On Atheism

Another post hidden in the bowels of the draft folder. I’m not sure why WordPress makes it so difficult to find these; it didn’t use to…

I have been following some bloggers who profess to atheism, and commenting on their blogs.  It is interesting how they sometimes respond to me.

As a Christian, I am definitely a “theist”; that is, someone who believes there is a God.  I find that there are two types of people who are not theists; those that believe there is no God, and those who have no beliefs about God.  I was brought up to consider that the first group were “atheists” and the second group were “Agnostics” (don’t know whether or not there is a God).  What is a bit disconcerting to me is that both people with belief there is no God and some of those who do not have any belief about God both claim to be atheist.  And when you ask them for clarification, they insist that it is a binary condition.  Either you believe in God, or you don’t.  Why is this?  I don’t know.  Perhaps they prefer the “bigger group” resulting from the combination of everybody who does not believe in God.  Perhaps the term “agnostic”, with its implication from translation of “lack of knowledge”, is disturbing to them.  Perhaps they are just so tired of some of the theists that they want to draw as far from them as is possible.  I’ve experienced some of the more obnoxious theists, so I could understand that, except I’ve also met a few believing atheists who were also obnoxious.

If you check out the current definition of “atheist”, it has indeed been broadened to cover both believers in no God and those who don’t hold any God belief.  Then the definitions note that there are qualifiers such as “strong” or “explicit” to cover those who believe there is no God and “weak” or “implicit” to cover those who have no beliefs about God.  And I would be fine with that, if the people used the qualifiers.  They seem not to.  There is also the concept of adding “Gnostic” and “Agnostic” to the terms “atheist” and “theist”, indicating where you “know” (believe) it or not.  Again, that would be satisfactory, but seldom happens.  So, I’m afraid I fall back on the original concept of the term, and assume anyone who claims to be “atheist” believes that God does not exist until I get some indication otherwise.  Note that some atheists jump on this assumption or even this definition of the term, and claim it is a “ploy” of “the Christians” to “marginalize” atheists by “turning them into just another religion”.  I’m going to inch out on a thin branch here and claim that ANY belief about God is qualification for being considered “religious”.

Another area of discussion is the relationship between “belief” and “knowledge”.  I’m often told, “belief is not the same as knowledge” and that is a true statement.  However, I claim that belief is a SUBSET of knowledge.  When you come right down to it, many of the things we “know” are actually beliefs.  If you got a “fact” from a book or a teacher or other expert, you certainly think you “know” it.  But unless that “fact” can be proven to anyone else, it remains a belief.  In order to be a “fact”, it must be undeniable.  Since “everyone” agrees that many beliefs are knowledge, I claim that beliefs about God are also knowledge.  Just not as reliable as many other beliefs.

Anyone who gives a belief, particularly one as nebulous as anything about God, the status of “fact” is at risk of being obnoxious.  In my opinion, a person is welcome to believe anything they want which cannot be disproved.  However, they must understand that if they cannot prove it, they should not be presenting it as “truth”, and especially not expending great energy trying to get others to join in the belief.  Discussing with those who have any interest, or presenting it as theory or belief, fine.  But browbeating people would seem to be a losing proposition.

How theists browbeat nontheists is fairly obvious.  There is the ever popular “I know the truth and you don’t, so quit being so stupid and listen to me”.  And of course, faulty logic, either starting with untrue or at least unprovable assumptions, or using invalid logical arguments.  Then there are the threats and insults.  “If you don’t believe ‘x’, God’ll whack you”.  “Since God doesn’t like ‘x’, we’ll pass a law so Man will whack you.”  “If you don’t know God, you can’t be moral”.  “You do something God does not like, so you are a bad person”.  Interesting approach from those who claim they are directed to “love their neighbor”.  Doesn’t love have an implicit assumption of overlooking “faults”?

How can atheists browbeat people?  Or more accurately, theists?  Aha, another possible reason that nontheists may prefer being known as atheists, to only get grief from one direction.  There is the “Christianism” mindset; lumping all Christians or even all believers in God into one group, with all the negative aspects of some imputed to all.  Sorry, this is just as invalid as racism or sexism.  Plus, the same people may also claim that “all Christians disagree with each other”, which seems contradictory.  The “I know the truth and you don’t…”  and invalid logic methodologies are used by some atheists as well.  Then there is the “science can’t measure it, so it does not exist”, and “any God must follow the same need structure as does Man” outlooks.  These views have proven to be wrong in the past, so it is not impossible they could be proven wrong in the future.

Techniques include:  questioning any evidence presented while holding their own evidence inviolate, attacking the words rather than the ideas, taking things out of context, misreading what was said (which we all do) and holding onto that misinterpretation even after being assured that meaning was not intended, and even descending into insults and name calling.  Come to think of it, theists have been known to use similar techniques.  I guess what it boils down to is ANY belief tends to make us defensive if it is attacked. It is just that beliefs about God do not have any proof, and so are bigger targets than beliefs with more support.

What is interesting is that some atheists attempt to convince theists that they are wrong with an intensity which is, well, as intense as that of some theists.  Even if it were not the case that the very (or at least original) definition of the word “atheist” implied a religious outlook, the behavior of some atheists sure do seem like the behavior of some theists.



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