August 6, 2015

Atheism and the Rejection of Gods

English: Dead Gods symbol for Atheist pride
Dead Gods symbol for Atheist pride (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is possible for someone to believe in a particular god (i.e., to believe that a particular god exists) and stubbornly refuse to worship that particular god. It could even be accurate to say of such a person that he or she is actively rejecting this particular god. He or she believes that this god exists and makes a conscious decision not to worship it and to focus his or her attention elsewhere.

Such a person, whatever else he or she might be, would not be an atheist. An atheist is, by definition, someone who does not believe in any gods. It is nonsensical to speak of an atheist stubbornly refusing to worship any particular god. How does one refuse to worship something one regards as fictional? Isn't believing that something exists a necessary precondition for worshiping it? Nor does it make any sense to characterize atheists as having rejected any particular god. How does one reject something in which one does not believe? Again, it is not at all clear how one could meaningfully reject something which one did not first believe to be real.

Some Christians are fond of claiming that atheists are merely being stubborn in their refusal to worship a particular god because we do not want to acknowledge that there is something greater than ourselves. Some insist that we are just angry at their god or are defiantly rejecting it. These claims reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of atheism, belief, and reality. The atheist does not believe in any gods. The notion that we are really just angry at one of the many gods in which we do not believe or that we are being stubborn in refusing to bow before one of the many gods in which we do not believe is silly.

Outside of a religious context, I have to think that we'd recognize how silly such claims would be. Imagine being genuinely angry at something you didn't think existed. Damn Loch Ness Monster! I can't do it (and it reminds me of a classic South Park episode). Imagine stubbornly refusing to worship unicorns or fairies. It is nonsensical. And the idea of someone actively defying, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge, walking away from, or turning his or her back on something completely fictional isn't any better. I reject elves and want nothing to do with them!

These examples will strike most people as quite silly, but they are no different from the various gods. Well, that isn't true. The gods are different because some of those who believe in them and have positions of authority tied up in this belief (i.e., clergy) have fed their "flock" all sorts of lies about atheists. The lies, misconceptions, and bigotry serve a protective function, maintaining the religious belief at the expense of reality. It is so much more reassuring for some religious believers to tell themselves that we are just mad at their preferred god than to realize that there are people among them who don't believe in any gods. And as long as we atheists are the ones paying the price for such religious propaganda, it is viewed as acceptable.

The Christian who hopes to understand atheism must come to terms with the reality that atheists are people who do not believe in any gods. It isn't that we are rejecting them, turning away from them, refusing to bow before them, or anything of the sort. We are unconvinced that any of them are real.

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