Yes, I, Bryan Hughes, am an atheist, and have been for about 6-7 years now. I'm sure there are some of you who are thinking, "Duh, I've known that for years," and yet there are others who are thinking, "I'm shocked! I had no idea!" This post is mostly geared towards the latter. This is not a post on why I don't believe; instead this post is about what it means for me to be an atheist.
One of the biggest questions you may be asking yourself is how I went from a fairly devout Christian to an atheist. I won’t go into details of why I hold the worldview that I do, so I will keep this brief. When I was in middle school and high school, I was somewhere in between a traditional Christian and a deist. I believed God was real and prayed fairly regularly, but I tended to view the stories of Jesus as parables, stories to help show us how to live our lives. Once I got into college, these views faded over time. There was no crisis of faith or a single event that led me to loosing my faith, and I didn’t loose my faith because I was angry at how some religious believers act or have acted throughout history. Rather, it was a gradual process that started sometime in 2003-2004 as far as I can tell, and progressed from deist, then to agnostic, and finally to atheist sometime around 2007-2008. I don't know the exact time because I didn't choose to become an atheist. I simply realized I was one.
When I say I am an atheist, what do I actually mean by that? There are a lot of different definitions of "atheist" out there, and a lot of misconceptions too. For me, being atheist does not mean that I am 100% positive, without any shred of doubt, that no god or gods exist. I admit that there is a possibility that I am mistaken. This is true for most atheists out there too. I and other atheists still call ourselves atheists because claiming "you must believe, without any doubt, that there is no god or gods to be an atheist" makes the term "atheist" pretty worthless, because 99.99% of nonbelievers would be classified as agnostic. I choose to use the term "atheist" because I live my life day to day as if no god or gods exist, and I do not spend any time contemplating the question of whether or not god or gods exist. This isn’t any different than Christians who still call themselves Christians even if they aren’t 100% certain that God and Jesus exist exactly as they are described in the Bible.
I also want to state that it is not my goal or desire to get rid of all religious belief in the world. I especially don't think people should be coerced or strong armed into taking any specific world view by others. For me, it is important that people come to their own considered, well-informed conclusions. It really bothers me when people regurgitate nonsense for their beliefs (or lack thereof) that they have accepted without first questioning it. This is true whether it's religious people claiming atheists are immoral god-hating devil worshippers (we aren't), or non-believers claiming all religious people are idiot sheeple who are incapable thinking for themselves (they're not). It’s important that people take steps to try and understand their own beliefs (or lack thereof) and the beliefs of others (or lack thereof).
Finally, I want to talk about religion and identity. It is easy for us, as a species, to take a single aspect of a person, such as their religious beliefs, and view everything about that person through a lens. So many people think, "Oh that person is an atheist, so by extension they must think this way about everything else," replacing that person with a caricature they formed in their mind of what all atheists (or believers) must be like. This behavior leads directly to "othering" people, aka "us versus them" mentalities. We should not do this. We are not defined by our religious beliefs, not really anyways. Looking back over the course of the last 15 years or so (since I started college), my religious beliefs have changed drastically, but my core values and who I am as a person hasn't changed that much. I am still the same person I was before. I also don't view the religious people in my life differently now than I did 15 years ago, they are all still the same people too.
Yes, I am an atheist, and I don't want to hide it anymore. It is unfortunate that simply stating what I am can be so divisive, but I hope that by being open about it, I can show the friends and family in my life that atheists are just ordinary people. We atheists are your neighbors, your colleagues, your family. And I am not "just an atheist." I am a software developer, and a photographer, and a film buff, and a hiker, and many other things.