Dear Theist: the faq

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Dear Theist:
Over the years I've heard plenty of questions, some good, some totally ridiculous. And I've received plenty of comments many of which made little sense to me. I understand that it is difficult to relate to atheism when you are well entrenched in god-belief. You interpret experiences in a way that I do not. You are in a bubble; it is difficult for you to be in my shoes without piercing it. One of the problems I have seen with Christianity is that its adherents accept certain ideas about atheism that make them comfortable. If you want to continue to think a certain way about me because it makes you comfortable with what you believe, go right ahead. But in my opinion, that is a dishonest position. Try to step into my shoes for just a moment. Try to accept what I say as truth, at least for me, as I accept your truth for you. It's not hard to do once you get the hang of it. But, it will challenge some of your notions.

For a deeper look at why I don't believe what you believe and how I came to realize I was atheist, look for my book.
Like Rolling Uphill: Realizing the Honesty of Atheism


The Frequently Asked Questions that never go away...

How can you be an atheist?
Well, how can you not be?  That's the answer I'd like to give...it's the one that I am thinking. But it doesn't help to further understanding between people like me and people like you. So, seriously, how can I be an atheist? 

1. I was never indoctrinated into theism or supernaturalism. (Neither was I indoctrinated into atheism. Trust me, my parents aren't atheists.)
2. Once evidence of gods and a supernatural realm were presented to me, I found the propositions to be without merit.

I can think of no other "hows" in the matter of my being an atheist. That's how. It's too simple, really.

How did the universe get here?  How did the Earth get here?  How did we get here?
I don't know. And, frankly, neither do you.

If there is no god, what is man's purpose?
I, personally, don't believe that man has any purpose. But if he does, I don't know what it is. And, frankly, neither do you.

Why are you denying god?
The verb "deny" is an active word. I can't deny something that isn't there and I have no god-concept. To me, god isn't there. I can't deny something I don't believe exists. I deny the existence of gods because I haven't seen any evidence that they exist. But I don't "deny" any individual gods. All they need do is present themselves to me and I'll willingly accept that they exist. After that, we can deal with their demands.

Aren't you just an atheist because you want to be? Becasue you don't want to live with the consequences of obeying god?
This is always said with great righteousness and it is a flagrant insult. I live a moral life on par with the kindest, most moral Christians I know. I am not a bad person. The only thing I don't do is worship a god. If that's the worst crime I ever commit, I at least commit it for good reason. I can't worship something that I don't believe is there. To pretend to worship when I don't believe would be a worse crime, in my opinion.

Why won't you give god a chance? Pray to him (usually in a dark closet) for a sign of his existence and he will reveal himself to you.
Been there, done that. I used to think I believed what you believe. I read the Bible. I prayed. I just came to the realization one day that I didn't believe; I was just going along with the crowd. I fell away is all. That's when I started to ask questions, to look at the evidence. That's when I came to understand that I am atheist.

It has been my experience that signs of god are natural and rather mundane. I read an article in the newspaper recently about a woman who lost her trailer in a tornado. She prayed to god to save her roof. Well, he saved the roof all right, but nothing else...except her life. She claimed that god answered her prayer. Fine. I just don't see it. I read in a Dear Abbey column recently too, about some women who found a bunch of pennies outside a car dealership and took it as a sign that their dear departed wanted them to buy a car at that place. It really was just a sign that someone dropped some pennies and didn't pick them up.

I don't put meaning into normal occurrences without some good reason  to do it. If I pray to god to show me a sign and then a few days later I "almost" get in a car accident, is that the sign? How do I know? How many times have I "almost" gotten into an accident when I didn't pray for a sign before-hand? Lots! God is just too subtle for me. He's going to have to hit me hard over the head. I've heard he's not willing to do that, which only leads to my belief that I am closer to right on this one: there isn't a god there. You've been taught  he's there, you believe he's there, but that's not enough for the rest of us.

Why did you choose to be an atheist?
If you want to believe I made a choice, go ahead. I can't stop you. But I didn't choose to be atheist. It is just something that I am. 

Atheists say there is no god but to know that, you would have to know everything and you don't. So aren't you really an agnostic?
Really, if it makes you more comfortable to use agnostic instead of atheist, go ahead. But you would be wrong.

Agnosticism is a form of atheism. Atheism means without theism. Without belief in deity. Agnostics believe that we can't know the truth of the proposition regarding the existence of deity, therefore, they also have no belief in deity. Anyone who has no belief in deity is an atheist.

I suppose there are many atheists that literally say, "gods do not exist." That is a plausible assertion considering the lack of evidence of gods in our world. Now, I realize that to you, there is ample evidence. But to the skeptic, it's all subjective emotionalism and hearsay. That doesn't cut it with us; sorry.

As to the idea that we need to know everything to know whether or not gods exist, that may be true. But then we have to know everything to know whether or not gnomes, fairies, invisible pink unicorns, and gabblecronks exist. Are you an agnostic with regard to those entities? Or are you willing to say that you are a-gnomist, without belief in gnomes?

If you believe in god and you turn out to be right, you haven't lost anything, but you've gained eternal life.  If you don't believe and you are wrong, you've lost everything and will suffer an eternal torment. Isn't it a better choice to believe?
The funny thing about this one is that whenever someone says it to me, they presume that I've never heard it before when I've heard it dozens of times, and they act as if it is a profound argument when it's anything but. Pascal's Wager can be approached several ways.

First, people don't choose to believe in or disbelieve a proposition. I can't just start believing that gods and a supernatural realm exist. Try to make yourself believe something that you don't. Believe that the moon is made of green cheese. Believe that an Invisible Pink Unicorn is in your garage. You can't do it. You'll know that you are lying to yourself. I can't believe something that I don't, no matter how much evil you threaten me with.
Second, pretending that I believe in something that I don't, in my opinion, would be dishonest and therefore, I would lose a great deal. I would lose my self-respect. And I can't imagine anyone else would respect me if they knew I was pretending. Deeper than merely pretending, however, is the issue of believing in something because you've been taught to, told to, or it's habit. I think that sort of belief is also dishonest. Believing in something when there is no evidence of its validity is again, dishonest, in my opinion. People who do so haven't thought much about what they believe; they aren't living consciously.
Third, Pascal's Wager can be used against Christians too. Christians may believe that Allah is the same god as theirs. But, they don't believe the Koran is the word of their god, and it was supposedly written by Allah. So, if you don't believe in Allah and you are wrong, you have lost everything. How do you know that Allah isn't the right god and Mohammed the true prophet? Be careful, you may have chosen the wrong god.
And finally, let's suppose that the god Pascal's Wager is designed to support does indeed exist. This god will make non-believers suffer simply because they could not believe. In my opinion, that is immoral. No one should be punished for what he believes, certainly not forever. I will not follow an immoral leader. And I would not worship an immoral deity. Belief in the torture of your enemies is a slippery slope (no matter how much you may "pain" for them and their fate) that can lead to immorality. I wish more Christians would take a closer look at their beliefs and make it clear where they stand. Luckily, with a lot of them, they proclaim their immoral stance often. So we know what they are. Pascal's Wager is nonsense.

Don't you know that God loves you, whether you love him or not? He wants you to know him.
This one is simple: all the god has to do is show himself to me. Convincing me of his existence isn't forcing me to love and worship him. I can still reject him--no free will problem there. But, let's face it, if some guy I've never met wants a relationship with me, I'm going to have a problem if he never bothers to introduce himself to me. Christians say, "but he is trying to reach you through his word (the bible) and through other Christians witnessing to you." Sorry, doesn't work. If some guy wants a relationship with me and just sends me his autobiography and his friend to tell me about him, it's not going to do it for me. Especially when his autobiography is filled with immorality, contradiction and error...although, he could still exist, he'd just not be as great as I was told he was. The only answer I seem to get is that I have to really, really, really WANT him to come into my heart (whatever that means) before he will. How can I want a deity that I don't believe exists to do something? If I don't believe, I can't believe. I won't even get into the biblical assurance that, in fact, it is the Christian god himself who decides whether or not I will believe! 

Your god is just too subtle for me...either that or he doesn't want me to believe in him. Either that or he just doesn't exist and you guys are making it all up because you really, really, really WANT there to be more to life than...THIS!

Why do you pick on Christianity?
Because it's all around me. It's on every street--it talks to me in the pithy sayings on church bulletin boards, some of which are quite rude. Most everyone I know believes in the reality of gods and demons, men rising from the dead as blood sacrifice, that one day the streets will run red with the blood of the wicked. And you expect me to take this all seriously, without comment? I've done that for a bit too long.

I've also found that Christianity isn't what most Christians think it is, at least it's not what they keep telling me it is. It's immoral. Speaking out against immorality can't be bad.

And anyway, I can pick on whatever religion I want...