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There are no atheists. June 4, 2007

Posted by Joe in agnosticism, atheism, belief, freethought, god, logic, religion, theism.

When someone tells me they are a Christian, I always believe them. No matter how odd I may find it to walk around thinking there is an omnipotent guy in the sky watching my every move (as if there was much worth watching) and actually caring what I do and say, I still believe when someone says they are a Christian that they really are. Who would know what they believe better than they?

Sometimes when I have told others that I am an atheist though, they have responded very oddly. They told me I wasn’t. They gave me some version of “there are no atheists.” They asserted that no one could truly walk around without believing there was a guy somewhere (whether the guy had to care or not they never specified.) This was always a conversation ender to me. How can I have a reasonable discussion with someone who won’t even believe that I myself know what I believe?

They didn’t believe I was lying. Just pulling their leg to get a good argument out of them and then laughingly spring on them that “I was just fooling” and “how could they be so silly to think that I didn’t believe in god?” N, no, they believed that I believed I was an atheist, but that “deep in my heart” I really new there was a god. Because everybody does, because god made sure of it. To them, an atheist is someone who is lying to themselves, who is denying that there is a god and pushing down feelings that tell them otherwise.

These are rare birds, thankfully. I think most believers would be honest enough to grant that there is room for legitimate doubt. Most people aren’t so arrogant as to believe not only that they are right, but that they are so right that everyone around agrees with them even if they claim not to. Some of us live in a bizarre world of our own creation.



1. Richard Wade - June 4, 2007

(sigh) Of all the annoying things that some Christians can do, this is at the top of the list. Fortunately as you say they are rare. They get it from at least two places in the Bible, (I can’t believe I’m actually quoting scripture, but they’ve quoted it to me so many times that I’ve memorized it) Psalm 14:1 and 52:1 “The fool has said in his heart there is no God…” blah blah blah all about the rest of what you said, basically denial from pride. Whoever wrote that must have met one of the few “strong” atheists, or more likely he was just doing the usual stereotyping.

It can really scare these people to meet an intelligent, articulate and well informed person, who calmly and politely assures them that no, they just don’t have that belief in them. I look them right in the eye and they can see I’m not lying, not in denial, none of their bronze age psychoanalytical nonsense, and they realize I really do exist just as I describe myself. Another falsehood they were taught cracks and falls apart.

2. ScottHef - June 4, 2007

Speaking as one who is a follower of the Bibilical Jesus I would say that my reaction to you would be one of seeking to understand. I would liken it to loving a certain food (pizza?) and then meeting someone who has an utter distaste for that food. The “are you sure?” would be an honest surprise at meeting someone who found something bad where you found something so good. Then I would seek to understand the specifics of what the distaste was… is it the cheese? the sauce? the texture? did you get a bad batch once? something else?

At the end of the day we might agree to disagree on pizza, but at least I’ll understand what it is about pizza that you don’t like, and if I ever find a slice of pizza that I think might meet your requirements, without all of the bad stuff, I would be certain to share it with you in hopes that you might eventually find some joy in something that I have also enjoyed.

Actually… I think that’s a better analogy than I ever imagined it to be. That really is how I feel about dialoging with someone. I quite enjoy getting to know someone and trying to understand them.

Of course there are certainly obnoxious folks who have some kind of agenda, be it selfish or prideful or ???, that will not really listen to anyone else’s viewpoint. Sometimes, in a heated discussion, I can even end up in that place, just trying to win the argument… but at the end of that day I usually realize I’ve blown it.

3. Joe - June 5, 2007

It is rare, and it is one of those great flags that people put up that says “Only talk about the weather with this one” to me. Many people are surprised when they discover I am an atheist it generally destroys many stereotypes and throws them for a loop. I kinda get a kick out of it. I’ve been told I look like a bible salesman so maybe that’s why.

Good to see you over here checking out my blog. I appreciate your analogy, except that I am uncomfortable with its implications. It isn’t at all that I don’t like pizza, I don’t think there is any such thing as pizza! That’s really quite a different thing.

I don’t know if it is what you are doing here, but many believers seem to have a reaction like that to atheism. They assume that an atheist must have had a bad experience that soured them on god, went to the wrong church, or was abused or ridiculed in a religious context. Now any of those things may have happened to some atheists, but most that I’ve heard only see the ugly side of religion after they deconvert.

There is no pizza for me, if there is no pizza at all.

4. ScottHef - June 5, 2007

I see your point about the no pizza.

Again though, my desire would not be to prove the existence of the pizza, just to share something that I find to be good. Of course if you say there is not pizza then I’m compelled to convince you it’s there before I can share it’s tastiness.

It’s funny that this simple pizza analogy that I really didn’t think about much does a good job of describing the conundrum we find ourselves in.

I really like the pizza and want to share it with you. You think I’m a little goofy because you don’t see anything on my plate so you can’t even get to the “good tasting pizza” part.

Hmm… so where do we go from here. Hi, my name’s Scott and I like pizza. What kind of food do you like? 🙂

5. Joe - June 5, 2007

I suppose you talk about something besides food.

Funny that I think the pizza analogy fails because you picked something that exists. 🙂 Which is why we atheists reach for invisible dragons and Santa Claus when we are looking for such an analogy.

I will say that you can easily convince me of the existence of your pizza if you just show it to me. Then I’ll try it out. I refuse to try invisible pizza.

6. Dan - June 5, 2007

Actually, if it’s analogies, I prefer Carl Sagan’s analogy of the dragon in the garage, from Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (paraphrasing):

Suppose that you have a friend that tells you he has a dragon in his garage. You’d ask him to show it to you, right? He says sure, and you go over to his house, and take a look in the garage.

“Where’s the dragon,” you ask. “Right there. Oh, and he’s invisible, but he’s there.”

“Does it have footprints, that you can tell it’s there?” “No, it’s floating.”

“Can we see it if I throw some paint on it?” “No, it isn’t corporeal.”

… and so on. It’s a very good analogy, that gives away my impression of theism. It’s an assertion, that it’s adherents will devise extremely contorted logic to make seem plausible, even to the point of making blatantly counterfactual assertions (e.g. God is sentient but omnipresent, being a general example).

7. Joe - June 5, 2007

That analogy came to my mind as well Dan. Thanks for mentioning it. I highly recommend that book to believer and nonbeliever alike.

I might have to reread it soon.

8. Richard Wade - June 6, 2007

ScottHef, if we were to meet and your sharing of your faith with me, or your very kind desire to share your enjoyment of pizza with me just didn’t take, (as it wouldn’t) I would still be interested in the things we have in common. I would ask you if and in what ways your beliefs cause you to do things that are important to both of us, like helping the poor and sick, cleaning up the neighborhood, settling disputes, encouraging education, improving here-and-now problems out of our mutual love of people, even if I don’t share your love of pizza. I would want to find ways for you and I to work together on these things.

The issue of me accepting pizza would become less important because the actual things we were doing in our daily lives would be very similar. It would be very sad if my not accepting pizza became a barrier in your mind and we wouldn’t be able to enjoy cooperating.

I know and admire several people who resemble Christ in the way they behave and interact. Some believe in his divinity and some do not. From the viewpoint of the people they are helping, it doesn’t matter.

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