Atheism in the Bible belt | Joe Mercaldo | TEDxGreenville

Translator: Rik Delaet
Reviewer: Elisabeth Buffard Hello. Have you ever been there? Do we all start out that way? I mean it’s like in school
when you’re asked to take a test, where you circle the correct answer: Are you going to pick A, B or C? It has to be one and everyone
is only going to choose one, but not every answer is going to be right. This is pretty straightforward and how a lot of people
start out taking tests. This is common to most if not all of us, but one day someone put
a test in front of you. There was another option: it was none of the above or some other
variation of the same reasoning. For the first time you’re allowed to say,
“The answer is not there.” You don’t have to believe
in a certain choice, but that your choice now can be
that the answer was never there to start. So D could be your answer. Really? I mean you were told over and over again there were certain ways to do things
and there was always a correct answer. And remember that,
like in high school, A’s, B’s and C’s, that’s what you’d rather have
before ever trying to go for a D. And I like to tell people,
“D does not stand for devil.” Just to make sure. (Laughter) So think of it this way: what if every day
you felt like you’re in another world, didn’t fit in and everything… and the only way you felt like
you could survive was to blend in. Makes sense that you might feel
awkward, anxious and invisible. I think we all agree that we feel
our best when we can be ourselves and be accepted that way. When I was younger, all I could do
was see things as black-and-white. So something was right or wrong,
it was this way or that way, there was no gray, no wiggle room. There was no questioning about it. The “D’s” in life, they have a story, they have a face, they have accomplishments
and challenges too. So what’s my story? Well, years ago,
I was in a Catholic Church saying a Creed along with everyone. Now a Creed, for anyone who does not know, is a way to profess
your beliefs in something. At that very moment
I happened to be saying, “I believe in God, Father Almighty,
maker of Heaven and Earth, of all that is seen and unseen.” And then – whoa! –
all of a sudden my head, my brain, it just said confidently and surprisingly, “No, I don’t.” And after saying this line
and every one after it, I started to like check it off
like a mental list of “No, I don’t.” to everything. Up until now, I had just said
what everyone else was saying. I thought that’s how to do it, like anything
that you were told to memorize: to say over and over again
without questioning. So D actually ended up being my answer. D in my case it was an option
called atheism. So let’s define atheism. According to the Merriam-Webster
Online Dictionary, the first definition
is the archaic definition, and that’s ‘ungodliness, wickedness’. The current definition though is
a disbelief in the existence of a deity. There is no deity. So let me explain it this way: there’s Up, I think that’s where
most of us would think that people put a god,
a happy place, a heaven. For every Up there’s a Down. So Down, that’s where people
put a devil, bad place, demons. So where do atheists fit in? Right there: no god, no devil. Just surrounded
by all of the other human beings. So us atheists have nothing? No, we have each other.
We even count all of you. This is not saying
that we don’t struggle with life issues. What I’m saying is that I have
to live up to my own mistakes. I can’t conveniently say things like,
“The devil made me do it.” or “It’s God’s will or plan.” Since I have no answer,
there is no answer. So it all comes down to who I am
and how I choose to respond to any given situation. I want to be good. I think everyone wants to be good,
wants to be respected, appreciated. But life is hard, mistakes are made, people are hurt, even people that are loved. My atheism does not change that at all. I screw up, I make mistakes,
certainly don’t know everything. In fact recently I made
a couple mistakes – more than a couple, but –
and I hurt someone I love. And I also hurt some other friends
and some other people in my life. And I need to take care of that myself because I didn’t have
anything else to go to. And so I took care of it,
I looked into it. Today I simply want to remind you that no matter what you believe, understand that not everyone
thinks the same. And just because we believe
different or think different, doesn’t mean that we are different. First one was adopt-a-highway
that a group of us do, this is the soup kitchen,
these are the type of things we do. And sometimes we just have fun. As an atheist in the Bible Belt,
it’s often hard for many of us to remind people thatwe are people too and we’re here. As I said, there’s more
than probably you realize. There’s people in your family,
there’s probably people you work with, everywhere you go
and we’re just the same. So what I like to say to you is: I’m not asking you
to change your world for me, but rather you realize,
I’m in this world with you. Thank you. (Applause)


  1. Joe is a great guy. Very kind and considerate of others with a heart of gold. Wow though Joe your nerves really got the best of you. Great effort but you seemed very disorganized.
    I hope you get the chance to speak out again now that you have gotten your feet wet.

  2. People should be considerate everyone. Period. The fact that "christians" feel so threatened by someone who does not share their beliefs makes me think they doubt the abilities of their own God.

  3. Joe's good. A lot of times, all we need in order to get along better with opposing groups is a greater understanding of the other side's perspective. Atheists have been pushed around quite a lot because we don't comply with religion's first and most sacred instruction. We're still humans though. I like how Joe is real friendly about it.

  4. I couldn't have put it any better myself! Im 16 and I was raised up in a christian family with a christian belief in everything and one day I really sat down and just came to terms that I didn't believe in a higher power. I fear to out it out there because I'm afraid of the judgement I will receive from my family and some of my friends, I've found friends though that believe as I do and I always have them to discuss my thoughts with. Thank you Joe for showing that we should be acceptful of everyone's belief and understand that everyone has a story.

  5. Hi Joe,First know that I am a Christian, but I still wanted to thank you for your clearly sincere Ted Talk. Deservingly so I see you are receiving an abundant number of accolades from fellow atheists, of course who doesn't feel good about being honored by our peers. What caught my attention about you is you seem to lack the distain for God that I commonly hear from Atheists. Many of which are more in tune with a hatred of God rather than it being about unbelief. After hearing you were raised Catholic I can fully understand why you reject Christianity, sadly that is a common end with many giving up on God altogether as it was for you. I certainly don't blame you, for one you don't have a clue who He is. There are a plethora things wrong with Catholicism, which contrary to what they claim has little to do with the true early Church. Sadly catholicism teaches you to in trust the Church for your salvation, rather than actually knowing Jesus as Savior.  Case in point they burnt alive at the stake the man who translated the bible into English .I am thankful my experience was the opposite of yours, excellent biblical teaching gave me understanding and I was able to come to know Jesus as Savior and grow being exposed to many gifted bible teachers. One is John MacArthur at, check out the hundreds of topics he teaches on. I believe I am far more certain God exists than you believe He does not. I honestly believe that most of what you believe about the bible is completely wrong. And therefore much of what you base your Atheism on is wrong. It is not your fault, to know God or even believe in God requires a work of the Holy Spirit. I Corinthians 2:14 "the Natural man cannot accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; he cannot understand them because they are Spiritually appraised".
    You said you are an "atheist" because you just did not believe in God. To me that term surrenders and gives up on life's most important question, "does God exist?"  You cannot be an atheist because you "know" God does not exist, for you certainly are not "all knowing". So why not say you are an Agnostic? One who does not know if God exists. The sense I get about you is that you are someone who cares greatly about truth, that you have not fully given up on the question of God's existence. 
    I think you have reached this point out of frustration, believing this is a question that is unknowable. Perhaps compounded by questions like; "if God exists why is there so much suffering?" My advice is to check out Tim Keller on YouTube and search out one of his many topics people have about God and Jesus. He is one of the gifted speakers I mentioned. I truely feel God has something special for you. Jesus promised "if you Seek Me with all your heart you will find Me". That is a bold promise. Your children are depending on you for truth. Jesus said "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life". Truth is knowable. God Bless you Joe

  6. I love Ted Talk. Also just got off of messenger with you. I totally see your perspective. I totally accept you as you are, and that is a human being. lots of love to you friend.

  7. Such a great expression of atheists. Early in my new found atheism, I had quite a distain for "god" and all things Christian. I think I was so pissed I felt lied to my whole life, and when the veil of lies was lifted from my eyes, I was damn mad. That's simmered down now. What I'm really about is love. Love is my religion, and I want to look past beliefs and love the human that stands in front of me. Being human is what makes us all exactly the same. We need to honor the human in each of us, not be a slave to a prescribed set of beilefs, burying our true selves, our essence as a human being. I'm a work in progress, I will be until the day I die. I'm working on embracing my true self, all our true selves. To exist in a state of love and empathy. We ex-believers have a lot of programming to undo.

  8. Athiesm is a lack of belief in any God. You might be a Deist. Deism still considers that there might be a God. They just reject all man made religions. There are many paths to follow to be a good human being. I don't have a problem with Christians in general. I do have a problem with people like Ken Ham, and hardcore fundamentalists that stifle curiosity.

  9. i think that most people that believe in religion are weak minded people. if you cant give yourself credit for the good things you do in life and man up and take responsibility for the bad things you do. and have to give god credit for the good and the devil for the bad.then yes you are weak minded. for example when a doctor saves a life people are like''thank god its a miracle ''but when someone kills another in cold blood people are like ''it was the devil that made him do it''.

  10. If he rocks back and forth one more time I am going to lose my mind. Can't hear the message and watch him at the same time. Soooooo annoying.

  11. I'm an atheist and have lived in the '' bible belt '' all my life and if there's one thing I've learned, a constant, an inevitable, is that no matter how good a person you are you will never be accepted by the true believers. You HAVE to believe their way.

  12. Born again Atheist here. I certainly love people for what they are not what belief system you pledge loyalty to.

  13. Your part about the creed reminded me of when my friends wanted me to join their boy scout troop. They kicked me out after a few meetings because I couldn't memorize their creed. I couldn't memorize it because I didn't actually believe it, so I didn't really care about it.


  15. At 5:20 he siad “I want to be good.” Why? If there is no God and no judgement day Why be good? If we are all 98 cents worth of chemicals, why this desire to be good? Why not just be bad? Why not just be neutral? Why does he want to be good? If everything is just chemicals and chemical reactions, there is no rational reason to be good. I’m Catholic and I say the creed on Sunday and I believe every word of it. I was taught to question everything. Jesus said “Blessed is he who finds no stumbling block in me.” I’m guessing not to many Christians at Ted talks.
    I think the word Good comes from the word God originally

  16. Lance Armstrong use to wear a cross dangling from his cycling jersey as he won the Tour de France. Then he got caught cheating on his wife. Then he got caught cheating in 7 tours de France. Then he came out as an atheist. LoL.

  17. I’m so glad I wasn’t raised in a Christian extremist environment. But I scoff every time my mom sympathizes with those Christian fucks

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