It would turn out that I had overestimated the extent of the damage. True, I had become a pariah from many of the people that had filled the social outings of the past few years and simply grown apart from many more. But I still had friends (mostly from high school) I would have felt bad about losing. It would be they that I would commit to seeing on my visits back to Miami.
In Ottawa, population 1 million, I could build myself anew. The blogosphere became a close companion in my newfound solitude, and what had been intuitions and half-formed ideas grew into a far greater understanding. I learned about the historical events surrounding the major religions. I learned that Mormonism is, in fact, more overtly ridiculous than Catholicism, by a hair. I learned about the psychological underpinnings of faith. I learned just how little the average believer’s ideas relate to the Bible they claim is the foundation of their faith. I learned about the gory zeal with which religions persecuted science that revealed religious teachings to be factually incorrect. I learned about confirmation bias and how it convinces people they have psychic powers. I learned why the sexual education regimen in my elementary school had to be split into sections at multiple locations: so that the segment on safe sex could be kept away from zealots’ eyes. I finally understood the religious energy directed against the pure, visceral, primal joy that is sex, and into the authoritarian command to obey without question. I learned about the seemingly boundless well of the Catholic Church’s crimes against humanity. I learned about how Buddhist teachings encourage people to treat disabled people as monsters because their genetic disorders are a curse from karma for past lives’wrongdoing. I saw that so, so, much of religion can only exist in a pluralistic, secular society when people do not live by it, that the litany of reforms that fill history classes occurred precisely because religions as originally formulated, as “God intended,” are utterly monstrous. I saw that religious notions pervert our innate, empathetic moral sense until it is something inchoate and unrecognizable.
I saw that my parents and many of my friends and most of our leaders were in the grips of a vile and transmissible mind poison that told them their lives were worthless beneath the judgmental gaze of a cosmic entity whose plagues and marauding beasts we were supposed to take as expressions of “love.” I saw that those same people paid regularly to hear someone tell them that this loving god would condemn one tenth or more of the human race to eternal torment based on who they loved, and that the best of them would merely disavow that notion without disavowing that church. The worst of them would share that abuse out of “concern,” and drive a wedge through our family that makes me burn with sad, piteous rage.
I don’t remember when I listed myself as “Atheist” on OkCupid, but that designation was most emphatically in place when I changed my location to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The lady I sought would not find this problematic, or would even look for it specifically.
I cultivated a different persona. I did my reading, and recognized my desperation and my caution for the impediments they were. I was now in a land where I could be the swarthy, exotic foreigner, where my American manners were fashionably impolite, and where my quiet, cerebral nature didn’t make me seem gutless and ineffectual to my ethnic kin and utterly invisible to anyone else. In Miami, I was Solomon Vandi angrily listening to Johnny Archer shout at him, “Without me, you’re just another black man in Africa!” In Ottawa, I could be who I wanted, and it would work.
In Ottawa, the zealots only come out to hold up their evil signs at Gay Pride parades and to show off their insultingly incorrect billboards about terminating pregnancy. Canada isn’t as irreligious as paradises like Sweden or Estonia, but compared to the suffocating weight of Miami’s obsession with Spanish virgins, it was beatific. Here, at long last, I could feel safe. The political discourse here figured out that caring for one’s population and treating them fairly even when religious groups demand otherwise is the only way to run a modern country, while the United States still has to fight, over and over, people who want the government to enforce some specific version of Christianity on 320 million people. Canada figured out the humanist notions of ethics that are the watchwords of the best atheists out there. The United States belongs in another century by comparison.
And it was in Canada that I met a lady who thought clearly enough that she could see all of that, and did not despair. A lady who, at long last, I would not have to placate with lies. I met a lady who would not make me choose between loneliness and dishonesty. A lady whose intelligence and understanding is matched only by her fiery commitment to making the world a better place and her mastery of Polish cuisine. A lady who was everything I needed, and more. I met Ania, and then we became co-bloggers.
I am an atheist because I care about truth. I am an atheist because I could never be dishonest or nonchalant enough to believe something just because someone asked me to, or because it was convenient, or because it would have made me feel better to imagine it was true.
I am an atheist because I care about justice. I am an atheist because, when I see people hurting each other on a global scale, it does not make me feel better to know that every one of them thinks God told them to.
I am an atheist because saying “I don’t know” doesn’t scare me so much that I’d reach for any answer just to have an answer. I am an atheist because knowledge is possible, and knowledge is powerful.
I am an atheist because, arrogant prick that I am, I am not so arrogant as to think that this entire, magnificent, unfathomable, incalculably vast universe full of quasars and black holes and dark matter and cyanobacteria and copepods and stalk-eyed flies and Ebola viruses and 2277 species of rodent was created just so some cosmic voyeur could disapprove of what I do with my genitals.
I am an atheist because, arrogant prick that I am, I am not so arrogant as to think that anyone has a direct pipeline to the will of the supreme creator of the universe without that person ponying up knowledge only that kind of entity could have, instead of the same hatred of the same marginalized groups we’ve been hearing for millennia.
I am an atheist because, arrogant prick that I am, I fail to see how the musings of Iron Age ideologues from a dead empire about how to run a society, invented over centuries and translated through five languages to deliberately antiquated English, should have any import to 21st-century people dealing with 21st-century problems.
I am an atheist because it is not “blind faith” or “idol worship” to notice that the principles of science, of electromagnetism and gravity and natural selection, have given us the entirety of our glorious modern world, with its automobiles and solar-powered streetlamps and GPS systems and spoil-resistant wheat and laser-activated gold nanoparticle cancer treatments. It is not idolatry to recognize that every one of those principles was elucidated by thousands of years of our best and brightest refusing to accept “God did it” as a pat and tidy answer, and probing for the empirical, natural answer, the one that we could predict and use. I am an atheist because, by crowding out the absurd and unsupported notion that “God did it” out of every field of human inquiry, scientists have shown us how the world actually works.
I am an atheist because science makes God unnecessary.
I am an atheist because the God proposed by religious people is a monster and, if it existed, it would be our moral duty to oppose it at every turn, not propitiate it on our knees.
I am an atheist because religious groups performing charity work does not excuse or justify the deception they use to get their funds, or their privileged status within our society, or the monstrosities they wreak with the rest of their time.
I am an atheist because there is nothing in this universe greater than the wondrous freedom and power of the human mind. No force stands before human ingenuity for long, and we do ourselves a disservice by imagining that any does.
I am an atheist because I don’t need to think something is true to think about it. I am an atheist because I can use my imagination safely.
I am an atheist because I care whether the things I believe are true. And I am not “denying” myself any facet of human experience by so caring.
I am an atheist because my religious parents pushed me to learn, and I learned.
I am an atheist because I cannot, in good conscience, be anything else.
I am an atheist because there are no gods.