Joumana Haddad

Why am I an atheist?

Image courtesy of pepsieliot.wordpress.com

Note: This essay is a translation of the original Arabic which appeared in An Nahar newspaper on Saturday March 23, 2013. You can read the Arabic version here.  


I am an atheist. This is not one of the slogans that change with time, according to circumstances and trends. This is not a claim that I am taking up to be “fashionable”, in an era deeply polarized between non-believers and religious extremists.

I am an atheist, based on a purely rational and intellect-inspired stance.

Once upon a time, when I was a child, I used to be a believer. I used to feel that the god I was raised to love in my family’s environment was an essential core of my being; that my personal life, and social, cultural and spiritual lives, can only exist through him. Over time, I lost that feeling. I lost the feeling that this essence fills my being. I stopped being the person who was born in that devout environment. Why? Is it because I want to rebel on my childhood, and rituals, and traditions, and community, and parents, and family? Or is it because I came to be influenced by a contrasting essence, which provoked me to have a conflicting stance with the one I was raised on?

This essay is not a search for god. It is, simply, a search for me. For my truths. For the inner journey that I constantly take in my depths in order to better understand myself; depths where I don’t find that god that was once the foundation of my life.

God is not the source of my life anymore, or a quintessence, or a reality, or a fact. He became an idea that I receive with my mind, and that I deal with and process by reason.

And because I don’t feel that this idea or “concept” convinces my being anymore, and accompanies me through the paths of life, contemplation, thought, writing and existential practice, I say that I am an atheist. I say that, on this level of my awareness of myself, I feel that god is an absolute nothingness, not a truth.

It’s a matter of the life I live, and I don’t feel that this life needs that essence (or “support”) that I was raised on. I don’t feel that such an essence is a part of me or my being. I am now living without a god inside of me. That is in short my rational and existential stance over the issue of faith.

That is why I am no longer a believer. That is why I am an atheist.


And allow me to clarify: I am incurring no torment whatsoever from not believing in god. Quite the contrary, I feel that I am enjoying a spiritual, physical, intellectual and philosophical equilibrium, which is allowing me to be “normal”. I have no religious bans or divine taboos that weigh on my existence and the way I live my life. That is why I feel light, free, unchained to such a deeply rooted heritage. I feel that I “exist”, no more, no less. And that my mind is the only belief that I have, with what it acquires in knowledge, feelings, cultures, values, questions, answers, doubts and certainties.

I am not saying that to dispute, nor to challenge, nor to provoke, nor to convince, nor to express a merely philosophical and theoretical assertion. My words are simply the fruit of my existential experience in life; a materialization of reason in my experiences.

And because I never stop experimenting, questioning, and facing myself and its certainties with doubt, the issue of god has become for me a subject to be reflected upon with the scale of relativity, not with the absoluteness that precedes reason.

And if I ask myself now the following question: What is my feeling towards this epitome that states that god does not exist in my life, and that the so-called creator of humanity is nothing but one of its creations/inventions? I would answer quickly, yet without any reckless haste: it is a deep feeling of reconciliation with my being and all its ingredients: its childhood, past, present, contradictions, possibilities and synchronies. It is also a deep feeling of reconciliation with the universe and all its ingredients: its nature, history, geography, people, chemistry, physics, earth, water and planets.

I believe in science. In what it has unveiled so far (and a big part of it refutes the assumption of god irrevocably, or at least its “necessity” as an explanation to the existence of this world) and in what it will unveil in the future. And with all due respect to people who believe in fairy tales (and need them), what could religions be other than illusory tools of comfort that target millions and millions of minds, eager to be comforted in their fears and doubts and day to day challenges and crises? Do we really want to bet our life, and principles, and behaviour, and choices, on THAT? Wouldn’t it be healthier, and more rewarding, to set for yourself an earthly life ethic and morality, based on decency, respect, and universal humanistic values? Wouldn’t it be healthier, and more rewarding, to decide for yourself what your mistakes are, and try to correct them? Is it accurate (and fair) to assume that the assumption of a god is a concretization of love and forgiveness and morals and embracing the other, and the only way to save mankind from their “animalistic” nature  or “evil” instincts?

Not if you’re blindly pious. Not if you’re vehemently anti-secular. Not if you abide literally by your religion’s rules, whatever that religion is, and surrender your own judgment to a supposedly ‘higher’ one, and naively believe every single word your religious figures tell you, and adapt your life, and visions, and actions, to the endless vicious circle of laws and recommendations (which frequently go to an absurd extent) that someone else has thought and conceived on your behalf, and decided should work for you, and shall grant you an unconditional ‘entry to paradise’.


In addition to my intellectual and “rational” atheism, I should add that I find in some fixed religious doctrines innumerous insults to my human nature. I do understand the need that some people have to believe in something/entity/power bigger than themselves; that “someone” is watching over their lives and taking care of them. That is exactly the need that the founders of religions have invested over time in order to control the masses by exploiting a normal and justified fear to take hold of minds, behaviors, and human/political/economical resources in the world.

I am specifically talking here about the three monotheistic religions that I grew up with (the Mediterranean basin), and which are in fact one religion with three different alternatives or interpretations: Judaism, Christianity then Islam. My problem with these three religions is that they have proved over time, and in many different ways, that they are self-contradictory. Not only that, but they are also racist, misogynic, merciless, bloody, exclusivist, and practically biased against humanity, freedoms and human rights. They are especially biased against common sense, rational thinking and the achievements of science. They are Man-Made and Power-Made institutions that aim at controlling people, their lives, their resources and their decisions by selling them an illusion called the “after life”, invented by a few geniuses (sometimes they are called prophets, other times saints, sheikhs and mystics). All of them have, throughout their history, used wars, violence and terrorism to promote their objectives and survive the secular and illuminated forces that threaten their continued existence, not to mention that their exclusivism has frequently fostered a direct or indirect prejudice against those who do not follow them.


That being said, the reasons that push me to have a critical (“cold”) attitude toward the monotheistic religions are many, but I will discuss only two of them here, which I consider to be fundamental and essential:

I find the monotheistic religions insulting first and foremost because I am a woman. A woman with dignity; a woman who believes irrevocably that she is equal to man and that she should enjoy the same rights and privileges that he enjoys. So how can I not refuse religions that are inherently misogynic and against gender equality, and that compete on enforcing patriarchal standards – humiliating women, classifying them as men’s property, oppressing them and treating them with condescendence? Before I proceed any further, let us examine the following excerpts from the three monotheist holy books:

1. “You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." The Old Testament (Exodus 20:17)

2. “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.  And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve”. The New Testament (Timothy 2:11-13)

3. “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more strength than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in the husband’s absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them first, next refuse to share their beds, and last beat them.”  The Qur’an (The Women: 34)


Based on the above, and it is merely a drop in a huge ocean of misogyny, can we be Jews, Christians or Muslims, and fight patriarchy and defend gender equality from within our religions? Answering ‘yes’ is nothing but one of the many expressions of the contradiction and denial we are living in. These three religions have the same attitude towards women: oppressive and unfair, from the start with the story of the “rib” and the “original sin” which the woman has been blamed for, until this very day. So when will we admit that there is no possible harmony between the religious teachings and the dignity and rights of women?

This does not mean that I am calling for an atheist state. But beyond my personal position towards faith, I must call for secular systems as a minimum. Women’s liberation worldwide has always happened in a secular context, and it is important – and vital – to remember that. Of course, secularism is not the sole guarantor of gender equality. It is not enough by itself; but it is a necessary condition for achieving that.

And nobody dare say that these ideas of mine are a result of a ‘Western’ virus I picked up (which is the easiest accusation thrown in the face of any Arab defending secularism, freedom, women’s equality, etc). As if there was such a thing as ‘Arab freedom’ vs. ‘Western freedom’, ‘Arab dignity’ vs. ‘Western dignity’, etc. Human rights are universal, not a Western monopoly. And it is degrading to us Arabs to see them as a Western exclusivity. Go back to the Universal Declaration that most Arab countries have (theoretically) embraced and you’ll see what I mean.

Accordingly, I am sorry for all those good-willed women and men out there who are trying hard to reconcile the irreconcilable through extremely ‘convoluted’ interpretations, but I have to repeat: monotheism and feminism inevitably exclude each other, unless you are deliberately turning a blind eye and being ‘choosy’ in your understanding of both. They are religions that are demeaning to women in many different ways, and assert directly that men are “superior” to women.


Secondly, I find the monotheistic religions insulting because I believe that my body belongs to me, and there are no limits to the hypocrisy of monotheistic religions regarding the subject of sex. It makes you wonder: why are all these religious leaders obsessed with the way we use our private parts? We are surrounded by phony puritans, from the late Osama ben Laden and his alleged stack of porn, to the saga of homosexual and pedophile priests around the world. Well, it all sums up to one word: control.

Arab societies are afflicted with a deep divide. We are surrounded by people who are virtuous in public and debauched underground. People who are obsessed with sex, but cannot bring themselves to speak about it or practice it openly. People who lecture us on moral values and chastity, but couldn’t be further away from them. People who call for prayer and salvation from sins, but let off the pressure of their repressed urges and complexes in places where no one can see or hear them.

In our culture, the notions of virtue and abstinence are considered synonyms, as are those of freedom and depravity, especially when it comes to women. It is the Casanova versus the whore syndrome. Many women are still expected to be virgins until they get married; the notion of honor is tied up with what’s between a woman’s legs, and women’s bodies are considered manly acquisitions. A ‘liberated’ adult woman is often seen as a slut, not as a person who rightfully decides what to do with her own body, whether that means sleeping with one guy, or five, or none.  

What makes matters worse is that some women dare to claim that being treated with such condescension is their ‘choice’. Indeed, what is really painful in all this, at least to me, is how women are accepting this humiliation, and compromising on their right to use their bodies as they choose. Mothers take the side of the family in honor killings, or observe a shameful silence, or drag their daughters to the gynecologist in order to fabricate a new hymen, or deprive them from their right to sexual pleasure by performing excisions. Women brainwashed by centuries of patriarchal manipulation and compulsory denial, who chorus the lines that they have been taught by Arab fathers, Arab societies, and most of all Arab religious milieus.

On one hand, Christians are indoctrinated to believe sex is a sin: You can have it, but only within the frame of marriage and tacitly for the purpose of creating children. Everything else is a wicked transgression that will send you directly to hell. As for Muslims, it is enough to compare the abstinence imposed on believers in this mortal life, to the description of the paradise promised to  every good Muslim: Based on various Hadiths, the latter will be rewarded by being wed to 50 (or 60 or 72, what’s the difference) virgins with "full-grown," "swelling" or "pear-shaped" breasts (depending on the guy’s taste) that are not inclined to dangle. Other Hadiths add that he will also have, mind you, an ever-erect penis that never softens!

The first thing that pops into one’s mind, after having read the above depiction of Jannah—if one is rational and sane, that is—is the extent of male insecurity, not to mention their possessiveness. The second idea is: What about good Muslim women? What do they get? Their husbands can have four wives on earth and 72 in paradise, while they get nothing? No sexual reward for them? Of course not, since it is the man and the man alone who has sexual libido and desires; the woman simply undergoes the process as a duty. Which brings us again to the double standards in religion. Most people have been taught from a young age that “Sex is a sin. Sex is bad. Sex is evil.”And yet the man will be rewarded (an unguaranteed reward, I must say) in heaven by the abundance of what is considered “bad” and “sinful” on earth. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?


It is enough to cite, as a second example of such abominable duplicity, the horrifying words of Ayatollah Khomeini, one of the most famous Islamic clerics of the twentieth century, taken from his book Tahreer Al Wasila: “A man is not to have sexual intercourse with his wife before she is nine years old, whether regularly or occasionally, but he can have sexual pleasure from her, whether by touching or holding her, or rubbing against her, even if she is as young as an infant. However, had he penetrated her without deflowering her, then he holds no responsibility towards her. But if a man penetrates and deflowers the infant (...), then he should be responsible for her subsistence all her life.”

As for the Sunnis, check this fatwa about the marriage of an adult with a child: “The little girl who hasn’t reached puberty yet can be married and divorced. If an adult marries a little girl because that is what he enjoys usually, he may take any kind of authorized pleasures from her. But he should not penetrate her until she is ready for penetration and it doesn’t harm her “(Fatwa number 11251). Not to mention that in Fath ul-Bari fi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari ("Victory of the Creator") which is the most valued Sunni commentary of Sahih al-Bukhari, written by Ibn Hajr Asqalani, we can read the following in the chapter regarding sexual intercourse: “A little girl can be married to an adult even she is still in the crib, but he shouldn’t penetrate her until she is fit for penetration”.

Is there anything more horrifying than allowing taking pleasure from a “baby”, while alcohol and pork meat are prohibited?


Finally, I repeat: I am not an atheist because I am a Marxist. Nor am I an atheist because I am a nihilist. Or a devil worshipper. Or an attention seeker. Or because I wish to increase the number of my enemies: I have enough attention (and enemies) as it is. I am an atheist simply because my mind, and my dignity as a human being, prevents me from believing. And it is my right to express that.

I know that many believers will feel offended (as a minimum) by my words. To those I say: It could be that you feel offended by me expressing my non-belief in your God, but it is time for you to start acknowledging that I, and many others like me, exist, and that we feel as much offended by you expressing your beliefs every day, in every way and everywhere around us. Atheist discourses can in no way level up to the religious exhibitionism that you drown us in continuously.

When you stop being offended by my atheism, and when you start being more tolerant towards my existence and that of other non-believers, then I might rest my case. By the way, tolerance does not mean refraining from burning or stoning us, as good hypocritical Christian readers keep reminding me to convince me that their religion is better than Islam. Dear Christians: we do not need to be thankful for practicing our right to express ourselves without being killed in return. As for those who will feel outraged by my words, they should rather rest tranquil since they “know” for a fact that their god will punish me.


Our responsibility as a thinking species is to stand up against those who want to brainwash us and stop us from moving forward. Our responsibility is to realise there has to be something wrong with all these religions that are strictly represented by male gods and male figures (Popes, Sheikhs, Ayatollahs, Priests, Prophets, etc). Our responsibility is to believe in the power of a civil secular society that can move us from being hers to being citizens, and to contribute in promoting and developing it. Our responsibility is to fight the systematic interference of religious leaders in our public and political lives. But our main responsibility is, first and foremost, to dare to question.

We need to go back to before the ‘going right’ and ‘going wrong’ era. To the pre-religious institutions era, the pre-‘think like I do’ era, the ‘we are right and they are wrong’ era. Let us go back even further: to the pre-original sin era, and all the distorted literature and logic influenced by it.

Pre-Adam. Pre-Eve. Pre-angels. Pre-demons. Pre-righteous. Pre-sinful. Pre-commandments. Pre-castigations. Pre-blessed. Pre-condemned. Pre-God. Pre-Devil.

And then let us start it, and start US humans, all over again from there.



Follow Joumana Haddad on Twitter @Joumana333

Joumana Haddad is author of many books, among which “I killed Scheherazade.” Her latest book, “Superman is an Arab – On God, marriage, macho men and other disastrous inventions” (Westbourne Press, London, 2012) is now available in Lebanese bookshops and on Amazon.

Image courtesy of pepsieliot.wordpress.com

I am an atheist, based on a purely rational and intellect-inspired stance.

  • SamiK666

    Very nicely done Joumana. Thank you

    January 4, 2015

  • jsaade

    Dear Joumana the quote from the new testament is not fair towards christianism. You quoted a letter from an apostle instead of supporting your idea from the teachings of Jesus. The church and apostles are humans. It is like quoting a sheikh's interpretation of a soura. The new testament (without the intervention of apostles) is actually promoting gender equality. Man just does not want that (until we have a female pope :) )

    April 13, 2013

  • christopher.nassar

    You have my full support in this article, awesome and reads my mind, a lebanese atheist guy with science as his bible and humanity as a legacy

    April 13, 2013

  • james349

    Wish we had more people like you, Joumana. I am in awe. Respect!

    March 27, 2013