Hello everyone! My name is Steve and I'm from southwest Pennsylvania (USA). I've been a non-believer for... well, ever. My parents believe in God (the Christian one) but it never really made sense to me. I began questioning at an early age, and the answers were never satisfying. They didn't seem "reasonable" and so belief never took. My parents didn't really push me to believe and for that I'm grateful. There was not blow-back to not believing, and it simply never came up in my early life. I've only been to church proper (a Methodist denomination) once or twice, and Vacation Bible School in the summer the same number of times. It wasn't very interesting.
When I was young I was simply an atheist, and this carried all the way through highschool and some further schooling. After that I had more time on my hands, and started thinking very hard about all of these existential questions and how humanity had tackled them. At this point I considered myself an agnostic, admitting that I didn't really know and wasn't ready to put the nail in the coffin until after some research. Some years later I was introduced to Buddhism and its truths of impermanence and selflessness/interconnectedness of all things, and the fact that all mental suffering and existential crises were simply caused by the mind not acting in harmony with these truths. It was like a breath of fresh air after living in a dungeon for 15 years. While I never considered myself a Buddhist, I can't argue with its basic premise. The more I've opened up to reality as-it-is, the more peaceful and calm my mind has become. Life isn't so hard, even when I find myself unemployed or homeless. Death doesn't seem like such a downer, and in fact seems almost to not be "true" in light of the selfless nature of all temporary things. That's just life. ;)
Today I'm more vocal about atheism, and have done a lot of research on various religions, because of all the violations of human rights, freedom and dignity caused by religion around the world. It's disheartening, while at the same time the increase in the number of atheists gives me hope. I'd consider myself a "Secular Humanist", "Spiritual Humanist", or perhaps a "Buddhist Christian Philosopher" (which is very dependent upon what I mean, since I still don't believe in anything supernatural... though the "numinous" is something quite different, as Christopher Hitchens would say).
This site... is an awesome idea. I hadn't realized there was such a place, and I'm sure that it's been a great help for many people who are struggling. To that end I'd like to offer up my list of books, the ones that I've read that have a secularist, humanist, or enlightened spirit:
"The End of Faith", "Letter to a Christian Nation", "Free Will" and "The Moral Landscape" by Sam Harris
"The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking
"War of the Worldviews" by Deepak Chopra, Leonard Mlodinow
"The Third Jesus" by Deepak Chopra
"God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" and "The Portable Atheist" by Christopher Hitchens
"God and the Folly of Faith" by Victor J. Stenger
"A Search for Meaning From the Surface of a Small Planet" by Don Pendleton
"The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
"A Universe From Nothing" by Lawrence Krauss
"The Believing Brain" by Michael Shermer
"Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism" by Susan Jacoby
"Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" by Daniel C. Dennett
"Doubt" by Jennifer Hecht
"Why I Am Not a Christian" by Bertrand Russell
"A Brief History of Thought" by Luc Ferry
"The Power of Now" and "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle
"God, No! Signs You May Already Be An Atheist and Other Magical Tales" and "Every Day is an Atheist Holiday" by Penn Jillette
"Managing the Conflicts of Science and Religion" by Johnny Pan
"Confession of a Buddhist Atheist", "Buddhism Without Beliefs" and "Alone With Others: An Existential Approach to Buddhism" by Stephen Batchelor
"Leaving Islam" and "Why I Am Not A Muslim" by Ibn Warraq
"Why I Am Not A Hindu" by Ramendra Nath (I think that was the one I read)
These are just a few that I've kept track of, and I don't have many of them at hand anymore. The ones that influenced me the most would probably be The End of Faith and its follow-up Letter to a Christian Nation (both by Sam Harris), though other notable titles in the list include "Doubt", "A Brief History of Thought", and "The Believing Brain". Really they were all worthwhile reads and I would recommend any one of them. The ones by Deepak Chopra, Stephen Batchelor and Eckhart Tolle are "enlightenment" books more than atheist ones, but "The Third Jesus" is an interesting bridge between Christianity and Buddhism/Hinduism.
I hope to stick around for a while and see what this site is all about. Thanks go out to the administrators and staff responsible for Atheist Nexus!
Thanks Joan. I completely agree. It's hard to tell what the Buddha really taught and believed. For all I know he did teach a cycle of afterlives (rebirths), but I've never been able to bring myself to believe anything like that... especially since so much of the Buddha's teaching was about the selfless nature of all phenomena. There's no separate "you" to be reborn, except as a mental image (or false self) that the mind perpetuates. That's probably why authors like Stephen Batchelor and Eckhart Tolle speak to me.
Being a Skeptic is tough. I've never believed anything supernatural in my life, while everyone around me seems to be drenched in supernatural beliefs. *sigh*
Steve, I think you will feel encouraged after being on this site for a while. There are so many new members signing up on this and other Skeptic and Humanist sites, we are gaining strength with each new participant. I, and many others, make statements about being atheists and feel pride and self-respect as we do so. Of course there are all kinds of responses, from shock, to anger, and everything in between. With just a little thinking and reading, it is easy to answer questions believers pose, and it is easier to ask them questions that they very often are not able, or willing, to answer. I make it a rule not to initiate discussions about belief or non-belief, but if someone else starts the conversation I feel well equipped to match them in tone and intensity.
I have a very nice reservoir of anger to call on if I need it. I think religion has done me, my children and my family great harm over many generations and I use it when I need to. Believers tend to ease up on their insistence I am going to burn in hell or I have no moral and ethical base. I can theirs to mine any time.
I think what I'd like at this point is to be able to have polite and rational conversations with believers who are themselves interested in understanding the atheistic perspective (which for me is simply properly applied skepticism). Fat chance, right?
Another great book I've just finished is Carl Sagan's "The Demon-Haunted World". It's a little older, from the 90's I believe, but I've heard it recommended so many times... and it does deliver. It talks about all sorts of things, from homeopathy and UFO abductions to the founding of America as a great experiment. I'd highly recommend this one for anyone who wants to know *why* we should approach things from a skeptical mindset.
A great book concerning primarily epistemology and the proper application of critical thinking is Peter Boghossian's "A Manual for Creating Atheists". Also I'm not sure I mentioned it, but Richard Dawkins' book "The Greatest Show on Earth" is certainly a show-stopper in explaining evolution (like "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry Coyne).
Hello Steve and welcome. I like your book list.
Thanks John. It's not very organized. If someone asked me about evolution, I'd say Why Evolution Is True and The Greatest Show on Earth would be appropriate. If they asked me about skepticism, I'd say The Believing Brain, A Manual for Creating Atheists and The Demon-Haunted World would together be a great Skeptic's Bible. Anyway I hope it just helps someone out, anyone, and it'll be worth posting.