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How to Be an Atheist Without Being a Jerk About It

Religion is awful in a lot of ways, yes. But that doesn't mean you have to be awful too.

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I'm an atheist and I'm embarrassed. Not because I'm self-conscious about my convictions (lol, no), but because so many people insist on being such condescending  dicks in the name of atheism. I didn't settle on my belief system because it's a great opportunity for me to dunk on church ladies—it's my belief system  because I believe in it. Or, don't believe in it. Whatever. And I don't appreciate people turning my worldview into some weird, weaponized intellectual superiority complex. Religion is awful in a lot of ways, yes. But that doesn't mean you have to be awful too.

So, okay, in my heart, I am certain: that shit's not real. Even "certain" isn't quite accurate, because it implies the possibility of choice, of something outside this conviction. I'm not "certain" of this conviction—I  am this conviction. At this point, the idea that god would enter my world in any sort of non-academic capacity is as laughable as the notion that I might hire Jenny McCarthy to be my child's pediatrician. Or, I don't know, that I might spend a weekend driving a microscopic school bus around inside the sinuses of a know-it-all child. Only it's even less plausible than that, because at least doing donuts in Arnold's colon is  conceivable to the human mind.

God, on the other hand, is completely foreign to me. No, actually, more than foreign. Alien? What's the word for something that's  so alien that we don't even have a word for it because it might as well be an 8-dimensional conceptual fog from space that eats villages and speaks in smells? Whatever that non-word word is, my relationship with god is like that. I grew up with godless parents in a godless home at godless schools with godless friends, so it's not even like god is something I knew and then rejected—we don't even have  that level of bitter, resentful closeness. All we have is distance, strangeness, bafflement. But here's the thing: just because something is foreign to me doesn't mean I have to be a xenophobe.

God's not happening over here. Established. You  can knock on my door and smile and give me a pamphlet about Kenny Loggins Jesus and allow me to gently brush you off, but there are more straightforward ways to recycle. Beyond that basic boundary, how do I comport myself as a human being when dealing with people who are super duper pumped about god? Atheism—especially in its incarnation as a  movement—can so easily transform into smug hostility and dog-whistle classism. How do you avoid that? How do you find common ground? If you think you know better, how do you keep from feeling like you  are better? And why does such a historically destructive force as religion deserve to be treated with kid-glove cordiality? People  kill for religion. And I have to be nice?

Well, yes. If you want to be considered a nice person. I do want to be considered a nice person, so I try. Here's how.


Yes, Religion Definitely Blows a Lot of the Time

You really only have to make it through, like, 4th grade to notice that religious institutions are some of the most destructive, oppressive, authoritarian bodies in our history. So much of the time—especially to an outsider—they seem like tools of control rather than enlightenment. Actually, I'd go as far as to say that many religious factions ARE tools of control rather than enlightenment. And I believe  passionately in calling out that destruction in every one of its fucked-up facets—from tiny internal shames to unspeakable mass horrors.

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