Advice for New Atheists July 2, 2008

Advice for New Atheists

What advice would you offer a teenager who has just become an atheist but isn’t sure what to do now that her faith in God is gone?

Specifically, what would you suggest regarding how to deal with family? Friends? When to tell people she’s not religious? How to meet other atheists? What to read? When to keep her mouth shut? Which groups to join?

Anything, really.

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  • Adrian

    I’m an introverted intellectual, so my advice is unsurprisingly to read up on some of the arguments on both sides. May as well be prepared for whatever comes at you and reading books which expand on what you know or suspect to be true can be strengthening and cheering, especially if those around you think you’re nuts.

  • Ron in Houston

    My advice would probably be to avoid those endless debates with religious people. I’d also tell them to show that atheists can be nice, moral people.

  • Don’t be an arrogant jerk who delights in proving everyone wrong. Be willing to listen to other beliefs. Read both sides when possible so as not to build up and tear down straw men. If your family won’t take your atheism well, don’t tell them. You can be honest without advertising your beliefs with loaded language (“I don’t believe that, I’m an atheist, Mom.”).

  • Coffeeassured

    When it comes to talking to other people about your atheism I don’t think it is really something that should really be too much of a problem. I have friends that are hard core creationists and I find the best solution is not to discuss it unless they are asking you about what you believe and if they cannot accept you because of your beliefs then they aren’t real friends.

    And go out and have fun. Seriously.

  • It depends on the family really. If her family is fundamentalist it might not be wise to reveal her atheism until she is older, but if they are open to new ideas there is no reason to explain to them now. Friends tend to be more understanding, and certainly the younger generations of today are more open to atheism than the older generations.

    Of course, the best way to meet atheists of her age is to look for groups at school or create one herself. When I got to university there were no secular groups on campus, but now (1 year later) we have a small but encouraging following, and links to the SSA and the Brights UK Movement.

    In a country like America with laws supporting freedom of belief and speech, there can never be a time to “shut up”. The only way to get people to understand is to be as loud as possible.

  • Tony

    The most important thing is to be comfortable with your decision and who you are. You are not responsible for how the world responds to who you are. But you have to live with yourself 24 hours a day, and that is the most important thing to consider.

  • andyinsdca

    I’m not sure that joining groups is effective. Most of the atheists I’ve met are screaming lefties and that drives me nuts (I’m a little “l” libertarian), so with the exception of VERY SPECIFIC atheist websites, I don’t spend too much time doing “atheist” stuff with atheists, whatever that means. I’m much happier reading books, websites, etc. I also love being able to explain what an atheists morals are…a long time ago (a year!) I found a website from a Christian who honestly asked about atheist morals and regrets. A bunch of atheists posted some great responses.

    Maybe the environment in college is more congenial now than it was when I was in college (I’m an old fogie…get off my lawn!). I can’t imagine an atheist group having an easy time of it in high school nowadays.

  • Richard

    Don’t do anything. Being an atheist is something that you have to practice – you don’t have to go around and discuss it, meet fellow atheists and engage christians in heated debate. Just live life normally, only without religion taking up a substantial chunk of time. I guess I wouldn’t make a big issue of it. Certainly not if you’ve just come out and are still a little shaky.

  • Les

    I think Douglas Adams summed it up quite well with two words: Don’t Panic.

  • As you let people know this fact about yourself, many will question your ethics because they cannot understand how people can be moral and ethical while not believing in God. Have a comeback to them — not a snarky one that attacks religious people for failing to live up to their own ideals, but instead, one that explains your godless motivation for doing good things.

    So if it were me (and I hadn’t done it already) I would take a college-level philosophy of ethics class and become very familiar with the intellectual schools of thought that can construct sound, consistent, and compelling ethical rules for life without reliance on a Cosmic Hall Monitor.

  • And I have to second what andyinsdca said — a lot of atheists conflate leftist politics with atheism. There is no rule that says if you are an atheist you have to also be a liberal, Democrat, and many are not. There may be a lot of reasons for that impression but there is no reason at all that a lack of belief in god should relate to any particular set of political beliefs or actions (other than recognizing that theocracy is dictatorship wearing the cloak of a false god who would probably be disgusted with the theocrat if the god existed in the first place, which he doesn’t).

  • Stephen M.

    Read, read read. Try not to be arrogant (though recognizing ignorance in others can make this VERY difficult).

  • Mike

    Echoing what Dan said above, use your atheism in the same way you’d want others to use their theism.. That means not using it as fuel for a superiority complex or for becoming judgmental.

  • Jonsi

    The biggest fear is how will it effect your personal relationships. For me, it didn’t, but I majored in physics, so I was surrounded by more agnostics, and it was the lack of social skills that effected our social lives 🙂 . In graduate school, the issue really only comes up when dating, as most of my friends don’t care and I live in less religious California. I usually just say “I can see the appeal and sometimes even I feel some sort of connectedness to the universe, but to me, it just makes more sense and is equally inspiring without God. It makes me feel significant not because I am special, but because I am small.”

  • Stuie

    If your are on the rebound from God it might be good to go through an agnostic phase before rushing into the arms of atheism.

  • Jason

    Spend a lot of time listening, and very little time talking. Accept that if you are in circles where there are people who are very familiar with the topic (theists and atheists alike), the best thing you can do is just sit back and read what they are saying, asking questions in an honest, straight-forward way. For example: “What events lead you to become a Christian” versus “How could anybody be so stupid that they believe in God?”

    The best way to gain knowledge (and respect in the community you are in such as a forum or something similar) is to learn as much as you can. Avoid being the “average internet teenage atheist” who comes in with ridiculous generalizations.

    Learn about logical structures and logical fallacies. This will allow you to point out fallacies when they are made, and avoid them yourself. Learn about the processes of science, particularly evolution and the big bang, as these will most certainly come up, whether you want them to or not. Become familiar with different religions, although in the US, Christianity will likely be the primary subject of your discussions. But do not let yourself limit your understanding to just one belief system, as you learn more about different beliefs, you’ll understand how they work and why they existed.

    Familiarize yourself with the more common arguments posed by theists and atheists. Pascal’s Wager, the Problem of Evil, Argument from Design, the Cosmological Argument (and its spinoffs), etc. Go to places like AiG and read the responses they offer to questions, then read scientific rebuttals to those responses, such as those found in Talk Origins.

    Understand that you do NOT need to associate yourself with any dogma by being an atheist. You do not need to concur with the views of any other atheists; as the only thing that makes somebody an atheist is their lack of belief in a god or gods. You do NOT need to neccesarily agree with the personal views of other atheists in order to associate yourself with them.

    Maintain respect. You’ll learn that being able to offer respectful discussions will invite theists to actually talk to you and expand your knolwedge of the subject. Admit when you are wrong or you are shown to be wrong. Apologize if you go off on a long-winded rant in response to an otherwise innocent question.

    These should put you on a good track to be an informed, reasonable individual who is capable of expressing his or her views regarding the existence of a god or gods, without becoming dismissed.

  • TXatheist

    Until you are comfortable around certain people and atheism becomes relevant I wouldn’t bring it up. If a theist becomes pompous and is sure they have the right god and you are going to hell then you have to decide if it’s worth bothering to talk to them. I’m glad I’ve found so many people that just say okay when I tell them I’m an atheist and don’t want to discuss it.

  • BH

    Focus on the positive. What you enjoy, what you do believe in. If you feel the need to join an areligious group, there are plenty out there. But find one that engages in activism and worthwhile, positive discussion. Don’t make being an atheist or a negative view of religion the basis of your identity.

  • What advice would you offer a teenager who has just become an atheist but isn’t sure what to do now that her faith in God is gone?

    Carry on living your life as you have and making changes to suit your personality and style. Get a hat, everybody needs a hat.

    Specifically, what would you suggest regarding how to deal with family? Friends?

    Deal with them in exactly the same way you’ve always dealt with them or respectfully and honestly if you haven’t done that already. You’ve lost a belief not changed planets.

    When to tell people she’s not religious?

    When they ask or make false assumptions. You should always correct false assumptions but most of the time forcing your (non)religion in someone’s face is the wrong thing to do.

    How to meet other atheists?

    You can always recognise another atheist by the froth in our mouths, the horns on our heads or the look in our eyes that says that life has no meaning. Oh and by our hats. Atheists wear cool hats while religious people wear silly hats. Just look at the Pope. If you want to meet other atheists then join or start a student group. I’m sure libraries have posters for these but the few national groups might well have local contacts. Failing that the Baby Shop can give out the addresses of local groups when you pick up lunch.

    What to read?

    Anything you are interested in. There are some obvious choices like “I Sold My Soul of eBay” (plug plug) or books by Dawkins, Dennet, Harris and Hitchins but there are plenty of other books. If you want to read about atheism you should read the other side too, just for balance. If you read Hemant’s book then you should read Jim Henderson’s book too. Jim and Casper go to Church is remarkably similar to I Sold my Soul in content but the message is very different. None of the Christian counter atheist writers springs to mind but there are loads.

    I’d recommend I Sold my Soul… as a good starting point for atheist\Christian dialog actually. It doesn’t go into anywhere near as much detail or explore the arguments like Dawkins or Hitchens do but then that’s not what Hemant set out to do so it’s hardly a surprise.

    When to keep her mouth shut?

    When do teenagers ever know when to keep their mouths shut? When you might get hurt is always a good time although sometimes a little pain is good for the soul. 😉

  • TheOtherOne

    I agree with Ron in Houston: don’t let the religious folks get you into a debate. You can’t win – not because you’re wrong but because they won’t ever admit you’re right. You could hand them proof of the answer to life, the universe, and everything, but if they aren’t willing to see it then they won’t – that simple.

    Instead, just let them see that being an atheist hasn’t turned you into some amoral evildoer. Let them see that you are a good, decent person who simply believes differently. Over time, that in itself should make them wonder.

  • Richard Wade

    Take things slowly. For instance you don’t need to rush into telling people who hold power over you such as your family, teachers or friends. As a teen you are very much a work in progress. You are changing now faster than you ever will again. Consider the things you thought were so important just a year ago, and how much of those are of no interest to you now. You’re still in the midst of a rapid, complex and often confusing series of transformations.

    You are struggling to find how much of your mind and personality are different from your parents, and how much of those are still similar to them. Sometimes it will be tempting to simply do whatever is the opposite of what they do or what they want you to do, just to take a stand for your independence. But that is not true independence, just a reaction that still depends on what your parents say and do.

    At the end of this process you will be very different from them in some ways and you will be very similar in other ways. The point is that you will have considered all those aspects thoughtfully rather than hastily. You will have decided rather than reacted. You are building the foundation of the self you will be for the next 80 or 90 years. Like the foundation of a strong, long-lasting building, construct it carefully stone by stone, thought by thought.

    If keeping it all private for now is too lonely and frustrating then find some people whom you can trust to keep your confidences and talk to them about your thoughts and feelings about your beliefs and your lack of beliefs. If some are your age and some are older, that’s very valuable. Look for people who don’t have a strong desire to get you to be an atheist or be a theist, people who simply accept you as you are right now, a work in progress. They can be hard to find, but they do exist.

  • Javier

    Well in my own opinion I believe that the best course of action would be to stick to your guns and slowly come out more and more as an atheist. While it may be hard especially with some of the elderly members of the family it must be done. Dealing with religious people will be awkward at first, but it doesn’t mean you cannot be friends or acquaintances. A simple I don’t believe in god will do and if they ask for any further explanation there are an array of answers and responses to justify you atheism simply pick the one that best fits the situation. As of what to read i recommend reading up on other religions Abrahamic and Not. And you cannot go wrong with theology that proves god existence, but you might want to check out the new atheist literature Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. Or even older works of literature Mark Twain seemed to criticize religion a bit. As for keeping you mouth shut I think that’s a horrible notion your opinion is as valid as anyone else so do not censor yourself. Stand your ground and speak your mind. Hope this helped probably didn’t but hey I was once in your shoes.

  • Ubi Dubium

    The word “Atheist” is often emotionally charged among the evangelicals. They are constantly being told how evil and immoral we are. So, when you are in a place where a confrontation over religion is really inappropriate (like public school), I recommend using a more neutral term. One designed to terminate the discussion rather than provoke preaching. For instance, I advise my UbiDubiKids, when asked by school friends what their religion is, to respond “our family is not religious”, and to refuse to elaborate further. If you are interested in discussing your unbelief with the believers, do it at a place and time you are comfortable with, instead of whenever they decide to jump you.

  • trey

    whatever you do, avoid this situation:

    Pissed Catholic Mother

  • kathleenvh

    i would tell her just to follow her own inner voice, those are mostly things she must figure out for herself

    but also to beware of discussing things for too long with some people – on religion i mean – after a while it gets so annoying!

    o and as for books, i suggest books about dinosaurs, cause not only will she learn about dinosaurs, usually they have a chapter on the how the earth formed and what the landscape was like until and while life was happening. also books on other scientific things… i have this book called “inside the body” and its pretty gross and cool…carl sagan’s “dragons of eden” is good…and peter s beagle has some good novels imo

  • Stephanie

    As BH said, focus on what you do believe in. That means a lot of thought into what that is exactly, whether it’s humanity, love, science or just sunny days and mojitos. (I actually strongly advocate all the of the above, BTW) You’re going to want these answers not just for yourself but because you’re going to get a lot of questioning on your values and ethics when you do step forward- and not all of it is negative. Some people are just curious as to what fills the gap. But even friendly questioners don’t take ‘I don’t know’ as a decent answer. Trust me on that, I was agnostic for many years… 😉

    Other than that, get up, do what you do, go to sleep again. You did that once you got over that there was no Santa Claus, why should this be any different?

  • Ok, when I started falling off the Catholic wagon, I was in college. What did it for me was researching the history of mono-theistic religions – I’m talking way back to the Kurghens, cave paintings, Primative Judaism… make yourself a timeline of religious thought. Arm yourself with historical accuracy. Read books like the Oak Tree, the Holly Tree and the Unicorn and Women’s history of the World by Rosalind Miles. I don’t think you can really just say ” I don’t believe in God” unless you know the foundations of what you don’t believe in. What was here “before” religion? What “caused” religion? This means going back to the dawn of religious thought. And that requires Archaeology text books – at least for me. Understanding where religions come from from a historical perspective really pulls it together in your times of self doubt.

  • Oh and name your son Sagan, like I did. Nothing like broadcasting your lack of beliefs at your children’s expense! lol

  • Actually, I’m seeking advice about this. Being new to atheism myself, I have a few questions.

    See, for the longest time, I thought I was snugly set in the tragically trendy “agnostic” category. I don’t think it’s likely that God exists, especially not within any parameters I’ve heard for what describes “God.” But, I also recognize that it is scientifically unfalsifiable and really sort of a moot point, and not one I spend much (if any) time thinking about. I live a godless life and in terms of ethics have considered myself a secular humanist for almost a year.

    I used to be quasi-religious, but it never really sat well with me, especially with all the injustices in the world. I went to a Christian high school and basically had to re-learn all my life sciences once I chose to transfer. I’ve been non-theistic for six or seven years now. I’m currently 26.

    According to metrics set by Dawkins, I’m apparently the de facto atheist. News to me, but okay, I’m cool with that. The thing is, I’m rarely satisfied with falling into such a category. I have to embrace it.

    So what would you recommend I turn to for information or keeping updated on all things atheism? I pay much attention to wall of separation issues and spend a decent amount of time on my blog attacking religious bullshit/insanity when it goes too far. What I’d really like is a recommendation on an organization and/or printed periodical to subscribe to. Any ideas?

  • jonathan

    Being an atheist is, I think, one of the least interesting ways I describe myself. I don’t feel I’m under any obligation to defend my lack of belief any more than theists are required to defend their beliefs. Occasionally, I think it’s fun to debate theists, but it’s just a hobby.

    If someone were to ask my advice as to what to do as a newly minted atheist, I’d wonder why they needed to “do” anything. If you want to debate with theists, study up and debate. If you really just couldn’t care less about religion and don’t want to be bothered, don’t be bothered. Just work on living an authentic life.

  • David D.G.

    Stuie wrote:

    If your are on the rebound from God it might be good to go through an agnostic phase before rushing into the arms of atheism.

    Oh, great. And then poor Agnosticism gets kicked to the curb after having gone through all that heartache with you as you’ve gotten over the failed relationship with Faith? Agnosticism doesn’t deserve to be dumped for Atheism — and since both of them generally like each other a lot, you could just go poly and have it all!

    ;^D

    ~David D.G.

  • i.p.

    1) Think! (This is the hardest part.)

    2) Be Good! (Prove them wrong on that.)

    3) Ask Questions! (Annoying but necessary.)

    4) Read! (Knowledge is power.)

    5) Always Have Fun! (There is no hell.)

    Good reads are:

    On the Origin of Species by You-Know-Who
    A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
    Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan
    Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
    The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

  • I think Sam Harris’ little book, Letter to a Christian Nation, would be a compelling and (ironically) comforting read for someone new to the reality of atheism. Not making a big deal out of it and avoiding, politely, the people who do is probably the best option. It shouldn’t be treated like they’ve joined a new religion, in my opinion, but rather that they have moved on in life as a child moves on from fairy tales to textbooks.

  • Larry Huffman

    Hmmmm…it is interesting that so many can just rattle off some advice with so little information about the person. I cannot. It depends on so much. First, who is this person to me…how well do I know them? What is their family situation? Were they actively or passively religious before…and what sect? What are their family and friends? What made them step away…doctrine? People? Are they atheist by default or by thoughtful examination (it is a valid piece of information)?

    There is no one right way…there are not even several…there is a right way for each person to do each of these things (such as deal with family, come out, etc). It may be that the advice in each case is similar, but there are so many unknowns, that at best, vague and general advice is all that could be responsibly offered.

    Oh, I could give pages of advice…but that is not responsible. I firmly believe that atheism is a personal and private destination…and we all get their differently. I am always happy to give advice to new atheists…if they ask for it. And…I am still hesitent to give much if i do not know them well. Advice giving in this matter for me has always been a little of a Q&A before I go off telling them how to deal with their situation.

    So there is no way I can write here what they should tell their family, or how they should ‘come out’ or any other such advice. Not until I know some very specific things. Any attempt to do so, could be bad for the person, if they take my advice without realizing I knew nothing about them or their specific situation.

  • Larry Huffman

    Agnostic = How you come about your knowledge of god / can you have knowledge of god

    Atheist = Do you believe in a god

    They are not the same question…and Atheism is binary…you either believe in a god or you don’t, there is not a third agnostic state. When people try to make agnosticism (which, again is about knowledge of god, not belief in god) part of the theist/atheist debate, they just look ignorant of the meanings of the words.

    I find it incredible how many people still cannot understand that agnostics still have to either be theist or atheist. It is a very simple premise to understand.

    If I ask you: Do you believe in a god? You can tell me all you want about whether you can or cannot know god. I will patiently wait, and when you have exhausted your plethroa of ideas about it…I will again ask…OK, so given all of that, do you believe in a god? You see…it is really simple. Maybe too simple.

  • Larry – I disagree. My understanding is:

    Theist: I believe in God/god/gods/etc.

    Atheist: I don’t believe in God/god/gods/etc.

    Agnostic: I don’t know, because there is no way of knowing.

    There is plenty of room for gray in this. You have to be able to accept nuance. Where an atheist might say,”there is no god,” an agnostic might say,”there’s no point in arguing it since there’s no way of knowing, so I’m not committing to either side. Is it possible? Until we know it’s not, yes, it is possible because we have no way of proving it to be impossible.” Or in the (wikipedia) words of Robert Ingersoll: “We can be as honest as we are ignorant. If we are, when asked what is beyond the horizon of the known, we must say that we do not know.”

    I can’t stand when people demand a hardline stance one way or another. Isn’t that what the fundies do? Ignore nuance and insist that everything is indeed black or white? That annoys the everliving shit out of me. The only thing it does is alienate people.

  • Larry Huffman

    So…if you do not know…do you have a belief or not?

    If I do not know about something, I most certainly do not belief in it. But, either way you either believe or you do not. You can disagree all you want, you are disagreeing with the actual meaning of the words, not me.

    it is not a hard line stance. I do not at all take one. But, words have meanings. A theist believes in a god or gods…an atheist does not. It is about belief, not knowledge. Agnostisim is all about knowledge, not belief.

    You can say you cannot know about god all you want…that was not my question. Do you believe? It is a seperate question requiring it’s own answer.

    If you cannot see that they are two different questions entirely…and that, linguisitcally as well as philosophically the theist/atheist question is binary only…then I cannot help it. You are simply accepting the views that caused the word agnostic to be brought into this light in the first place…people being unwilling to call themselves atheist because of the stigmatism. it is fairly well docuemented historically.

    As to the atheist/agnostic question…George Smith laid all of this out pretty well in his “Atheism: A Case Against God” book. An entire chapter.

    But…go right ahead…disagree. lol.

  • Ah-hoho-har-haha, I get it now. I retract my disagreement. When I wrote that, I wasn’t drawing a distinction between knowledge and belief, or hadn’t noticed that you were. One or the other. My bad 😀

  • Please don’t start a blog unless you can spell better than Christians.

  • Beth

    I’d second what some said above about focusing on the positive in life. For me this meant a couple of things. First, because there is no “salvation” of one kind or another for world’s poor and suffering, that meant really stepping up the charity donations and work. Second, atheism isn’t a life philosophy in itself. so you need to work out what your life philosophy is. For me, humanism works nicely. I am actively involved in my local humanist society and also participate in a weekly column in the local paper (“religious” leaders of various groups answer a new question each week).

    Finally, and most importatly, really think about your life. When I realized this was the only shot I get at life, I made some changes in my life. I would never stick in some dead-end job, for example…I’d go all out to do what I wanted to do. If you have always wanted to live in Morocco, sell your stuff and move to Morocco. Don’t wait to do the things you want to do.

    Take risks, get out there and really enjoy life, Take good care of your body, since you are your body. And for gosh sakes, USE MOISTURIZER every day. 😉

  • Fresno Mikey

    Smile. Be happy. Quote and tell everyon that you live by the Golden Rule.

  • Mythprogrammer

    programming is the way 😛 picks up your analytical skills and helps you with finding bugs in what other people say.

    Btw: Golden Rule your refering to mikey?
    http://www.suyka.com/atheist.jpg

  • renascence

    I’ve been lurking for a while (read: months) and I’m finally in the mood to put my two cents in. Naturally, it looks like my first post will be a long one…

    Having been in a situation like that before, the first thing I would do would be to make sure that I can tell somebody about it – and that confidante doesn’t necessarily have to be one of your parents to begin with. It’s not a lot of fun entertaining your fears of having your loss of faith be uncovered dramatically one day, so the sooner you have someone to work those emotions out with, the better.

    Secondly (and when you do this depends on how tolerant your parents are), you’ll eventually have to tell them. Not only is it disingenuous to yourself to go through the motions while not giving a damn, but it’s not being fair to your parents to do things halfheartedly or break a few religious rules behind their backs. Most of the time, they’d rather that you be straight and clear with them. Of course, there’s simply no avoiding the initial disappointment or outrage (unless, of course, they were testing you…?), but a lot of those reactions cool down over time. Patience is the key once you’ve let your parents know about it.

    Finally, you might not appreciate having to deal with beliefs that you don’t have faith in, but nothing gets accomplished if you try and aggressively push your own views, either. The best thing to do is to reach a compromise as soon as any initial shock subsides – it’s not worth straining your valuable relationship over such a trivial difference in ideologies. Blood should really come before faith in that instance.

    The rest of the stuff – how to meet other atheists, how much of an activist to be, what to read, level of participation – can really wait until they’ve had more time to wrap their head around it, but they should make sure that they do a lot of that thinking independently.

    Edit: I meant the ‘you’ to mean the girl / person. Kinda didn’t make that clear the first time

  • Ralph Reese

    I dont know where you live, but one group or institution that gave me a good deal of comfort and support when I was a teenager was the Ethical Culture Society. I know their headquarters is here in New York but I believe they have branches in other major cities across the US. You might say it’s a kind of church without God. They have a youth group called NEYO (National Ethical Youth Organization) where I met many intelligent and freethinking young people.

  • Specifically, what would you suggest regarding how to deal with family? Friends? When to tell people she’s not religious? How to meet other atheists? What to read? When to keep her mouth shut? Which groups to join?

    In general, I’d say “To begin with, don’t volunteer information you don’t have to give.” – you can’t untell, and sometimes the reactions can be disturbing. You can, as you become more confident in your new atheism, tell people as circumstances warrant.

    I wouldn’t say lie in the presence of a direct question, but on the other hand something like “I don’t discuss my religion” or “I think that’s a personal question” will often suffice for a start.

    With family its a little different. You’re in a better position to judge their likely reaction than me, but I’d lean more toward telling your family if you think it’s important to them what your beliefs are. If you do, start with someone most likely to be receptive.

    On the other hand, I’ve been an atheist for decades, and while I suppose most of my extended family realize I am not a religious person, I don’t think many of them would know I am an atheist. We just don’t discuss religion. I don’t think anyone in my immediate family is still Christian; last I heard, my mother was a buddhist, all I know about my sisters beliefs is that she is into reiki (gah!). I have no idea what my father’s beliefs are, but I’ve never heard him say the words “god”, “jesus”, “heaven” or anything even remotely religious. His second wife is catholic, but she doesn’t discuss religion either. My mothers ex-partner (i.e. my stepdad, though he never let us call him that) was, I think, an atheist, but I couldn’t say for sure. When nobody in your family discusses their religious belief, it really doesn’t matter if you tell them or not. If they brought it up, I’d tell them. They don’t, so I assume it doesn’t interest them.

    With friends it depends on the circumstances. Most of my friends I’ve never had a direct “I’m an atheist” conversation with, but religion almost never comes up with my friends anyway. I couldn’t tell you what most of their beliefs were either. It’s not something I’d keep from a friend if the topic came up, but I’m not going to bring up the topic unless they seem like they want to talk about it. Some of them have probably inferred my beliefs (or lack of them). Even my most religious friends (the ones who are active in their churches) don’t ask. They just don’t. If they did, I’d tell them.

    What to read? Books you like the sound of. Blogs that interest you. What else?

  • What advice would you offer a teenager who has just become an atheist but isn’t sure what to do now that her faith in God is gone?

    1. Know that you’re not alone.
    2. Be honest without being antagonistic or defensive.
    3. Not all theists know what it is that they actually believe… Chances are, you have thought about this more than they have.
    4. Do not jump on the band wagon of anyone else’s belief or non-belief – always think for yourself.
    5. Continue to keep an open mind…

  • Be an example of a nice, moral atheist. Be open to conversation. Realize that religious debates aren’t always pointless. Try not to be arrogant. Read lots of books in lots of different fields. Try to read opposing viewpoints as much as you can. Don’t be rebellious just for the sake of it. Show people that atheists can be calm, happy, pleasant, and engaging. Find a balance between expressing your point of view and just hanging out. Try to express your opinions without alienating your friends. Don’t turn nonbelief into a dogma. Don’t turn atheism into your God. Be open to new evidence, as any rational person should be.

    That’s what I would say to a new atheist.

    Then again I’m only 17.

  • Be skeptical! Un-skeptical atheists are just unseemly. Good online resources are the Skeptic’s Society, the Skeptic’s Dictionary, and the skeptical blogosphere (try starting with Bad Astronomy). For books, I recommend authors Michael Shermer and Carl Sagan.

    Restrain your antagonism towards religion until you find a satisfying answer to the question, “How can people believe this stuff?” The answer might change your opinion of religion and its adherents.

    Don’t be afraid to be honest about your atheism. I realize atheists have a bit of a stereotype (several, in fact), but these stereotypes will eventually be broken as more and more atheists, especially the quiet ones, come out.

  • EKM

    miller said,

    Restrain your antagonism towards religion until you find a satisfying answer to the question, “How can people believe this stuff?” The answer might change your opinion of religion and its adherents.

    Do you have a satisfying answer to the question, “How can people believe this stuff?” I do not.

  • “How can people believe this stuff?” because it makes sense to them and gives them a purpose that they would otherwise be without…because they were brought up believing it and cannot abandon a life time of conditioning…because they want to belong and everyone else believes it…because religion is an easy philosophy to accept and broad enough to appeal to many different people.

  • Do you have a satisfying answer to the question, “How can people believe this stuff?” I do not.

    I refer you to Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer.

    Generally speaking, weird beliefs are not the result of delusions or conspiracies, but the result of normal thinking gone wrong. This is why they can occur in anyone, even intelligent people.

    There are several levels of reasons/causes for religious beliefs. On one level, there are social forces: family pressure, peer pressure, tradition. On another level, there is apathy and ignorance, though these are not necessary. On the level of reasoning, there are apologetics (also, reasons to think apologetics are unnecessary). And then there are cognitive biases, primarily confirmation bias, but also including things like logical fallacies and misunderstandings of epistemology.

    All these things, we can learn to recognize in ourselves. Or, if that’s too hard, we can recognize it in people who are similar to us. Perhaps we think these reasons are justified in our own case. Either way, we can get a small taste of how people can believe such vastly different things.