There are a lot of people out there living without religion.
According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, in 2012 19.6 percent of Americans were not affiliated with any religion, and it's a number that's growing rapidly.
Within that category, 2.4 percent of Americans identified themselves as atheists.
I’m one of them.
The 2.4 percent doesn’t sound like much, but, according to Pew, there are actually more atheists in this country than there are Muslims or Hindus.
The numbers speak for themselves — atheism, agnosticism or even simple religious indifference is a viable way to live.
Something I’ve learned over the years is that spirituality is not an-all-or-nothing affair, but a long gradient — I know people who may not be religious, but still consider themselves spiritual.
As an atheist, I sit at the extreme end of that gradient, with an absolute surety in my beliefs (or lack thereof).
Not only do I not believe in any god, but in any form of the supernatural as well.
It’s something I’m so comfortable with that it often surprises me how unusual it is in this country.
I can’t say I was raised an atheist, but was raised in such a manner that atheism was inevitable.
My mother is both a geologist and a molecular biologist and my father was trained as a marine biologist.
Family trips to the desert and the ocean were enlightening lessons on the epic history of the world and life — billions of years of change and upheaval, on a scale and magnitude that literally defies the imagination.
I was raised to have a deep respect for the rational and real.
My parents were never really disparaging of religion — it simply wasn’t there in our household.
When I first personally encountered religion in my elementary school classmates, I must admit I was disdainful.
Why would someone put so much faith in something that could never be proved to be real?
Thankfully, my attitudes on religion evolved with age.
I recognized that the nature of any religion is less important than the nature of the people who practice it.
People create religion and all practice it in their own ways, constituent with their own personalities.
I will never judge a person for practicing any form of spirituality, because for me, the person, not the particulars or fact of their faith, is what matters to me.
Religion is a deeply personal thing, and it is not my place — or anyone else's — to try to impose anything in that area.
Like I’ve said, there are a lot of people out there who don’t consider themselves religious, but outright atheism is rare, and it’s often not tolerated.
I’ve been fortunate to grow up in an area where I encountered very little intolerance personally, and to be honest, the great majority of, say, devout Christians, are perfectly reasonable people who don’t take issue with people like me.
One of things critics of atheism like to say, and the one that really angers me, is that a lack of "faith" makes us inherently amoral or even immoral.
It’s a remarkably arrogant position to take — assuming one’s own religion, and not basic human nature, is the fount of morality and decency.
There’s also the implication that we are somehow broken or missing some critical component of our humanity.
Sure, a purely rationalist upbringing gives me a different worldview than most of my peers, but I’m still capable of sympathy and empathy.
I grew up in the same society, was taught the same moral codes as everyone else.
My parents did not raise a monster.
I don’t feel like I'm missing anything. I have no repressed desire to convert to anything — I’m perfectly comfortable with who I am.
I actually enjoy, and am proud of, being an atheist.
Atheism makes no demands, but it gives nothing as well.
We instinctively want to live in a world that makes sense, that fits into a narrative, that rewards us for doing good and punishes us for being bad, that has an order to it, where there is a meaning — a point — to life.
True atheism provides none of these things — it’s just you and a grand, complex and unpredictable world.
For me, there is a kind of coldly beautiful truth to atheism that I find sublimely refreshing.
Atheism is not for everyone. In fact it’s apparently not for most people. It’s an unforgiving way to live, but it’s a way I feel is a perfectly viable way to make one’s way in the world.