What it’s like to be an atheist

To imagine what it feels like to be an atheist in the modern world, you need to imagine that almost everyone around you, adult or child, believes in Santa Claus. Some feel strongly, some half-heartedly, but nearly everybody you meet is certain that there is some kind of Santa Claus. Maybe it’s a man, maybe it’s a woman, maybe there’s more than one, but there has to be a Santa Claus of some kind or life is meaningless.

(I can’t remember who I stole this analogy from, maybe Greta Christina? PZ Myers? If anybody out there remembers where it’s from, please tell me so I can attribute it properly. I just know it’s not original to me.) (Thank you to Bridget Donovan for reminding me that this idea comes from Parenting Beyond Belief, edited by Dale McGowan, pp. 87-90.)

Yes, almost everyone believes in Santa Claus, even though they know they buy their own presents every Christmas and they put up their own decorations and neither they nor anyone they know has ever actually seen any kind of Santa Claus.

They believe in Santa Claus even though numerous fly-bys of the North Pole have seen that nobody lives there. They believe in Santa Claus even though nobody has ever found any evidence of an elf or flying reindeer.

They believe in Santa Claus so much that every Sunday they spend hours singing songs about Rudolph and spend their money to build buildings for him and travel around the world to tell people in other countries to stop believing in Saint Nick, because he’s the wrong kind of Santa Claus.

They believe in Santa Claus and insist that The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (which they will tell you was written by Dr. Seuss, but it was inspired by Santa Claus) says that people should love each other. Except the people who read the same book and say that people should love everybody except gay people or black people. Not to mention the people who read the exact same book and say everybody but them is going to hell.

They believe in Santa Claus and tell you that the lack of evidence is because you aren’t looking in the right place or you need to look with your heart and someday you’ll get presents if you just recite this special version of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” every night before bed. (But not the version from the folks down the street…they’re heathens.)

Almost everyone you know believes in Santa Claus…except you and one or two friends. And if you tell people you don’t think Santa Claus exists, people will tell you you’re crazy or your life is meaningless or they’ll wonder why you don’t just kill people. If you admit you don’t believe in Santa Claus, your family might kick you out, your classmates might bully you, or you might lose your job. In some parts of the world, you might even be murdered just for that admission.

And that’s what it’s like to be an atheist today. I look around and I wonder how everyone can believe in this thing for which there’s no positive evidence and loads of negative evidence, how everyone can spend so much time singing praises to this thing, and how everyone tells me I’m the crazy one!

Now you have an idea what it’s like to be me.


About mamamara

I'm a 40-something, work-at-home mother of two. I'm pro-vaccine, pro-medicine, pro-science, and an avid reader of information about all of the above, and I want to combine my love for my children with my love for science. So here we are!
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2 Responses to What it’s like to be an atheist

  1. chezperky says:

    I find your analogy breaks down toward the end. It’s hardly you sitting around with just 1 or 2 other likeminded people in this world. Surely there are far more atheists in the world than you are giving credit to here. Nevermind the agnostics who don’t necessarily believe in Santa Claus (or God, for that matter), nor do they particularly care one way or the other. Furthermore, you’ve basically made it a “me against them” kind of mentality and I find it difficult to believe that it’s really that black and white to live as an atheist in the world today, particularly in the United States, particularly in this region (sure if we were in the heart of the Bible Belt, it might be a bit trickier…). Do I think you’re crazy for not believing in Santa Claus? Nope. Do I believe in Santa Claus? Probably not, but more importantly, I don’t really care right now whether there’s a Santa Claus, nor what anyone else believes about Him. Or Her. Or Them. Or Whatever. What I know is that Santa Claus (fictional or otherwise) and I are currently not on speaking terms.

    • mamamara says:

      As I said on FB, sure *I’m* not being persecuted, because I live in an area that’s so blue it qualifies as clinically depressed. But plenty of people *are* being persecuted and there are a hell of a lot of people in this country who *do* care if Santa Claus exists. They care so much that they want to force the rest of us to worship the way they do. They want all the schools to teach that Santa Claus created the earth. They want to be sure that nobody in any state can have contraception or an abortion. And so on and so forth.

      Sure, the analogy isn’t perfect (they never are) but I really do believe it’s us against them and if we don’t hold on to our rights to not believe in or not be on speaking terms with Santa, we’re going to find things changing in a way we don’t like. Hell, they already are.

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