Let me introduce myself. I'm Michael Aune, a long-time atheist living in the heart of the Deep South. My journey began sometime back in middle school; I can still recall the boy who asked me daily if “I believed in God yet”. I guess I should thank him for his daily goading, because he prevented me from becoming lax with regards to my philosophical outlook on the world. Nothing spurs someone on to self-discovery quite like a daily interrogation. I did what I feel are fairly typical things: read the Bible cover to cover, asked a lot of questions and argued with a lot of teenage evangelists. That time was my "angry evangelical" period, as I couldn't understand why my atheism was looked down on and why I had to constantly explain and defend myself to others. Thankfully, time goes on and people mature - I've been told I haven't, but those people are wrong.
I solidified my worldview throughout high school and plunged into a BA in Philosophy as soon as I entered college. After transferring to the world's greatest institution (Florida State University) I moved back to my hometown following my degree, feeling better equipped than ever to justify my beliefs to the world, yet now feeling no particular need to do so.
All that has changed over the last four or so years. I've held down a full-time job, had a long-term relationship, adopted two cats, and done the various things adults are expected to do. The world, however, just won't let well-enough alone.
There is no doubt in my mind that atheists are quietly one of the most misunderstood, mistrusted and disliked groups in America. I often feel like a stranger in my own country when I turn the TV to Fox News or hear our politicians rant about the need to teach Creationism in our schools. I see televangelists spouting hate and nonsense and reaping millions of dollars in return for their efforts. I see gay people denied basic civil rights because of religious objections the idea of gay marriage. I read studies that show atheists are trusted less by the general public than convicted rapists. I see “In God We Trust” on our currency. In short, the world so many other people occupy is not the one I occupy, nor is it the one I think I should be forced to live in. In light of that, I declare myself an antitheist.
I think Christopher Hitchens was right to be annoyed by the fact we free-thinkers have to even use the term 'atheist', especially given its pejorative history. To us, not believing in gods is on-par with not believing in unicorns, yet I don't have to positively avow that I am anti-unicorn, as Hitchens often pointed out during his spirited debates.
Many people will rightly point out that most of the problems I am highlighting are problems with religious influence, not with divine beings. While this is true, insofar as it is religious institutions that wield the influence necessary to affect the public sphere, I feel a bit like this is a game of Jenga; my goal is to remove the lynchpin that gives religious authorities their bite. That keystone is the concept of god(s).
Without divine beings in the traditional sense the major religions of the world simply cannot get off the ground. A Christian cannot deny equal civil rights to homosexuals without the notion of divine authority, as the Bible without divine inspiration is little more than a few decent ideas sandwiched between a whole lot of bad behavior. A Jihadist has no paradise to go to after committing atrocities without Allah there to provide the goods. Buddhists have no right to oppress Muslim minorities without a being-on-high providing justification for the act.
None of this is to say that religious people are inherently worse, and my words should not be taken in that way. What I aim to do is undermine a worldview that teaches subservience, the abdication of logic and personal responsibility, and the favoritism and prejudice that goes hand in hand with religious faith.
I believe, wholeheartedly, that religion is a detrimental force in the world, a holdover from our past, and an obstacle to our future.