Jamaica Gleaner / Recently, a patient of mine consulted me for a minor gynaecological issue. While lying on the examination table, she began to berate me for my social media posts about “not believing in God” and being an “atheist”. I told her that I have never been an atheist, and that I am a deist. I do believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, an entity that man may never fully comprehend, but I have no use for religion. I explained my views to her, and she realized that, like many others who read my posts and columns, she had misunderstood me.
We live in a society that is infused with religion, specifically Christianity, but much of the populace does not understand other religious beliefs. As for religious skeptics, and critics of Christianity, we are dismissed by much of the faithful. Atheists are probably the most reviled, and harshly judged, and for no valid reason. They are also tremendously misunderstood. Many people do not comprehend what atheism really is, and draw their own misinformed conclusions.
When I was in my youth, and unknowingly being indoctrinated, I was influenced to believe that atheists were undesirables. I thought they were influenced by Satan, and were all going to Hell. I recall a Christian film that I was shown, featuring the singer John Denver. It was revealed that he was an atheist, and the impression I got was that because of his lack of belief, he was not a good person, and would end up burning for eternity.
I cannot recall meeting anyone who claimed to be an atheist when I was a child. My first encounter occurred while attending the University of the West Indies and a friend of mine admitted to being one. I was taken aback, but at the same time acknowledged that my friend was one of the nicest people I ever met. It was then that my perception of atheists began to change.
Atheism is straightforward. It is simply a lack of belief in gods. That is all. Atheists are people who are unconvinced that any gods exist, not just the God of the Bible. And atheism is not a belief system or a religion, a fact many ignore. There is a humorous quote from illusionist Penn Jillette, a declared atheist, that states: “If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby”.
Atheists do not “hate God”. They do not believe in the existence of gods, so that claim is irrational. They are also not Satanists. They do not believe in the existence of Satan.
Most of my interactions with these non-believers have occurred via Facebook. Being a religious skeptic myself, several are attracted to my page, and my interactions with them have taught me much. Stereotypes that exist about them are often false. Some perceive them to be angry and crass, but many are not. For example, I once received an inbox message from one who found a line that I uttered in one of my comedy videos (I said, “late like yu mumma”) to be too vulgar, and requested that I edit it.
Christians often dismiss atheists by quoting “The fool says in his heart There is no God”, from Psalm 14:1. But atheists include some of the most intelligent minds on the planet. Whenever I encounter debates regarding religion on my Facebook page, they tend to present stronger and more logical arguments than the Christians who present opposing views. Atheists do not need a book to tell them right from wrong. They utilize critical thinking, evidence, experience, empathy and conscience, which is probably why whenever I post articles concerning human rights issues, including child abuse, the abuse of women, racism, xenophobia, genocide and homophobia, their voices tend to be the loudest and most strident. Despite the perception of many that atheists are evil and sinful, I find my atheist friends to be more compassionate, empathetic and fair, and less judgmental, than my Christian friends.
It is also assumed that atheists need to read the Bible to understand Christianity and God. What many fail to understand, however, is that many are atheists because they actually did read the Bible. Some have read not just the entire book, but the history of how it was assembled, translated and edited, unlike many Christians. I have witnessed threads where atheists have quoted verses that some Christians admitted they were unfamiliar with.
Unfortunately, discrimination against atheists persists. I recall being on the set of a television talk show when religion was being discussed. One of the guests, who was an atheist, told the producers that he did not want to be addressed as one because of the stigma associated with the title. Mark Wignall, a journalist who is more brazen about his atheism, related a story, during an interview, of someone who refused to have anything to do with him after seeing him declare his atheism on a television programme.
The scorn is real. Oftentimes when I explain that I am not an atheist, but a deist, people breathe a sigh of relief and say “well, at least you believe”, as if that is a redeeming quality. I do not consider it to be one. We all have our beliefs, which we are entitled to, and the important thing, in my opinion, is to be honest with ourselves about what we truly believe, and at the same time show love for our fellow human beings.