You've all heard the claim that we aren't really atheists, we are just mad at god. (Or you will see such things as "so and so claims to be an atheist.")
Today, though I saw an argument in chat with a theist, and someone else's account of an argument they had out in public, and I stopped to wonder if maybe we aren't sometimes encouraging this line of bullshit, albeit unwittingly.
What happened in both cases was the atheist began recounting all the sorts of horrible things Yahweh is portrayed as doing or believing or commanding. In one case, I saw the atheist say "why should I love god when he won't love me back?"
The problem with this sort of thing is we usually don't take care to phrase our remarks to make it clear that god is a character of fiction. When discussing the misdeeds of Yahweh we tend to fall back on a convention we use when we talk about a fictional character in a book. We refer to him by name and talk as if the guy was real and the book was not fiction, for example, "In George Orwell's 1984, Winston Smith was arrested for thoughtcrime," not, "In George Orwell's 1984, the character Winston Smith..."
We know what we mean, because we both know Winston Smith (or god) is fictitious. But they don't know god is fictitious.
Talking this way with someone who believes the fictional character is real might cause him not to understand you are just following the convention. Your phrasing sounds to him like you accept god as real, he "knows" god is real, so he assumes at some level you think god is real.
What I am suggesting here is that you ever want to bring up how nasty this being is, you make it clear that you don't think he exists, make sure you put "fictitious" (or equivalent) in every other sentence at least, and not let them think for a minute that you assume the existence of god.
Yes I know that when you just said you were an atheist this shouldn't be necessary, but obviously many of these people don't understand atheism in their guts, so don't let their paradigm default you into a "believer but mad at god" box.
Yes, I know what you mean. Christians often point this out as as contradiction whilst in reality it does not take two much thought to perceive that these are two separate arguments of atheists:
1) There is no reason to believe gods exist.
2) People are following a god who is incredibly evil and violent.
If we are trying to engage with Christian beliefs to challenge them, quite frequently we need to speak of the god as if it were real. I argue a lot on Yahoo Answers and if I say.
'Why does this fictitious god kill so many children in the bible?' I am giving Christians an out to say 'What do you care? You don't want a real answer. You don't believe he exists.' and they will.
Whereas if I say ' Why did God kill so many children in the bible?' I get answers in which people say to me that all children go to Heaven, the people were wicked and chose to disobey God and they killed their children through this or they will claim that he didn't and ask for examples. They try to answer me sincerley and then they are engaging with me which they will not do if I state the God is not real. I want them to engage with me because it forces them to think.
The last time someone asked how atheists could disbelieve in god and also claim he is evil, there were about 30 responses from atheists saying 'Voldemort or Darth Vador (nearly always those two) do not exist and are also evil' which I think is fair enough.
You're right about this. It is easy to confuse a theist when you talk about god in hypothetical terms. This is a tricky ground to tread. Personally, I do not like debating god with theists at all because the exercise is almost always futile. They are selective listeners and everything you say will be filtered through the lens of their pre-conceived notions. Then, their normal human fallible memory will often distort what you said and miss the point.
If you must talk to theists about religion, I would suggest turning the tables on them and instead of giving them your reasons for not believing, ask them questions that challenge them to explain why they believe (without going all reverent and preachy on you - if you can help it).
Here's a list of questions that don't insert a hypothetical god, that I have compiled for you. The questions are flexible based on the context of the theists' assertions.
Theist's argument: "The world is so beautiful/ complex/ perfect/ life is so unlikely to happen... therefore... god."
Answer: Why does that mean that we need a god?
Theist's argument: You are going to hell if you don't believe in (my god).
Answer: Your religion isn't the only one that believes in a hell for those who don't believe. If you're going to convince me that I should believe in your god/ religion, tell me why your god/ religion is right and Islam/Christianity/ etc... is not? (For Christians) Islam believes that all infidels go to hell too. If I believed in your god and I was wrong... wouldn't I go to hell anyway.
(PS... This argument is great for Pascal's wager too! ^_^)
Yes it's a good one and Sam Harris refined it quite nicely in Letter to A Christian Nation.
As for Pascal's Wager... that one is so stupid on so many levels that I have to fight to keep from rocketing into the ceiling when someone tries to use it on me.
Maybe Open Letter #3 on my blog should be "stop using this really dumb argument" but my purpose in doing the open letters is to try to push for tolerance on their part.
I've never liked characterizing God as good or evil, he or she, etc. It frames the debate around the nature of God as if he/she/it actually exists. But thank you for making me think about this. I've come up with another angle now, that I think can be used in dialogs with theists:
Perhaps all the evil (like slavery) and hate (like God-caused destruction) condoned or approved of in the Bible is evidence that man truly did invent God?
That could be interesting! If you ever have an opportunity to try it out let me know.
I agree. I know I've said something like .. "Lets assume for a moment that God does exist.. " with the understanding that the other person knows I'm not putting my disbelief on the back burner. I'd like to think I'm getting it across that I see God as a hypothetical and not a concrete concept when I propose the assumption..
I never actually thought about it, but I think you're onto something here. Looking back on it, I make this mistake all the time...though truth be told, if God were real I would be VERY angry with him, regardless.
Absolutely. Remember the jokes people made about god now getting hitchslapped for all eternity.
I completely agree! How can something have characteristics or features or attributes if it doesn't exist? I'm perfectly okay talking about what humans have done in the name of god or the stories they read and listen to at church, but I try my best to never insinuate that god is anything other than non-existent. It's a common mistake, because we all do this when we talk about characters in movies or stories. Maybe if you find yourself being accused of hating god, you can say, "sure...just like we all hate the Joker in Batman (or any other fictional character)."
I usually point out that I am angry at God in the same way I am angry at Darth Vader in Star Wars. And if people went around choking other people because they claimed Darth Vader spoke to them in their hearts and told them to do it, I'd be more vocal about that.
Even if God/Allah/FSM/Unicorn exists, I don't see how I could be mad at he/she/it/them. I don't have a direct line to the divine, and I don't yet trust anyone who claims to have a direct or indirect line to the divine, so who am I to judge he/she/it/them if I don't even have the first clue as to her/his/its/their nature? Unless I'm just looking for a scapegoat...