I recently came across yet another article that claims atheists don’t really exist. This is a very common argument among Christians. To them, the existence of god is so obvious that they simply can’t grasp the concept of not believing. So the only explanation that makes sense to them is that we’re in denial.
Here’s what the article says:
Many profess to be atheists, but my question is whether or not these people, in the depth and quiet of their own hearts, honestly believe there is no God. I contend they do not. I contend that they are living and speaking in denial of what they know to be true. I contend that they are laboring to persuade themselves of what is indelibly and inescapably inscribed on their hearts: that there is a God…
That’s all very interesting, but I have a few questions for the author:
Are you calling me a liar? Are you saying the millions of atheists around the world are all liars, too? And that they’re just pretending to not believe in god? Do you think we say to ourselves, “Damn, I wish God didn’t exist”? Do you think we have secret meetings where we complain about god’s existence and remind each other to keep up the masquerade?
Because if you think we’re all liars, then just say so. Don’t hide behind Romans 1:20 and John Calvin. Have the guts to say what you really think. Or is it something else?
Perhaps you’re saying that although we don’t think we believe in god, deep down we actually do and just won’t admit it to ourselves. But if that’s what you’re saying, how is that any different from not believing in god? Just think about it…
What if I told you that deep down you believe in unicorns, you just won’t admit it to yourself. You assure me you don’t believe in unicorns, but I say, “You’re deluding yourself. You might not think you believe in unicorns, but you do. In the depth and quiet of your heart, you do.”
Not very convincing? Welcome to my world! For all intents and purposes, not thinking you believe in unicorns and not believing in unicorns are the same thing. If you don’t think you believe in unicorns, then you don’t believe in unicorns. It’s the same with god. If you don’t think you believe in god, then you don’t believe in god. Statements like, “You believe in god, you just don’t know it,” are meaningless.
Even if you argue that atheists believe in god on a subconscious level, it makes no difference. I might have the complete works of Shakespeare memorized on a subconscious level, but if I can’t bring it to my conscious mind, then it may as well not be there. A belief that is only subconscious is not an actual belief.
So why do you keep insisting there’s no such thing as atheists? I think it’s because you’re afraid. The very idea of atheists frightens you because if god’s existence is not obvious to us, then maybe it’s not obvious at all. Maybe you’re the one who isn’t being honest. So you stick your fingers in your ears and yell, “Book of Romans! John Calvin! La la la la la!”
If I wanted, I could argue that deep down you do believe in atheists, you just don’t want to admit it. Imagine if I did. Imagine if I took it a step further and argued that you don’t actually believe in god. What if I wrote the following…?
Many profess to be theists, but my question is whether or not these people, in the depth and quiet of their own hearts, honestly believe there is a god. I contend they do not. I contend that they are living and speaking in denial of what they know to be true. I contend that they are laboring to persuade themselves of what is inescapable obvious: that there is no god…
I could make a very strong case that theists don’t actually believe in god: Most of them don’t act like it, there’s no verifiable evidence that god exists, and there are many reasons why people might want to convince themselves there’s a god. For example: desire to see deceased loved ones again, desire to live forever, desire to be happy forever, desire to see evil people punished, etc.
Maybe theists are actually atheists in denial. Perhaps the problem is that they willfully, selfishly, and knowingly loathe this life which they know will end, and they would rather indulge in their selfish desire for eternal bliss and pretend their skydaddy will vanquish their enemies than admit there’s no god. Is that offensive? No more offensive than what you wrote about us:
The problem is that they willfully, selfishly, and knowingly loathe the God whom they see and know to exist and would rather indulge their own fleshly lusts and worship their own souls than honor and give thanks to the God of glory. [italics mine]
By the way… seriously? So all I get to do is break some arbitrary rules about sex and think about how awesome I am, but you get eternal bliss? And you think I’m the selfish one!?
Anyway, I would never presume to tell you what you actually believe. I’m not that arrogant. I think you really do believe in god. But considering all the imaginary benefits that come with it, believing in god seems incredibly easy (and convenient–no social ostracism for you). I’m not surprised so many people have convinced themselves that god exists.
I, on the other hand, have to deal with the prospect that when I die, that will be it. That I won’t live forever, that I won’t see my deceased father again, that there is no cosmic justice. I don’t like it, but at least I have the courage to face it.
So which is it? Am I a liar, or do I believe in god but not realize it? If it’s the former, then you have to wonder why millions of atheists are willing to trade eternal bliss for some earthly pleasures. And how is it that none of them have slipped up and accidentally revealed their god belief? If it’s the latter… well, I already explained why that doesn’t make sense.
It sounds to me like you don’t know many atheists. Since you’re a pastor, I’m willing to bet that whenever you encounter them, you’re too busy proselytizing to actually listen to them. Why not get your nose out of your Bible and get to know us? You might learn something.