For the past few months, Ian Cromwell, one of my absolute favorite bloggers on the planet, began a series entitled “Because I am an Atheist,” in which he discussed how atheism works in his life and asked readers to contribute their own narratives. This is my entry in that series.
Because I am an atheist, I became a good person.
What do I mean by “good” person? I mean that I became not just aware of, but deeply concerned with issues of the world around me.
See, when I was eleven years old, I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. The resulting two surgeries and course of radiation treatment meant that I was more or less incapable of “normal” social interaction for many years. I was drugged to the eyeballs, dealing with the near-total loss of pituitary function, and always, always exhausted. I wasn’t socialized much at all, to the point where I couldn’t do basic things like determine appropriate comments from inappropriate ones, and etc. I was not a particularly pleasant person to be around for those years.
I dealt with this as well as I could, namely by spending most of my time in my room reading, listening to music, and watching movies. I went through all those lists of classics, cult classics, best-100-whatevers, devouring everything and anything I could. Quadrophenia was my number one soundtrack through this time. I wanted, whether I recognized it at the time or not, to just shove as much knowledge and stimulus into my brain as possible to stop it from thinking about the fact that I was miserable. It was all very High Fidelity, but without girls.
It was at this time that my older brother handed me Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris, shortly after I had finished reading A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. It was, for my newly politically-awakened mind, the perfect followup. Though I now spend a lot of time yelling at Sam Harris, those 100-some odd pages were and still are a huge wake up call.
I started identifying as an atheist a very short time afterwards. With that came not just the usual God is not Great talking points, but a merging with politics; I’ve never really been able to distinguish between the two.
Come college time, the first thing I wanted to do was start an atheist group. This process, which resulted in the DePaul Alliance for Free Thought, has since introduced me to the vast majority of people who are important in my life right now. My beautiful partner, my editor at In Our Words, my best friends, my drinking buddies, partners in crime, acquaintances who I know on Facebook that post even more articles for me to devour and yell about, all of them came about because I am an atheist. Without my atheism, I might not have engaged with feminist ideas, with gender issues, with racism as an actual systemic problem and not just something that would go away if we all forgot about it. My atheism has made me all of these things.
My atheism has implored me to act in this world, to make it better. Not to sit in a pew and hope really really hard for something to happen, or to hide away from the world like I used to, but to be an actor, a force for change, and hopefully someone who might inspire others to make their own world change. Without atheism, I would not be the person I am, in pretty much every conceivable way.