When I decided to write an article about atheists’ New Year’s resolutions, I didn’t realize what a headache I was letting myself in for. Atheists just aren’t big on making them. Perhaps that has something to do with the religious origins of the habit (the practice goes back to ancient New Year’s rites centered around the two-faced Roman god, Janus) but more likely, it’s because we’re a generally pragmatic bunch that doesn’t like making promises we might not be able to keep (according to Quirkology, only 12% of resolution-makers kept to their goal after 1 year). Still, I was resolved to find some that made resolutions… so I spent a good part of my time at an atheist solstice party in Los Angeles last week with a notepad in hand instead of a drink and went looking for them.
To a man (and woman), no one had any. I decided a change of tactics was in order. “Make one up,” I told people. “If it’s not atheist-related, that’s ok.” At this point I was willing to accept anything. If they couldn’t come up with anything on the spot, I kept going back and asking, “got anything yet?” Thanks to this tactic, I suspect no one who was there will ever think of me as the life of the party, but I did get results. Here are a few of them:
Some were typical of the kind you’d find in any community, such as Linda’s “I’d like to get a group of friends together to join me in following 8 Weeks to Optimal Health by Dr. Andrew Weil.”
Milt, an author, resolved to “make all my atheist-themed books available in the Kindle (a device for reading e-books) format.”
Ahmed, who’s working on an engineering degree, had a unique resolution: “This year I’d like to send an experimental balloon to the edge of space on just a student budget.”
Stuart just wants “to finish reading all the freethought books I’ve bought over the last decade.”
Richard might be a little star-struck. “I want to meet and shake hands with Richard Dawkins (probably the best-known living atheist) this year.“
Others were perhaps a wee bit flippant, like Joel’s “I’d like to remain married this year… maybe even to the same woman” and Rodney’s “I’d like to meet a good pagan woman.” I have the sneaking suspicion they came up with these just to keep me from pestering them further.
There were a few resolutions that were poignant, like Curtis’s “I want to work on eliminating my fear of death,” and Chris’s similar one about fear of the unknown.
Some answers were dismissive. Loren said, “I resolve to ask God for nothing this year but since I was raised as an atheist, I keep that resolution every year.“
Others could be considered evangelical. Sam wanted “to see one of my ping-pong pals who’s religious, become a free-thinker.” Mark and Gary both wanted “to speak out more frequently” about their non-belief in front of believers.
Along the same lines, Elizabeth wants to study the Bible and “be less reticent about sharing my atheism and it’s (the Bible’s) absurdities with others.”
Some were more accomodating, such as Bruce’s “My resolution is to treat Christians the same as I’d like to be treated and not try to convert them” and Cindy’s “I want to cultivate tolerance of those with different beliefs and, while remaining true to my own principles, work with them as much as I can.”
That’s a very small sampling of atheists and, as you can see, they express a wide variety of New Year’s resolutions. Now there’s only one more of them to report… my own. After all the trouble I had prying these few resolutions out of that many atheists, I hereby resolve not to try this experiment again next year!
(Editor’s note: This article was written for New Year’s Eve 2009/2010. I’ll be going to another atheist solstice party at the same place this weekend and, if I’m enough of a glutton for punishment, I’ll try and cajole the people I reported on here into telling me whether they kept their resolutions or not… and report back to you)
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