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You Believe In God, You Just Don’t Know It

(This is crossposted from Hubpages) As you may know, I also blog over on hubpages, and I recently agreed to answer some questions for a pastor over there about my beliefs as an atheist. Ya know, for improved understanding between our communities and stuff. Overall, it was a very good experience, but in the comments of the blog, I got a number of people saying things like “atheists really believe in God, they just don’t know it”. I went back and looked at some of the other posts by this pastor and found one entitled “Why I don’t believe in Atheists (Or Agnostics)”. Needless to say I was pretty damn upset by all of this. But why is it so frustrating when theists feel that they can tell us what we actually think or believe better than we can? Let me see if I can explain.

There are a couple different ways that theists approach this argument. Some of them just say that all of us have SOME God. I’ve heard it argued that atheists turn science into a God, or themselves into a god. We all worship something is a pretty common refrain, and each of us makes a god out of something by organizing our lives around it, giving it our loyalty, and committing ourselves to it. This is definitely playing with the definition of God. Nearly every common definition of God involves some sort of supernatural or more than human element, as well as an element of cosmology or metaphysics. Having loyalty or commitment to something (or just having values) is not remotely the same thing as having faith in a superhuman deity. Using god in the metaphorical sense of saying that we all care about and organize our lives around certain things weakens your definition of god to the point where it does no good at all, and it weakens your argument for the existence of God because at this point God simply means “an important thing”. It’s changing the goalposts, which is offensive because it implies that you can’t simply set up the terms of an exchange and then work from there: it’s tricky and almost dishonest. Beyond that, definitionally theism is the belief in a personal, spiritual God. Atheism is the lack of belief in that type of God. It’s pretty simple, so saying that atheists may have other things that they have elevated to a metaphorical god status is not arguing against the existence of atheism in any way, shape, or form. It’s irrelevant and offensive to the intelligence of everyone around.

But there are also those who say that all people, regardless of whether they profess to be atheist or not, actually do believe or know the existence of a Christian God, because this God has made us all in his image and implanted knowledge of him in all of us. This is incredibly offensive a.because it does not take into account any of the worldview of the other people around you. It would imply that everyone in the world is part of your religion whether they want to be or not, because your God has made it that way. It makes it impossible for us to say anything in response, because the theist can simply say “you don’t know what you’re talking about”. It acts as if we as human beings have no access to our own beliefs, states of mind, or thoughts, and that only those people who believe in a Christian God have any access to those things THROUGH God. Beyond the fact that that seems empirically false, it’s also incredibly condescending, because it implies that the atheist can know nothing, even about themself or the world, because of their lack of belief in one area. It acts as though we are stunted human beings in every way because we do not look through the lens of Christianity.

When a Christian makes this kind of argument to me, I have to wonder: your God has told you to be humble. Your God has told you that no one but God can know the soul of another human being. So why do you claim to know the state of my mind and soul? How can you do that? How can you claim the privileged ground of having access to the state of every other human soul on the planet? None of us have this access. We only have access to our own internal states, not other people’s. For another person to claim that they know you better than you do yourself is extremely condescending, undermining, and takes away your independence and power. It even implies that they’re better than you. It is one thing to say “you’re wrong”, but it’s another to say “You don’t even know you agree with me because I’m so right”. Respecting each other’s right to our own beliefs is hugely important, which means respecting that we HAVE different beliefs is the most basic step in respecting each other as human beings. Trying to wash away these differences does nothing for us, and puts at least one of the parties at a disadvantage because their beliefs have been changed without their consent.

So please, believers, stop saying that you know what atheists believe better than atheists do, and for any atheists who do the same: you stop it too. Let’s start some real dialogue.

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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