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Ask an Atheist

Kylyssa is an American atheist with high-functioning autism trying to navigate a mostly religious world with no well-beaten path to follow

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Why Should You Ask an Atheist?

Once I could read I had access to hundreds of religious texts and religious books as well as books on philosophy and nature. I read them voraciously, trying to figure out this mystery called belief. After reading many books about beliefs and belief systems written by brilliant people and talking with a few pastors and a minister, I came to the conclusion that God was probably not real.

When I was ten, I was "outed" as the child of an atheist by a teacher who then made an ignorant remark that set the tone for years of abuse both physical and emotional. She said, "[She] is an atheist and that means that she hates God."

If the teacher had known what an atheist was or if the children's parents had, I would have been saved years of suffering. As an adult, I have found that many people in America still don't have a clear idea of what an atheist is and it bleeds into society. It affects the way atheists are treated to this day.

Most people in America learn about atheism, not the way I learned about belief, but by word-of-mouth from religious parents and peers who learned the same way. Most of the things I've heard when religious people discuss atheists come from fear and speculation. The lack of understanding makes people hate and fear atheists.

To educate people about atheists and spread tolerance through education I'm offering to answer your questions. I'm hoping that instead of basing your opinion of atheists on hearsay you'll choose to ask an atheist instead.

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Why Do Atheists Care About Religion? - Part One, Politics

Atheists in America care a lot about religion. This is primarily because religious groups in our country have a great deal of political power. Religious groups in America have successfully created religious laws which the entire populace, religious or not, must follow. These laws include the ban against same sex marriage, blue laws, and anti-cohabitation laws.

Conservative Christian religious lobbies are also trying to insert Christianity into public schools in place of science education. They have succeeded in getting "abstinence only" rather than science based sex education into public schools, paid for entirely with taxpayer money. Fortunately, President Obama re-allocated the budget for religion based sex education to fund science based sex education though it looks like taxpayer money is still funding some religion based programs. Even after a congressional study showing the abstinence only programs ineffective and costly, the Christian right is still fighting fiercely to keep and expand the religion based abstinence only programs still paid for with tax money. America was paying $75 million per year on a single abstinence only initiative before the cut, with more going to other, smaller programs. It seems a lot to pay for programs which are not only not science-based and not results-based but religion-based (though the material is written using scientific-sounding jargon) but, according to several additional studies and reports, may also increase the risk of STDs and reduce the likelihood of teens seeking treatment should they contract an STD.

Additionally, religious organizations are granted tax-free status even though they are politically powerful and often use their influence to create legislation or to support specific political candidates. While religious organizations do not pay taxes, they benefit from them. This means that people who are having laws passed to discriminate against them by religious lobbies are required to pay the taxes that benefit the very organizations behind the discriminatory laws.

Might doesn't make right, but it does confer power.

Might doesn't make right, but it does confer power.

Why Do Atheists Care About Religion? - Part Two, Society

The most popular religions in America have subsets which teach that those who do not follow their specific belief system are sinful, evil, and immoral. This leads to intolerance, not just of atheists but of all people who don't share the same belief system or don't practice it exactly the same way they do. This does not affect atheists alone, but, to one degree or another, all non-Christians plus many progressive and moderate Christians in America.

People's behavior is affected by their beliefs, sometimes even dictated by their beliefs. If people have beliefs that are different from mine and antithetical to mine, I have a great reason to be concerned. I believe in freedom of expression, human rights for all, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state. These beliefs are the polar opposite of the most visible Christian conservative beliefs.

Prejudice against homosexuals, people of other religions, and women often stem from religious belief. White supremacists and other such cults have a religious basis. While not at all representative of Christianity at large, Westboro Baptist Church provides a good example of of a Christian-based hate group. Christians are not exempt from their religion-based bigotry. We are all affected by bigotry, regardless of our belief or absence of belief.

Another piece in the puzzle is that atheists are concerned when other human beings are mistreated just as any other decent human beings are. There is a visible amount of religiously motivated child abuse in America - people who deny their children medical treatment, people who punish their children physically for perceived sins, people who deny their children an adequate education, and "parents" who discard their children for being gay or for converting to a different belief system - all in the name of religion.

Because religious people make up the majority in America, and because some powerful and loud few of them try to use the weight of that majority to step on minorities, including atheists, of course atheists are concerned! Maybe you should be, too?

Why Do Atheists Care About Religion? - Example

This videos show an example of how casually some religious people express their bigotry towards non-religious people. This behavior is the result of a difference in beliefs. The video also shows how clearly religion has dominated politics in America.

Photo by  Sanja Gjenero, SXC

Photo by Sanja Gjenero, SXC

Did Being Homeless Make Me an Atheist or Did Being an Atheist Make Me Homeless?

Believer asked:

"I've noticed that many of your pages revolve around two topics: that you are an outspoken atheist, and that you have had a very difficult life including homelessness. Have you ever considered that there may be a connection between the two? Have you ever asked yourself "What if I'm wrong?". I wonder if you gave your life to God whether he would have taken you down the same path. Were you always an atheist? Did you have a bad experience with a church or a clergy member? Do you feel that if there was a God he would have preventing certain things from happening, and so therefore chose to believe He does not exist?"

"I've noticed that many of your pages revolve around two topics: that you are an outspoken atheist, and that you have had a very difficult life including homelessness. Have you ever considered that there may be a connection between the two?"

No, but many religious people have told me that not thinking God is real caused all of my (well-deserved in their opinion) suffering. I believe that my difficulties were not a punishment from a non-existent God. Many people who are devout believers have even worse lives than mine so that logic doesn't hold up. Additionally, if I analyze what happened in my life, I can pretty well see why things happened the way they did.

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As an atheist, I believe that autism is a real thing. I ascribe to no ideology that causes me to reject the existence of learning disabilities and emotional problems as real. Having been diagnosed with autism, I tend to believe I am autistic. There is a known connection between inability to perform in social interactions and autism. In fact, that's almost the definition of autism. My autism was not properly treated when I was a child and, like almost every other autistic who receives no special assistance, when left completely on my own I experienced difficulties. I was a stranger in a strange land. I had no familial support and had formed only the most inadequate of friend support structures in school.

When this left me homeless, I was the perfect victim for predators. I was incredibly naïve and socially inept. I had no "common sense" to keep me from dangerous situations. I reacted to harmful stimuli (beatings, rapes, and other frightening encounters) by withdrawing into myself instead of reaching for help as most people do. That entrenched me more deeply into homelessness - a shell-shocked autistic isn't the best at navigating the hard road out of homelessness.

"Have you ever asked yourself "What if I'm wrong?""

You assume one thing that most Christians do - that I don't want to believe in God, that I never considered it. When I was homeless there was many a night when I longed to think of God as real. What complete and total idiot wouldn't want someone or something to exist that loved them in that situation? The physical deprivation and pain of homelessness is dwarfed by the emotional pain, heartbreak, and crushing loneliness of being homeless. I often prayed, saying, "God, if you are real, please just let me think that you are." I was not able to convince myself that God was real. Even by pretending and acting as if God were real, I couldn't.