Time to lift taboo on atheism

Alex Black
Alex Black
Year 13 student Alex Black, of Mt Aspiring College, argues that it is important for atheists to come out of the closet, and that society treat them with tolerance and respect.

I like oranges. iPhones are cool. Money is worthless. Family is important.

Mountains are beautiful. Individuality is good. I am an atheist.

These are all simple statements which are mostly unremarkable and most of which should cause no offence or interest.

Except one: I am an atheist.

Atheism is not a philosophy.

It is not a religion. It is not a way of life. It is not a belief system.

It is not a moral code and it is not a political agenda.

There is only one thing you have learnt about me, and that is the simple fact that I do not believe in the existence of a God.

The problem I often encounter is people's assumption that knowing something a person doesn't believe in, tells you something about what they do believe in.

People often say to me, "You're an atheist? Not believing in a God, I'm OK with.

But can't you accept the moral teachings of religion?"I reply, "Of course I can. I'm an atheist; not a moral nihilist."

Unlike religious organisations, atheists have no community.

They do not have weekly gatherings; they do not have a building in which to discuss their opinions; they do not, as a group, have political influence or money.

All this makes atheists the perfect target for discrimination.

I believe the situation atheists are in at the moment is similar to the one which the gay community faced 50 years ago, before the Gay Pride movement.

Atheism is still a relatively unacceptable and taboo subject.

This was highlighted by an American study documented in Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion.

The study surveyed Americans from all walks of life and asked them whether they would vote for an otherwise well-qualified person who was: a woman (95% would), Roman Catholic (94% would), Jewish (92% would), black (92% would), Mormon (79% would), homosexual (79% would) or atheist (only 49% would).

It is remarkable that atheists have such a bad reputation, when you can look at a newspaper and read that a Shi'ite Muslim set off a suicide bomb in a market in Afghanistan filled with Sunni Muslims.

Yet how often do you hear about atheist extremists? The closest we have is Richard Dawkins, the Oxford professor who became famous for his revolutionary books on evolution.

Prof Dawkins made headlines last year - and was hated - for a privately funded bus campaign which displayed an advertisement saying, "There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

I, like Prof Dawkins, am trying to encourage the wider acceptance of atheism.

In my vision of the world, I see people of all religions and all beliefs working together, because we are all ultimately human.

I am not trying to persuade you to become a moral nihilist or abandon your beliefs.

I am only imploring you to accept the views of others.

For now, I am content to live in the knowledge that some of the questions I ask have no answer.

As Douglas Adams once said: "Isn't it enough to see that the garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it, too?"


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