May 25, 2022

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“Be excellent to each other”: Atheists answer “what do you believe in?”

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Though atheists are sometimes accused of having no beliefs or morality, a number of them put the lie to that, by revealing the things that they do indeed believe in.

On the huge Reddit forum r/AskReddit, boasting 35.8 million members, u/__Jacob_____ asked “Atheists, what do you believe in?” along with a tag signaling they were only interested in serious answers. The post got over 16,400 upvotes and 14,300 comments.

In the top post, u/imCIK earned 20,700 upvotes for their comment, “I believe in a universe that doesn’t care, and people that do.” Later in the thread, they said the line was from Night in the Woods, a video game they said “resonated with me allot and I still think about it all the time.”

That user wasn’t the only one to invoke pop culture in explaining themselves.

“Be excellent to each other,” u/corndogwolverine wrote, quoting the maxim film heroes Theodore “Ted” Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esquire live by in the Bill and Ted trilogy.

Others quoted from more serious sources, like u/sharrrper, who quoted Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who ruled between 161-180 C.E.

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones,” Aurelius (and u/sharrrper) wrote.

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A number of atheists shared what they do believe in on Friday in a viral thread to the r/askreddit forum.
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Others took the question as asking about the bigger questions, like what happens when someone dies.

“You’re born. You live. You die. That’s it. After you die, you cease to exist, the same as before you were born,” u/serefina wrote.

“Realistically, I think nothing happens. We literally experience nothing after death. Same thing that we experience before birth. We don’t exist, so it’s nothing. I think the tenant that we should follow while living is to try to be happy and healthy while minimizing the damage we do to each other,” u/Better_Meat_ wrote.

“What I would LIKE to happen after death is whatever you believe in, exists. I think Christians should get to go to heaven if they truly believe in it, Hindus and Buddhists get reincarnated, and everyone else also gets to experience what they believe they will experience,” they added, clarifying that would mean they would experience “nothing” after death.

A common thread, however, was basically, “people.”

“That we’re a communal and altruistic species, that we thrive when we come together, and that helping others is the best way to a happier life for yourself,” u/Wazula42 wrote.

“I choose to be, if not a good person, then a compassionate person because I choose to be,” u/koombot wrote. “I believe in me.”

“Humanity. Despite its very obvious, and apparent, flaws. I believe we have it in us to excel and be better,” u/YouProbablyBoreMe wrote.

The number of Americans who identify as atheists or agnostics is increasing. A December 2021 Pew Research Center poll found that 29 percent of Americans say they have no religious affiliations, up from 23 percent in 2016 and 19 percent in 2011.

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That said, there may be benefits to having faith. A 2018 study by a doctoral student in psychology at Ohio State University found that people whose obituary mentioned religious affiliation lived, on average, four years longer than those whose obituaries don’t.

There are a number of atheist celebrities, including Billy Joel, Emma Thompson and Daniel Radcliffe.

“I think that the Bible as a system of moral guidance in the 21st century is insufficient, to put it mildly,” Thompson said in a 2008 interview. “I feel quite strongly that we need a new moral lodestone if we can’t rely on what is inside our own selves. Which I think, actually, is pretty reliable.”

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