From your friendly neighborhood atheist
FFRF awarded Lucas $400.
By Lucas Ng
We have known each other for the last eight years, and I consider you to be one of my closest friends. However, I have never really explained to you what exactly I believe and why. In the past, whenever the subject of religion was brought up, I shrugged my shoulders and feigned disinterest. Arguments or even discussions about religious beliefs seemed a bit taboo to me because of how integral these beliefs are to our sense of self. As I have grown and matured, though, I have learned that having those conversations in an intelligent and respectful manner leaves everyone with a bit more knowledge of the world, its diversity, and what may lie beyond. I would like to try and initiate such a conversation between us.
I would describe myself as an atheist — a person who lacks belief in the existence of gods. I do not believe in the existence of any higher beings or the existence of any form of an afterlife. I think it is important to understand that I did not always hold this nonbelief. I was raised in a Chinese household that practiced traditional ancestor worship where family members were thought to become heavenly beings after passing.
The transition to atheism happened gradually over my middle school and high school years as I became more and more skeptical of the various beliefs contained within ancestor worship. Critical and logical thinking were touted as skills necessary for success throughout my school years, and religion just did not make sense to me rationally, as simple as that sounds. I saw no evidence of heavenly beings or of an afterlife, so I concluded that there was no reason for me to believe in either of those things.
Almost all of our friends, as you know, are Christians, and I applied the same line of thinking to God and heaven/hell. This reasoning has of course developed into a more nuanced and fleshed out argument the older I have grown, but the basic principles of rationality still serve as the foundation of my worldview.
Not too long after I became an atheist, I became aware of a very damaging misconception about atheists that many religious followers believe. In fact, I remember this issue came up in class during freshmen year in our religious studies elective. Because atheists do not believe in a god, they are accused of being immoral and unscrupulous because gods are believed to be the source of morality. Rest assured, I have a very rigid set of morals and ethics that I try to uphold every day of my life. Atheists are no more or less moral than any other person. I think it is rather clear that a person develops morality as they accumulate life experiences and I do not think that this development is restricted to the religious. For example, you do not have to go to church or read holy books to understand that murder is wrong. Interpretations of church teachings and holy books can vary greatly between individuals, anyway. Thus, I very much believe in subjective morality, that everyone is entitled to their own moral code.
I hope that I cleared up a bit of the mystery surrounding my nonbelief and that we can continue this conversation.
Lucas, 20, attends Iowa State University and plans to graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering.
“My main hobbies are running and reading,” Lucas writes. “I also enjoy playing video games. I lived in China during fifth and sixth grade, but before and after that, I have spent all of my time in the United States, mainly living in Iowa.”