Being An Atheist

I've thought about this post for well over a week. I had a quite disappointing and painful experience with someone, who basically told me that I was a bad person because I didn't believe in the Christian god. First I just brushed it off, but soon I noticed that I actually did hurt.

Along the way, I have noticed that there is still a huge lack of knowledge of what it means to be an Atheist in the general population. At a PTA meeting at Lily's school, a mom approached me, asking if we really didn't believe in anything. I loved that she was open-minded and actually asked me this question without prejudice. So I thought that I would compile a little list of what being an Atheist means to me:

Faith:
No, I do not believe in any gods or supernatural beings. I trust in science, and I deeply believe in love and that there is goodness in most people. I believe in family bonds; I believe that life is this crazy thing of lucky and not-so-lucky events, but don't think that they are controlled by anyone.

Values:
Something that almost got me off my chair at said PTA meeting was Lily's teacher saying that it's necessary to teach "Christian values" to the children. But what are those values, I asked. Doing good, I was told; sharing, taking others' feelings into consideration, not hurting each other on purpose, valueing each other. Well, it happens that those are our values, too. And those of Buddhists, and Muslims, and Sikhs, and most religions I know of, which would make them ethical values, necessary to create a functional society. "Christian values" like being god-fearing, doing good in god's name, etc. should be a personal issue, not something that's being taught in school.

Community:
Something I might miss about not being part of a church is the socializing. In Washington, we had a wonderful parent-group of all secular parents. And no, we were not sitting together during our monthly Sunday brunch, talking religion into the dirt. Actually, religion hardly ever came up; we mostly watched out kids play, enjoyed the food and company of other parents, without having religion to be an issue. However, we do not limit our circle of friends to other Atheists; actually, we have always had Christians among our close friends. Most of the time, religion is not an issue; we respect our friends saying grace before a meal, even at our house, since we want them to be comfortable and feel at home. But we can also have respectful religious debates with them, which is wonderful because each side respects the other's standpoint.

Parenting:
We are raising our daughters in a secular environment, but planned on introducing them to the concept of religion once they were of a certain age. Unfortunately, Lily's kindergarten teacher has decided that three was the appropriate age to introduce Christianity to her. We've had a few difficult conversations, trying to explain to her in manner fitting for her age he concept, and I think we've done alright. We have explained to her what a god is, and also had a long conversation about Jesus of Nazareth. One day, we will talk to both of the girls about religion more extensively; our goal is that one day they will be able to make a decision on the matter from their own hearts, and we will support them in their decision.
Apart from the issue of religion, we are raising our girls to be free-thinkers, to be respectful, to be thankful for the things they have and not to be greedy, to be creative, to be able to explore every interest they have, and to be happy.

Holidays and Traditions:
This one has been a tough one for us, not only because of religion but also because we're a culturally blended family. Before we had kids, it didn't really matter to us, but once Lily arrived we thought about how to raise her being aware of both traditions. As of the origin of holidays, we are relating to the old pagan traditions. During the Yule celebration (Christmas), we are focussing on family, being able to be together, appreciating the warmth of our homes in the darkness of the world and finally celebrate the re-birth of light, the winter solstice (which used to be December 25 according to the old Julian calender). Easter, we celebrate spring, the awakening of the nature after winter and the cute animal babies. The girls love it so far. Yes, they get to make their wish lists for Santa, which to us is simply a cute fairy tale; I'm pretty sure that even at their young age they do not totally believe in Santa, but close enough to get them in line with threats of no presents during the time before the holidays.

Radical Atheists:

I don't agree with them in most respects; well, the only thing we do agree on is that there are no gods. Besides that, I think they do a great disservice to all the Atheists out there, just as fanatics and radicals from every corner make whatever they stand for look bad. I don't agree with the opinion that Christians or other religious can never do good just for the sake of doing good, but always act with their salvation in the back of their minds. That would mean that all religious people are not good but only act because of fear of damnation. Even though at the end of the day, it doesn't matter if good was done just because or with an ulterior motif, but I do think that every person, religious or not, can do both good or evil just because.

All in all, I consider myself pretty normal. I do not define myself as being an Atheist, there are way more things to bond over with people than religion. I am hurt if people claim I am a bad person, because I'm not. I am far from perfect, but I try to live my life accepting people as they are and respecting them for who they are. And that is all I ask for in return. I don't ask to agree with me or to tell me I'm right. I know my truth in my heart, as others know theirs. All I want is for my family and me to be happy, and this is what most people are striving for.

If you have any questions about what I think or how I feel on certain issues, please step up and ask, whether it is as a comment or via email. I'll gladly answer about every question.

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