Why I Am An Atheist

This was originally written as a guest post for AtheistRollCall.com and can be found in its original form there.

I suppose I first started off being an atheist when I was a child; I was an immigrant, born to immigrant parents, and we lived in London, a fairly multicultural place. My father used to tell me Bible stories, I suppose to  pass on his cultural heritage to me, but I don't recall ever believing them and my parents certainly didn't pressure me to do so. I lumped them in with fairy tales and other fiction - I mean, talking snakes?! Oh, please. It didn't hurt that my parents and I never went to a synagogue, not even for special occasions, and that if we did venture into any place of worship it was never to pray to a God.

I didn't believe, but never really openly identified as atheist until I read The God Delusion; I didn't think there was a God and wasn't really comfortable with being told that unfounded belief was a virtue. I don't think anyone could have prepared me for the onslaught of invective against religion and poor thinking of all kinds that I found in that book, and that made me an eager atheist. Say what you will about Dawkins - he is excellent at stirring people up.

From the day I opened The God Delusion and began to read its clearly printed words, I identified as an atheist. Since then, I've gone on quite a long journey and really questioned why and how I don't believe - I've changed my behaviour as an atheist quite a lot over the years, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Like anyone else, I've made some incredibly stupid mistakes, and like anyone else, I hope to grow from them and hopefully not muck up quite as badly next time. Reading holy books without making special excuses for their zaniness and downright immorality also gave me quite a shock at just what religions - the beliefs of the nice, friendly and rather intelligent people around me - were based on, and how utterly false they were; I have no qualms about saying they are false, since they're self-contradictory and fly in the face of theories that actually make sense.

I spent many years being a very quiet, "nice" atheist - "nice" in that I wasn't speaking out or challenging theists as much as I could or should have done. That was and remains one of the greatest mistakes I've made as an atheist, truly believing (and erroneously so) that it was worth shutting up to appease religious people. These days, I think it's far more important to stand up for atheism and secularism when both are demonised than it is to "respect", for which read not criticise in any way, shape or form, a bad idea (since religions, at their root, are nothing more than incredibly bad ideas) that people forced me into paying lip service to.

As to why I was and am an atheist? I didn't realise it when I was growing up, and it took me many years of deliberation to understand, but fundamentally I'm an atheist because I can't see God. For that matter, I can't see Allah, Zeus or Loki either; in fact, I can't see any gods, or any evidence for them. I don't have credible evidence of a deity or deities, and the universe seems like it can be explained without recourse to infinitely complex beings that require special pleading - in fact, the universe seems like it can be explained better sans infinitely complex beings that can interfere in the world, like to have control over everything I do, and have stories about them that make no sense. Attempts to reconcile the "god of the philosophers" with the Abrahamic God are also problematic, as is the problem of a world that contains evil if God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent; if the idea of a god has problems, the idea isn't particularly likely to be right. To me, atheism seems like the most intellectually honest position to take, the one that fits most with the universe around me and the one that will hopefully enable me to understand it better and experience its wonders. Get rid of a god or gods, I think, and the universe suddenly becomes a much more comprehensible and much more wonderful place.