You can be good without god by Ed Sweeney

By Ed Sweeney

“It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” — W. K. Clifford

No, I didn’t take a class in atheism or religion at the University of California-Berkeley, where I graduated in 1965. Attending Catholic schools for 12 years and going to church every Sunday did not require much thinking. Everything they wanted me to know was fed to me. I was often told, don’t ask so many questions, that is just the way it is, some things are a mystery.

It didn’t take long for me when I arrived at Berkeley to figure out that my goal was knowledge, but I was sidetracked into studying accounting so I could have a career, job and family. Now that I’m retired, I can spend more time seeking knowledge by attending classes in Ohio State University’s Program 60, which included “The Philosophy of Religion” and “The Philosophy of Evolutionary Biology.”

At Berkeley I lived in a fraternity. Few of the men there were religious. We often had philosophical discussions, including whether or not there was a god. I had prepared for this by reading books to defend my beliefs to no avail. I could not prove that there was a god, and the arguments that there was not a god got me thinking critically, which was encouraged by professors and students.

Before my father’s funeral in California in 2007, the priest asked me to participate in the ceremony. I said I did not want to because I was now an atheist. He looked surprised and asked me how I became an atheist. I told him I went to Berkeley and learned how to think. There was no further comment.

Throughout my life I identified as an atheist but did not become active until 2008. Before that I did look into other religions, including Buddhism (which is nontheistic and not really a religion), the Infinite Way (similar to Christian Science), and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). I also read books such as The World’s Religions by Huston Smith.

Finding my tribe

In 2008, I attended the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s 31st annual national convention in Chicago. It felt great to be with similar thinking people, like I had found my tribe. One thing religion has going for it is that it fulfills the human need for community.

I searched for local activities in Columbus and found the Humanist Community of Central Ohio. I first attended their winter solstice luncheon and have been active ever since, including serving on the board of directors. I am also active in Central Ohio United Non Theists (COUNT), Recovering From Religion and Beyond Belief. I have also attended other conventions and events put on by the Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, Center for Inquiry, American Humanist Association and American Atheists.

I have learned that you can be good without god.

I have read over 50 books written by atheists and have listened to numerous talks and debates. My favorite is Sam Harris. I believe I can hold my own in any discussion with a religious person who attempts to prove that there is a god.

I had two letters to the Columbus Dispatch editor published: “Some felt unwelcome at mayor’s prayer luncheon” (2012) and “Holy Quran can be read another way” (2015).

I feel so much more authentic now that I am an out-of-the-closet atheist.

Ed Sweeney wrote this essay for a college class he’s taking, after retiring in 2013 at age 71 from a career in financial management. He has two sons and lives with his wife Nita and their yellow Lab Morgan. He cooks lunch on Mondays at a senior center, is a volunteer court-appointed guardian who helps people make medical decisions and is a child services guardian ad litem. In 2010, Ed received a CFO of the Year honorable mention award for his service as chief financial officer for the House of Hope substance abuse treatment facility.

Freedom From Religion Foundation