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I am an atheist.

It should be a simple thing to say, but it’s not. Even today, in our allegedly enlightened and tolerant age, there are many places throughout the world where this simple, harmless word is greeted with revulsion, opprobrium, and anger. In some countries, it may even bring criminal charges and mobs howling for blood. These reactions aren’t surprising, considering that for hundreds of years the “A” word and its synonyms—“godless,” “infidel,” “heretic,” “heathen”—have been used as bywords for wickedness, immorality, and everything else that decent and upstanding people should condemn.

However, these reactions are not grounded in the facts. Most of them arise from unfortunate misconceptions about who atheists are and what we believe. In the interests of clarity, let me begin by clearing a few of these up.

Yes, I am an atheist. No, I don’t kick puppies or steal candy from babies. I don’t hate God, but I don’t have any secret desire to worship him either. Nor do I worship Satan. I haven’t had any bad personal experiences with a church, nor did a religious person do something to hurt me at some time in the past, nor did I have a bad relationship with my father. I don’t hate my country, and I’m not a communist, an anarchist, a nihilist, or a moral relativist. I don’t want to outlaw religion. I’m not angry or depressed; I’m quite happy as I am, actually. In fact, I’m a person just like you. You probably wouldn’t recognize me as an atheist if you passed me on the street.

But I am indeed an atheist. What this means, very simply, is that I don’t believe in any gods. Not Jesus, not Yahweh, not Allah, not Vishnu, not Odin, not Zeus, not Quetzalcoatl, not Marduk, not Ahura Mazda, nor any of the other thousands of deities humanity has invented throughout its history. I don’t single out any of them—I treat them all the same, and lack belief in each one equally. As far as I’m concerned, they’re all imaginary—mere products of the human imagination and nothing more.

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