My mother learns about my thoughts and motives by reading books and watching shows produced by Christians. Instead of asking me, or believing what I tell her, she looks to people who don't know me. I borderline hate her for this. I don't hate her (just resent), but I do hate that she lets strangers inform her about who I am when she's known me my whole life. It's so invalidating.

In general, Christians seem to have a habit of speaking for others and assuming they know the inner life and thoughts of strangers, based solely on knowledge of one thing: they don't believe the same things that Christians do. It is impossible for them, perhaps even heretical, to understand there is another perspective to consider. It seems my mother cannot accept my reasons for not believing there is a god because my reasons are a direct contradiction to the reasons the Bible gives for my unbelief.

So, instead of believing her own flesh-and-blood daughter, and realizing the Bible isn't always true, she tells me, "Well, I think that atheists only say they don't believe in God because they don't want to do what He tells them to do." After making that statement she assures me that I'm not included in that judgment; just those atheists "out there". Right. Not me, just those "other" atheists. Maybe she thinks I'm simply not aware of my own motives and am just a victim of... myself?

My uncle is a Calvinist preacher in Missouri. He has lived 30+ years in the same house and has only changed churches once. Neither church has/had a very diversified group of people; they're all mainly old and white, and most have lived in the same state, or even city, their whole life. As you can imagine, their life experiences are limited to that tiny, insulated bubble. The television is their window into the world at large. I have little, if any, respect for whatever opinions they've formed inside this vacuum... including my uncle's.

Two yeas ago my grandfather passed away, and I spent two weeks in the company of these quaint Missourians. For three Sundays in a row I attended my uncle's services. One of his messages was on Unbelief. Here were the "Points of Unbelief":

  • Unbelief always wants more proof
    They fight and refuse the proof in front of them
  • Unbelief bullies to win their point
    They strong-arm and don't care about truth just winning
  • Unbelief rejects the facts without thought
    "I know what you are saying but I won't believe it."
  • Unbelief is an ego trip
    Self is above everything even a real God
  • Unbelief uses the oldest play in the world
    They slander and attack their opponent

There are so many things wrong with these bullet points. First of all, if he had used the word "unbeliever" rather than "unbelief", these bullets might've made more sense, and been grammatically correct. As it stands, he ascribes all these characteristics to "unbelief" that simply don't belong to it... and there's a bit of hypocrisy at play if you apply these characteristics to a lack of belief in unicorns, leprechauns, fairies, etc.

I am quite sure my uncle is guilty of unbelief in such things. Because of his unbelief, is he also guilty of wanting more proof (oh no, not more proof!!!) that fairy tale creatures are real, bullying people to win his point (that they don't exist I presume), rejecting fairy tale creatures without thought, his ego he rejecting fairy tale creatures, and using the old "play" of slandering those who believe fairy tales? Well, probably on some counts, yes. I'm quite sure he rejects fairy tales without thoughts and likely makes fun of people who believe in fairies (I actually know a woman who really does believe in fairies, and it astounds me there are really people who could be victims of this specific slandering). But is it his ego that rejects fairy tales? Does he bully people that believe fairy tales? ~shrugs~

By the way, point one (unbelief always wants more proof) contradicts point three (unbelief rejects the facts without thought). How can someone thoughtlessly demand more proof? Wanting more proof is generally a sign that someone is thinking, and deeply, about something.

But, either way, it is fallacious to apply all these characteristics to unbelief. Unbelief is passive: in and of itself, it does not demand proof, does not bully to win a point (assuming "it" is even engaged in a debate), is not an ego trip (couldn't it also be the result of laziness or lack of self-respect?), and certainly does not use any "play" whatsoever. It just is what it is: unbelief. It does nothing. It is not an action, nor is it even a personality trait. Everyone disbelieves something without exception, even the most gullible and the most meek.

So, all my uncle's points about Unbelief are fallacious, contradictory, and untrue. YET... my mother beside me grunted in approval as my uncle made his case to the congregation. The others in the room nodded their heads in agreement. Yes, Unbelief is a bully! Yes, Unbelief is an ego-trip! Does it occur to anyone listening that they are also guilty of unbelief? Nope. Will any of them ever ask, instead of assume, the reasons someone may not believe? No way. They already know! Sinners. Egotistical bullies!

And what lesson shall we take away from these things? Hell if I know. I just know that I am misrepresented... and I'm going to fight against that. It's just not in me to lay back and accept that the story of "Unbelievers" has already been written. No way. I am not the sum of Unbelief, but of critical thinking, inquiry, curiosity, passion, intelligence, champion of justice, supporter of human and animal rights, compassion, imperfection, and pride.

I reject the story being told about me by those who've never met me.

Views: 507

Comment by DSH on March 30, 2012 at 8:15pm

Wow, Cara I love this.  I just had an instance of misrepresentation today and your post, almost as if sent by God herself, could not be a coincidence...  :P  My Catholic-ish friend at work today starts talking about how Atheism is a religion, and how it's a belief system of non-belief, after having insulted me over a number of assumptions about who I am since I don't believe in his God or any God.  He was saying these things as a matter of fact not really open to interpretation or anything.  While I disagreed and brought up zombies/witches and started into my typical defense, I realized (yet again) that a rarely think clearly in these situations because I honestly feel angry internally but try to keep up the facade of civil discourse.

I really want to improve upon my internal reactions to these regular assumptions so I can better assert my viewpoint without rambling off a bunch of repeated phrases.  Help?  I also think it's because I rarely come across it and I just had an irrational suspicion today that my new boss is starting to hire a bunch of Christians.  Before the new boss came in, never was there a debate about God... (The rest I will save for my blog)

Comment by Ron V on March 30, 2012 at 10:29pm

You might be my long lost sister- my mom treats me the same way.

Recently, my daughters told me she told them not to listen to me when it comes to god - I am "misguided."

In my most recent attempts to discuss her characteristics of "atheists," I rebutted each of her "points."  She could not respond coherently to my points and just repeated her typical Christian mantra something to the effect of "god is true, and the bible is true."

I feel your pain.




Comment by Ed on March 30, 2012 at 11:36pm

Religious people, especially Xtians, are so insightful and good judges of character. [sarcasm]

You would almost think they are psychic; what with the knowing of what really goes on in our hearts and minds. [more sarcasm]

They are truly simpletons. They don't read their good book typically and only believe what others have told them. They are lazy. Atheists on the other hand are normally well versed in theism and the roots of it's dogma. We make the effort to challenge what we think and believe or not and they criticize us for being close minded. Believe tradition and indoctrinate the young as soon as possible - it's so pathetic. 

My mom asked me just the other day "So do you think you will always be an atheist from now on?" This question makes me crazy. I spend time explaining my position on theism to her and it is as if it goes in one ear and right out the other.

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.” 
― Thomas PaineCommon Sense

“To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.” 
― Thomas Paine

Comment by CJoe on March 31, 2012 at 12:21am

@Derek There are certainly better ways to assert your views, but the difficult part is whether they will be effective. Collectively, I think most atheists are trying every angle with this, and I think that's because it seems like we just keep hitting brick walls. I really wish we could poll people (hey, maybe I could poll people lol) to see how many stopped believing because of a mind-blowing argument, or because they never believed, or because they slowly realized none of it made sense.

So, well... I guess my real question is, what's your goal in discussing your beliefs? If you just want them to get that you're a good person without religion, and that it's not about wanting to "sin", the best thing you can do is be yourself (awwww). Or... you could point out all the flaws in their argument, which are too numerous to name. Ha! No. But seriously.

Is telling you that atheism a religion supposed to be an insult? Is he only saying that because he knows it irritates you? Because, really, he's insulting himself. It's like he's saying "I know you are but what am I?!" He's part of a religion. He thinks religion is positive. So why is he attaching a negative connotation to it in order to undermine your position? If religion is good, he should be doing everything in his power to make sure it isn't associated with something as... bleh... evil as an atheist.

The same goes with faith. Christians like to tell us atheists have more faith for believing in evolution or the Big Bang. But wait... I thought having faith, and lots of it, was a good thing? Are you saying that atheists are better Christians than Christians? Is this really just a jab to get a rise out of us, or are they really just undermining their own faith by attaching faith to unbelievers?

You've come to the right place, though. You'll get a lot of ammunition on this site if you stick around and check out all the discussions :D

@Anthony, if I had a nickle for every time I heard someone say "you aren't really an atheist!" I'd probably have, like, 10 nickels. O_o I'm not really the butt of that asinine remark very often, but I at least finally know why it's impossible for Christians to believe in atheists. Truly finding someone who does not believe a god exists makes their god a liar. They know that. The Bible says everyone knows in their heart "GOD" is real. Our very existence is a threat to their precious faith (that we apparently have more of).

Eh, I really tire of having to justify myself to people who believe such stupid stuff. I don't ever insult them (to their faces), but Jeez... really, no respect left. I don't owe them an explanation for not being gullible.

Comment by Diane on March 31, 2012 at 7:34am

Boy can I relate!  I had just written a lengthy response to a theist about just this topic when I read this post.  She assumed I know nothing about forgiveness or humility, and am too full of fear to investigate Christianity more.  

No matter how many times I told her I have investigated it enough to satisfy myself that it is not for me, she says it can't possibly be enough because I don't believe yet.  Huh?  That's a bit of circular logic if you ask me.  

I told her she needs to stop making assumptions based on the only thing she really knows about me - that I am an atheist.  She said she is sad to see that I am so close to discovering the truth but unwilling to see it.  I don't know where she got the idea I am close to discovering Jesus.  I think she thinks that I am truly seeking him.  I am not.  She assumes that because I am talking to her about this so much, I MUST be seeking him subconsciously.

I seek only to understand where they are coming from, I told her.  I told her that any omniscient being would know what I would need to believe in it, and it makes no sense for it to not just give me that proof.  Why should I go looking for it like needles in haystacks?  Then I'm willful, arrogant, and stubborn.

The problem is that I can see how this tactic could work on some folks - maybe even myself if they hit me with it when I'm down (which they repeatedly do, thinking that is when I need God the most.)  

It feels a lot like bullying, really, and brainwashing.  I told her I am not afraid of God or Christianity, but of losing my capacity for rational thought.

Comment by Unseen on March 31, 2012 at 8:16am

I'll give you the answer I give all atheists in a similar situation: don't argue with a believer because all you're doing is giving them an opportunity to prove the strength of their faith. You probably found atheism on your own and not because back when you believed, someone challenged your beliefs. If she becomes an atheist (and chances are she won't), it'll be because she reaches that decision on her own, not because she was convinced by a series of irrefutable syllogisms.

Comment by Grady Jean on March 31, 2012 at 8:51am

I too find it interesting how they never really ask why you rejected religion. I've seen this as well; they ask other theists, but they never ask the atheist in question. The most common answer I ever heard was "You're only rejecting God because you're young and rebellious, you'll come back to the Faith when you mature a bit."

Personally, I would have been less insulted if they had just called me a "Godless Heathen" that was going to "Burn in Hell!" I mean...fuck! In that one little phrase they just made my entire life changing decision seem like nothing more than the frivolous tantrum of an angsty Teenager! The tricky part was maintaining enough self respect and dignity to NOT explode on them and try to tell them how wrong they were. Truly, Theists are the ultimate trolls.

Comment by Atheist Exile on March 31, 2012 at 10:12am

I replied to some Christian guy the other day who wrote a bunch of crap about what God thinks, does, wants, likes, etc. I told him that he (nor anybody else) knows anything whatsoever about God or anything else supernatural . . . and that he was actually telling God what God thinks, does, wants, likes, etc. The presumption is only exceeded by the stupidity of thinking anybody will really believe you know what God thinks.

It seems to me that these Christians (mostly family) that you mention are doing the same thing . . . only they're telling you what YOU think, do, want, like, etc., instead of God. It seems this is one of the ways faith poisons minds. It's so easy to put words in God's mouth that soon, they think nothing of stuffing your mouth too.

This reminds me of the quote by D. Dale Gulledge: “I am treated as evil by people who claim that they are being oppressed because they are not allowed to force me to practice what they do.

Comment by John R. on March 31, 2012 at 3:02pm

This is a major dilemma for me.  On one hand I am proud to be an atheist because I know I have worked VERY hard to get where I am.  It is easy to keep drinking the Kool Aid and live in a nice warm fuzzy cocoon but only AFTER realizing there is no eternal afterlife to spend with my loved ones (a real pisser needless to say), I actually started enjoying life MORE and sincerely have become so much more peaceful!  I'm not trying to reconcile idiotic ideas portrayed in any holy work other than the ULTIMATE "holy work" which is the universe and using the only logical tool to do so...  Science and Reason! 

On one hand, I L-O-V-E to discuss theology with an open minded person, religious or not, because it make us THINK (one of the greatest joys I know).  Problem is, as Sam Harris stated, what logical argument can you make to a person when that person refuses to listen to logic?  So I RARELY discuss religion with anyone, ESPECIALLY in the ultra-right religious area I live.  NOT because I am afraid of what they might think of me... I could give a rats ass what their opinion of me is based on their logic but really have no ill will towards them.  I feel sorry for them and pity them!  They have drank the kool aid for so long they don't know any better.  On one hand it is POINTLESS to try to discuss this with them but on the other, I think we have an obligation to TRY to make them think.  Not convert them to atheism in 10 minutes, but just out a little chink in their holy armor so that reason & logic can start penetrating their minds. 

I truly feel IF people REALLY put some thought into it, many would become Agnostic (and eventually Atheist) but they are too comfortable with their cozy religion (that most don't know near as much as any atheist) and don't want to have to think for themselves.  There has never been a better analogy than religious people being a flock of sheep.

I may not KNOW the answer (true atheist are the first to admit that they "don't know"), but I'll be damned if I'm not going to search for the TRUTH as opposed to being hand fed from some bronze age horrible text...  Of course if the religious ARE right, I'll be damned FOR searching for the truth :-)     but I doubt it!

Comment by Cody Staub on March 31, 2012 at 3:54pm

I agree, so many people pass judgements without ever knowing who you truly are. One of the most common things I hear when people learn of my atheism is, "Oh, but I thought you were such a good person". It really offends me that people think the two are mutually exclusive.

Also wanted to say, I think the points you bring up from your uncle's sermon could just as easily be "believer" instead of "unbelief". It's a straight hypocrisy.


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