I am an atheist. There, I said it. I wasn’t always an atheist, but even as a child I knew I was leaning that way. Like many, I was raised with the religion of my parents, and mine are Jewish. At first I was the child of Jewish parents, and then after what I still consider to be some intimate and impressive soul searching for a 12-year-old, I decided that I was Jewish. I decided to assume that name, history, traditions, and bloodline it represents. To me, Judaism is more culture than scripture. In that sense I honor it secularly for a sense of connecting with my own heritage.
Again like many, as a child I thought of god as a bearded man in the sky. He would benevolently watch my family and listen to my prayers. As I grew I began to think of god as not an omnipotent deity but more of a laissez-faire creator that sets the boundaries of physics. Into my teens and now my twenties, I began to reject the idea of a higher power all together. Now, I am almost certain there is no god. I live as if there isn’t one. Of course I can’t prove god doesn’t exist, but the probability that the Abrahamic deity exists and is the god is about as likely as the existence of Zeus or fairies or Russell’s Flying Teapot. It’s a feeling in my gut and a logical deduction of probability in my brain. But why?
In this edition of Ethos, writer Rachel LaChapelle examines why the Pacific Northwest, part of the aptly-named “Unchurched Belt,” is so irreligious (yet not to the extent of Nordic countries). Portland is the least religious city in the United States. That is fascinating to me and makes this topic a natural pick for Ethos. Competing theories about why there are so many non-believers in our area paint a telling picture of our local culture. Was it the rugged 1940s post-war individualism that bred atheists here? Or did they migrate? Was it the so-called culture politics of the last 30 years that drove our nation’s youth to abandon the politics that stifled their desire for liberalism? It’s a motley of conflicting, enigmatic stories which elude a unifying answer.
Still, according to Pew, 33% of Americans under 30 now identify as having no religion. Yet in a different study, Pew found only 45 percent of America would vote for a well qualified atheist. Atheists are here – en masse – and have been for some time. Many of our nations founders were decidedly agnostic (or at most Deists) who remained closeted because of political pressure. Today it’s likely they would be outright atheists. It takes courage to admit disbelief. For those who know how they feel but are afraid to say so: take the plunge. The water’s cold but refreshing.
– Gordon Friedman
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