These aren't just terms - They're a wonderful way of life.
You can be moral and find happiness in life without faith. In fact, by comparison, faith is blinding and narrow. Faith is the opposite of being open minded. Before discussing my choices, and why they are a wonderful way of life, I must include the definitions to some terms. The definitions are important because they are often casually misconstrued in conversation by those who have never actually looked into them.
"Freethought holds that individuals should not accept ideas proposed as truth without recourse to knowledge and reason. Thus, freethinkers strive to build their opinions on the basis of facts, scientific inquiry, and logical principles, independent of any logical fallacies or intellectually limiting effects of authority, confirmation bias, cognitive bias, conventional wisdom, popular culture, prejudice, sectarianism, tradition, urban legend, and all other dogmas. Regarding religion, freethinkers hold that there is insufficient evidence to support the existence of supernatural phenomena." [ Want to know more? ]
There are a couple variations of the term Atheist. Since it is, in my opinion, an important distinction, I'm going to include both; Strong and Weak Atheism.
"A strong atheist is one who positively asserts that "there is no god." Strong atheism is the form of atheism that most theists reference in debates, since most don't know the distinction between strong and weak atheism. However, strong atheists are rarer than most people think." [ Want to know more? ]
"A weak atheist is one who doesn't claim to know that there is no god, but instead simply lacks belief in a god. This form of atheism is the most common, and is sometimes called "agnostic atheism" (see our [Iron Chariots] discussion of atheist vs. agnostic). Every newborn baby is (unknowingly) a weak atheist, and remains so until the concept of god is introduced to him or her. Weak atheists often argue that theirs is the only rational position, as both theism and strong atheism make positive claims." [ Want to know more? ]
Though I am not too disturbed by those who take the strong atheist position, I am personally more aligned with the weak atheist position. I have seen some take the strong position asserting there are no gods, which is not provable (you can't prove a negative claim), but I can hardly blame them. If I were to say that there are no unicorns, would you doubt it? Stating there are no gods, is in the same ball-park in that regard. It's semantics, positioned in a game of chess, to make a point. Frankly, it does no harm, either way. Though, to be as accurate as one can be, we can only say that, like god, there's no reason to believe that there are unicorns. We could lay out all the evidence of how the stories of unicorns were manufactured, but again, to be as accurate as possible, you can’t disprove a negative - you can't prove there are no unicorns. This brings about the stalemate of positions as neither can be proven or disproven. In these situations, I find it just as reasonable to casually assert there are no unicorns. Thusly, it's not much of a reach to casually assert there are no gods.
"Humanism is a comprehensive life stance that upholds human reason, ethics, and justice, and rejects supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition. Many Humanists derive their morals from a philosophy of Ethical naturalism, and some acknowledge a science of morality." [ Want to know more? ]
A reasonable and moral way of life
All of these terms are, to me, inter-related. They are a guide to making sense of the world we live in, finding meaning, and being happy, without a delusional crutch. They are promoters of what I call the single most important skill of being human: seeking knowledge. This is not distinctly human, as other animals have the ability as well, in different ways. For example, primates, octopus, dolphins and whales, to name a few, are all very intelligent, and have the ability to learn. To clarify though, humans in particular have not only the ability and desire to seek knowledge, but also have the ability to pass it on to the next generation. Combine that with our unparralleled skills with language and the payoff is realized when our future generations benefit from our work. It serves to find truth for the sake of truth. With knowledge and truth, you can see farther, know more, appreciate diversity, engender to be more than you were, be interested and interesting, engaging, content, taste wisdom, and feel good about who you are. Whereas, the longer and more intently you cover your eyes and obey the tenets of false beliefs, the harder you will fall. I know, I fell hard, and I was never even a qualified theist. I had my doubts, but assumed that one day I might discover the correct and right god, that would give my life meaning, purpose, and joy. I intend to show you why I've made my choices, and why I see them as the best candidate for being the most moral person I can be.
I'm guilty too, unwittingly, of making the assumption that atheists and evil were both married to Satan himself, holding hands, burning children and running the country amuck with a love for anarchy. That’s so far from the truth, and so utterly laughable, I'm embarrassed to have even mentioned it. But, alas, I am human too. As shown above, atheism is nothing more than a response to a claim. Atheism has no dogma, no authority figures, rules or scriptures. It simply responds to a claim of gods with a reply: You lack the evidence. Everything one might assert, claim or do, subsequent to that definition, is beyond the scope of the term. If someone does something you deem immoral, it would not be because they are atheist, it would be because they are immoral. The two terms are not equivalent, nor are they even in the realm of a factual correlation. In fact, compare the atheist definition to religious scripture, and guess which one has bloodthirsty calls for war? Atheism is a single response to a claim. Religions (the vast majority) contain massive histories of violence, intolerance, and immoral justifications for war. The claim that atheism is a call for violence, is like reading the words "I doubt that" as "Let's go to war". There is no foundation for the claim, whatsoever. Sure, there might be some evil-doers out there who might also be atheists, though they are not doing so in the name of atheism. However, ask yourself if you've ever heard of any devoutly religious folks doing evil in the name of their religion (Crusaders, religious cults, televangelists, faith healers, World Trade Center, etc., etc.)
Atheism, as a response to a claim, when combined with Freethought and humanism is to me, the same thing as moral wisdom. Beyond that of just letting go of false and immoral god crutches, these terms aspire one to seek to be educated, moral, righteous, and happy - in as much as we can hope to be. Living with and for truth, while being considerate, just, and passionate for others, is to seek to be a wise human. Sure we might falter, it's inevitable to life, but we must learn from our mistakes and be wiser tomorrow than we were today. If we were all eternal, perfect, and thinking and doing in sheer automatic and unhindered unison, we would be nothing more than robots. It is death itself that motivates us to live not only as best that we can, but also as best that we can with each other. Without death, there would be no reason to live - ponder that for a while, please. I'm not asserting that I am wise, or smarter than the next person. In fact, I'm merely a student, who constantly makes mistakes, and constantly recognizes his own faults (to a fault). I am human. What is wise though, is realizing that our mistakes are to be revered. Mistakes are what cause you to improve, ask the next question, refine your technique, and provide some measure of humility and laughter along the way.
Just like science, I make assumptions, and then fail miserably testing those assumptions, over and over, until I have found strong evidence. Just like science, after gaining knowledge, I give my findings up for scrutiny, where they may be tested, found wanting or revised and strengthened. This process continues until I can, for the benefit of progress and efficiency, stand proudly upon facts or dismiss it as unfounded. Evolution, the most scrutinized and tested theory ever, proving itself time and time again without fail, is a fact. Evolution is the epitome of a theory that was intensely tested, and affirmed, beyond all measure of reasonable doubt, that it only serves to discredit those who dispute it. Science not only worked, it was beaten over the head with a blunt object for hundreds of years, and survived unscathed. That is science. That is an example of truth. It is those who would ignore facts, like evolution, that miss out on what it is to seek truth for the sake of truth. This is what it means to be educated - to seek verifiable evidence, to serve the truth, admit mistakes, find knowledge, and ask the next big questions for the sake of progress.
Morality through science is just as compelling and obvious to me. Due to the fact that the things we feel, how we think, and our motivations are all the products of our brains, it stands to reason that as we learn more about the brain, the more answers we will glean in response to some fantastic questions. Since we are all, including other animals, innately born with a desire to live, morality is innately the default position. If we were all born killers, how would any species live on? You want to live, preferably happily, so by reason alone, we want others to have the same benefit we want for ourselves. Science has under its wings biology and neurology (among many others). Just as we have gleaned answers to big questions in the past from these fields, science has always delivered the goods, and brought us knowledge and understanding. When we don't have the answers to a question, it's a disgrace to either claim supernatural magic is the answer, or to hinder the actual scientific discovery process in search of the answers. Religion has always been the antithesis of science. Consider that the church imprisoned Galileo for the remaining nine years of his life for having discovered that the earth was not the center of the universe. The church subsequently declared science as heresy and evil. Consider that it was and always has been religion that has sought to undermine scientific progress and education. This debacle of insanity continues today, as it was just in July of 2011 that the Texas Board of Education was considering including creationism masked as 'Intelligent Design' propaganda into its science teaching as 'an alternative science to evolution'. It is not a stretch of the imagination to see why the various churches would want to attempt to discredit atheism as evil. We have to wonder why they are so devious in their tactics to undermine science for having done nothing more than seeking knowledge - and then it dawns on me, religion teaches immorality, by example and commandment, which is the exact opposite of what I hope to be.
You don't have to sign anything to become an atheist, nor be dipped in water, nor celebrate it on Sunday. You simply need to live, love, and seek honorable knowledge beyond that of belief and superstition - and you don't even have to tell me you did it. Have you always wanted to do something great? Get off your butt, and do it with honor, respect, and truth. Be everything you always aspired to be. You have one life to live - make the most of it. It is, by the very fact that you are only here once, and then forever nevermore, that you should be compelled to enjoy, appreciate, and contribute to the next generation that will invariably face the same obstacles and questions you have. Knowledge and morality is that path. Seek and question, and you shall find.
Suggested inspirational, moral, and intelligently rational reading:
Need to find understanding and sanity in a crazy world? Want to know more about being moral and wise?
Read, The Good Book - The Humanist Bible (If Genesis were written by a real god, this is what it should have said).