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.
It would be very difficult for an atheist to be mad at God. An atheist, by definition, does not think that any God or Gods have ever existed. Thus there is nothing to be angry at.
To you and me that's exceedingly obvious, I almost wrote "well, duh" here. (Wait, I just did.) That's not my point, nor was I trying to claim otherwise.
But there are many theists who can't imagine there actually is such a thing as a genuine atheist. They might even say "I don't believe in atheism" which will confuse us because atheism is the lack of a belief; there's nothing to believe in, as an atheist. But what they are actually saying here is they don't believe anyone can actually be an atheist; they don't believe atheism as a school of thought, really exists.
Samantha, you made me think again! How about something like this to make them pause and listen for more:
"No way. Hey, I'm not angry at Santa Clause any more, either!"
Once, in a conversation with my sinister-in-law, she exclaimed "I don't even think it's possible to really not believe in god!"
Exactly. How long did it take for her to finally accept that you might, actually, in fact, really, sincerely, not believe in god? I don't know her, but I wouldn't be surprised if the answer was "she still doesn't."
I wonder what her response to your comeback about Zeus and Athena was. Did she ever really get it?
Firstly, great article!
Secondly, I, too am guilty of this in some ways. Theists tend to try to be tricky with wording in arguments.
Because of that i have taken to say "Your deity <enter rest of sentence here>"
Not only does it imply that it is not mine, it also reminds them that their deity is not the only one around. If you really want to get the point across, use "Your supposed Deity"
It is also good to know what their understanding of Atheism is, if they have, as is often the case, attached a whole wagonload of preconceptions about lacking morality and chance based senseless life to it, then you might as well either stop the discussion or explain the meaning of atheist first.
They will understand that you definately do not believe in a personal god, or any god for that matter but also that while God equals morality for them, atheism only declares before mentioned absence of believe in a higher power.
I think that is important as i have sometimes come across the argument that i am angry because i know that my devious and unholy lifestyle (i unfortunately do not have any of that) angers god and as such i try to besmirch his name in anticipation of the judgement that will surely come to me.
Very, very bizarre train of thought.
I just returned from North Carolina where I told my 34-Y-O niece that I was an atheist and when I returned to Texas I was informed that I "upset her". That's part of the problem, believers, and I had no idea she was an "active" member of her, or any church, all take it personally and don't of won't see that I am not trying to influence them to toss it over, I just want to make it clear it's non-productive to hit on me for their invisible friend in the sky. One would think a 34-Y-O would not be so damn upset, especially when I was not aware of her conversion; oh-well.
That's another point, what makes the so bloody certain he, she, or it is up there? Why not over there or down there; oops, "down" is the residence of satan, another myth exactly like the one they worship, strange.
No, I just do not like the idea of god. It's kind of like saying "Omg, you don't believe in Zeus! You're definitely mad at him!"
I personally don't like the character of Zeus in the old Greek mythologies. He was a bit too much of a womanizer for me.
That doesn't mean I believe in him, though.
Steve's premise here is sound, and while Jens Schwaiger's response of "Your supposed deity" isn't unreasonable, I am concerned that undertaking more labor in a debate may also be counterproductive. If and when we atheists allude to what we have concluded is a fictional character, then it isn't expecting too much to assume that reasonable people are aware of our implication. I don't know ANY theist who, after I said "Atticus Finch is amazing in that story" asked me "So you do think he's real! What do you think he's up to now?"
If we start taking this too far, like getting upset when some says "Oh my god" upon seeing a car crash, then we're closing even further the door that leads to honest, open discussion, for we are trying to quell language and expression. Fiction is parable, and yes there are those who take it literally, but there are plenty who do not. We should do nothing less than to set the highest standard for intellectual debate, and while this obviously involves clarity and a conscious rejection of political correctness, it does not preclude poetical expression. If there are those who simply cannot conceive of our conclusion, so what? An individual who does this can be dismissed with impunity, as he/she has firstly done to you. Shrug them off, and move on to theistic individuals who want to have a REAL discussion.
And yes, there are plenty of those. Not all theists are stupid, mindless, exorcising, snake-handling, book-burning, clinic-bombing, terroristic nutjobs. In fact, the majority of them are not. They deserve our initial assumption of respect until they've proven unworthy by the aforementioned practices. And respectable people aren't those you tip-toe around and refuse to "offer any arguments" as John Cook so wrongly suggests. The majority of theists are NOT mentally ill. They've simply drawn an opposing metaphysical conclusion. Dismissing them as mentally impaired is an attempt to evade the debate altogether. They're human beings capable of advanced cognition, just like us atheists. If we lower our own standards, then it's US that appear weak.
If and when we atheists allude to what we have concluded is a fictional character, then it isn't expecting too much to assume that reasonable people are aware of our implication. I don't know ANY theist who, after I said "Atticus Finch is amazing in that story" asked me "So you do think he's real! What do you think he's up to now?"
The difference is that the theist doesn't believe Atticus Finch is real, and therefore won't be tempted to think that you believe Finch is real.
Some theists have real difficulty wrapping their minds around the thought that someone might actually not believe god exists. How many times have you seen or heard one say "Joe Blow claims to be an atheist?" They are assuming there that Joe's problem isn't actual atheism but willful denial of an "obvious" truth that Joe fact really believes in--as if Joe were to verbally deny that there was such a thing as sex even though he just bragged about boffing his girlfriend last night. You could rightfully claim that Joe was only claiming to be a-sexist. And thus, this theist thinks they are right to claim there really is no such thing as a genuine atheist. This sort of theist has difficulty imagining the atheist point of view--much less agreeing with it!
This person's first problem isn't that they are theists, it's that they can't imagine anything but theism. So why make it easier for them to continue thinking there is no such thing as sincere atheism?
It's true that some theists don't have this problem; they do understand what atheism is but just don't agree with it. It's safe in that case to use the hypothetical mode when talking about god. But unless you know the person really well, you can't know that, and frankly I don't think one can know this about some particular theist without having had a discussion with them. (It's a bad sign when their response to hearing your declaration is something like "surely you don't really believe that.") If they show signs of denying that you could possibly really be an atheist and are just saying so to be outrageous or something, don't give them any possible reason to latch on to it. Expecting them to assume you are talking about god in a hypothetical mode is asking too much of someone who can't imagine sincere disbelief.
The majority of theists are NOT mentally ill. They've simply drawn an opposing metaphysical conclusion. Dismissing them as mentally impaired is an attempt to evade the debate altogether. They're human beings capable of advanced cognition, just like us atheists. If we lower our own standards, then it's US that appear weak.
Absolutely agreed. We should not tar them all as idiots or nuts. (Even the nuttier ones are often perfectly intelligent, just too wrapped up in their worldview to make any sense to those who don't share it.)
But even a mentally competent individual can fail to think outside of the box--which is in this case their belief that the existence of god is so obvious no one can really deny it. And it doesn't help them break out of the box when your overt phrasing actually is consistent with the inside of their mental box. It comes across to them as you really being in that box with them in spite of your denial; it's easier for them to imagine that than it is to imagine actual thinking outside of the box.
If we start taking this too far, like getting upset when some says "Oh my god" upon seeing a car crash, then we're closing even further the door that leads to honest, open discussion, for we are trying to quell language and expression.
I am not in any way advocating this, I am talking purely about watching what we say when we discuss the god of the bible with a theist. However I must point out that some theists will in fact latch onto a surprised/dismayed "OMG" as an indication that you are really, deep down, a believer--it's what they are trying to get at when they claim there are no atheists in foxholes. It's an occupational hazard we all have to deal with; you may worry about it enough to try to switch to "holy shit" or "fuck a duck" or "what the fuck" but I certainly won't condemn an atheist who says "oh my god" if that's what they grew up saying and it's a "burned in" habit. But he or she does need to realize what might happen if they say it in front of the "wrong" theist.
I am switching to: Oh Your Fictitious God (aka OYFG! for texting purposes).
I don't think atheists need to give religious people any reasons why we don't believe in God till they can prove to us that God actually exists. I used to be mad at Dumbledore for not sending me a letter to join Hogwarts, and yea I would have kept the owl.
In general I agree. (Some conversations have a slightly off-nominal context; perhaps the religious person is curious about your reasoning. Of course one of the reasons should be that they've given insufficient reason!)
The point I'm raising here is to make sure that the religious person you are talking to has less reason to think that deep down you really believe in god.