There are many critics of Atheists but one charge one can’t level at atheists is that they are lazy. It is believing that easy – it requires no thought, preparation or investment of time or energy. Believing carries with it a huge payoff; it is comforting, reassuring, and removes the mental discord of stress, doubt and concern. Many believers wrongly think that Atheism comes to us easily; we simply dismiss acceptance of a deity. But this is not true; Atheism is difficult and demanding, quite often lonely and occasionally even disquieting.
On any Sabbath in our small Liberal town with several dozen churches, multiple Mormon ‘wards’, a synagogue and a mosque, hundreds of faithful convene to praise their versions of god. Conversely, only once a month does our local secular society attract a dozen or so non-believers. In The USA, ‘none-of-the-abovers’ are estimated to make up perhaps 20% of the US population. This fact contradicts those who charge that Atheism is, in itself, a religion. If that were true I would ask where is the Atheist Church located, who runs it and what is its tax exempt status? Or as I like to respond to this assertion: if stamp collecting is a hobby, is not collecting stamps a hobby as well?
Many believers hold myths about Atheists: that we are angry or disappointed at god, that we are closed minded about the possibility of his existence. To try to address these myths our little organization hosted two public forums we titled “Ask and Atheist”. Instead of being in lecture format, we would instead open the floor to comments and questions from believers to try to educate them about our position. We conducted two of these public forums, handing out survey forms which attendees turned in at the end of the sessions.
What we found were only a very small number of believers actually showed up. It was obvious who they were; the two or three who quoted from the ‘holy book’. They weren’t interested in why we were Atheists; they were there in vein attempt to save us from damnation. The majority of the audience, we found, were already other non-believers. We were preaching to the choir, it seemed. We had hoped that our little public forum might at least serve as publicity and perhaps draw new member to our group. That was a disappointment as well. Unlike believers, Atheists don’t need to regularly convene to reassure one another of their non-beliefs. It is simply a non-issue.
Like many before me, my path to Atheism has been difficult. It’s work! A recent Pew Research Center poll found that among the general population, Atheists and Mormons were more knowledgeable about other religions than religious people knew even about their own particular religion. Atheists may know more about Catholicism than most Catholics, for example, because they have taken the time and effort to find out. Atheism is driven by their need to find out the Truth. We ask the hard questions and demand answers.
Still Atheists understand people finding comfort in belief. In fact, comfort is the answer most often given as the reason people cling to religious belief. Belief affords the (illusion of) hope; hope that things out of your control are under god's, hope that you will live beyond death, hope that prayer will divert the natural course of events which appear threatening.
There is a comforting social component to being a believer, particularly if one attends church. Churches are communal, convivial; here one can associate with like-minded people with whom you share a common connection and bond – here they are part of your “tribe”.
But there is news recently that religious belief is on the decline. Clearly it was much easier to attribute to god(s) back in a time when man did not understand how clouds, weather and storms were formed; that bacteria caused disease; how the earth, planets and stars were formed and move throughout the universe.
Every day science adds to the body of man’s knowledge regarding the context of our existence – religion adds nothing new. Man is driven toward knowledge... and to achieve this, one must venture away from the desire for comfort.