You’re probably a Christian, but you might also be Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, and you bought or were given this book because you know somebody who is an atheist and you either are or somebody expects that you are having or are going to have a hard time accepting it. The purpose of this book is to help you to understand what atheism is and is not. This is not an attempt to indoctrinate you into atheism or to make you question your faith; however, I will defend the atheist’s right to be an atheist, so it’s possible, therefore, that at some point(s) in this discussion you will find I challenge long-held beliefs.
If at some point while reading, you find yourself angered or if you begin to simply dismiss difficult concepts or arguments just because they make you uncomfortable, that’s not my fault. Your faith is either strong enough to stand up to scrutiny, or it is not. If it is, that’s great. You’re a theist. We knew that coming in. If not … if you begin doubting your convictions and struggling with your desire to maintain beliefs that no longer fit you, that’s okay too. That’s probably similar to what happened to the atheist you know.
I’m going to tell you a little bit about who I am and why I am writing this book. Then I am going to tell you a little bit about how this book is structured. I’m providing this information now to prepare you for the experience of evaluating what—for some—might be a challenging read. Not challenging because of the language and not challenging because it’s over your head, but challenging because it deals with subject matter you long ago decided was a fixed part of your worldview, and now somebody you care about is challenging that worldview.
You’re probably wondering what qualifies me to write this book. Am I a lapsed theologian, a philosophy PhD, the appointed spokesman of the Church of Atheism? No, I’m just a guy who used to believe in God, had a crisis of faith at a young age, came out to my family as a non-believer, and grew up in a country where my beliefs (or lack thereof) are marginalized and in many cases scorned outright. My educational background is in communications, and I have written professionally for years, including working as a news writer for the YouTube channel AtheismTV’s news broadcast, The Infidel. You may be thinking this means you can take my opinion with a grain of salt since I rejected belief and cannot appreciate the experience of faith. I’ll cover that a little deeper later in the book, but for now, let me assure you—that opinion is not supported by the facts.
I was raised in a Catholic home by Catholic parents who had me baptized and confirmed. We attended mass weekly, and I underwent eight years of CCD classes (basically Catholic Sunday School.) Nothing “bad” ever happened to me in the Catholic Church. In fact, growing up I wanted to be a priest for a while. My first wife was a member of the Church of Christ, and we attended church together frequently, even though by this time I was an out and proud atheist. My second wife was a Methodist and we were married in the Methodist Church, although we never attended. (I encouraged her to attend services and to take our daughter if she wished, and even offered to attend with her. She remains a nominal Christian to this day.) I am currently in a relationship with a woman who considers herself a social Mormon. She’s very spiritual and believes in ghosts. I have friends who practice Reiki and go on ghost hunting adventures. Another friend is a minister in the Nazarene Church. I have rung bell for the Salvation Army (although I stopped because of their anti-gay policies.) One of my cousins is an evangelical, and whenever we meet, we respectfully discuss whatever apologetic meme Ray Comfort or Rick Warren introduced to his minister that month.
The bottom line is I don’t hate religion or God or the religious. I’m actually fascinated by the topic and know it pretty well. I respect my religious friends and they respect me.
Now for a little about this book: I have divided it into three parts. The first part is the basic layout of what atheism is and is not and why a person might come to it. It’s the meat-and-potatoes of why you have this book to begin with. If you read only the first part and then quit, you’ll have a better understanding of your atheist relative or friend.
The second part is for those of you who want to better understand how a person comes to reject the God hypothesis (as Carl Sagan called it.) Note that I did not say “how a person comes to reject God.” Atheists do not reject God; atheists do not believe in God. The two concepts are not interchangeable. For example: you may believe in fairies; but if I don’t, that does not mean I reject fairies. But we are getting ahead of ourselves—more on that later.
The third part is a deeper defense of atheism itself. It explores the harder philosophical issues and the more deeply ingrained social/religious norms. If you choose to read it, expect to have your beliefs questioned. Read the second part if you want an idea of how your atheist associate possibly thinks, and read the third part if you want to know how he or she could feel confident in his or her decision.