"Fine without faith, good without god, and decent without dogma."
The above quote was one of my most recent tweets that sums up how I see my life. I strive to do good, even when I can get away with wrongdoing. If you're a D&D buff, think of me as a Neutral Good character. If you're not, it essentially means I'll do the morally right thing, regardless of whether it aligns with existing rules/laws or traditions.
The word "atheist" carries connotations that are largely negative. Fellow students I interact with curl their lip in a disgusted snarl at the very mention of the word, such as when they see it on our group table during outreach in the student center. It happens several times a day: someone stops to see what our table's banner says. He/she sees the words "Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics." His/her face twists in recoil, then the person resumes walking. It saddens me because I'm about the most harmless-looking person you'll see. I'm five feet tall, smiley, and soft-spoken. I'm perfectly approachable...except no one wants to talk to an associate of "that atheist group."
I regularly do volunteer work that benefits the community (such as blood donation), and that's an honorable act...until it's known I'm atheist. I MUST be doing it for personal gain.
Truth is, not many religious folks stop to think that the people in the hospital bed don't give a shit who gave them another chance at life - they're just happy to continue living. Atheist blood is no different than religious blood. Considering how a pint of blood can save up to three people, I've saved around two dozen people I'll probably never know. I don't know their religious preferences, but I want them to be alive anyway. I realize the value in everyone.
Should I die young, any working organs are to be donated to a living recipient in need. I've returned decent amounts of money to people who have dropped it when I could have just as easily pocketed it for my own needs (I am a broke college student, after all). However, that's not what I want others to do to me. Maybe the person I helped will one day pay that kindness forward. I don't expect any reward for these things; knowing I've helped another is satisfaction enough.
My new "This is what an Atheist looks like" t-shirt will serve as a filter toward people I know aren't worth associating with. I'm so much more than just an atheist. I'm a sister, a daughter, a writer, an animal-lover. I love life, I just don't need a god to guide it. Snarky comments and repulsed faces in response to one word on my shirt should tell me all I need to know about that person.
If you don't approve of my atheism, that's fine. I'd probably still help you - not to make you like me, mind you - but it's what a good person does. The difference between us is that while we both have hearts, only mine is working.