How to Properly Become an Atheist

By Alejandro Vasquez on February 28, 2016

Have you recently lost your religion? Do you now identify as an atheist? If so, then allow me to assure you that you will be okay! However, at this point you may feel uncertain as to where you should, or even could, go from here. Well, I went through this same journey myself, and I mostly did it without much guidance from someone with more experience in this. But I’ve come out pretty well, I think, and I’d like to share this information so that other people’s own journeys are a little smoother. (Heck, you’re probably already having it easier than myself, given that you’re reading this on a college website: by this point, you probably know that you’re not alone in your newfound beliefs, unlike ninth-grade me.) Here’s a handy little guide to properly becoming an atheist – or agnostic, or deist, or any other idea that can all under “nonreligious.”

 1. It’s Okay to Feel Bummed Out for a Little While

I know that not every case is like this, but I find that losing your faith can come from some pretty painful experiences and/or hard realizations. After all, your religion is essentially your beliefs about how the universe operates, and it can take something really big to completely shatter a worldview. That’s what happened to me with my admittedly tenuous Christianity when I just couldn’t reconcile the classic philosophical argument known as “the problem of evil.” I remember being stuck in an existential funk for some time, feeling really lousy about how awful the world can be and how empty the universe now felt.

I didn’t include all that to make you pity me or anything, but rather to make you understand that, like dealing with a break-up or a death, it’s perfectly alright to feel down for a bit. And maybe you didn’t lose your faith after something dramatic – maybe you willingly abandoned your religion because you came to disagree with some of its tenets, or maybe you simply stopped believing at some point. That’s perfectly fine, but either way, there’s no need to be perfectly fine with it immediately. Take your time in accepting it, and let yourself feel whatever remorse may come.

 2. Have some respect and humility

After a while, you may find that you are more comfortable with calling yourself an atheist – comfortable enough that you find ways to bring it up in conversation. You think you’ve seen the light you just have to show it. If you’re not careful, you may start to resemble the born-again atheist. You know the stereotype: arguing in online message boards about how much more enlightened and euphoric one is than those ignorant and backwards religious people, railing against fundamentalists and casual observers alike, giddily lobbing “evidence” that “disproves” their “imaginary friends,” ridiculing their attachment to ancient books, and so on.

I remember going through this phase myself to a certain degree, and remembering makes me want to hurl. In my confidence that I was now an open-minded free-thinker, I sometimes went on about how other people’s religious beliefs were absolutely silly and unquestionably false. Other times I’d go on discriminatory and overgeneralizing rants about how discriminatory and overgeneralizing all followers of a certain faith can be. Eventually I realized that this kind of hateful thinking was actually hurting people’s feelings, which was yet another irony.

Even if you’re the most diehard atheist and can’t even imagine anything else being true, please be a decent human being and let people believe what they want. We don’t live in the time of the Crusades – surely by 2016 the nonreligious can stand living next to a neighbor who thinks he’ll go to Heaven when he dies, just as the religious can stand living next to someone who thinks no one will. Atheists, new and experiences alike, please consider whether it would be kinder and even more productive to have an actual dialogue with people than to get on some high horse.

Also, avoid fedoras and trilby hats. At least that’s one mistake I didn’t make!

3. Keep your options open

I mean this in three different ways. Firstly, people who convert religions can find themselves in a fraught transition where things seem uncertain. It’s okay: you don’t have to stick with anything if you realize you don’t truly feel that way. After all, that’s why you converted, right? If you conclude that you’re atheist through and through, that’s okay. If you decide that your previous religion was where your heart and mind lay this whole time, that’s okay too. However, don’t change something so valuable as your system of beliefs and, well, values out of shame. Certain people think I’m going through a phase, but six-odd years is a long time to be going through a phase! You’re the only one who has the final say in what you think and what you believe!

Secondly, there is more to being nonreligious than atheism! There’s a much wider spectrum than you may know, and it covers all kinds of ideologies. You can look through these different labels and see which one sounds most like your own conception of the universe or even find one that sounds better to you! A friend with greater knowledge than my own pointed out that a theory I’d recently developed, which states that a god created the universe and didn’t do anything else since, already exists and is called deism (man, I was so down for coining the term Alejandroism). Whether you’re agnostic, apatheist, or just plain atheist, finding a label can help you identify your beliefs more easily.

Thirdly, you may find someday that another way of viewing the world is drawing you into its orbit, just as your current belief system attracted you before. The way I see it, if you were open-minded enough to think, even one time, that your previously unshakable views on the universe were wrong, then they could very well be wrong again – you know, like scientists. The fact that you’ve freed your mind enough to consider being an atheist means your mind is free enough to keep wandering even as time goes on! If you want an example, two summers ago I was persuaded to learn how to read tarot cards. Nowadays, I divine the future with them and learn anything I can from FSU’s rich pagan community. You never know what may happen if you just open your mind a bit.

P.S. Contact me and I’ll gladly arrange to do a reading for you!

I do hope that all this proves helpful for someone. Goodness knows it would have been helpful for me!

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