Believers are atheists, too.

I’m signed up to receive notifications when there’s a comment on the CNN iReport that brought some of you guys here. And I do a lot of eye-rolling when I read the comments, especially since many believers don’t get it: We don’t believe in God, so there’s no use in trying to prove what a great guy he is.

But the following comment, which I’ve heard many times here and in other places, is the type of accusation leveled at nonbelievers that makes us yank our hair out, strand by strand:

“I am a non-believer” is an incomplete statement.  While you may not believe in God, you do believe in something, someone, or yourself.  It is humanly impossible not to ‘believe’ in something.  Wonder how your ‘non-beliver’ belief object would stand up to the type of scrutiny you placed God under?

Well, duh. Of course, agnostics and atheists believe in something. We believe in things that are grounded in man’s experiences, which are based on the facts we know. For example, I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow. I believe exercise is good for the body. I believe anthropogenic activities affect the amount of GHG in our atmosphere. I believe in my abilities to address stupid comments such as this. I believe that our Christian society does not encourage people to question, to think outside the box. Is that better?

So I’ve now been caught believing in something–many things, actually–and the author of the comment is right. I should be very, very clear for people who don’t understand: I’m a non-believer in religion and in God.  But I’m not really putting “God” under scrutiny if I don’t believe he exists–just as one cannot put Barney or the Easter Bunny under scrutiny because they are not real. But, wait, we can put Barney’s creator under scrutiny. Now….(tap, tap, tap on my chin) who would that be?

Who created Barney? Man did. (Actually, woman did.) And we can scrutinize the people who put words into Barney’s mouth, who dress him, who have made Barney into something that first existed in their own imaginations.  Right? And Barney is “real” now only because he exists as a fictitious character.

As for the “non-beliver” belief object” (not my typo), that’s a little vague. Is this commenter suggesting that, in place of god, I have another object I worship? If so, let me just suggest that, for nonbelievers, we don’t feel any sort of emptiness in our lives without god. It’s not like when your dog dies and you want to run out and get another—god was never our pet. We don’t miss him.

I’m writing this on behalf of all of us who do not believe in god because, in addition to the comments above, we also hear this a lot: “Atheism is a belief, too.” Well, ok then. It’s a belief that there’s no proof to believe in a god(s), that it is not logical to believe. So we believe that it is not logical to believe.

If people want to label atheism “a belief system,” we now run into the problem that every person on this planet, living or dead, is or was an atheist. You don’t believe in my unicorn? He does exist! He runs fast as hell, he changes colors and he’s about the size of an atom. If you don’t believe in my unicorn, you’re an atheist. All believers are now atheists. It’s that simple.

There. I feel better now. I hope you do, too.

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79 responses to “Believers are atheists, too.

  1. On the belief idea: I’ve long thought that many (a majority?) of believers are cynical believers, in it for another reason. I know there are the devout true believers, but come on . . . tell me that there isn’t a world of cynical preachers out there who found a cushy way to make a living without doing real work, to milk the rubes.

  2. Thank you for that!! Today is day one of my vacation and I just read this post. What an excellent way to kick off my day and my vacation!! My unicorn and I will be visiting the Creation Museum for kicks. I wonder if they will ask me to leave?

  3. LOVE THIS!

  4. @ Deborah I cannot express how happy this site makes me! Thanks for letting it roll along.

    I think the comment you cited tends to confuse “belief” with “faith.” Theists tend to think that lack of faith in the Invisible Friend in the Sky means there is a lack of belief about everything. When this confusion is made, I pull out one of my favorite Terry Pratchett quotes as spoken by Death in Hogfather:

    Death: “Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet you act, like there was some sort of rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.”
    Susan: “Yes. But people have got to believe that or what’s the point?”
    Death: “My point exactly.”

    [Read Hogfather, it does a great job of dealing with the difference between Belief and Faith. Heck, read the whole Discworld series. It's philosophy disguised as humor and satire.]

    • @Derrick OK. I’ll read Hogfather. I’d never heard of that before. Funny…I guess it’s scary for people to realize that the universe is amoral and it’s just us, making the rules, doling out justice.

      I’m very thankful for this community. Everyone is so kind, supportive, understanding….Just further proof we don’t need god.

  5. Your article brings to mind my favorite quote:
    “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
      …Stephen F Roberts

    • LanceThruster

      From the first time I read this, I thought it was one of the most powerful and profound arguments against theism.

      Believers don’t blink an eye when rejecting the multitudes of gods they choose, but practically have an embolism should you dare to reject theirs.

      • LanceThruster

        I happened to coin this one – Nothing offends a person more than to reject their deeply held belief.

        • Good one. I won’t steal it! “I happened to coin this one – Nothing offends a person more than to reject their deeply held belief.” -LT

        • @LT – When identity is tied to belief, it truly is offensive to find other human beings who don’t agree.

          • LanceThruster

            Agreed. I am often surprised (though I guess I shouldn’t be) at the level of their rancor.

            • I always try to remember what it felt like to be on that side of things. My identity was inextricably tied to my Xianity. Quit being a Xian? What? Quit believing in God? Are you nuts? I encourage intellectual honesty in others but I don’t encourage them to drop their beliefs that have a strong emotional component. My deconversion was a long, painful process that I don’t wish on anyone. Glad I’m here and not there anymore? Sure. But sometimes I ask myself, “Why the f*** didn’t I take the blue pill?”

  6. I think a lot of people don’t understand that atheism is one position on one topic, and that anything else outside of that is up to the individual. Most of the time when I see comments like this it’s from people who are desperate to force some degree of equivalence between their religion and atheism so they can just step back and say, “Well you do it too” … ignoring that atheism is just a rejection of theistic claims with no other ones to take their place.

    As you said, it’s no unreasonable to believe in something, but it depends on what it is. Hell, science is based on a belief system. It says that predictive models can be made of natural phenomena based on empirical observation and independent validation. The difference between a belief like this and religion is that the former has a centuries-long track record of success; all you have to do is look around and you’ll see its benefits in tangible, measurable quantities.

    • @Senator Jason

      Good point: “Most of the time when I see comments like this it’s from people who are desperate to force some degree of equivalence between their religion and atheism so they can just step back and say, “Well you do it too”

      And, yes, God is just a guess, a hypothesis.

      • And, yes, God is just a guess, a hypothesis

        God is a Concept by which
        we measure our pain
        I’ll say it again
        God is a Concept by which
        we measure our pain

        I don’t believe in magic
        I don’t believe in I-ching
        I don’t believe in Bible
        I don’t believe in Tarot
        I don’t believe in Hitler
        I don’t believe in Jesus
        I don’t believe in Kennedy
        I don’t believe in Buddha
        I don’t believe in Mantra
        I don’t believe in Gita
        I don’t believe in Yoga
        I don’t believe in Kings
        I don’t believe in Elvis
        I don’t believe in Zimmerman
        I don’t believe in Beatles
        I just believe in me…and that reality

        The dream is over
        What can I say?
        the Dream is Over
        Yesterday
        I was the Dreamweaver
        But now I’m reborn
        I was the Walrus
        But now I’m John
        and so dear friends
        you’ll just have to carry on
        The Dream is over

        – JOHN LENNON

  7. The question isn’t what we “believe in” so much as how we arrived at that belief and how it informs our life decisions. Do we rely on unfalsifiable theories or testable ones?
    Xians sometimes like to play fast and loose with a definition of “faith” (or belief) making this sorts of discussion difficult, but I like John Loftus’ definition of faith as a “leap over probabilities”.

    http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/10/should-we-think-exclusively-in-terms-of.html?m=1

  8. I love it when people say atheists and agnostics worship science. Um, no, I don’t sing songs to science, and I don’t pray to science, and I don’t deny people rights based on science. I have faith in science that is done properly, but I don’t worship any one scientist either. There are certainly imperfect scientists, and sometimes scientists get theories wrong, but that doesn’t mean you throw all that out and decide to believe in an invisible God instead. I just – don’t get it.

    • LanceThruster

      Atheism is a religion like ‘bald’ is a hair color.

      xD

      • Wish I could think up this stuff. I wish I believed in a next life too because I would wish I could be witty in the next one.

        • LanceThruster

          @jenniebutter – I think it’s enough to appreciate and encourage the creative amongst us. I compare it to my love of music. I am unable to make any myself, but am quite pleased to live in a world where there are people able to express themselves in such a way to touch one’s emotions so deeply.

          I sometimes joke that in a parallel universe, I’ve really got my act together, and then complain, “That’s the life I’m supposed to be having!”

          xD

      • I agree … but in a way it still needs to count as a “religion” in a sense when considering the verbiage of the First Amendment or discrimination laws. Trying to get some believers to understand that is like pulling teeth barehanded.

        • Very true in the sense of protected status.

          “Freedom OF religion requires freedom FROM religion as well to have any real meaning.” ~ LanceThruster

    • @aliceatwonderland Great point! “Um, no, I don’t sing songs to science, and I don’t pray to science, and I don’t deny people rights based on science.”

  9. Yesterday I heard a pastor say that he hated atheists. Well, since atheists don’t believe in his god I guess he also hate all babies, because every human being is born as a non-believer. Children don’t believe in a god until someone tells them a fairytale about an invisible man in the sky and present it as a true story.

    An other thing I hate to hear from believers is that atheism=communism. Since that godless communism in Russia, China, North Korea etc. etc. are sooo bad, “atheism must be the worst idea in the world, because atheism contains no moral…”
    That is bullshit!
    And when I tell them that I am an humanist and that humanism is the ideology I get my moral code from, then they usually answer that “human-ethicists have stolen their ideas from christianity.”

    • The conflation of atheism and communism is a classic move by some theists who want to discredit our position, but they fail to realize that atheism was an effect in those situations, not a cause. Religion held power and influence over the masses, and people like Mao and Stalin obviously took issue with that.

      I also chuckle at the idea that North Korea is supposedly atheist. They just worship the Kim family as gods instead.

    • LanceThruster

      ALL ethics are human derived.

      Period.

    • @Metron I’ve not heard that one, but that is insulting…not just to us, but to all religions.

      • And here is more I find insulting:

        http://thuleanperspective.com/2013/06/19/european-religion-versus-atheism/

        This blogger puts an equal sign between atheism and nihilism.

        From the blog:
        “Being religious is not something to be ashamed of, as long as you are in a European way. Being atheist on the other hand is no better than being a nihilist, rejecting all the deities of Europe, and thus also what they stand for. Being an atheist is even worse than being a Christian, because at least the Christians still value those good old Euroepan morals, that they incorportated into their otherwise Jewish faith, when the Jews failed to anihiliate the European morals during the Christianization of Europe.”

        I owe to inform you that the writer is a black-metal-”musician” that has spent 16 years in prison for killing a person, for burning down three churches and to have attempted to set fire to another church, all of them in Norway.

        • You are very right to be insulted – more often than not the believers equal atheism with satanism when in fact belief in God and satanism are just opposite sides of the same coin whereas atheism is not even a coin.

          • @saab93f Good point: “You are very right to be insulted – more often than not the believers equal atheism with satanism when in fact belief in God and satanism are just opposite sides of the same coin whereas atheism is not even a coin.”

        • @metron I read the blog entry. Of course, we know there’s no correlation between morality and religion.

          I didn’t read his about page, but isn’t often the most zealous that have something to hide or compensate for?

          • @Deborah Mitchell:
            “I didn’t read his about page, but isn’t often the most zealous that have something to hide or compensate for?”
            Yes, I think you’re right!

            He hasn’t published my reply on his blog yet, I wrote it three days ago. Well, I think he don’t want his “belief” about atheism being smashed with the truth. I think that makes him a coward.

            I wrote something like this:

            “Some damn nonsense you write about atheists and atheism, Vikernes! So much bullshit you write just shows that you haven’t got a clue of what atheism is. Atheism only means absence of god belief, not lack of morals! And god believers don’t have a monopoly on morality!

            Most atheists have absolutely no trouble to live by most of the christianity’s ten commandments, without believing in any god! It is only those bids that contain allegations of a god an atheist can not live by, and that’s as far as I remember now only two of the commandments. The rest is perfectly fine to live by even if you are an atheist. And don’t forget that most of the christianity are stolen from other and older cultures and religions, nothing is unique with christianity.

            People don’t need a god to live a good life and to show respect for other people. Some of the most disrespectful people I know are god-believers. And a lot of atheists are humanists, as humanists they put man in the lead role and not some god. It is only god-believers who think people needs a god to believe in, to live respectful, honorable lives with good morality. And it is only god-believers that think that people without faith in a god lack morality. Atheists and non-believers do NOT lack morality! And no one needs to mention communism and all its evil as “proof” of “lack of morals in atheism”. The evil in communism occurred as a result of communism and not atheism.

            When one rejects the idea of ​​a god, one only rejects the idea that a god exists, one does not dismiss morality or any other maxims the community is built on, although some of these would have originated in a religion. It’s just the idea of a god you reject because as an atheist you know that there is not one single proof of a god at all. It is not much difference between an atheist and a god-believer; the god-believer has also rejected all the other thousands of gods people believe in worldwide. An atheist has only rejected the god or gods the god-believer believes in too.”

            • @Metron That is a great response you wrote. Let me know if he publishes your response. IMO, you should publish any respectful response, regardless of whether you agree with what is said….

  10. LanceThruster

    God is a fraud.

    Web banner I saw on a freethought site.

  11. Juan Pablo Bernal

    I guess it is better to understand where does the word “atheism” comes from

    Theos = god

    a = without

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=atheist

    so atheism is not believing in any god… not that we do not believe in anything… I truly believe in science… not that science has all the answers right now (just at most religions claim), but it is the rational and factual search for answers that I believe

    cheers

    JP

  12. LanceThruster

    And the advantage is that science is generally a self-correcting process whereas religion is not.

  13. I believe in you, Deborah Mitchell, and your ability to be our intelligent, articulate, ass-kicking spokesperson. You’re the best!!!

  14. Non-belief in any deity is the default position. There is no concentrated effort in un-believing.
    It is just that most people are brainwashed from the get-go and getting rid of that sometimes does take a lot of work.
    Most believers IMHO create a kind of mock-up version of atheism that they then try to hammer down without realizing that they have opposed something very wrong to begin with.

    I really would like to hear a believer tell by which arguments he/she rejects Shiva or Thor and then why they don’t apply to Yahweh without the wishy-washy “He is and feels so right”.

    Happy Midsummer from a land of the midnight sun. Now it is 10.15 PM and as bright as in daytime. I guess I’m off to worship some pagan gods of fertility or something – man’s got to believe in something, right :-)

    • LanceThruster

      So many believers accuse atheists of devil worship, not realizing that the devil is also part of their little cast of mythological characters.

    • @saab93f “Non-belief in any deity is the default position.” Absolutely. Seems it would be easy for people to see that it takes a lot of programming to take a child from this state to god’s biggest fan.

  15. Recovering Texan

    This reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw the other day here in Portland; “Atheists have a personal relationship with reality.” :)

  16. LanceThruster

    Our father
    Who art in Springfield
    Homer be thy name
    Thy name is known
    Thy program shown
    On Sky as it is on terrestrial

    Give us this day our daily “D’Oh!”
    And forgive Bart his trespasses
    As Marge forgives thou, when thou trespass against her
    And lead us straight into Moe’s bar
    And deliver us from Flanders

    For thine is the cartoon
    The Homer, the Simpsons
    For ever and ever
    Mmm.. Duff

  17. Normally I have no interest in what believers have to say about their beliefs — and even less interest in what they presume to know about me. But it does annoy me when someone includes “atheism” in a list of religions or belief systems. Atheism is not a religion and not a belief system. It is the absence of these things.

  18. LanceThruster

    A bit of trivia just for fun. This story reveals how a prominent Los Angeles Christian helped his mistress revolutionize the sex toy industry. I found the story remarkably touching (no pun intended) and is a reminder of how important our physical needs are in living a satisfying life.

    See: http://blogs.laweekly.com/arts/2013/06/cliftons_cafteria_clifford_clinton.php

    • I’d never heard of Clifton Clinton. (What is it with these Clinton’s?) And I found myself thinking, “Ewww. I don’t know that I would be able to write about MY mother and her sex life like this.” Intersting story, though. Kind of ironic he died: at age “69 on Nov. 20, 1969.”

      • LanceThruster

        The whole thing is littered with irony.

        Clifton’s cafeteria was quite famous in the day. And he seemed like a genuinely decent man, contradictions aside. For me it’s a fascinating historical snapshot with the barely concealed underground nature of it and the notable figures who availed themselves to ‘talents’ of this type (I’ll never look at a “First Blood” movie in quite the same way again). It took quite a bit of courage to tell his story straight up.

  19. Anyone who believes in a devil owes that to Zarathustra because ‘devil’ is from Old Persian ‘daeva’. There was no hell in his writing, just ‘paradise’ which is from Old Persian ‘paira daeza’. Hell developed from people watching volcanoes erupt.
    “Every culture in the world brainwashes its children in order to maintain its cultural identity.”…pir faqir
    “All the world’s gods were created by human minds not yet capable of logical thought.”…pir faqir

    • @pir faqir Interesting info about the devil. Thanks for sharing.

      I think, though, that god(s) were created as man became capable of logical thought (to explain) and then for manipulation….

  20. Hey Debbie, remember how Mormons were a cult in the 1980s and even in the 1990s? And remember how they believed that Jesus and the Devil were brothers and all the white people were of Jesus, and all people of color belonged to the Devil? (That’s why Mormons are all over Hawai’i in ministry/missions work.) Oh, do you remember how Evangelical Christians thought that Mormons were worse than the Muslims because they blatantly used Jesus’ name in vain?

    What happened? What changes a cult into mainstream Christianity? Political agenda! There are WAY too many cults out there that are under the guise of religion. And they will never be held accountable for their abuse and manipulation as long as they run “the machine”.

    • @Hi Charity! Hope your summer is going well. I think the gov’t is reluctant to identify certain religions as cults (don’t understand why the Jehovah Witnesses aren’t labeled as such) b/c then they have to take action.

  21. Have you read the book Atheism The Case against God by Georgre Smith? He goes into great detail on defining atheism, agonistic and god. He says you have understand the defintion of the words before you can argure a case for or against. I’m currently reading it. He basically says christians are really agonistic. He has some intresting points.

    • Hi toya. I have not read that book, but I have read similar essays, including one that made the claim that xtians are agnostic. It may have been written by the same author, though I read it twenty or so years ago while in school. Since that time, it seems that many new labels have been created regarding how we identity our varying degrees of nonbelief.

  22. I sometimes think that the issue is not necessarily one of belief. The issue seems to be what happens when belief gets together in groups and become religion. The trouble starts once a group of people gather who say “We believe this and anyone who doesn’t is wrong!” They suddenly “believe” they own the truth and that theirs is only the truth. When belief turns to religion, then all sorts of weirdness starts to take shape.

    I honestly don’t have a problem with theists. The can believe whatever they want so long as they don’t try to force me to believe it. They also can’t violate my three principles: Be Accountable, Be Responsible, and Bring No Intentional Harm to Others.

    • @Derrick I have that same view–I don’t care if people want to believe in god, just don’t smear it over me…And under “be accountable” and responsible, I would say that religions should be good citizens, too. Don’t harm the children and pay your taxes like the rest of the businesses.

  23. I’ve always been partial to the quote, “We’re all atheists. I just believe in one less god than you do.” :)

  24. LanceThruster

    I have no way of knowing the accuracy of this claim, but I’ve heard it said that the first thing you learn in divinity school, is that it’s all bullshit.

  25. I always feel better after reading your posts. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  26. I don’t believe in the biblical god for the same reason that I don’t believe in Thor or fairies—lack of evidence.

  27. Personally, I like your atom-sized, color-changing unicorn. If we’re gonna believe in something that we invent, why not make it entertaining? That’s why I have been partial to the flying spagetti monster religion… ;-)

  28. Ever since my fiancee and I moved here to Texas from San Francisco, we had hoped there were people here who’s in the like mind as yourself. Reading your blog give me hope for this state.

  29. LanceThruster

    In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

    ~ Carl Sagan

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