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What Would an Atheist Do, Part One: Religious Language and Cultural Artifacts

Updated on August 29, 2016
What would an atheist do?
What would an atheist do? | Source

What Do Atheists Do Without Belief in God to Guide Their Every Word and Action?

Quite some time ago a Christian writer on HubPages posed a long list of questions as a way to try to understand atheists better. I thought I'd tackle the list of questions both to help that writer learn one atheist's answers and to help him see which questions may be the product of misinformation or propaganda.

You should read his list of questions, too, both because there are many more than I'll cover here and because they're guaranteed to give you some insight into the mind of a believer. I found it really helped me to see how he sees atheists, and how he sees his own ethics and morality.

Since the writer had so many questions, some with multiple parts, I've decided to answer them on a series of pages rather than on just one. I've decided to sort the questions into what sort of topic they address and answer the related questions on pages together. I've chosen to start with the questions that deal with religious artifacts in our language and culture.

What do atheists do in response to a sneeze or in response to someone who responds to their sneezes with, "God bless you!"
What do atheists do in response to a sneeze or in response to someone who responds to their sneezes with, "God bless you!" | Source

What Do Non-Believers Say Instead of 'God Bless You' and How Do They React When Someone Says 'God Bless You' to Them?

I generally say Gesundheit, which is German for 'wishing you good health.' It's sort of like saying I hope you aren't sick.

When other people say 'bless you' to me when I sneeze, I say 'thank you.' It's part of being polite and I doubt most Christians are thinking they're literally praying for the person who has sneezed when they say it.

How do atheists swear if they don't believe in blasphemy or sacrilege?
How do atheists swear if they don't believe in blasphemy or sacrilege? | Source

How Can Atheists Use Profanity or Swear if They've No God Against Which to Blaspheme?

I don't use "God damn it" because it upsets believers. In public, I usually use some fake profanity like "razzenfratzel" or I just say "Doh!" like Homer Simpson, because some people will be upset or judge me as a terrible person if they hear me swear and write me off as a potential equal permanently. In private, I use real curse words like "oh, balls" or the f-word or maybe even a long string of them if the pain is particularly awful or if I'm yelling at myself for having done something particularly stupid.

For non-religious people, swearing is merely the emphatic use of words known to be rude during times of stress or high emotion.

While Thomas Jefferson may have been a Deist, most of the other founders of our country were likely Christians or people who behaved as Christians in public for political reasons.
While Thomas Jefferson may have been a Deist, most of the other founders of our country were likely Christians or people who behaved as Christians in public for political reasons. | Source

What Do Atheists Teach Their Children About Historical Figures like America's Founding Fathers Who Believed in God?

When my parents taught me about the Declaration of Independence they told me that many of its writers believed in God and that 'endowed by their creator' meant the rights were innate, inborn, and didn't have to be earned. Many of the Greek philosophers also believed in Gods and Goddesses, but they still had many great ideas to share, as did our country's founders. Historical figures can't be judged by modern standards and they can usually be expected to have been products of their time.

The Declaration of Independence was written by human men who were all the products of their time. Some were even slave owners! To a child, the fact that some of the men were pretty awful human beings is more likely to be upsetting or troublesome than the idea that those men believed or claimed to believe the religion they had to be seen believing in to be listened to at the time in history in which they lived.

Politicians have to believe in or pretend to believe in God to get elected even in the 21st century. There's nothing surprising about the fact that the same thing was required hundreds of years ago.

How do atheists celebrate the holidays Christians have co-opted as their own?
How do atheists celebrate the holidays Christians have co-opted as their own? | Source

How Do Atheists Celebrate Holidays like Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving?

I find it deliciously ironic that you use those three holidays as examples.

Christmas as now celebrated bears more resemblance to Pagan celebrations and ancient non-Christian religious holidays since the Catholic Church moved the celebration of Jesus' birthday to a time that conveniently lined up with them. Lambs aren't born in December. So as a Christian, you're celebrating Pagan and Roman festivals when you celebrate Christmas in December. If you have no problem celebrating Saturnalia as a Christian, why should atheists?

Easter is literally the name of a Pagan Goddess whose celebration is held on... guess when... Easter. The eggs and Easter bunnies are Hers. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday on or after the first full moon after the Spring equinox to honor Easter, a Goddess of Spring and fertility. I've long wondered why Christians didn't call Easter something else instead of just naming it after the Goddess who had a celebration going on when Jesus was executed.

Thanksgiving is the celebration of what the Native Americans did to keep the Pilgrims alive their first difficult year in America. The Native Americans were thanked for their generosity and neighborly (but not Christian) spirit with a feast or so and then with forced religious indoctrination that included the stealing of Native children well into the 20th century, not to mention a side order of genocide and massive cultural theft.

I don't get into the capitalism and waste of traditional American Christmas so I don't do the traditional things like maxing out my credit cards or buying injection-molded plastic junk that will go into a landfill. I just spend time with my family and cook nice things for us to all share. When I was young and healthy, I used to volunteer to help poor and homeless people because the holidays tend to make the divide between how much our society cares for the haves compared to the have-nots particularly wide, stark, and obvious.

On Easter, I sometimes participate in egg hunts and I definitely eat some chocolate eggs or bunnies even if I don't believe in the Pagan fertility Goddess associated with the holiday. Setting up fun activities for children on days a lot of people get off from work and eating chocolate shaped like eggs or animals doesn't mean I believe in Her. I also often make a ham with lots of nice side dishes because my family likes ham. The very best hams are most easily found in supermarkets near Easter.

On Thanksgiving, I cook a turkey and we celebrate the good people and things in our lives. We talk and do loving things for each other. Sometimes we say what we are thankful about to the people we are thankful for having in our lives. I also sometimes send thank you notes and/or small gifts to people who have made my life easier, better, or more pleasant. It may be the friendly mail carrier, the nice man who owns the neighborhood convenience store, or the woman who sent me cheery emails because she thought I was feeling down. It's perfectly possible to be thankful toward and nurturing toward other human beings. If you think about it, you are sure to realize that you do need the people around you and they do make your life better. It's also possible to feel gratitude toward people who are no longer living or for things that have gone our way without a person behind them.

Do atheists avoid using words associated with religion such as ghost, demon, angel, spirit, or heaven, do they make up equivalent non-religious words, or do they just use English the usual way?
Do atheists avoid using words associated with religion such as ghost, demon, angel, spirit, or heaven, do they make up equivalent non-religious words, or do they just use English the usual way? | Source

Do Atheists Avoid Using Words Related to Religion, Do They Make up Equivalent Words to Use Instead, or Do They Just Use English?

I don't avoid commonly used words derived from religious sources because they are part of our language, and they have come to have much broader meanings than they originally did. I don't believe in the supernatural, and I have no fear of using such words, so no replacements are necessary.

If you are honest with yourself, you'll realize you don't mean something is literally like the Hell you believe in if someone calls it hellish and you don't think a child described as angelic is actually like the Angels you believe in. If I call a bite of cheesecake heavenly, I really only mean it tastes extremely good and I'm pretty sure that's what you'd mean by it, too.

It also doesn't mean I believe in the root source of those words if I use them any more than it means you worship Saturn, God of war because you use the word Saturday or that you worship Thor because you use the word Thursday.

All of these things are cultural artifacts to me and likely to most atheists. If you carefully consider them yourself, you may see them more as cultural artifacts instead of as part of your core belief system.

If I call a bite of cheesecake heavenly, I really only mean it tastes extremely good and I'm pretty sure that's what you'd mean by it, too.

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    • Kylyssa profile image
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      Kylyssa Shay 3 weeks ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      You won't even read a single study, survey, or piece of research by people who aren't Conservative Christians, so it's pretty hypocritical to suggest I read a whole book written by an Evangelical Conservative Christian.

    • Kylyssa profile image
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      Kylyssa Shay 3 weeks ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      I will publish no more comments from you on this hub that I literally wrote to help promote your hub back when I thought you were just a decent person looking to understand atheists. I tried to help you and you decided to attack me over it.

      You, personally haven't tried to block charities helping the homeless in my area, but other Conservative Christians have. You, personally, haven't beaten then thrown out a lgbt teen or young adult I've taken into my home, but other Conservative Christians have. Read the statistics about how many lgbt teens and young adults are discarded by their parents in the US, it's more than one in four. Then again, you won't. That's what I mean about you not believing in science, you won't read studies, statistics, or research of any kind that doesn't come from the far right and the far right doesn't conduct studies about how many gay kids get thrown out, how dumping pollution into the air and water affects the place they live, a.k.a., the environment, or how gun ownership is linked to domestic abuse.

      I don't care if the Founders prayed or not. Your question was how I'd explain to my child that some of the Founders were Christian and I stated it would be harder to explain that some were slave owners. Being Christian or pretending to be Christian in a time when they HAD to be to own land or hold power is not surprising at all so there would be nothing to explain. You can't even be an atheist in the 21st century without being hounded by Christians and other religious people, so why would it even need explanation as to why people who wanted power had to be seen as Christians a couple hundred years back?

      You personally did not scratch "Die Atheist C*nt" into my car and flatten two of its tires, but one of the Conservative Christians I worked with at the time surely did, unless it was something even worse, a stalker. You personally, did not spit on me when I announced I was getting married, but a Conservative Christian woman I know by name literally did after screaming at me, "What's the f*****g point of someone like you getting married!" You didn't beat me up in school for having non-Christian parents, nor did you stalk me online for writing about homelessness and atheism topics like a Conservative Christian involved in the Men's Rights movement is doing right now.

      I could go on, but the things that make me the most disgusted with Conservative Christian politics, that I have personally experienced, is the way they try to block every single attempt to help homeless people, especially gay homeless people and do nothing but deny the statistics that show they throw out their gay children at an alarming rate. My personal experiences are not fake news.

      But you, personally did do something nasty to me. You read in the forum that I'm depressed after the deaths of several people I love died recently and I'm having difficulty taking enjoyment from my accomplishments such as finally reaching a million views on HubPages, so you decided to harass me on an editorial I wrote on Hubpages. Your Conservative Christian response to my pain was to hound me online and to drop a spam link to an unrelated hub. I asked you to leave me alone and you just couldn't do it.

      I've been so upset and so down, it's taken me five days to post your hateful comment calling me a fascist for talking about Conservative Christian actions I've experienced.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 4 weeks ago from Yorktown NY

      Read the Science of God by Gerald Schroeder. It explains how science and the Biblical creation theory are in perfect sync.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 4 weeks ago from Yorktown NY

      I have never done the things you accused christians of. If anything, what I see is hate and fascist tactics on the left trying to shut down free speech. The founders prayed for guidance in forming the constitution. All you need to do is to search for their writings on those topics. It is not rocket science. The science we don't buy is climate science and evolution science which is not science but a theory. I am an engineer by training and I write about our human body and how superior it is to anything man made.

    • Kylyssa profile image
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      Kylyssa Shay 4 weeks ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      You don't believe in science or in studies based on evidence, so what's the point of pointing you to the sources for the facts about the red states? If it doesn't come from a Right Wing media source to the right of Fox News, you'll merely discount it all.

      And, by the way, you are lying again. If you are a Christian, Christians certainly do judge. You blamed everything wrong in America on atheists. The words you type into your keyboard are things you are saying. All anyone need do is scroll to your comments to see.

      I'm not a failed government program, I'm merely asking people seeking new ways to be kind to give to those in need. Yet Conservative Christians send me nasty threats sprinkled in with the much more common rude messages about how I'm going to Hell. You use your charities to further discriminate against those in the greatest need, such as gay teens and youths thrown out by their Conservative religious parents. The Conservative Christian version of love is not like the usual Christian version of love, it's entirely conditional. Why not learn about Jesus and His ways rather than worshiping from Leviticus?

      I don't hate my fellow man. Hating it when conservative Christians block my every effort to help others is not the same as hating Christians. I hate their beliefs, not them. I hate your belief that God wants you to fight against birth control, education, science, and helping any poor people you don't believe to be deserving, not you. I hate your belief that lying and evangelizing to people during their times of grief is a good idea. I hate your lack of empathy and compassion. I hate that you don't care how many will die when Trump succeeds in stripping insurance protections from people with pre-existing conditions.

      I also don't hate my country just because I'm disgusted you believe God chose slave owners to write his words, yet didn't bother telling them, hey, slavery is wrong while doing so. I don't hate my country just because I hate that you lied about knowing this hub existed. I do hate that I've deleted more of your comments than those of anyone else due to the way you spam my articles with self-promotional links. I do hate your belief that it's a good idea to increase a grieving person's pain to try to evangelize to them. You know all those things are wrong, but you still act like you're pure and wonderful.

      When your beliefs are that the weak deserve to die unless they fall in line with your odd version of Christianity and have some value to you subset of society, it's sickening to know you will never waiver on them. People are going to die from your beliefs. You might not be the killer, but your beliefs will.

    • Kylyssa profile image
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      Kylyssa Shay 4 weeks ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      It was Christians who made good choices from the Bible rather than bad ones who fought to abolish slavery. Liberal churches of the time fought slavery tooth and nail, making good choices, but they didn't get a say in the Constitution. Jacklee asserted we are a theocracy running on a Constitution authored by God via the Founders or we wouldn't have lasted so long as a country. It's a historical fact that some of The Founders owned slaves. Proof that they owned slaves doesn't prove all Christians are bad, just some, but neither does the fact that some Founders were Christians prove God used them to write the Constitution.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 4 weeks ago from Yorktown NY

      Kylyssa, where did you get all this stuff? You sure have a perverted view of Christians. The christians I knew do not judge or do any of the things you claim. We help people in need, not through failed government programs but through our charities...

      We donate to groups that help people worldwide. We believe in our Constitution which by the way belongs to all of us, not just white old people... It is this document that guarentee your and my freedom and prevent a tryanical government from taking hold here. It is the grace of God that our country is blessed anf given the wealth and riches that we enjoy. Just travel to any other country and you will see what life could be like that is so much worse. Even the poorist among us here is living 10 times better than some in the third world or even in Europe, and South America.

      Your hatred for your country and your fellow man is unfounded. Just travel a bit and read up on history... you will see that we are a better world and a better country than what you claim.

      I will debate you anyday on thos topic and others. I will always try to be fair and objective. I will not waiver on my principles.

    • profile image

      Wild Bill 4 weeks ago

      Slavery in the U.S. was not a Christian institution because if it were, it would have also been prevalent in the North. No, it was a geographic institution. Slave owners were not exclusively Christians, but they were exclusively Southerners.

      Keep in mind that it was also Christians that fought to abolish it.

    • Kylyssa profile image
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      Kylyssa Shay 4 weeks ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      Please explain why, when your God divinely inspired the Founders you consider prophets, He didn't divinely inspire them to include people of color and women in the Constitution as human beings. Many of the Founders were slave owners. There were plenty of non-slave owners. Why didn't God choose righteous people of all colors and genders to write the Constitution if it's actually divinely inspired?

      I don't know what reality you live in, but in this dimension, maternal and infant death rates in Texas are now worse than in Afghanistan, so if that's your idea of good, no wonder you think it was OK for a few kidnapping slave owners to participate in writing your holy Constitution.

      Guess who fights the hardest against helping the homeless, single mothers, schools, and people struggling with addiction? Guess who's against preventing unwanted pregnancies and against programs to get rid of gangs? It's Conservative Christians, by the way. They are who sends me hate mail including death threats and rape threats for suggesting we give poor women pads and tampons if we feel moved to do so. They are who attack programs to provide better education.

      I know what you stand for. I know what other Christians stand for, and it comes nowhere close. You can choose to only support the ethical and good things from your Bible, but you don't. You could leave a suffering person alone, but you don't. You can't stop attacking, even though you know it's wrong.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 4 weeks ago from Yorktown NY

      If you want to discuss slavery, please learn your history correctly. The slaves of yester years were not the domain of whites only. Every ethnic groups at that time had slavery, in China, Egypt, and Africa where some of the slaves were captured and sold by Black tribal leaders... To blame slavery on our white founding fathers is a distortion of history. Yes, some of them were slave owners but some of them were against slavery but went along with the forming of this nation but put in place the mechanism to free slaves years down the road. How insightful was that? Please read some of their own writings... you will learn what was their thinking in creating the Constitution and why it survived so many years with so few Amendments.

      Your assertion that red states are depressed is just wrong. The fastest growing states are Texas, Arizona and Florida...

      The social problems are most prevalent in large cities like NY, Chicago, San francisco, and LA and Seattle. Where the progressive atheists have run these cities to the ground.

      The problem I am referring to are, single mothers, homeless, gangs, failed schools, and drug dealers...

      These all have links to a failed welfare state and a bankrupt moral under pinning. This by the way have little to do with money and wealth. Just look at the people on wall street and hollywood. They are morally bankrupt and have high divorce rates and drug abusers and delinquent children.

      That is the result of a Godless society.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 4 weeks ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Kylyssa, you are so right. The religious think that what they have been told to think is correct. It seems to be impossible for them the recognize the wrongness of those beliefs. Slavery is ok because the bible says it is ok. Most of humanity has recognized that slavery is incorrect, therefore the bible is incorrect about it.

      But the religious cling to the buble as if they will be punished forever if they try to reconcile the errors of the bible.

      There are so many errors that basically, they believe we are trying to correct the whole book, which is not true. There are some good things in the bible. It just needs to be written and interpreted with common sense and understanding of reality.

      Learn to think! Not follow blindly and repetitiously.

    • Kylyssa profile image
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      Kylyssa Shay 4 weeks ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      The founders were white men, many of whom were slave owners, people who got rich off the unpaid, involuntary work of other human beings. I don't see why you can't even see the need and desire to pay money to kidnap people and to then use them like animals as a major character flaw. Most of the founders would go to prison for their crimes against humanity now, unless they were Christian billionaires and could pay their way out. How can you just see them as righteous and just Christians we should obey forever? What positives can be so amazing they negate committing such horrific crimes? Would you dote on the words and ideas of any other people who have participated in kidnapping, murder, and enslavement? Why does your idea of divine guidance include institutionalized racism? Why don't you see how owning other people is wrong?

      If religion comes naturally, why force it then? If people in countries where religion is forbidden still believe, why make one single version of Christianity (conservative evangelical Protestantism) into law? Why not just allow actual freedom of religion instead? Won't your sect win out without cheating if it's God's chosen religion?

      If atheism is the cause of growing despair, despondency, and dysfunctional families, why are the hardest hit areas of our country also the most religious? Don't you see any connection? Why are the red states, the states run more like your divinely inspired racist Founding Fathers would want, the hardest hit?

      We are not a theocracy. The attempts to make it one are part of what is causing so much suffering and social upheaval.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 4 weeks ago from Yorktown NY

      I didn't know you responded to my questions. Somehow, it got lost. I am glad I found it. Your responses are welcomed discussion. I always believed that talking about politics and religion is much more productive than avoiding the topics.

      Your answers are quite logical and I am impressed. However, I don't think you put as much thought into what Christians like me actually belief and why...

      We are not intolerant or bigots as some will have you believe.

      Religion and faith comes from within and cannot be coerced or forced, one way or another. To prove it, just look at the former Soviet Union and China. They have forbid religion under communist rules for 70 years or more and yet, today, religion is thriving and growing there.

      I have written many hubs on religion and faith and won't repeat them here.

      I will say atheism is growing in America and along that same path are growing despair and dependency and dysfuctional families...

      Don't you see any connection?

      People today think the Bible is obsolete and the ideas of past are old and irrelavent... Are they? The 10 commandment and other laws and practices have real consequences 2000 years later.

      You speak of our founders as old white men who didn't know better and were products of their time. Yes, that may be true but it is not the only truths. They were also educated and deep thinkers who had considered many factors in coming up with our Constitution. They debated among themselves and thought of consequences way beyond our current understanding of human nature and a relationship to a supreme being.

      They deserve much more credit in shaping our country. It is with divine guidance that created our most exceptional country.

      Some atheists here on HubPages try to make the case that we are a secular nation and was founded that way. I totally disagree. Without religion and our Judeo Christian philosophy, we would not have lasted 50 years let along 250.

    • profile image

      Wild Bill 10 months ago

      Austinstar said: "I read his question hub and although he will get real atheist answers, they won't make any difference. He is a stubborn one, as are all believers in the fantasies that are religion. They really can't understand the lack of belief at all. Someday maybe someone will say something that makes sense to them regarding atheism, but I probably won't live to see it. LOL

      One either understands atheism or they do not understand it. Whatever.

      It's like evolution - you either understand the concepts and science of it, or you don't "believe" in the concepts. The religionist believer simply cannot reconcile the facts with the story in Genesis."

      So basically what you are saying is that if we don't think like you then it is because we simply just can't wrap our heads around the concept.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 10 months ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Jay C. O'Brien - I have recently begun attending Baha'i faith meetings. They know about my trauma and resulting agnosticism, and don't hold it against me. Baha'is believe every 500 years, mankind is given a new divine revelation. Rather than proselytise, they are the Salt of the Earth by working with residents to improve communities.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 10 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      I am studying the Baha'i beliefs and suggest both the religious and the atheist could agree to it. Baha'is believe all prophets were leaders trying to improve humanity and all come from the same source. What is that source? Who knows. The point is that all prophets and their teachings are part of one continuous, evolving whole. All are accepted therefore there is peace among all. Baha'i is the General Motors of religion, including atheism.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 10 months ago from Oklahoma

      In my opinion one's belief system has very little to do with whether they are a decent person or not.

      Me, I just love learning about all the mythologies dead and living. Personally I'm a deist, meaning I look at the universe around me and use logic and experience to build my religion as I go, never being afraid to change my mind.

      It may all be a big nothing, but I prefer a big nothing where we're nice to one another:-)

    • Kylyssa profile image
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      Kylyssa Shay 10 months ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      I'd love to see how atheists all over the world answered these questions. Some atheists answered Jack Lee's questions on his page, but I don't know if they are all Americans or not. I'm sure he'd love to get some varied perspectives, too.

      I started to answer his questions right on the page but realized it was going to take thousands of words to explain my answers. So I started this series breaking the questions up by type.

      Thanks for reading.

    • RJ Schwartz profile image

      Ralph Schwartz 10 months ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

      Such a wonderful and in-depth look at "what if." I'd be interested in comparing this list to the day to day events in another nation - most of your discussion can be connected to America. Atheists exist worldwide.

    • Kylyssa profile image
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      Kylyssa Shay 10 months ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      I think you are greatly underestimating the human connection. The questions were posted and labeled as an attempt to understand atheists better so I'm answering them at face value. I think their author may be able to see beyond his preconceived notions of what atheists think and do to their humanity if enough atheists respond. I believe even the most conservative religious people can change to become more empathetic and compassionate if they are exposed to individuals of the groups they fear or hold in disdain.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 10 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Good dialogue. I feel that the person you are responding to won't bother to read this hub or consider it as "real". He doesn't believe in atheism at all.

      I read his question hub and although he will get real atheist answers, they won't make any difference. He is a stubborn one, as are all believers in the fantasies that are religion. They really can't understand the lack of belief at all. Someday maybe someone will say something that makes sense to them regarding atheism, but I probably won't live to see it. LOL

      One either understands atheism or they do not understand it. Whatever.

      It's like evolution - you either understand the concepts and science of it, or you don't "believe" in the concepts. The religionist believer simply cannot reconcile the facts with the story in Genesis.

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