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Some More Facts About Atheism
A while back I wrote a hub titled “Some Facts about Atheism” that addressed a few of the misconceptions among the general public about non-theist beliefs. While debating if I should expand that article, I decided that there were enough new things to be addressed to justify a new hub. As with before, these points reflect my specific atheistic beliefs and, therefore, might not apply to other non-theists.
Atheists don’t have ‘faith’ that god doesn’t exist.
I’ve heard this argument quite a few times wherein a theist will say that an atheist (who claims there is no god) must be relying on some degree of faith. The reason is because god can never be definitively disproven, therefore we must have ‘faith’ that there isn’t a god. What this argument fails to realize is that atheism is more of a conclusion, than a philosophical stance. If I told you to imagine a vehicle that is large, red and shoots water, there is a good chance you would imagine a fire truck. You might even ask me, is it a fire truck? But I would only respond: ‘I don’t know’. All the evidence exists that it is a fire truck, but since it isn’t confirmed, you can never be 100% certain. I feel very similarly about life and the universe. Science and history paint a picture of an atheist universe. It never states it outright and probably never will, but all the evidence is there.
While there is still the possibility that evidence of god will materialize, it is so unlikely as to be non-existent. For example, if a primitive society said that water contained a special ingredient for healing, we might be inclined to study it. We learn the chemical composition of the water. We learn the source of the water, its history, and how it varies from location to location. We dissect as much of the water as we can with what we have, but still no evidence has materialized that this special ingredient exists. If a hypothesis is subject to repeated scrutiny and keeps falling short, then it has failed. We must form a new hypothesis based on the information we gathered. God, is a failed hypothesis. We needed it when we knew very little about the universe, but it has not stood up to the repeated scrutiny of modern science. Therefore I have concluded that god does not exist. I don’t have faith in it; I’ve just followed the data. If it walks like an atheist universe and talks like an atheist universe, it’s probably an atheist universe.
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Atheist Organizations do not speak for all atheists.
I often find myself at odds with atheist organizations. Some have taken a rather harsh stance on the issue and continue to press the subject in ways that I wouldn’t if I were running said organization. I already addressed the misconception that atheists are mean, in my previous article, but I would also like to reiterate the difference between an individual and a group. A kind, law-abiding Christian certainly wouldn’t want to be grouped with the Westboro Baptist Church or the KKK (which was a historically Christian group).
The specific example that I’m thinking of is the efforts by American Atheists to remove the cross-shaped support beams from the 9/11 memorial in New York City. The beams, which no one can deny are a symbol of Christian spirituality, would be displayed on government-owned land which is a potential violation of the separation of church and state. While this is technically true, I think that American Atheist’s efforts to get the cross removed are counterproductive to what I’m trying to do, which is to make less animosity between theists and atheists. Their actions certainly don’t make them as evil as the Westboro Baptist Church or the KKK, but when this article was circulating the social media world, I found myself wanting to disassociate with American Atheists as much as possible. Despite their legal logic, such an effort just makes them look anti-9/11 memorial, rather than pro-separation-of-church-and-state. I feel very similarly about their frequent billboard campaigns that deliberately display shocking messages to get attention.
I ran into a similar issue in my home city. The local library and courthouse decided to host artwork made by sexual abuse victims. The goal was to spread awareness of sexual abuse as part of a larger campaign on the subject. I noticed that many of these artworks were religious in nature (for example using direct quotes from the bible and invoking the name of Jesus). One of my first thoughts, upon seeing this, was that I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to display such religious messages on government land (more so the courthouse than the library, though both qualify). However I kept my mouth shut because I knew that such an effort would be interpreted as an atheist being pro-sexual-abuse rather than pro-separation-of-church-and-state. Such sensitive battles like this are best left alone. One of the places that theists and atheists can see eye-to-eye is on humanitarian efforts. So we shouldn’t try to bicker about wording when one is actually helping others. This is why, if I was running an organization like American Atheists, I would rather we focus our efforts on Humanitarian projects.
Atheists do not ‘hate’ god.
I’ve heard it said before that some theists believe atheists do actually believe in god, but refuse to admit it for whatever reason. Maybe they hate god because they’ve been slighted by religion, or the idea of god makes them angry. But, thinking that atheists hate god, represents a misunderstanding of what atheism is. It is not anti-theism. So, when I say I’m an atheist, I’m not saying that belief in god is inherently bad and must be abolished. I’m simply saying that I personally do not believe in a god of any kind. Believing that something does not exist makes it impossible to hate it. Sure, an atheist could hate the idea of god. Maybe they dislike how vengeful and jealous he was portrayed in the old testament, or maybe they hate how modern theists give him credit for the courageous efforts of real people (like a doctor healing someone, but the patient thanks god instead.) But these are reactions to things that are not god. One is in response to a narrative; god the character in the bible. And the other is in response to how people act in modern life. Neither is a hatred of god, whom they believe never existed in the first place.
To think of this a different way, let’s imagine a scenario. We’re co-workers and we chat occasionally at the watercooler. I tell you that I have a girlfriend, but I don’t have any pictures to prove it. As time goes by, my girlfriend is never present at any of the office parties and my stories about her seem a little inconsistent. After several years you start to wonder if maybe I’m making up this girlfriend. When you confront me with this theory, I respond with “Why do you hate my girlfriend?” Considering you don’t believe my girlfriend exists, it seems odd that I would accuse you of hating her. Maybe you disliked how I would talk about her, or even some of the stories about her, but without having met her, you probably wouldn’t hate her. It’s the same reason you probably wouldn’t hate Zeus or Poseidon. You might think the Greek gods were a little cruel and childish in the stories told about them, but saying “Man, I really hate Zeus” would probably never come out of your mouth. For atheists, god is the girlfriend your co-worker made up, or one of the Greek gods. We may have opinions about his portrayal in stories and people’s reactions to him, but we have no feelings of hatred for something we believe doesn’t exist.
Atheism is not a dirty word.
As I’ve said before, my goal with articles like this is to spread awareness of atheism and to dispel some of the more hateful stereotypes about it. There is an effort that exists to paint atheists as immoral and hateful people and it simply isn’t true. Some might say that my viewpoints on the subject are harsh, but I’m opening them up to you, the reader, as a means of spreading awareness. The more we know about something, the less we fear it. The future I envision isn’t one where everyone is a forced atheist. Rather, I envision one where someone can say “I’m an atheist” and not be feared or feel ostracized. Hopefully, by speaking openly about it, we can start to take baby steps in that direction.