March 5, 2008

All Children are Born Atheists

Anyone who understands the definition of atheism must acknowledge that all children are born atheists, including those born to Christian parents. Atheism is nothing more than the lack of acceptance of the theistic belief claim (i.e., some god or gods exist). A theist is one who believes that god(s) exist; an atheist is one who does not share this belief. The newborn child cannot even entertain such possibilities and thus lacks theistic belief. Atheism is the default position, and this is where we all begin.

In order for Christians to argue against the reality that all children are born atheists, they must distort the meaning of atheism. They must convince themselves and their audience that atheism is a religion, a philosophy, or a worldview. They claim that atheism is an explicit repudiation of religion and that it involves faith that no gods exist. Such distortions in the meaning of atheism allow them to claim that children cannot be born atheist because atheism requires the same sort of deliberate choice required by religious belief.

Atheism is not a belief system but lack of acceptance of one particular belief. It requires no faith; it is the absence of faith. It is the null hypothesis, the default condition, the natural starting point for each of us.

But why must Christians distort the meaning of atheism at all? Why should they even care if their children are born atheists, especially when it is likely that they will begin brainwashing them at an early age? There are many reasons, ranging from a need to see the child as connected to them through the manner they consider most important (i.e., religion) to the harsh implications of infant mortality to their belief system.

To expand on this latter point, consider the Christian parent whose child dies before the child is capable of forming the cognitions necessary to comprehend theistic belief. According to this parent's own Christian doctrine, this child is likely destined for hell. This is where non-believers go, and this child is clearly a non-believer. The Catholics toyed with limbo as a way out, but the evangelical Protestants now engaging in America's "culture wars" never really warmed to this idea. Even theism will be insufficient for such a parent, as a personal relationship with Jesus is thought to be the only vehicle for salvation.

It should be remembered that Christians have created this doctrine for themselves and should be solely responsible for unraveling the many conundrums it presents. Distorting atheism is not an acceptable way out of the mess they have made.

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