Atheism - "Without God"

What is atheism: Atheism is, in the simplest terms, a lack of belief in god - any god. Many people make the mistake of thinking that atheism has to be more than that, and are then surprised to find that atheists don't always fit their preconceived notions. There are two general "types" of atheism - strong and weak. Strong atheists will usually have thought-out reasons for why they do not believe in God, and will sometimes actively deny the existence of God. Weak atheists, on the other hand, may not have ever put much thought in their reasons for not believing, and might be reluctant to say that there is no God. Instead, they might insist that they simply have no reason to believe that there is.

How atheism began: Although no one is certain of exactly how and when it began, it is probably safe to say that atheism has existed as long as religion has.

Who is an atheist: Anyone who has no belief in a god is an atheist. This covers a great number of people, from young children who have not yet been exposed to (or are too young to truly understand) the concept of god, to people who have grown up without ever having been exposed to "god," to people who grew up in religious environments but have simply never believed, to those who were once strong believers but have since discovered that there is (in their worldview) no god to believe in. Some atheists don't really think or make a big deal about their atheism, while for others it is an important part of how they identify themselves. Whatever the case, there really is no set "right" or "wrong" way to be an atheist. Atheists can believe in many different things, and they can disagree with each other on anything from the origins of life to the existence of the afterlife, and still be atheists.

How is atheism different from other religious views: While religions generally give a reason for a person to join (reaching a desired afterlife, avoiding a punishment, or gaining God's favor and getting rewards in this life are all examples), there is no such reason given for becoming an atheist. There is no reward for being an atheist or punishment for not being an atheist. There is no afterlife to reach (although some atheists may believe in an afterlife, atheism itself is silent on the issue), and no higher power to please. Unlike with most religions, there is there no code or rulebook to follow once one becomes an atheist. There are no rituals or rites of passage, no holybooks, no leaders, no restrictions or guidelines on who to marry or befriend, what jobs to take, or what food to eat. Atheism is more a state of being than a "religion," and any rituals or traditions that an atheist follows are either a product of cultural upbringing or personal choice, and not dictated by any "atheist rules."

A few misconceptions:
Atheists have no morals:
Theists generally have a guidebook or a set of rules that tells them what is moral and what is not. To them, this (and the deity/deities that authored those rules) is the natural source of morals. Therefore, they sometimes assume that a person who does not believe in these texts or their divine author has no guide for morality or reason to be moral. This is simply untrue. Every normal human being develops morals during their childhood, as a way to adapt to living in a group environment. We live by these morals because we are a part of a group, and it benefits us to have the group's trust and approval. By telling lies or stealing, we tell others that we are untrustworthy, and our life is made more difficult. By helping others and being honest, we tell others that we are a valuable part of the group, and our life is made easier. There does not need to be a divine source for morals, or a divine judge presiding over us to keep us moral - the simple fact that humans are social animals is more than enough to explain the development of and adherence to morals. Another reason for confusion may come from the fact that many atheists see morals as relative, while many theists see them as absolute. To a theist who sees lying as always absolutely wrong, it may certainly seem that an atheist has no morals when he says that telling a lie is sometimes right. However, the true problem may be that a theist and an atheist are simply using different theoretical approaches to morality, while in fact they may be in complete agreement when it comes to applying morals to real life situations (Nazi Germany being a common example of a situation where lying may have been the more moral approach, as it would save a life).

For atheists, life is meaningless:
Many theists believe that God is what makes life meaningful. Without God who created us and gives us purpose, many theists come to the conclusion that life would have no meaning-- that everything, including getting out of bed in the morning, would be pointless. Since atheists believe they are without God, one might think that atheists also believe that life is without meaning. This couldn't be further from the truth. Atheists, like anyone else, find meaning in the everyday. Family, friends, favorite activities, careers, volunteering... all these things give life meaning and make it worth living. And, while a theist might wonder how an atheist can find meaning in these things without God, it may be worth remembering that many atheists are equally perplexed at theists needing to add God to these things to find them meaningful.

All atheists believe in (evolution, the big bang...)/think that (God is evil, there is no afterlife...):
Although many atheists you will meet may believe in certain scientific theories, or think that there is no afterlife, this really has no bearing on the person's atheism. There are atheists who have never heard of some scientific theories, and some who, upon hearing them, have rejected them. There are atheists who believe in an afterlife, or are at least open to the possibility, and there are atheists who think god is wonderful and wish that s/he were real. Since atheism is simply describing what a person does not believe in, trying to group together all atheists as believers or followers of something is similar to trying to say that all the people who do not have brown eyes must love red flowers. While you will certainly find many who do, their only true unifying trait is not having brown eyes.

There are many more misconceptions about atheists, and while some of these might apply to some atheists, they are by no means an accurate portrayal of every person who is an atheist. The only thing that you should assume about a person who tells you he is an atheist is that he has no belief in a god. This can sometimes be frustrating, since we all like to categorize people, and "not god-believer" is about as useful a category as "not alien-believer". Knowing what we don't believe tells you nothing about what we do believe! Part of the reason for this forum is to allow atheists and theists of different religions and denominations to learn more about each other, and get to know the "human" side of those they disagree with. So, if you find yourself confused about what an atheist is, or have a question about how atheists do or think about a certain thing, don't hesitate to join our forum and ask (or look through and see if your question has already been answered). While there might not be a uniform atheist answer to your question, we will do our best to answer your questions as honestly as we can.