A weird thing happened the other day that I’ve been thinking quite a lot about.
Someone asked me when I would run for office. (If you know my political history that makes more sense).
I replied offhand what I usually say, which is I wouldn’t have a chance anyway, I’m an atheist.
I’ve said that before, but it struck me as kind of weird hearing it. It’s absolutely true — in the recent history of Congress there has been precisely one nontheist — Pete Stark. And in his case he kept that under wraps until year 30 of his service.
But isn’t it a bit weird? About one in eleven people in this country are atheist or agnostic (and agnosticism is really just a bogus distinction to divide nontheists), but to be revealed as a nontheist is the death of any campaign.
I’ve been an atheist for a very long time, since I was 19, which means usually when people have conversations about religion in groups I’m in I just wait it out. The assumption people have is that if the discussion broadens out to the We’ll-even -accept-God-as-transcendent-life-force level then of course everyone is included.
But everyone’s not included.
I’ve never had a moment, a Big Scene where I went home and said, “Mom, I’m an atheist!” and consequently my mother thinks my issues are with the Catholic Church, or maybe Christianity. I’ve said in a couple conversations “Mom, the reason I don’t go to church is I don’t believe in God.” when she’s asked, but somehow the answer never sticks. It never sticks with my high school friends either — it’s come up a couple of times, but I’m not pushy about it, and the next time we talk it’s clear they are assuming once again I am just a “lapsed” Catholic.
But if you’re an Atheist, it doesn’t really matter if others get it right, so why be an ass about it, right?
This has turned into a bit of a ramble I guess.
What I’m leading up to I suppose was until recently I never understood my Atheism as a positive belief. Society doesn’t let you, really. The very meaning of atheism is “Without God-belief”.
And that’s how I understood it until recently — I operated without something that other people had.
The odd thing is when my Dad died this summer, in the midst of heart-wrenching days where nothing else could comfort me I turned to my Atheism. And it gave me comfort when nothing else could. Despite the frame society puts on it, it is not the absence of belief. It’s a belief so strong you are willing to see past prettier thoughts and take comfort in the truth. To me, at least, it is the strongest belief there is, to know the randomness of the world, to know that it bears no essential “meaning” outside what we ascribe to it, to know that there is no greater plan and that the consciousness we raise up and deify is a fortunate side-effect of this creaky frame we walk around in — to know all that and still to love, and cry, and laugh.
It’s not the absence of belief. It’s not something we lack, or a deficiency, or a weakness, or an “inability to believe”. We aren’t people that “lack a balance”. We believe something you don’t. You believe something we don’t.
Atheism is not negative belief.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. An awful lot.
I don’t plan to talk about Atheism here much more. But I felt I needed to mention this somehow, if only because most atheists never say a word.