The question here is not, “Why am I an atheist?” I think I’ve answered that question ad nauseum. (Not that that’s going to stop me from continuing to answer it…)
The question is, “Why am I an atheist writer?” Or maybe, since I consider my writing to be a form of activism: Why am I an atheist activist? Why am I involving myself so deeply in the so-called “new” atheist movement?
This question sometimes gets asked of me by trolls. People who don’t want anyone to be involved in the atheist movement. People who think the whole movement is a waste of time (or who want to convince people in the movement that it’s a waste of time… probably because it’s anything but).
But it also gets asked of me by… well, by me.
I have become involved in this movement to a degree that surprises even myself. It’s taken over my writing career, my personal life, my time wasted on the Internet, my time just in general, my conversations with Ingrid, the inside of my head… to a degree I never would have expected when I first picked up a copy of The God Delusion.
I’ve been thinking about why. And I think my reasons boil down to three basic categories: the noble and inspired, the pragmatic and Machiavellian, and the broad sweep of history/ just plain fun.
1) The noble, inspired reasons.
I’m an atheist writer and activist because I think atheism is important. Really, really important.
Religion, obviously, is a hugely influential force in human society. And I have come to the conclusion that it’s (a) a mistaken idea about the world, and (b) an idea that, on the whole, does significantly more harm than good. I think the world would be far better off without religion, and while of course I passionately defend people’s religious freedom and their right to believe whatever the hell they want, I also think that trying to persuade people out of religious belief — and trying to make the world a safer place to be a non-believer — are goals worth reaching for.
(To be more specific — and to give credit where credit is due — I’m an atheist writer and activist because of Richard Dawkins and The God Delusion. I argued my way through the entire length of that book; I called Dr. Dawkins an astonishing assortment of rude names during the course of reading it… and by the end, I had not only given up calling myself agnostic and was proudly calling myself an atheist, but had been persuaded that atheism was an important issue, and one that deserved a significant portion of my time and writing career. I was inspired by his writing, and I want to pass on this inspiration to others.)
2) The pragmatic, Machiavellian reasons.
Atheism is a growth industry.
Whenever I’m commiserating with a fellow writer about the trials of a writing career, I always take pains to point this out. I’ve gotten more traction out of my atheist writing than I have out of any other topic I’ve written about. And yes, that includes the sex writing. My atheist writing gets me more traffic, more recognition, more credibility, than anything I’ve ever written. By several orders of magnitude. (And it earns me more money, too.) Any hope I have of being a seriously successful full-time writer hinges on the atheism. I’d be an idiot not to ride this pony all the way to the finish line.
3) The broad sweep of history/ just plain fun reasons.
It’s easiest to explain this one to queers. Whenever I’m explaining my atheist activism to queer activists, I always ask them, “If you could go back in time and be part of the queer movement right after Stonewall… wouldn’t you do it? Wouldn’t you want to be part of this movement right as it was getting off the ground — when it was all new and exciting, and you could make a real mark and shape the direction it went in?”
That’s how I feel about the atheist movement.
When it comes to social change movements, I’ve always been late to the party. I was late to the feminist party; I was late to the LGBT party; I was late to the lesbian sex wars (although not as late as I was to these other parties).
But I’m not late to the atheism party. Or at least, not very late. The atheist movement, in my opinion, is very much where the LGBT movement was about 35 years ago, right after the Stonewall riots. Like the post-Stonewall LGBT movement, there’s been an atheist movement for decades (if not longer) — but in the last few years, it’s become more visible, more vocal, more outspoken, less apologetic, more activist, better organized. Dramatically. By several orders of magnitude. We’ve gone from being on almost nobody’s radar, to being a major topic of conversation on TV news shows and in op-ed pages, at water coolers and on Facebook… in a stunningly short amount of time.
And I get to be part of it. Now. Not twenty or thirty years from now — now. I get to be in on the ground floor. (Or the floor just above the ground floor, anyway.)
Which means two things about my involvement.
It means I have a chance to make a real mark. As I’ve gassed on pompously in the past: If the atheist movement succeeds — if those of us trying to persuade people out of religion eventually succeed, if current trends continue and the number of people who don’t believe in God continues to grow, if eventually everybody (or almost everybody) abandons the religion hypothesis entirely — it will be one of the most important developments in human history. It will be like the Enlightenment, or the Industrial Revolution. It will be the sort of thing historians write about. People will see human history as divided into two eras: When We Believed In Gods, and When We Stopped Believing In Gods. Having a chance to be part of that — having a chance to be even a small footnote when the history of this movement gets written — is one of the most richly rewarding things I’ve ever done.
And it means that it’s a hoot and a holler.
The atheist movement, right now, is more fun than a barrel of narwhals. (Causing a commotion, ’cause we are so awesome!) As I’ve also gassed on about before: Activists in the early days of a movement tend to be totally freaking amazing. They tend to have strong personalities, independent spirits, a huge amount of self-confidence, a passion for social change, a vision for the future, a wicked sense of humor, a metric shitload of courage, and an unbelievably thick skin. (They can also be stubborn, aggravating, arrogant pains in the ass… but that comes with the abovementioned territory, and IMO it’s a price totally worth paying.)
And that makes this movement exciting, and inspiring, and hilarious, and intellectually stimulating, and wildly entertaining.
I get to work for something I believe in. I get to advance my writing career. I get to be part of history. And I get to have a ball doing it.
Who on Earth wouldn’t want to do that?