The first atheist that I became aware of was Madalyn Murray O’Hair. I remember well the gasps and looks of astonishment from the Christians around me at the mention of her name and her claim of atheism. I can remember many conversations linking her atheism to devil worshipping and satanic cults or even demonic possession. Mrs. O’Hair’s atheism, and the contempt that Christians held for her formed my first views on atheism. Where I lived in the bible belt no one identified publically with being an atheist. If there were atheists living in the community they kept to themselves and kept their views quiet. I’m sure an awareness of the South’s darker periods of lynching people who were disapproved of had not escaped them.
As an adult I began to meet people who were unabashed in claiming to be atheists, intellectual and professional people who I admired and even formed friendships with. My views on atheism were reformed and my understanding of atheists became that they were people not unlike me in questioning religious doctrines even if they had reached a conclusion that I myself remained skeptical of.
My awareness of atheism changed again when I began participating in online forums. I became aware of what I would call extreme atheists. I have heard the term “militant atheist” used in describing these atheists who are in my opinion the mirrored image of extreme fundamentalists with the only detectable difference between them being the choice of belief or disbelief in a deity. Otherwise their attitudes and behaviors are indistinguishable from my perspective.
The reality is that in religion there are narrow minded, venom spewing extremist and this is also true in atheism. It is unfortunate that it is these extremists that garner the spotlight, and those who strive to peacefully coexist with others, both the religious and nonbelievers, are sometimes lost behind the fanaticism.
I have many friends who are atheists and I accredit their views in allowing me to loosen the strangle hold of dogma that once restricted my spirituality. What I have discovered is that their views did not destroy my faith, but challenged me to search deeper into my reasoning for believing in the supernatural and the infinite enigma that I have referred to as God