I’ve been a self-proclaimed atheist for years, but according to some people I’m wrong. Apparently I don’t even know what I believe, that I’m somehow unaware of my own thoughts. You see, some people say there’s no such thing as atheists. This is one of those arguments that makes me facepalm so hard it leaves a mark. The idea is that deep down, we atheists actually do believe in god but we’re angry, confused, or in denial.
Let’s get the most common version of this argument out of the way first: The idea that atheists are actually theists who are just angry with god. Christians who make this argument often say things like, “What happened in your life to make you so angry?” As if no one could come to the conclusion that there is no evidence of god’s existence without first going through an emotional trauma. A classic example of this fallacy is the recent movie God’s Not Dead (which is really good if you’re looking for a laugh). In this movie, the atheist college professor eventually breaks down and admits (spoiler alert!) that he’s angry with god because his mom died. Ugh.
Let me make this clear: It is impossible to be angry with something you don’t believe in. Atheists are no more angry with god than they are with Darth Vader or Voldemort. If we seem angry to you, it is probably because we are sick of seeing millions of people abused and scammed by religious leaders, among other reasons. Yes, many of us are very angry. But we’re not angry at god; we’re angry with all the lies and injustice caused by religion.
The next most common misconception is that atheists are actually agnostics. Christians often say no one can be an atheist in a the true sense because no one can know for sure whether there is a god. This argument is made by people who don’t understand the difference between atheism and agnosticism and that the terms are not mutually exclusive.
Most atheists are not saying, “There is no god.” What they’re saying is, “I don’t believe in god.” There’s a huge difference. The first statement is a claim of knowledge while the second is a statement of belief. Admittedly, there are some atheists who do claim there is no god, but they are a minority. The rest of us simply lack a belief in god until we’re convinced otherwise. So yes, technically we are agnostics, but that doesn’t mean can’t be atheists, too. We are agnostic atheists.
This is why I often say the opposite: agnostics are actually atheists. This is very easy to prove. Just ask an agnostic if he believes in god. If he says, “I don’t know,” point out that it’s a yes or no question. If he can’t say yes, then he is an atheist by default.
Another idea is that everyone is born a theist and that later they just try to convince themselves that they are atheists. Recently Christians were delighted and atheists were annoyed by the headline, “Scientists Discover That Atheists Might Not Exist.” Give me a break! The title is misleading because all the author does is argue that people are born with a tendency to believe in god. But even that is debatable. It seems more likely that religion is a meme that took hold in the minds of humans because of their tendency to conform with those around them. (For a detailed explanation, check out Breaking The Spell by Daniel Dennett.)
But back to the main point: If children are born theists, how come they have to be taught the idea that god exists? Besides, the argument that atheists are just trying to convince themselves there isn’t a god is a waste of time because there’s no way to know what anyone, other than oneself, actually thinks. How are we supposed to tell the difference between someone who doesn’t believe in god and someone who does and is only lying to himself?
So by now I hope it’s clear that atheists do, in fact, exist. In my opinion, many Christians try to convince themselves there’s no such thing as atheists because the idea that there are atheists out there living normal, happy lives without god terrifies them. It raises the possibility that they might be wrong.
If you ask me, it seems far more likely that theists don’t exist. Deep down they know there isn’t a god, but they are too afraid to admit it, not even to themselves. This actually makes a lot more sense. Considering the fact that people are born atheists (because atheism is a lack of belief, not a declaration of belief) and that there is absolutely no credible evidence that god exists, I don’t think anyone really believes in god.
There are many reasons why people might try to convince themselves god exists:
- Fear of death and the desire to live forever.
- Missing loved ones and longing to see them again.
- Dissatisfaction with life and the hope of eternal bliss.
- Guilt over wrongdoings and the wish for divine forgiveness.
- Anger at evil people and the desire for cosmic justice.
Based on this, it is obvious there’s no such thing as theists.
If you’re a self-proclaimed theist and this idea makes you angry, imagine how I feel when someone says there’s no such thing as atheists! But I don’t really believe there’s no such thing as theists. I’m just trying to make a point. I would never presume to know what’s really going on inside a theist’s head, and all I ask is that theists show me the same respect.