubt an atheist or lapsed theist could successfully maintain a relationship with someone who proselytizes, preaches, etc. Anymore than an independent minded person could endure life with a hyper conservative or liberal. Or dating a vegan/vegetarian while still eating meat.

There are also issues of honesty that crop up. Is she saying you cannot tell her family you are atheist, are not religious? Are they expecting a religious ceremony for a wedding?

I think it boils down to how important do you both feel like religious views are to a partner and yourself? I could give a crap if my fiancee is a sports fan. But the non-religious view is somewhat important for us both. We were both raised Catholic, Catholic schools, etc. We also had many negative encounters with nut-jobs. Her major qualm is how anti-woman most religion was and is.

KingGorilla wrote:

Or dating a vegan/vegetarian while still eating meat.

My wife is a vegetarian and I am not. We seem to be doing okay.

Wembley wrote:
KingGorilla wrote:

Or dating a vegan/vegetarian while still eating meat.

My wife is a vegetarian and I am not. We seem to be doing okay. ;-)

My wife is currently vegetarian but she ate meat for the first 4 years of our relationship. It was never an issue.

I hate you all with the intensity of 1,000 white dwarf stars.

KingGorilla wrote:

I hate you all with the intensity of 1,000 white dwarf stars.

For energy intensity, I don't think you can beat a nice gamma ray burst.

Grubber788 wrote:

Maybe I'm mis-reading you, but how do you apply value to your life? I think if I honestly believed that I was just another collection of cells in a cold vacuum, with no philosophical purpose (that part I might be misreading), I would probably spend all of my money on the most hedonistic activities. In a life without purpose, what's the point of living?

All joking aside, you pretty much answered your own question there. It's just that what you think you meant by hedonism (sex and drugs and rock'n'roll?) doesn't capture the full scope of what I think of as hedonism.

Hedonism is the devotion to pleasure as a way of life. Sex and drugs and rock'n'roll sure do give me pleasure. But so does seeing my wife happy. So does helping my friends move house. So does improving myself, mentally and physically. So does playing videogames, and eating a good meal. So does paying my taxes and being a stand-up guy.

To say that my life is devoid of meaning is just absurd. My life is full of meaning. Everything I do has meaning. I just recognize that that meaning is subjective, transitory and constantly in flux. I don't need to apply value to my life. Value is inherent in it, and if I honestly believed it wasn't, I'd probably be a suicide statistic. The fact that the closest I've come to suicide is watching it on TV speaks volumes to how much meaning and value I've always unconsciously felt is in my life.

The universe may be cold and uncaring at large, but the teeny-tiny corner of it that I inhabit is as full of warmth, love and caring as I can make it. How's that devoid of meaning again?

Well put, Jonman.

There's also the consideration of in order for you to pursue pleasure you have to work within a society of others. That means you have to pay taxes, get along with others (more or less), obey laws. Otherwise anarchy would result if everyone chose to do their own thing. It isn't fear or belief in the everafter that causes me to say "thank you" to people or to not waste the old f*cker driving slowly in front of me. It is knowledge that I am treating others based on how I would like to be treated.

I think some of you may be assuming that I think that life is meaningless, which I can't recall actually saying. When I said

In a life without purpose, what's the point of living?

I meant it specifically as a macro question about our role in the universe and whether or not it is foolish to believe we have a greater purpose than self and species preservation.

My own view is that yes, there is meaning to life, but I'm still working on the details.