What a Believer Should Know About an Atheist - Me

Since my wife and I moved here in 2009, we’ve been visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious representatives on multiple occasions.  On three of those incidences, I engaged my visitors and responded to statements or questions made by them regarding both religion and atheism.  While I will admit having no interest in actually inviting them into my home for a protracted conversation, there are certain things I wish they would learn and understand about me as an individual atheist and about atheism in general, presuming of course that they are willing to listen and acknowledge a point of view as radically different from theirs as this is.  If I were I to address a believer or believers on this matter, among those things I would mention are:

  • I am indeed an atheist.  Atheists are not a figment of some person’s imagination.  I am not a straw man to be stereotyped or minimized, nor is this position something I arrived at lightly or cavalierly.  To me, atheism is a conclusion I arrived at, with care, thought and much deliberation.  I am at least as firm in my atheism as you are in your belief.
  • I am not a fool.  Yes, I know Psalm 14:1.  I do not think of myself as a fool and attempting to characterize me or my fellows en masse as such does you no compliments.  Please cease and desist.
  • The bible is just another book to me.  It is not “holy” or “sacred” or the supposedly revealed word of god.  It is just a book and, based on my reading and analysis, a badly flawed one.  It has its value as literature, but for morality and other life lessons, I find it sorely lacking and will not base my life on its teachings.
  • I am not mad at god.  From my point of view, there is no god to be mad at.  If I am angry about anything, it is at the vain and useless efforts to cause me to believe and those aimed at gaining governmental favoritism for a given belief.
  • I do not want to believe; I want to know.  These are the words of Carl Sagan, and I agree with them wholeheartedly.  I have no interest in faith without substantiation.  Pigs in pokes hold no attraction for me.  Evidence talks; bullshit walks … and the opposite of skeptical is gullible.
  • Faith deserves no respect.  This is a corollary to the above point.  Belief without basis makes a virtue of naïveté, of accepting a premise without concrete demonstration.  Blind faith is a dangerous practice to me, one more reason why I don’t indulge in it.
  • I do not know it all, nor does anyone else.  Mankind has learned a great deal since the discipline of science has been pressed into its service.  It is a tool which has yielded an enormous amount of understanding of the reality we live in, but it has by no means revealed it all.  Not knowing is not a weakness; it is an inspiration to learn more and to grow from that learning.  Science as a means of learning is nowhere near so arrogant as presuming to know it all as a matter of course.
  • Freedom OF religion implies freedom FROM religion.  If someone wishes to practice some form of faith, they should not have to endure coercion from any other faith, particularly since there is no mechanism of proving any faith-based belief systems.  This principle extends to those who have no belief of any kind.  Proselytism is an intrusive process which disrespects this principle and those on whom it is practiced.
  • I am not a threat to you so long as you are not a threat to me.  Allow me to live my life without being molested and without attempting to coerce the government to side with your belief and everything is fine.  Any endeavor to convert me or jawbone the government to supporting your belief system will be met with fierce and determined opposition.
  • I am an INDIVIDUAL, even as you are.  I am not a stereotype to be dismissed, categorized or vilified.  I live, love and participate in the world in a thousand different ways, much the same as you do.  I simply do it without a belief in any form of deity, and for the large portion, I do it successfully.  I am willing to respect you as individuals, even if I don’t respect your belief, and I deserve the same respect in return.  If there is to be any form of meeting of the minds, that much as preamble is mandatory.

Kindly note, if I’m using first-person, singular above, it is because I speak for myself and do not presume to speak for other atheists.  Though some may agree with much or all of what I say here, some may not, and I will not presume otherwise.

I suppose there are numerous other things I would like believers to know about me and/or us, though if I were to enumerate them all, this would become less a tract than a novel.  The above constitute some essentials that I would want to convey.  This is an exercise which has been entertained in the past and doubtless will be again in the future.  Regardless, if you have an additional point or points you would like to suggest, please present them here.

Atheists have been misrepresented long enough.  This is an opportunity and means to correct that.

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Comment by kathy: ky on October 7, 2013 at 4:20pm

Loren,this atheist totally agrees with everything you wrote.  I only wish I could do it so well.

Comment by Luara on October 7, 2013 at 4:09pm

Loren, I guess what I was saying is that what that person told me was dead-on accurate, in a way.  Except cloaked in a religious language that conceives of "the devil" as a supernatural figure. 

And even with the religious language, also dead-on accurate - in the sense of putting it from the viewpoint of a child. 

Not that I intellectually thought my parents were supernatural - but in the sense that as a child my parents felt like supernatural beings. 

When she said that to me, I hadn't yet explored those things, they were too much to deal with.  So it just creeped me out a bit. 

Comment by Loren Miller on October 7, 2013 at 3:57pm

If someone told me that "the devil had a big influence on my life," I think my response would be:

"Oh?  And just how did you get to be so conversant with the behavior of the devil?!?  Deal with him a lot, have you?"

Comment by Luara on October 7, 2013 at 3:54pm

A Christian once told me that a Christian I knew had said of me that "the devil had a big influence in my life".

That creeped me out, as if she was telling me I was demonically possessed or evil or a powerful supernatural force was lurking around me.

I realized later that she was referring to what my family had done to me - but assigning supernatural agency to it, was alarming - giving it a kind of power such as a child experiences from their parents.  My mother and somewhat my father, DID seem like demons when I was a child.

Comment by Loren Miller on October 7, 2013 at 3:49pm

True enough, Pat.  There's no point in speaking if your audience isn't willing to listen in the first place.  That's one reason why I don't bother with online debates any more.  They all typically devolve down into polemical mud-wrestling in too-short order, and I have better things to do.

I suppose the above was little more than what I would LIKE a believer to know about me, presuming they truly want to know ANYTHING about someone other than their own kind.  Some might, others might not, depending on how closely they identify with their belief set.

In the final analysis, *I* know who I am.  If that doesn't suit them, they can take a long walk off a short pier.

Comment by Pat on October 7, 2013 at 3:18pm

Most believers aren't going to listen. They'll hear the words come out of an atheist's mouth, and immediately try to show how the atheist is wrong; even with the most inane propositions. As I said, they'll hear us, but won't listen to us. 

SB - thanks for the video.  It's great! Then again, I like Mehta. 

I posted this little board game a long time ago here on A|N. I think it's worth repeating. I actually carry a copy in my wallet. When the questions that Mehta discusses are posed by a theist, there's no way better piss him/her off  (one who only hears), than pulling it out with a pencil and telling him or her, "C'mon, ask me the right question. I've got money riding on this game."

Here's the link.

Comment by Loren Miller on October 7, 2013 at 9:21am

Every time I hear: "What if you're wrong," I find myself falling back on Richard Dawkins' response to that same question ... and I smile a lot!

Comment by Michael Penn on October 7, 2013 at 9:15am

Very well said on all points, Loren.

As for Hemant's 15 things to never say to an atheist, and the listing of "what if you are wrong" here, I say:

Wrong about what? They just want to keep that old superstition going, don't they? Let's knock on wood. Maybe throw a little salt around too.

Comment by Loren Miller on October 7, 2013 at 8:47am

I saw Hemant's piece not that long ago, SB ... and suspect that it at least in part inspired the above.  Per usual, though, the problem lies in getting the believers to listen to what we have to say.  They're so involved with the stereotypes they've been fed that I wonder if they could attend to the real deal.



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