What Would You Want Young Atheists to Know? May 19, 2011

What Would You Want Young Atheists to Know?

Some of the students at my high school are planning to start a Secular Student Alliance group next year (Their idea, not mine, though I’m honored to be their sponsor). We met yesterday to talk about what they’d like to do with such a group, what goals they have, etc.

Among other things, they said they wanted to dispel the awful stereotypes people have about atheists — and doing community service is one way to put a stop to that. They also wanted to educate religious people about why atheists believe what we do — bringing in speakers and hosting discussions can help with that.

Their ultimate goal is to start a larger conversation about religion/beliefs, the kind you rarely see in a high school setting. I’d love to see that happen.

They also want to educate students who are already atheists about what that really means and what they’re up against in our culture.

To that end, I’m asking for your help.

What are some basic things that atheists — especially newer, younger atheists — ought to know?

For example, they should know that even though there are millions of non-religious people in the country, there is only one openly non-religious person in Congress — Pete Stark (D-CA).

What would you add to the list?

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  • Claudia

    What are some basic things that atheists — especially newer, younger atheists — ought to know?

    – When you have a nonbelief position, you are not the one required to provide evidence. If somebody says “Can you prove God doesn’t exist?” you can easily say “Can you prove Santa doesn’t exist?”. They can’t, but they will understand that’s no reason to believe that he does. The person making the positive claim (i.e God) is the one required to provide the evidence.

    – Remember that being an atheist is not the same thing as being a skeptic. Being an atheist you simplly lack one irrational belief. That’s great and all, but there’s a whole load of irrational beliefs out there (Homeopathy, Astrology etc.). The reason you are an atheist should ideally be because you are a skeptic, and require all your beliefs to stand up to the basic standards of logic and evidence.
    – Remember that college is ahead of you, and remember especially that there’s a strong correlation between being highly educated and being nonreligious. You wan’t an atmosphere where you are accepted? Where you are surrounded by smart, skeptical people? Study like hell, and get into a good college. The better the college, the more atheists you’ll find there.

  • I agree with Claudia. Russell’s Teapot should be understood by all people.

    I’d add that correlation does not equal cause. Even if two facts seem to go together that doesn’t mean that they do. As piracy has decreased the planet’s temperature has increased. That doesn’t mean that the two have any connection.

    Finally religion isn’t necessarily why some religious people do bad things. Priests who rape children don’t do so in the name of their faith and Marxists who killed people didn’t do so because they failed to believe in gods. Religion may be an excuse that they use to justify their actions (good ones as well as bad) but as atheists we won’t have that justification to use. So we can give to charity because we want to help people and not because the gods demand tribute and we can drown kittens because there are too many of the verminous little animals around. We own our actions, good and bad.

  • I would advise young (and old) atheists that it is OK to say “I don’t know” to hard questions. One of the draws to religion is that it provides stock answers (God did it) to all conceivable questions. There are lots of subjects in life where either you won’t be knowledgeable enough (yet) or mankind hasn’t (yet) proficiently understood the topic, or the human species may not even have the cognitive ability to understand. For any of these, saying “I don’t know” is the honest answer. As an atheist, don’t feel an obligation to have an answer for everything. Know what you know, and consider the rest as an exciting opportunity to learn more. Be optimistic. You may be living in the best time period (yet) for being an atheist. The future looks bright. On the other hand, be aware that you may always be in a minority and be on guard for the “tyranny of the majority”.

  • I’m not sure of your position on the skeptic movement versus atheist movement. They are both important and suggesting some skeptic topics (logical fallacies, evidence, science in general) can be fun. I personally enjoy name that logical fallacy.

    I’ve always thought sociology was one of the most important subjects to atheism. It can tie in to community service really easily. You might ask what has sociology found about a specific issue? Why should an atheist care about that specific issue (all we’ve got is our society)? and what can we do about it (community service)? It might also make for good fliers to get people to join.

  • Iason Ouabache

    It gets better. No wait… that one’s already been taken.

  • valdy francois

    Don’t let your beliefs define you if people ask you tell them the truth but don’t make it a huge part of your identity. You will lose some friends but the ones that remain are the ones you should appreciate and value.

  • – You are not alone. There are many atheists out there.
    – Read. Read books about atheism so that when some bozo starts berating you about “your foolishness”, you can either start a knowledgeable debate with them, or at least be secure in yourself and your knowledge that the bozo truly is a clown.
    – Read the bible, torah, quran. Know your enemy. Not to say that a believer is an enemy. Far from it – I respect many people who hold such beliefs, but the bozos of the world are The Enemy. (This bit of wisdom has come late in life to me, as I am just now reading the bible in full.)
    – When you are initially discussing religion with somebody, treat them with the respect you wish to be treated. As Dalton would say – “be nice until it’s time to not be nice.” Decent human beings respect each others’ belief systems (or lack thereof). Of course, when you run into the bozos, let both barrels loose.
    – Don’t proselytize. Few people like to be told by strangers “You are WRONG in your beliefs – GOD and JESUS are your only way to salvation.” Do you think many more would like strangers coming up to them and saying “You superstitious fool”?
    – Fight for your rights. Just because a majority claim a belief in a god does not mean that our secular government (U.S.) should fawn all over believers.

  • They should know of the vibrant freethought tradition of America from enlightenment thinkers, from abolitionists to feminists, from actors to songwriters, from objectivists to communists,from blacks to latinos, etc. They should read some Ingersoll in order to dispel this Gnu Atheist myth. They should enjoy the poetry of Walt Whitman, the novels of Samuel Clemens, and the songs of Yip Harburg. There is just so much out there. I, for instance, am going to be reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.

  • AteoAbsurdo

    Sounds like you ought to hand out a sheet of common fallacies.

  • mihoda

    Firstly, I wish I’d known as a student the likely consequences of picking religious arguments with the overwhelmingly religious student body at our school. If I’d known ahead of time that reason doesn’t hold sway with most people I probably wouldn’t have been so adamant defending my beliefs. What’s more, such arguments brought me nothing but strife.

    But second, they also need to know that it gets better when you move to a coastal college.

  • jose

    He should know the Teachings and Tenets of Atheism.

    – You must memorize The God Delusion.
    – You shall engage at least one internet creationist a year and not leave the forum until the thread is 650 pages long.
    – You will be available at all times to join the Atheist Army and do your part in the war for the destruction of America.
    – The consumption of babies on a regular basis, while not strictly required by modern atheist scholars, continues to be traditionally encouraged.
    – Last but not least, you must know you’re just going through a phase, and you’ll mature out of it.

    Seriously though, one thing I think they should know is that the power religion right now has over us, our families, and our societies is not inevitable. Things really, really can change. Every minority or discriminated group that started speaking up has been told that this is just how things are, there’s no way around it, it’s always been this way, it’s in our genes, it’s our identity, you’re ruining everything, etc. Bull. All bull.

  • Pierce Presley

    They should know that there are people, who are good people in nearly every sense of the word, who will hate them in all but name and will work against giving them the rights afforded to everyone else in contradiction to law, ethics and even logic. All too often these people are close to us. Running into that wall can be one of the most hurtful and frustrating events in one’s life.
    They should know that there are people who do the opposite, who act for their good despite their beliefs, who ensure their rights despite being certain that they are mistaken. These are rarer.
    They should be fully aware of the possible perils of being “out” and they should be fully aware of the benefits, too. They should, in other words, know enough to choose their course wisely.

  • Trace

    Question and renounce stereotypes (religious, political, ethnic, social…..). It will help them better represent atheism.

  • nick

    Be strong in your conviction but don’t error in the same way the christians do in attempting to force your ideals. I live in a southern town outside of a large city and i am tolerant of there beliefs but have had my house vandalized numerous times by so called christians. There will be trying times when someone provokes you to the limits of violence just remain calm and remember that is what they want from you to validate the steriotypes in there mind.

  • Justin

    Choose your battles very carefully.

    And a little wit goes a long way.

  • Doug Kirk

    I would like to tell a young atheist that religion isn’t nearly as monolithic as it seems to them right now. There are even gigantic differences in belief from neighbor to nieghbor even though they don’t talk about it.

    And no matter what anybody tells them, we absolutely do not “all believe in the same god.”

    I also second everybody who’s said that atheism should be grounded in skepticism. It’s incredibly important to have reasons for believing and not believing everything.

  • Claudia

    I’m not sure of your position on the skeptic movement versus atheist movement.

    To be clear, I’m not saying that there’s any opposition between one and another. Being atheist is a skeptical position on religion. That’s great. Within the activist wing of the “atheist movement” most people are skeptics, which is to say they don’t believe in Homeopathy for the same reason they don’t believe in God. Atheism is nonbelief in god/s. Skepticism is the mindset that allows you to evaluate the quality of a claim based on available knowledge and evidence. Babies are atheists, but they are not yet skeptics. I’m not saying that they should call themselves skeptics instead of atheists, just that they should cultivate their skepticism and that this should be the root of their atheism.

  • JustAGuy

    I’m with NoYourGod:

    Don’t proselytize. Few people like to be told by strangers “You are WRONG in your beliefs.”

    I have NEVER seen an atheist convince someone to forsake their religion in a debate. Don’t try. You won’t win. They won’t like you.

    However, if you share ideas in a honest and open way – sincerely listening to their side – you may plant the seeds that will cause them to think more deeply. At the very least, they will be more open/tolerant towards atheists based on the positive interaction.

  • TalkOrigin’s list of creationist claims is a really important resource.

    And remember that being an atheist does mean that your life has no objective meaning and there’s no master plan and when you die that’s it mate, game over.

    But on the flip side, being an atheist doesn’t define you, it just defines where you started from – and free from the bonds of religion there are no limits. Define your own master plan.

  • JustAGuy

    Oh. One other thing. I have been an atheist for a while, but haven’t read anything other than a few blogs.

    I was blown away by some of the OLD cartoons that you’ve shown. Really opened my eyes. Helped to highlight that atheism isn’t new. And, we can’t just assume that things will get better without action.

  • Stephan

    Younger freethinkers should be exposed to many of the different philosophies in the movement like skepticism, naturalism, physicalism (materialism if you prefer), secular humanism and ideas on secular morality and ethics.

    The young need to be taught ethics and morality, and unless they come from a non-believing home, they may be at some loss of a coherent system. Help them by pointing out philosophical systems they can use.

  • Erp

    First Pete Stark isn’t non-religious since he does list himself as a UU; he is an atheist (the UUs have no trouble with this).

    My high school library back in the 70’s got the Skeptical Inquirer. It might be a good start for discussions. Several of Bertrand Russell’s essays might be provocative (e.g., Why I am not a Christian).

  • Jayne Cravens

    They should remember that there are a range of religious practitioners, and not all religious people hate Atheists or want prayer in schools. Over the years, I’ve met people who believe in a Magical Invisible Friend but *also* believe in science, do NOT believe in organized prayer in school, and believe that I do not have to believe in their Magical Invisible Friend.

    Be nice. Be kind. Show that those can come from good ethics, not just from a belief in a Magical Invisible Friend.

    Some advice on group volunteering:

    And advice on Groups for Atheist and Secular Volunteers / Philanthropy

  • Jeff’s tip of saying that it’s okay to admit it when you don’t know the answer is great, it’s something I try to instill in all my students. I’d like to add my own – that you get to absolutely be yourself and to have to hide anything or pretend to be anything you’re not. Atheism isn’t a club with membership rules, the only thing that binds is together is disbelief in gods. Your age, race, gender, sexual orientation, political views, taste in music, shoe size and everything else don’t matter. Be yourself and be honest, we’ll love you for it.

  • I would want them to learn about critical thinking and the history of atheism.

    Introduce them to Robert Ingersoll, have them read his speeches.

    Everyone should have a copy of “Demon Haunted World” by Sagan (cheap on Amazon used books). And you should have Jacoby’s “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism” on hand for reference, and as a lender book.

    The history of non-belief is important to counter the spears hurled at the “New Atheists”. And the work by Sagan shows that you can experience awe and wonder, and even a form of “spirituality” that is based upon reality, and not the supernatural.

  • mingfrommongo

    That they will need to know how to formulate and present an argument. Sign ’em all up for the debate team.

  • Cortex

    The “new atheist” books are great and all, but you don’t need them. The arguments contained in them are generally very good, but you should be able to defend your atheism without parroting Dawkins or Hitchens. When others demand an explanation (and they will), have your own good, strong arguments that you know inside-out and can really discuss. Religious proselytizers tend to rely on memorized tropes – discussing a problem in depth is one thing they’re almost never ready for.

    Also, because you’re young, a lot of people will believe you’re just going through a phase or being rebellious or something. This will be frustrating to you. Try to understand the kind of psychological threat your atheism poses to the believers around you. Your very existence changes their religion from an assumption to a question, and people who have wasted more of their lives being religious will try to ignore or discredit you in order to preserve their own self-esteem.

  • Parse

    The primary goal, when dealing with other people, should be gaining acceptance as fellow human beings. This means:
    – Not having to defend your beliefs, just like adherents to other faiths don’t need to justify theirs.
    – Not needing to tolerate abuse stemming solely from their atheism. This includes both questioning their patriotism as well as their moral character.
    – Not receiving more proselytization attempts than other people. ‘Atheist’ doesn’t mean ‘undecided’.
    – Not being ostracized, either directly by fellow students or by parents that won’t let their kids meet up with atheists.
    – Not being treated differently the day after they come out than they were treated the the day before.
    If you can convince your friends atheism should be treated like any other religious beliefs, that’s a win in my book.

  • Roxane

    As Jayne Cravens so wisely said:

    Be nice. Be kind. Show that those can come from good ethics, not just from a belief in a Magical Invisible Friend.

    Nothing de-fuses anti-atheist bigotry faster than this. It often causes a real mental implosion when believers have to confront the fact that their god sentences good people to eternal torture.

  • Luther

    Keep your eyes on the prize. Think 20, 200, 2,000, and 2,000,000 years hence. The women who started the movement to get to vote were all dead when their goal was accomplished. Work for a planet that supports human life, animals, and freethinkers 2,000,000 million years from now and beyond.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    How to read and write, and basic math skills.

    Heck, even theists ought to know that stuff.

  • Santiago

    I hope this isn’t too much of a downer but the first thing that came to my head was:

    – Religious people are NOT stupid. Religion is often a crafty and insidious idea that can turn a person’s own rationality and intelligence against them. Don’t feel that you are superior to them because you don’t share their dogma, feel lucky that you are free from indoctrination and feel sorry for those that still suffer needlessly under it.

  • Saltyestelle

    Be curious. Read and learn as much as you can. Don’t turn off your brain, even in the face of respected authority. Learn Critical Thinking Skills and use them. Keep your mind supple like a ninja. Remember that being in high school is like a strange petri dish of amplified insecurities and half-psychotic hormonal Hulks. Things, people, and opinions surrounding you now will change. Prepare yourself for college; it will be one of the best opportunities for you to grow and connect with others. Be kind, especially to those you find foolish in their beliefs. Look for similarities rather than differences. You will sway opinions much more effectively by offering an example of an intelligent, compassionate life rather than offering derision. Practice optimism. Practice joy.

  • Matt H

    Know your history. You will often run into people that will lie or bend the truth to further their argument. As an example, it has become popular to rewrite American history to portray it with a Christian slant. Fallacies such as arguments from authority cause Christian debaters to latch on to Einstein and claim him as their own (usually by carefully cherrypicking quotes and omitting the rest of his words). So I’d also suggest you understand logical fallacies and avoid them yourself.

  • Thegoodman

    I will second what some have said, it is ok to say “I don’t know.” In fact, “I don’t know.” is the only acceptable answer to any question for which you do not know the answer.

    The biggest difference between theism and atheism is the theists fill the gaps with “God did it.” and atheists fill those gaps with “I don’t know.” The well educated obviously have fewer gaps which is instrumental in destroying the credibility of a god which leads to the ultimate realization that a god is very unlikely which is when you stop ‘believing’.

    Its also important to know the definitions of atheist and agnostic, this question will come up frequently (at least it has for me).

  • JenniferT

    If the religiosity of the USA gets too much for you, come to Europe instead (though maybe not Italy).

  • Know that there are two kinds of people in life: Those that, when they hear a great piece of music, sit down and cry because they know the music will soon be over. Those that, when they hear the same great music, want to get up and dance.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    In the secular states of Europe atheism isn’t such an issue: there isn’t an assumption that everybody is Xain, and god is kept as far out of the law as we can make it (with some failures).

    It’s unfortunate that the USA is superstitious to the point of obsession, and that only Xains are perceived as decent, trustworthy people.

    I hope eventually that the USA moves into the 20C and the majority begins to understand what the separation clause entails.

  • Alice

    People are dicks, especially when they’re faced with a position they don’t understand. Don’t take it personally.

  • cat

    Well, for one, I would say that you are going to have to know religion, history, and philosophy better than theists. You start picking a lot of these things up by default if you try having logical debates, particularly because you will hear the same crap over and over and over and learn how to debunk it like a champ.

    Next point-look it up. None of us, even the brilliant scientists like PZ, know everything. If you do not know, say you do not know, but do not always stop there. Go look it up and learn about it. Also, to link this one my first point, learn what the “god of the gaps fallacy” is for when theists try the “we don’t know”=goddidit line.

    Third, do not make it your job to be the anti-stereotype, make it your job to be a good person. Oppressed groups are not the problem that causes stereotypes-ignorant privileged people are. Do good things because they are good things, not because they make you look good. Do not assume that a trait is bad in you or in someone else simply because it conforms to a stereotype-for example, while not all atheists are scientists, there is nothing wrong with being a scientist, an atheist, or both at once.

    Fourthly, try not to have a double standard where you judge minority religions more harshly than majority ones. I am not saying to give them a free pass either, but be aware that there is a history of prejudice against Jews and Muslims in this country that there is not in regards to mainline Christianity. Ask yourself, when you go to criticize “would I say this about a white American Christian man” to check some of your biases around these issues. If you are not going to assume that all violence in the Congo comes from the fact that it has a massive Christian majority, do the same favor to Muslims in the UAE.

  • Joe_No_Halo

    It is empowering to write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Your community needs to read the intelligent, respectful, atheist viewpoint on church-state issues, religious intolerance, science bashing, etc. Newspapers love to receive well-written letters from teenage writers and will publish the name of your school along with your name. That could lead some students to your SSA group.

  • JenniferT

    “Know that there are two kinds of people in life: Those that, when they hear a great piece of music, sit down and cry because they know the music will soon be over. Those that, when they hear the same great music, want to get up and dance.”

    …and that’s how I got banned from the local cinema. Ba-dum-tsss!

  • jonathan Roberts

    How to keep your rationality in stressful situations. Words of comfort based in reality, like the stoics or epicurians.

    Religions prey (nice pun) on vulnerable people in times of crisis. I work in a hospital where there is a corp chaplains ready to interpret the narrative of any tragedy into a mind numbing need to submit to God & have faith in “His Plan”. The waiting rooms are full of brochures on cancer, end of life issues, death, grief, addiction, fear & depression with a single, saccharine pill cure: religion.

    Secular philosophy has better, reality based comfort. No one has access to it. SSA gets kids on campus thinking clearly, but as soon as they are emotionally vulnerable, religion takes hold.

  • jonathan Roberts

    How to keep your rationality in stressful situations. Words of comfort based in reality, like the stoics or epicurians.

    Religions prey (nice pun) on vulnerable people in times of crisis. I work in a hospital where there is a corp of chaplains ready to interpret the narrative of any tragedy into a mind numbing need to submit to God & have faith in “His Plan”. The waiting rooms are full of brochures on cancer, end of life issues, death, grief, addiction, fear & depression with a single, saccharine pill cure: religion.

    Secular philosophy has better, reality based comfort. No one has access to it. SSA gets kids on campus thinking clearly, but as soon as they are emotionally vulnerable, religion takes hold.

  • Poyndexter

    Religion is not the only – or even necessarily the biggest – delusion society foists upon you. Don’t be complacent.

  • I strongly encourage that they read the works of Dr. Jonathan Haidt (http://people.virginia.edu/~jdh6n/), a moral psychologist whose work will help them understand that morality is not an external force emanating from a god, but an internal force resulting from human biology and sociology. Also, his work helps to understand the different moral worldviews of liberals and conservatives, and will help explain why some among the faithful will hate and despise them (world without end) and others can accept them as friends.

    Second, I encourage them to be honest and forthright, to not back down, but to not seek fights. You can’t win the battle of hearts and minds with bombast and zealotry, and you certainly won’t win any friends. Instead, be honest about your beliefs, be friendly and caring and supportive, but never relent in the face of overwhelming opposition and hatred.

    In short, be something those who hate you aren’t; be a good Christian.

    Finally, some perspective, a list of the people America hates, in order:
    6. Christians who aren’t like them.
    5. Various other religions.
    4. Jews.
    3. Muslims.
    2. Homos.
    1. Atheists. (We’re number one!)

  • Jessica

    I don’t know if this has already been said, but this speaks to my own experiences from when I was a teenage atheist (sounds like a horror movie lol).
    Know that most people who have religious beliefs, even if they are not very religious, want you to fail. They want you to change your mind and decide that Christianity is the right way. They will try to convince you of this by saying that because of your age, you do not really know what you’re talking about. They will try to tell you that you are too young and stupid to understand that you are wrong and that you are just being stupid and will grow out of it.
    If you do want to change your beliefs, there is nothing wrong with that. But whatever you do, don’t do it because of peer pressure. Don’t give in, and don’t believe their lies about what you are and are not capable of understanding. Always listen to your mind and listen to what your logic is telling you.

  • Minus

    Be proud. Atheism is an old and honorable tradition. There have always been atheists. We have been around longer than all religions. We have been ostracized, persecuted, tortured and killed because we stood up for reason. And we will be here when all religion has been consigned to history.

  • They should probably read and take notes on the Bible for future reference, unless they are going to decline to answer any arguments for the Bible.

    On that note as well, they should probably be able to recognise logical fallacies. If not by name, giving examples is always helpful. The most obvious and common, I find, are Pascal’s Wager, Circular Logic, and…well…faith, really, — belief in the absence of evident.*

    * The person might pull the old “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence,” so be ready to answer that if necessary, — one answer being the burden of proof, another pointing out that we could believe in anything with that “logic,” even things that contradict each other.

    Assuming this is all happening in the US, I would love them to know about the history of our government and how it is secular, not Christian. — I have some information on my blog “No Evidence For Any God” (click my name).

    Also, they should be ready to point out that not all atheists believe the same thing as it is NOT a religion.

    Perhaps know of religions that are atheistic (Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.).

    And, as mentioned above, they should be willing to admit they don’t know if they don’t know.

    And, really, they should probably know when to back down, when to just nod, smile, and say, “Thank you for your time.”

  • Oh, and Christians might tell you you’re going to hell, so just tell them you don’t believe in it. This “argument” shows one of two things:

    First, the person is just angry/irritated/etc. and wants to bash you or show (s)he is superior, etc.;

    or, second, that the person believes because of Pascal’s Wager, in which case you can point out other religious hells, like Tartarus.

    Also, be prepared for teachers, parents, etc. Be ready to defend why you’re doing what you’re doing, etc. This is very touchy, so don’t go over-board and start yelling or something.

  • Understand the following – they are closely related:

    P versus NP problem

    Gödel’s incompleteness theorems

    I would also suggest reading:

    Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

    …which is an in-depth, but entertaining treatise on the subject.

  • biblebeltatheist

    1) you are not alone, they are part of that 16% of the population that believes as they do.
    2)the only real difference btw them and monotheists is that nontheists believe on one less god then they do.
    3)expect right-wingers to make outrageous statements, be cool, try to remember that sometimes they just say stuff to upset you.
    4)Doctors Without Borders is a secular organization that does a lot of good things all over the world, and they do so w/o wasting time preaching about the virgin birth of jesus
    5)Know the secular origins and nature of our Constitution.
    Good luck with the new group-we need more of them!

  • Militant Maggie

    I’m sure these have already been said, but I’ll say them again.

    1) Be knowledgeable of other religions. The more you know about them, the better.

    2) Have tough skin. Coming out as a young atheist (I’m 21 and though coming out as this age was young, but yay for doing it younger) I find that many of my peers consider my a terrorist, satanist, evil, a Christian who really hates god, etc. Some of these can smart (my close friend and cousin called me an atheist terrorist). So find solace in people who share your beliefs and in people who don’t care that you’re an atheist.

    3) Stick together. Stand up for one another. Trying to get atheist together is akin to herding cats. You’re already a heads’ up by starting this group. But even after HS and college, find others with your belief system.

  • It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to not be okay sometimes.
    You see, religions come with really great narratives to help people not have to deal with some of the more.. bleak aspects of life. There’s a Someone out there with a Plan who Loves You Very Much, everything’s going to be okay in the end, and at the end of your life you die and have an eternity of a great big hug with everyone you loved.
    If you’re leaving religion, sometimes the hardest thing is when you go through a really tough time, you remember back when you were able to fall back on myths like that, and you know that you can’t anymore. That shit happens, that there’s no guarantees, and that there ain’t no big hug in the sky. Most of the time that’s just an inspiration to work hard at figuring out what you want to do and being kind to others while you can. Sometimes, though? It sucks.
    And that’s okay. There’s no atheist rule that says you’ve gotta be optimistic and happy and rational about everything the whole time. You’re allowed to be confused, you’re allowed to be scared. You’re allowed to think it’s unfair. And in the middle of the night, even though you know it’s bullshit, you’re allowed to miss the days when you were a kid and you knew there was a magic guy in the sky making everything okay.
    The thing that nobody told you, when you were growing up in religion? You don’t need those myths to feel better. Seriously. Existential crises and the bleaker aspects of life are godawful things, but you would be amazed at how they retreat within minutes of popping on the kettle or cracking open a few beers with some like-minded friends*.

    *I’m Irish. I may have gotten rid of the catholicism, but nothing is gonna shift my conviction that tea and/or booze will solve the vast majority of life’s problems.

  • JenniferT

    Alright, not joking around for once… to me, the point of atheism as a concept isn’t that given what we know about the universe, the notion of a controlling cosmic consciousness is false; it’s that given what we know about the universe, the notion of a controlling cosmic consciousness isn’t even a sensible hypothesis. So what I would say is, don’t lose sight of that.

  • SAL

    befriend people without discrimination. Have friends who believe different things. You will be challenged and you will be forced to learn more about what you believe.

  • Jessica

    We are counting on you.

  • Michelle

    I would want them to know how different adulthood is for some of those evangelical teens that work their nerves on a daily basis. In short, some of the most obnoxious become Atheists. The bravery of their visibility matters and their patience with Christians, and others, can have a lasting impact.
    This is not to say you should heed to them and their nonsense demands, just try to understand even when they can’t. It can make your lives easier in both the short and long term. And If you are having a dark day you can always make mental bets about which ones will go Atheist by 21, to lighten your mood.

  • Matthew A. Harmer

    Food at meetings goes a long way toward attendance.

    -A Secular Student Alliance group leader.

  • Sinfanti

    I encourage young people to question everything. And anything that can’t stand up to questioning should be disregarded.

    This isn’t just about religion. A reasonable person should question everything – religion, science and politics, just to name a few topics. And also that it’s also necessary to question the answers they get if those answers don’t make sense.

  • John

    They really ought to familiarize themselves with the multitudes of religions–their histories, dogmas, the words of their leaders, and their scriptures. Other people have said this, but I’d like to stress the importance of knowing, for example, Christian history (it was the one really good thing about going to Catholic school for 13 years).

    Read C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, Meister Eckhart, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard and a whole slew of philosophers that they’ve influenced. These are the most intelligent aisles of religious thought, and they’ll be helpful for understanding the implications of being an Atheist, and talking about it.

    Watch debates to learn how to argue well and badly, and take care to perform as the former–understand how to efficiently set up arguments and support them, and as always be respectful.

  • santa

    I would caution them. Atheism works fine in some cities. In some counties. If they grew up Atheist they may be surrounded by intelligent people, but young atheists should also be exposed to a discussion of the assaults – physically, financially, emotionally, that religious people often perpetrate. Out atheists can face severe discrimination. Should they make a point of it on Facebook? Will a potential employer be turned off? Might a client be lost? Should your atheism ever be hidden? I wouldn’t tell young atheists much except to tell them to talk, share, study and learn.

  • -Intelligent and polite criticism is not disrespectful. Religion is not a political opinion, and does not need to be treated as such. Criticize assumed facts.
    -People tend to treat young people’s atheism like a religion, but without the careful tip-toeing around the issue, and significantly less of that respect they will expect.

  • A Cool Dude

    I didn’t read the whole thread but “Don’t proselytize. Few people like to be told by strangers “You are WRONG in your beliefs.” was one of the important things I wanted to say. You will probably never change a religious person’s beliefs during a debate. Hating on religious people over and over IS JUST AS BAD as a religious person saying “atheists are dumb, wayward, and bad people”. Belief or lack of belief does not show their true colours either way. It’s probably one of the most irritating things new or young atheists do. Yes I’m atheist too, but using someone’s religion to dismiss their arguments just makes you look like a fool. By default, treat everyone like a human not their religion. Once an asshole comes out of the woodwork you can go to town all you like.

    Also: be involved. If you see bias towards religion in secular institutions, speak up.

    Be fluid in your beliefs, on anything really. Always read and learn about new developments in science and reason. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something.

    Know that the US was NOT founded in Christianity. It’s a widely common belief, but be aware and have evidence.

  • Kenzie

    I would tell a young atheist a favorite saying of mine.

    “Your rights end, where my rights start.”-DL

  • Everyone should judge people based on their character and behaviour, not their beliefs.

  • Oldguyatheist

    Being an agnostic is not the same thing as being uncertain as to whether or not Christianity (etc.) is true. I may not know the composition of a celestial object but my lack of knowledge doesn’t prevent me from ruling out materials like lemon Jello and meat loaf. There’s certainly enough evidence to disprove certain claims.

  • If you’re not comfortable with the word ‘atheist’, just say “I think that when we die, we die…just like all other living things on this planet.”  If someone says “How do you know that there’s no God?”, you can say “I don’t KNOW there isn’t one (or more than one).  I don’t believe that there is one for the same reason that I don’t believe in Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster – no empirical evidence.

  • Montezrrr

    That would have been a nice comment if it wasn’t for you FORUM SPAM, now I can’t take you seriously at all.

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