One Atheist’s Point of View
by guest blogger Brian Mathieu
Have you ever felt frustration when a non-Christian speaks incorrectly about Christians and their beliefs? Now, concerning beliefs, imagine being in a minority and that every time your beliefs are mentioned, people automatically jump to stereotypes, put words into your mouth, and assume that you’re a terrible person. I know many readers might already be put off by the title of this essay, and have no interest whatsoever in what an atheist thinks. To those of you still reading, thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt, and having the curiosity to hear about atheism from an actual atheist.
First of all, I’d like to thank Greg for letting me have this disjointed, rambling monologue here on The Poached Egg. Here on the Egg, the majority of posts and articles that address how Christians should behave and act, I have no problem with, but I do find my hackles rising when posts or articles incorrectly assume things about all atheists, and Greg has graciously decided to ask me to offer my two cents worth. I don’t expect anyone to read this and drop their faith, or to run out and hug the nearest atheist, but if even one person comes away with a better understanding, I will feel like I’ve accomplished something.
What is an atheist? There are probably as many differing types of atheist as there are people who identify themselves Christian. Most everyone knows of the more famous outspoken ones like Hitchens, Dawkins, etc. Assuming that every atheist holds similar views is as foolish (and inflammatory) as claiming that all Christians have the same views and beliefs as Spanish Inquisitors and pedophile priests. Sometimes avoiding the knee-jerk reaction, taking a deep breath, and asking someone specifics about their beliefs is more difficult than just pigeonholing a person based upon a pre-conceived notion of what they stand for, but it usually leads to a better understanding and dialog between people.
At its core, atheism is merely a lack of belief in a God or Gods. It’s not the same as claiming that God does not exist. Many atheists, such as myself, believe that there could be a God/gods, but we currently do not have a belief in any. There is a subset of atheists who believe that God does not exist, and these are the ones that usually get all of the media attention (Hitchens, Dawkins, etc.) Please do not adhere to the fallacy that they represent the views of all atheists.
Why do I not currently believe in God(s)? Simply because at this point in my life I haven’t seen enough to convince me that he or they exist. It really is as simple as that. Why doesn’t someone believe in Allah, or Krishna, or Shiva, or even Odin? Because they haven’t seen enough to convince them that they exist. They may think that belief in any of those Beings is “silly”. They may ridicule believers as stupid, or evil, or uneducated, or merely just misinformed. They may merely shrug and leave believers in those other deities to their faith, feeling that while they’re wrong, the chances are slim that they’ll be able to convert them to what they feel is the one true faith.
When someone claims that all atheists base their lack of belief on “being angry at God”, or in somehow being “too proud” to acknowledge God, please understand how that comes across. Imagine how it would sound to you if someone of a differing faith were to say the same thing about why Christians don’t believe in the other deity. Do you disbelieve in Zeus because you’re just “too proud”? If you think that sounds ridiculous, I agree with you. It sounds just as silly to an atheist. If you were asked why you believe the things that you do, you would probably be able to come up with some pretty good reasons. Please understand that people of all religions (and of no religion) feel the exact same way. Reasons that sound silly to one person sound perfectly logical to another. Telling someone that the reasons for their beliefs are ridiculous will usually come across as insulting. You’re probably not going to get a warm, embracing dialog going with that kind of opening. In my opinion, a better tactic would be to try and explain to someone why your reasons make sense to you. Whether you “convert” them or not doesn’t matter; at least you’re talking to each other in a respectful manner.
Since it’s such an important point, let me say it one more time: I acknowledge that I could very well be wrong; that there could be some version of God up there. To those of you screaming “You’re agnostic, not atheist!”, it’s an argument of semantics, feel free to message me and I’ll try to explain, but for the time being, just realize that I consider myself both.
You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve been told that I’m “closed-minded” because I don’t currently believe in someone’s particular deity. I find irony in that label every single time. Now, just because I admit that there could be a God, does not mean that I’ve got some kind of hidden belief in him. I’m comfortable with my current lack of belief, but I also acknowledge that I am not infallible.
I thought that my first wife wasn’t cheating on me – until I found out that she was. We all look at the evidence given to us, and draw personal conclusions. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong. There are things that would probably convince me that one of humanity’s versions of God is real. I reserve the right to change my future belief based on new evidence. I think that’s a totally rational policy.
Most of the time when I ask a theist what would change their beliefs, they answer something like “nothing whatsoever could get me to change my mind!” I know this viewpoint isn’t shared by every theist out there, but it is fairly common, at least among the ones that I’ve spoken to. This baffles and disturbs me. I am currently 100% confident that my current wife is not cheating on me, but the logical part of my brain admits that finding her in bed with another man would change my mind on this.
Whoever is right, whether theists or atheists, one thing is certain: Each of us has a finite amount of time to share this earth with one another. Acknowledging that there are different views, beliefs, and opinions out there, and getting along with people who hold them, will probably go a long way towards everyone having a better time on this planet.
Greg’s Note: Brian is a long time visitor to The Poached Egg and a frequently comments on our Facebook page. I’m thankful for skeptics like him who visit TPE and offer their comments and opinions. If they didn’t, then how would we ever learn how to communicate with them or have the opportunity to share Christ? More often than not, Brian and I adamantly disagree with one another on most topics -for example, in his above essay, I disagree with his definition of atheism; but guess what? We could sit around and argue the definition of atheism until both of us are blue in the face, or I could simply accept his own definition of himself and we could move on to more important issues. Even though Brian and I often disagree when it come to Christianity and religion, every now and then we manage to find some common ground, and I always rejoice when we do because it means that we are another step closer to understan
ding each other’s worldview.
I admire Brian (and those like him) for having the courage to speak out on what he does or doesn’t believe’, on a social network page where he is greatly outnumbered by people who do not share his point of view. I also appreciate him taking me up on my offer to share his thoughts on the matter and for his taking the time to do it.
Brian may or may not come to faith someday, but that is not for me to worry about, nor is it up to me to ‘convince’ Brian whether or not Christianity is true. What is up to me is to always be ready to give a reason for my faith! Once I have done this, whether he accepts it or not is between God and himself.