Posted by on Dec 21, 2011 in Essays | 1 comment

Name: Jared Cowan

Born: May 1987

Location: Tennessee

Organization Affiliation: None Officially, American Atheists Unofficially

Label: Atheist, Secularist, Secular Buddhist, Atheist With Buddhist Influences, Apatheist

Former Religious Affiliation: Presbyterian Christian, Deist

My Story

Being an atheist is still tough for me–to be out about in public with friends and family, as opposed to on the internet with its anonymity. I’m already socially awkward as it is. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome only a year or so after my pressured conversion to Christianity, due mostly to feelings of social isolation and desire to belong. Eventually, I began to drift away from most of my childhood faith, but still partly clung to it through the God of the gaps issue. I researched Deism and identified myself as that for at least half of my high school career. It eventually occurred to me that affirming God’s existence as a start, but not a present involvement in my worldview was pointless and impractical. One day in class, my internal dialogue concluded that I was a Buddhist or atheist. I still have strong Buddhist influences, but do not take much of what has become of Buddhism seriously in supernatural claims, but the philosophy it inspired. Zen and Theravadan Buddhism are my two biggest sources of Buddhist thought.

Around the time I was half Deist, half atheist Buddhist and all around skeptic, I also found a hobby I still devote myself to, much more than my background in martial arts that ended for the most part after I graduated college. Japanese culture still fascinates me as I learn more and more and its comics and animation, manga and anime respectively, are two of my greatest loves, along with the first martial art I studied, Wado Ryu Karate. It’s more acceptable to be an otaku, to like anime and manga or other such things, than being an atheist amongst my family. At least one cousin of mine (slightly distant) is into Naruto, for example, and his evangelical father has no problem with his three most inspirational people on his Facebook page being Jesus, Naruto and God.

Even telling them I’m a Brony; someone who likes My Little Pony (especially Friendship Is Magic) would be easier. Telling my extended and immediate family I’m an atheist, particularly those of a generation before or around the time when the government tried to theify and distinguish itself from Communist Russia, is something I still haven’t done seriously. I could discuss it with my brother, only a few years younger, or relatives much closer to my age with children. It’s when you are in a certain perspective, not necessarily a particular age group, that you become stubborn, from my experience. Any age group can be indoctrinated to believe that there are no atheists, only misotheists; that is, no real disbelievers in God, only believers who hate God. Many Southerners are not like the stereotype you hear about; they live and let live as far as I tend to observe, though not always. My own parents have probably known I’m atheist at heart for a while, but they still let me live under their roof and struggle to find a job. Evidently, the acceptability of atheism is progressing, though at a pace relative to a culture still learning to accept the GLBT community.

There is discrimination against atheists in today’s society, even if it isn’t hateful to the extent of violence. People mean well, but many times, they have refused to go outside their comfort zone, or they just can’t imagine someone having a fulfilled life without God. There is distrust, dislike and sometimes outright disgust, but you can only fault the person so much. The real source of the problems is belief systems people cling to and refuse to distance themselves from except when it’s done by the larger group (e.g. Westboro Baptist Church or Lord’s Resistance Army). When it comes down to problems one could bring up about Christianity, people would respond about the uniqueness of Jesus compared to others. But why should that matter if there is no evidence or reason to believe Jesus came back from the dead except hedging bets and probability?

There are many atheists across the country, and that should be a source of support if you feel like you’re the only atheist in your area. You are not alone. You may lose friends, you may be estranged from family members, but you are no longer living a lie, you no longer believe something with inadequate evidence to support it.  We do not need to speculate on the supernatural nor posit the paranormal, but focus on the natural and preternatural at best. There may be things we don’t understand at present, but they may very well be something we can frame within science and a naturalistic perspective.

It’s perfectly fine to be an atheist, especially in today’s much more diverse society. Being an atheist does not make you evil or less loving of humanity, and in most cases would make you affirm morals and love humans much more than before, since they are both not created, but generated by our own collective ethical consciousness of sorts or a natural process called biological evolution. Atheism, like theism, is merely a position about the existence of some concept called “God”, whatever that entails. It does not make you anything else but what you discern and conclude from thought. To be an atheist is not something we should hide. We should embrace it and be open about it. I will strive to be more outgoing in my atheism and encourage you to as well. I’m Jared Cowan and “We Are Atheism.”

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