Since I started attending Quaker meetings a few months ago, I’ve been thinking a lot more about theism, atheism, and other terms regarding belief in deities, or gods. I came to the Religious Society of Friends to find common ground with people dedicated to pacifism and equality, while well aware that most Quakers are Christian and don’t share my religious background or views. So I feel it’s important for me to explain what I mean when I say that I’m an atheist, as there are a lot of misconceptions about atheists, and — importantly — not all people using that label share the same views.
As I’ve written here previously, I became an atheist at the age of 16, now over 36 years ago. I grew up in a secular household with a white Jewish father and a Black mother who had no specific religious affiliation, but believed in God and taught me to pray at night. By the age of 12, I had begun questioning whether or not this omnipotent deity actually existed. I learned of the term “agnostic” from a radio talk show host, and began identifying as such.
A few years later, I was having a discussion about religion with fellow classmates on a school trip, when it dawned on me that this God was made in the image of man, and not the other way around. At that point I decided that I was an atheist. In the decades since that day, I’ve explored a number of different religions and have had many opportunities to change my mind, but have yet to experience anything to convince me otherwise.
I recognize, however, that this description of God is but one conception of deity. Many progressive followers of Abrahamic religions have a more expansive view of deity that doesn’t envision God as a Father so much as a universal presence, spirit, or force. I can relate to this view more easily, and am fine when others speak of it, as I’m open to the possibility that such a thing exists.
Despite being open to this possibility, I am still an atheist, not agnostic, as I do not use theological terms to describe such a presence. Some might say this is splitting hairs, but the distinction is important to me. Among other reasons, in the U.S., where I have lived my whole life, belief in God is very strongly correlated with a concept that I specifically reject: An…