Tuesday, 20 December 2011

For my new theistic partner, lest there be any confusion

My new partner recently asked if I believed in God. 

I had heard word of her involvement with the local diocese and had already pegged her as a theist, but certainly not one of the bible thumping hypocrites I am perhaps more familiar with in my forays into the debate. Indeed, her home bears no obvious witness to either her involvement with the Church of England, or her apparent faith.

Her delightful nine year-old daughter had proudly shared her baby album with me -  replete with her Christening certificate and cards - that I perused with an established atheistic interest in things religious, and not so much as a murmur of disapproval or outward sign that anything was out of the ordinary. The fact is, I neither disapprove, nor do I think anything was out of the ordinary.

Our relationship is in its infancy, and whilst my response to her question on the existence of God was met with a haughtily condescending, 'Oh, you will.', I feel comfortable that I can be open about my lack of faith without having the walls of some archaic middle-eastern city falling down around our fledgling romance.

Still, the resentment and distrust of atheists runs deep in some people, and I must be mindful to establish as open a dialogue on the true nature of the atheist as I can, without offending her and her family's religious sensibilities.

Upon returning from a very enjoyable and relaxing 36-hour informal meet and greet with her daughter, an article by Digital Cuttlefish on the use of 'tropes' came up in my Google Reader feed. I don't know how many - if any - of these misrepresentations of atheism I shall have to field, but the occurrence of this article may well prove to be timely.

Should my partner ever come to read my blog (and she has expressed an interest), perhaps this article will go some way to dealing with the more stubborn myths that we atheists have to contend with on a daily basis.

The list below was culled from the comments on Digital Cuttlefish's FTB blog. I have lumped a good number of the objections together on the grounds that they effectively state the same thing. Let's dissect them once again - for old-times sake - so that now in blog form, I should not have to repeat them.

1.0. Atheists do not exist.

I shall start with by far the most common misrepresentation to my mind, not least because there are so many different forms of it. It is as if one formulation, after having been utterly ridiculed and refuted, deserves another formulation for emphasis; although the absurd nature of the argument is merely compounded by each new iteration.

I feel the greatest difficulty theists have in accepting the existence of atheists stems from one of two main bases. Firstly, that the accuser does not know what an atheist is, and secondly, that they know exactly what an atheist is but do not want to accept it. Both are positions of either ignorance or denial, and neither stand up to any scrutiny.

Looking at the ignorance line of attack, this can be remedied by educating the uniformed on what an atheist actually is. There are almost as many definitions as there are atheists, but for the purposes of this (my own) post, I use the following definition;

An atheist is someone that does not believe - or have a religious faith - in the existence of a god or gods.

Having considered this definition of an atheist for some two decades, I feel it encompasses every flavour of self-defined atheism that I have ever encountered, and if - after having been informed that that definition fits me very well - someone still maintains that atheists do not exist, then they fall into the other category.

Having now been informed what an atheist is - and despite being informed by someone that actually is an atheist - maintaining the observation that atheists do not exist is nothing more than an exercise in denial.

Instead of being ignorant by omission, the informed are now ignorant by will, and their dismissal of the existence of atheists can be rejected as a dismissal of the existence of reality. 

Anyone that claims an unseen God is real, yet does not recognise reality when it is presented to every one of their sensory faculties, should not be afforded the value of reason to discern the difference. Their argument on what does exist and what doesn't exist fails to have any coherent meaning.

Let's say, then, that the ignorant by omission actually do now accept that atheists exist. What else does this rule out?

2.0. Atheists are just angry with God.

How can I be angry with something that I do not believe exists? 

I trust I am not being too presumptive when I state that it is unlikely that anyone reading this post still believes in the existence of the tooth-fairy or Santa. With that in mind, I would have to ask whether theists get angry with either the tooth-fairy or Santa, because they did not leave a more generous financial package, or the wrong brand of games console or equine pet was presented to their children?

Some may cry 'No fair! We all know that the tooth-fairy and Santa are not real.' The fact is, though, that there are people that know that God doesn't exist too, but those people do not complain because of the lack of existence of something, just that we have no reason to believe any of them exist in the first place. The evidence for the existence of the tooth-fairy and Santa, is as complete as the evidence for the existence of God - Non-existent.

3.0. Atheists really do believe in God deep down.

No. We don't. We would be theists otherwise.

4.0. Atheism is just another religion.

Oh, really? I worship no one or no thing [4.1]. I adhere to neither doctrine nor dogma [4.2]. I do not evangelise or proselytise [4.3]. My beliefs concerning the cause and nature of the Universe have nothing to do with my being an atheist [4.4]. I do not believe the Universe has a purpose [4.5]. There is nothing I do in my life that could be considered a devotional or ritualistic religious observance [4.6]. My lack of belief - or religious faith -  in the existence of a god or gods says nothing about anyone's morality [4.7]. I am not tied to any belief or faith; certainly not one for which no evidence exists [4.8].

Anyone ascribing those things to me does not understand what an atheist is, what atheism is, or what the nature of religion - even their own - is.

4.1. Atheists worship Satan/Darwin/themselves.

Just as atheists do not believe - or have a religious faith - in the existence of a god or gods, neither do we have a belief - or a religious faith - in the existence of Satan. Unless the theist is equating the nature of Satan to that of the nature of a god, I cannot understand why such a claim would be made. Then again, seeing as Christians are monotheists, it would seem - at best - strange, and - at worst - dishonest, to suggest that such an equation should be made by a theist in the first place. No. Atheists do not worship Satan. People that worship Satan are called Satanists.

Charles Darwin was one of the greatest scientists to have walked this planet, but like all scientists - both before and after him - he was just a man. I know of no organisation (like a church) or person (like a pope) that has deified him, nor would I expect them to. Do not confuse respect with worship. If Darwin had demanded that I worship no other gods but he, or that I should die for having impure thoughts about a woman, I would have punched him on the nose. At least, had I been a contemporary of the man, I would have been afforded the convenience of his being real in order for me to be able to bloody the nose of such a blow-hard. No. Atheists do not worship Charles Darwin. Period.

No. Atheists do not worship themselves either. People that worship themselves are called autolators.

4.2. Atheists eat babies.

It should be noted, for the record, that atheists do not hold the bible to be evidence of anything much, not even eating one's own children. But it was Moses - in Deuteronomy 28:53-57 - after having given the tribes of Israel their instruction on God's law that appears to be the genesis of this particularly distasteful trope.

In fact, it does not state that atheists per se will eat their children, rather those that  "do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees [He is] giving you [today], all these curses will come on you and overtake you" Deu 28:15, these decrees being laid out in Deu 27:15-26.

I have never so much as considered breaking any of these supposed laws, so - even as an atheist, and even if God were to exist - there is no requirement for me to eat babies either as part of God's punishment, or as part of a perceived wider atheistic religion.

Although, they do look delicious ;-)

4.3. Atheists are just as bad as the fundamentalists.

Okay. This is easily examined. Let's see what Google News has for 'fundamental atheist' and other listings for a 'fundamentalist Muslim' or a 'fundamentalist Christian'. One article versus three and six entire pages respectively for the theists. It should be noted that this search returned not one single item for a 'fundamentalist Jew'

Google News not thorough enough? Let's have a look at a wider Google search.

These numbers reflect, of course, nothing more than the number of times these keywords show up in search, and nothing about the content of the articles flagged. However, without going into a deep meta-analysis of each of the articles that do appear, I am confident that one would encounter more crimes, or some-such other heinous activities in relation to one's fundamentalist beliefs, than one would for the those loosely aligned to a fundamentalist lack of belief. (I am reminded of an article in the Guardian about AC Grayling commenting on militant atheism being compared to sleeping furiously)

Clearly, unless one is Jewish, it would seem churlish to say that fundamentalism is more prevalent in atheism, than it is compared to Christianity and Islam. Perhaps this claim should not, then, be hurled around with impunity by those whose fundamentalism is more pronounced in both number and critical weight.

Besides, one of the most prominent acts of any self-respecting religion is to bring as many other people to the faith as is possible. As an atheist, I lack such a faith under which anyone can unite, and therefore see no purpose in evangelising or proselytising atheism.

Atheism is more a critique of religious faith, than a profession of one. A concept that appears utterly lost on those that do not share it.

4.4. Atheists are nihilists.

Have the theists rumbled me here? I have already stated that I do not believe that the Universe has a purpose. The problem, here, lies in much the same way that theists are so keen to take one meaning of a word, and extrapolate this meaning over a far greater scope than a further elucidation of the word's meaning would lead one to believe.

I have already briefly approached another instance of this phenomenon when discussing what an atheist is, and to give the definition of nihilism any deeper meaning, I feel it helps to expand upon that now.

There are many different 'types' of atheists; positive/negative, strong/weak, implicit/explicit being the most written about. Then there are other 'x-theisms' out there that are aligned with atheism, but do not actually come under the definition as I have outlined it (ignosticism and maltheism, for example, are often considered forms of atheism, but are respectively semantic and theistic arguments).

A dissemination of the meaning of nihilism is equally fraught with semantic cul-de-sacs and existential destinations.

Nihilism, in its most broadest use as an etymological umbrella, means life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value, but extends into other philosophical realms that others might list as nihilism whilst maintaining that life does, in fact, have objective meaning and purpose. For my own part, I am one of them. I see no particular reason for the Universe, for example, requiring any objective meaning or purpose, but I do hold that life has such qualities.

One of the most famous theistic arguments for the existence of God is the 'anthropic principle' that states that the Universe must be fine-tuned for us to exist at all. I particularly like Douglas Adam's observation on this argument, because he is a comedy writer, not a scientist;

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.

The objective meaning and purpose of life, however, can be gauged by the importance others put on our existences. Our own subjective perspective is only relevant to ourselves, but our lives are none the less worthy because we were not recognised by others.

4.5. If you’re a good person, you’re really a Christian without knowing it.

Except that I do not display any of the devotional or ritualistic religious observances that any genuinely theistic religion you could care to mention.

It may well be true that, as a good person, I am better positioned than an ill-informed Christian, for example, to qualify as a Christian, but this in no wise means that I am an observant Christian.

What good a Christian that denies, rejects, is ignorant of, or is oblivious to his own faith?

4.6. Atheists only “reject” God because we want to be free to live hedonistic and immoral lifestyles without fear of punishment.

Perversely, upon further inspection, this argument should be made for the theist, not the atheist. For it matters not what the Christian does in this world - which we know is real and existent - that counts, but one that you have faith exists with no evidence to back it up.

If all atheists lead hedonistic and immoral lives, we would receive our punishment in this life, not an after-life we do not believe in. It is that realisation that causes us not to lead hedonistic and immoral lives.

The theist, on the other hand, doesn't need to care at all about the temporal judgement the atheist is concerned about, just so long as he accepts Jesus as his Lord and saviour before he shuffles off his mortal coil. It is a carte blanche to act as one feels, without regard to the feelings and sensibilities of others around him.

By this reckoning, theists would be murdering Texan police officers by the dozen, so that the likely incumbent Republican theocrat governor can fry his pious ass and dispatch him to the Pearly Gates before his time.

Despite all of this, it is sometime easy to overlook the fact that because atheists do not believe - or have a religious faith - in the existence of a god or gods, we are utterly incapable of rejecting such a god; we simply do not believe there is anything to reject.

4.7. Atheists have no morals.

This is nothing more than a libellous or slanderous slur, without foundation and no means by which to back it up. In all honesty, I find this the most specious lie spread about atheists; it suggests pro-actively condemns non-believers as vulgar and worthless individuals that should be shunned - or even punished - by a particular group of self-identified pious and worthy individuals, at the expense of believers of other people's faiths. It is the obscene gem in the thorny crown of religious extremism and privilege.

Proof, were it needed, that any accusation of a lack of moral standing is more closely aligned with those that claim they have a monopoly on the concept.

I could go on to establish, without any ambiguity, just how flawed and immoral such a stance is, but short of a lifetime's work disseminating every scriptural reference to a perceived morality set, and listing the actions and crimes that these so-called pious and worthy individuals commit on a daily basis, I find it easier to direct those so inclined to read the scriptures that they claim to adhere to and read the nearest national paper to hand for themselves. The evidence is insurmountable.

I have more morality in my darkest and most sinister thoughts than these unctuous 'holier-than-thou' religionistas could display in a lifetime's divinely-inspired vile claim to one-upmanship.

4.8. It takes more faith to be an atheist.

One last time, and I am done with this argument. Atheists do not believe - or have a religious faith - in the existence of a god or gods. This tells you nothing about anything else an atheist may or may not believe in, so to say that it takes faith - of any useful definition whatsoever - is vacuous and demonstrably absurd.

5.0. Other objections.

This post is becoming unwieldy. Believe it or not, I wanted to keep this as brief as possible. In truth, I believe I have. Each subject covered deserves a post in its own right - and perhaps one day I will get around to that - but for now I shall satisfy myself with the work I have presented here, and a list of dishonourable mentions.

5.1. Hitler was an atheist.

Oh, my! This one really does deserve a post on its own. Let it suffice to say that reading Mein Kampf should allay any atheistic accusations to rest. If that is not enough, perhaps - if you are a Deutschophile - listening to his speeches might  dissuade you from this baffling claim. Still not convinced?

Pope Pious XII meets Hitler. The Vatican was the first nation to sign a treaty with the National Socialist Party. The Reichskonkordat that they agreed and signed guarantees the rights of the Catholic Church in Germany.

5.2. Did something happen to you that you gave up religion?

No. I have never believed.

5.3. Atheists are incapable of love.

Present your evidence.

5.4. There are no atheists in fox holes.

Yes, there are.

5.5. If you don’t believe in God, why are you blaming Him for everything?

I'm not. I don't believe He exists. I blame you for claiming He does, without presenting any coherent argument or one iota of credible evidence.


  1. Sound arguments against the ridiculous claims. Of course, theists don't car whether you're right or wrong. They faithfully believe you're wrong. Period. End of story. Clapping hands over ears saying "I can't hear you!"

  2. God said that my faith would be tested by logical, calm and persuasive atheists like you. Therefore, God exists.

  3. Thanks for the feedback.

    My partner seems pretty cool. Our UK brand of theism isn't quite so vitriolic and divisive as the north American variety.

  4. Lol. An anonymous theist. Who'd have thunk it?

    Your God said nothing to me - ever - so you are a liar and your God does not exist.

  5. Ah. Your post made me feel better about today :) Thank you for your brilliance, for I can't articulate these sentiments as well as you can :)

  6. Thanks Megag...

    I appear to get a fair amount of traffic here, but your kind words make it more worthwhile than any aspirations I might have to literary excellence.

    This is a relatively new blog, and the initial months can seem rather lonely and isolating. Encouraging words, having people interact with the site, and showing your support is very much appreciated.


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