Atheist Fernando Aguilar of Walla Walla reads extensively to learn about the world around him and believes it's possible to live a moral life without religion. "Live your life the way you want other people to live. Enjoy family. Do something in the community that helps others. It's the community and family, to me, that are most important," he said.
When mortar shells were exploding near Fernando Aguilar in Iraq, he didn't pray to God for help.
He doesn't believe God exists. And his long-held conviction didn't change when he traveled to a war zone.
Aguilar, 55, of Walla Walla, is a civil engineer and his work has taken him to some of the most dangerous places in the world. He's been to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once since 2003, helping to build water systems, hospitals and schools.
He's also done relief work in Southeast Asia and volunteered in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.
Using the skills he has to benefit others is part of the code Aguilar lives by.
He has a soft voice and he chooses his words with care. He's kind and he dotes on guests.
What We BelieveThis week, the Herald is featuring a handful of men and women from different faith traditions as part of a seven-part series, "What We Believe."
Their stories are personal, but they speak to universal truths about faith, God and people in the Mid-Columbia and beyond.
Monday: A Kennewick woman discovers Buddhism in her 50s, and through it a way to connect spirituality to her daily life.
Tuesday: An act of kindness at Christmas helps a young Christian man from Pasco feel God's love.
Wednesday: A cooking teacher from Kennewick turns part of her kitchen into a shrine honoring the Hindu gods who've kept her safe.
Thursday: A Muslim teacher from Richland educates people about the faith he loves.
Today: A Walla Walla man who dodged mortar fire in Iraq says his atheism gives his life meaning.
Saturday: A Jewish woman from Kennewick feels close to God when she prays with her friends.Atheists believe that God doesn't exist.
An atheist is different from an agnostic, who believes it's impossible to know whether God exists.
Source: Religion Newswriters Association.
Aguilar and his longtime love, Yvonne Hall, share a house that's filled with colorful murals she's painted. One of them is of the couple dancing. Hall is wearing an orange dress and Aguilar is smiling.
She understands his beliefs about religion because she's atheist too.
Aguilar grew up in the Pacific Northwest and served as a Catholic altar boy. He can remember being puzzled by Holy Communion.
People told him the bread and wine transformed into Christ's body and blood. But to him, the bread still tasted like bread. The wine was still just wine.
He didn't see how anyone could ever walk on water.
Aguilar realized he was an atheist when he was 24.
He's not afraid to speak his mind when it comes to God. He believes people should be able to pray, read Scriptures and practice their faith. But he doesn't think religion belongs in courts or schools.
He's been active in the national American Atheists organization and once clashed with the Walla Walla City Council because members were starting the meetings with prayer. The council eventually went to having a moment of silence.
Aguilar says no two atheists hold exactly the same views because atheism isn't a belief system. It's simply a way of describing someone who doesn't believe there's a God.
For Aguilar, that's the only take that makes sense. He's an engineer, and he understands what he can measure and prove.
He believes that when you die, your mind and consciousness die too. That urgency gives his life meaning.
He tries to be a good partner to Yvonne and a good father. He has a daughter in college and son who's a teacher, and he beams when he talks about them.
He tries to help other people when he can. That's what he believes in.
"Ultimately, the way you live your life should be fruitful for those around you so you leave the world a little bit better," he said. "(People) will remember you for that."
Yvonne told a story about when Aguilar was in Iraq he didn't pray to God when the mortar rounds were exploding around him. He turned to a friend and asked if she needed help.l