February 10, 2007

"Then What Do You Believe?"

English: Atheist avatar.
English: Atheist avatar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Christians often have many questions when encountering an atheist. Many reflect a lack of scientific knowledge (e.g., "Then how did we get here?"), a lack of moral development (e.g., "If there is no god, why should we be good?"), or just a lack of imagination (e.g., "Then what do you worship?"). However, there is at least one valid question to which more of us should be prepared to provide meaningful answers.

A Christian who recognizes that atheism refers only to the lack of theistic belief and not to some broad agenda, philosophy, or alternative religion, sometimes asks an excellent question: "I understand that you do not accept the existence of any gods, but I'm curious about what you do believe." Many atheists are too quick to dismiss this question as irrelevant or even provoking, but it is not necessarily either of these things. It may represent a genuine attempt to understand the worldview of the particular atheist being questioned.

As we consider this question, one critical disclaimer must be offered at the outset. Because atheism has no doctrine, set of core values, or even shared vision of the world, no honest atheist will have much to say about how his/her fellow atheists think. Since atheism implies nothing besides a lack of theistic belief, one must expect tremendous diversity among atheists. I have met atheists who believe in ghosts and others who do not. All they necessarily share is that they do not believe in gods. This may be difficult for some Christians to grasp because they do have at least some shared doctrine.

To understand the importance of the question we are considering, imagine that you encounter someone who informs you that he does not believe in fairies. Regardless of what you think about fairies, this man has told you very little. You know that he does not believe in fairies, but you know absolutely nothing about what else he may or may not believe. Such is the case with atheists. Those of us who think it is important to provide believers with an alternative worldview are going to need to offer something beyond atheism.

To do my part, I am going to use this post as a springboard to periodically address what I do believe in and the values which inform my worldview. I will update it with links to relevant posts. That way, anyone wanting to know what besides atheism composes my worldview will find it here. I think this will be a useful exercise because it will force me to clarify my values and because it will demonstrate incompleteness of atheism.
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