Atheist Parents sat down with David G. Mcafee to talk about his history, his books, and his philosophy:
AP David, you are, right now, one of the most prominent atheists online and offline, your first book "Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings" was a super success, and now you are launching your second book, "Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as Non-Believer.” What was it like for you to go from theist to atheist?
DGM Believe it or not, I actually never considered myself religious and can’t remember a time when I believed in a God – not that my grandparents didn’t try to get me to have faith and participate in their church; it just didn’t stick. Even though I was never a believer, I still had to “come out” as atheist at one point or another because theism and religiosity are the assumed points of view in many cultures, including mine. That is interesting in itself because religion is a learned behavior and, unlike non-belief, all people are born not believing in a God or gods, and only come to believe in such entities once they’ve been taught the idea by others — atheism is the “default” position
I did the best thing you can do: I told my parents as early as I knew I could articulate my lack of belief. I studied up on their religion first, attending church services sporadically and reading the Bible in my free time. Once I was comfortable that they wouldn’t dismiss me or my arguments, I told my parents that I wanted no part of organized religion, but I continued to study it and even ended up getting my Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies.
In college is where I really experienced the brunt of discrimination against non-believers. I self-published my first book (Disproving Christianity: Refuting the World’s Most Followed Religion) before I had graduated from school, and sales were doing pretty well. I was interested in pursuing a Master’s degree from my undergraduate school. I scheduled a meeting and, after a simple Google search of my name, the admissions director looked at me and said, “I need to word this carefully… you wouldn’t fit in with our department’s milieu because you are an atheist activist with an axe to grind.”
This bout of religious discrimination spawned a grievance against the school, a letter-writing campaign on my behalf, and eventually an apology letter from the department of Religious Studies. But most of all, I learned that “coming out” as an atheist isn’t just something children and young atheists have to worry about – it can profoundly impact your educational and professional lives, too.
AP You debate on your Web site, Twitter, and your Facebook page daily those who have faith in a god. Have you ever encountered an argument, from someone who believes, where you needed to stop and think? In other words... What is the best argument you have ever heard that there is a god?
DGM I don’t think necessarily that there are “good” arguments for deities because there’s simply no evidence – so each argument is automatically philosophical in nature and regards a general “higher power,” and not any specific deity – like Jesus or Allah. The most common argument, however, is the argument of irreducible complexity or the argument for design.
Complexity is solved relatively easily. A theist argues that this earth is too complex, too intricate, to have come from anything but an omnipotent Creator. But what is by definition more complex than the universe? A being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfect. They somehow don’t see the need for a designer there, though.
People who claim this planet was 'designed' for us don’t realize a few things. Firstly, if it weren't for our evolution and adaptations to surroundings that were constantly trying to kill us, our species would have died out long ago. They are also forgetting about deadly natural disasters, diseases, harsh seasons, cancer-causing sun rays, etc. There is really not a strong argument to be made for a perfect designer.
AP David, you are in essence, preaching atheism! You are saying there is no god! Why such a passion in something which doesn't exist?
DGM I certainly wouldn’t say that I’m preaching atheism; I’m simply pointing out errors in man-made myths. My interest, however, comes from a genuine interest in religion from a phenomenological approach. I find comparative religions and religious studies to be extremely interesting fields of study. Not only can we understand why people believe what they believe, but we can actually find out the origins of their specific myths and find where it was mixed with neighboring cultural belief systems – very interesting stuff!
If you study comparative religion, it's harder to be religious – religions are all very similar at the elementary level. Each organization has similar cult beginnings and "prophets." They each began as local myths before being applied to a global context and were spread through a mixture of violence and proselytization.
In America, not only do Christians make up the vast majority of our citizenship, but rates for elected officials are even higher. We’ve had to deal with things like 'IN GOD WE TRUST' being printed on our secular government’s money for far too long – but there are also instances of religious discrimination that I spoke of earlier and Creationism being taught in public schools. I speak out and advocate for secularism because I see the damage and the influence that religion has, even in modern cultures.
AP David, can you give any advice to parents who are raising atheist children?
DGM I don’t have children yet, but in the course of writing Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist, I talked to quite a few non-religious parents and got some great insights. In general, “teach scientific explanations” seems to be a common theme – and there are plenty of children’s books that provide easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works.
For my piece, though, I actually encourage a healthy dose of religious education early in life. Some introduction to a variety of religions early in life can help put into context the beliefs of these groups. When a religious parent teaches only his or her religious tradition, though, the child will usually grow up believing it. After all, what reason would the child have to doubt his or her parents? Why would they lie?
AP David, why are you doing what you are doing? Why not just live your life and let those who pray to god live theirs? Why are you making waves? Why do you actually care if someone believes or not?
DGM I actually don’t want to take away anyone’s right to believe what they wish – it is their right to pray to a magic man in the sky and it is their right to be wrong about that. It’s when religion encroaches upon the lives of others or begins to seep into the fabric of the legislation for a secular nation, that I believe it should be stopped.
I believe that helping those who are indoctrinated into religion when they were too young to know better escape those confines is also a reason to continue secular activism. It’s often the religious groups that hold back scientific progress and civil rights progress at every turn, historically and in modern times. And it’s because of the nature of holy books; they provide moral codes that necessarily become antiquated and irrelevant after a period of time. The stagnant morals of any holy book will always work to inhibit our own moral evolution.
AP Thank you so much for your time.