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Why I am not an atheist

I don't believe any gods exist, but I'm not an atheist any more than I am an asantaclausist or an aeasterbunnyist. Not believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny doesn't commit me to an ideology or belief system shared with others who reject the notion that such creatures exist. My disbelief in leprechauns doesn't unite me with millions of other aleprechaunists. The label of 'atheist' is one that theists use to create the illusion that their belief in spirits has some substance. I don't mind that theists devote themselves to illusions and delusions as long as they don't do me any harm. But they fill their concept of the atheist with a number of lies and falsehoods that attempt to denigrate those of us who don't share their belief in the existence of spirits. Theists are particularly prone to parading forth non sequiturs in their attempt to vilify those of us who don't believe that an invisible spirit created us or the world we live in.

The fact that I don't believe in an invisible being who is all-powerful and created everything in the universe for a reason does not mean that I think we are nothing but slime and might as well just kill ourselves. The fact that I don't believe in angels who watch over us and grant us wishes from time to time doesn't mean that I think life is meaningless and we might as well just kill our neighbors. From the fact that I don't believe in miracles it does not follow that I believe we are just dirt. It means I don't believe that things happen because of intervention by spirits. From the fact that I don't believe divine commands are necessary for moral values, it does not follow that I don't believe in right and wrong.

Theists use the term 'atheist' to designate those they claim don't believe in right or wrong, think existence is meaningless, and who corrupt society by not adhering to the codes of some religion like Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. But from the fact that there aren't any gods it does not follow that there is no right or wrong, that a meaningful life is impossible, or that society will disintegrate into a war of selfish egoists against selfish egoists. Why would theists want to believe such obvious nonsense? For one thing, it deceives them into thinking they are relieved from self-examination. Faith in their religious beliefs is all they need. The more vile they make the atheist look, the more beatific they make themselves look, or so they seem to think. One thing they might discover upon self-examination is that from the fact that one believes certain commands came from God it doesn't follow that they do. The theist thinks he has an advantage over those of us who don't believe in any gods, but his books and beliefs are just props that he uses to justify his take on what is right or wrong. The theist has no more insight than anyone else into what the right thing to do is in any given situation. The fact that theists disagree about morals should be their first clue.

The theist would trick himself into believing that his life is meaningful because he is following some rules and thinks he'll be rewarded with eternal life. He believes that he was created to follow a set of rules laid down by his creator, and that if he follows the rules, he'll get to spend an eternity worshipping this rule maker. A meaningful life, however, is one that is productive, useful, creative, and enjoyable. A life spent obeying rules may be none of those things. Theists claim that atheists think everything is an accident and a human being is a collection of material particles that will disintegrate at death. It apparently doesn't occur to the theist that that's true whether there is a god or not. Of course, they like to throw in the word 'just' to make the distortion complete. According to the theist, the atheist thinks we're just an accident and just a collection of particles.

The atheist is a straw man created by theists. Every day there are hundreds of pious theists who write articles and books against atheism, as if atheism were a belief system. They attack one chimera after another and pat themselves on the back for slaying these evil dragons they call atheists. In the meantime, they don't examine their own lives or beliefs. I'm not suggesting, however, that theists would do a better job of self-examination than they have tearing apart the straw man they've created. The books and articles promoting the positive side of theism are usually little more than pabulum and feel-good pieces on the level of Chicken Soup for the Soul or The Purpose Driven Life.

I'm not an atheist because the atheist is a figment of the theist's imagination, a figment that is used to divert attention away from the dangerous delusions theists harbor. The most dangerous theistic delusion, of course, is that faith is superior to reason and that reason should be used to distort the truth whenever needed in order to defend doctrines of faith. The promotion of irrationality is one of the most harmful effects of theism. Some theists even condemn atheists for promoting rationality and science, and they do this with a straight face. They mean it. They accuse us of preferring reason to faith, as if that were a bad thing.

If by atheist one means someone who believes that rationality and science are better than irrationality and faith when it comes to improving life and understanding the world, then count me in. Unfortunately, the theists rule the world and they control the language. Maybe that won't always be true. We can always hope for the end of faith.

I admire the work of Mynga Futrell and Paul Geisert to insert the noun bright into our vocabulary, despite the overwhelming power that theists have over the use of words to describe those that disagree with them. Even Dan Dennett's suggestion that theists be called supers fell stillborn from the press. On the other hand, about the only thing that those of us who don't believe in the existence of any gods have in common is the belief that naturalistic explanations for phenomena are the only ones that are essential. Any reference to mystical forces or supernatural powers to explain anything is superfluous. Those are the only necessary and sufficient conditions for being a bright. The hope of the brights "to gain social and political power in a society infused with supernaturalism" remains a noble goal even if it is unlikely to sway the televangelists in their megachurches or supremes like Antonin Scalia. The more success the brights movement has, however, the more a rational view of the world is being promoted. That can't be a bad thing. Wouldn't you rather be called a bright than an atheist, especially when you know that those who call you an atheist do so knowing they can attach all kinds of negative baggage to the term no matter how untrue?

Unfortunately, many non-theists have expressed their dislike of the term 'bright' because it implies that theists are dim.

So?

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reader comments

Dear Professor Carroll,
Allow me to thank you for your essay "Why I am not an atheist." Your essay puts into words what I have been trying to tell my theist friends and relatives for years. I am retired military (20 years U.S. Navy) and my usual reply was that "I devoted 20 years of my life so you could worship the oak tree in your backyard if you so wish. I also devoted those same years to the right to disbelieve if you so wish." Fortunately, I have an agreement nowadays with friends and relatives and, while all may not be what I would like them to be (i.e. those asinine Jesus save me emails), this essay gives me something to use in response to their superstitions along with the What's the harm section of your website. Again thanks so much.
Sincerely
D.S. Fischer

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In regard to your fine recent article "Why I am not an Atheist": I agree completely on your observations as to how religionists use that title to denigrate those who do not share their beliefs. I might add that it has been my experience that many "true believers" operate under the assumption that if an individual (theist or not) does not accept the "truth" according to their particular understanding, then by default that person is a worshipper of Satan, or whatever embodiment of evil the faithful prefer. Am I correct in classifying this as a non sequitur? I have many family members and acquaintances who do not agree with my (former, rapidly fading) beliefs, and I would never allow myself to think they were somehow in league with the devil.

name withheld by request

reply: Yes, I think it is safe to say it is a non sequitur to claim that because someone disagrees with you they must be in league with Satan.

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Your defense of atheism / non-theism (however you want to call it!) is spot on, and I particularly liked your recent post, “Why I am not an atheist.” It sums up, for me, the entire marketing strategy of the Religious Right, and the same tactics infect most of the modern media as well, on just about every issue. I find it truly depressing how poor we’ve become as a nation, and that so many people don’t care about accuracy in their information, as long as it supports their agenda. Which, sadly, is often little more than to have their guy ‘win,’ even as his agenda amounts to little more than the same! That, and to make some cash while he’s there!

“Niceguy” Eddie Cabot

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>>more essays  by R. T. Carroll

Last updated 02-Feb-2012

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