An Atheist Primer

“All deities reside in the human breast.”
William Blake

It seems many are confused as to what an atheist is. So, in a similar vein to my post on feminism,
here is an irreverent primer on atheism.

Let’s start with the obvious questions and statements atheists are often bombarded with.

Q. How can you say atheism isn’t a belief system when you believe there’s no God?

A. Atheists do not believe there is no God. Atheists do not believe there is a God. There is a vital though subtle difference between the two.

To say you believe there is no God would be to make a presumptive statement without sufficient, verifiable evidence to support it. A bit like saying you believe there is a God.

If you say you do not believe there is a God, however, what you’re saying is that, based on all available evidence, the existence of a God is unlikely enough as to be discountable. Which brings me to…

Q. What about agnostics? Aren’t you just sitting on the fence, ready to change your mind at a moment’s notice?

A. Contrary to popular belief, an agnostic is not merely a ‘don’t know’. Agnosticism is the idea that nothing can be known about the existence or nature of God. Many atheists are what’s known as agnostic atheists; their position is that nothing can be known either way, and they lean towards not believing in a God.

Q. Why do you hate God?

A. It’s been said that there’s no such thing as a silly question, but this comes close. You cannot hate what doesn’t exist. You may as well ask, why do you hate unicorns? But who’d hate unicorns when they’re all sweetness and light? God, who smites nations willy-nilly, and allegedly condones punishment of people for spurious crimes, is far more worthy of hate. But as he/she/it isn’t real, atheists don’t hate God any more than we hate any other pantomime villain.

What I actually hate is religion. Outdated, harmful beliefs that have no basis in reality, yet are pandered to because religion is used to control people. It’s no coincidence that the poorest countries whose people suffer most are the ones where religious belief has the strongest grip.

Q. See, you don’t respect my beliefs. You must respect my beliefs. Why don’t you?

A. Actually, I don’t have to respect your beliefs. I accept your right to your beliefs, but I don’t have to respect the beliefs themselves. In fact, your rights end where mine begin. So if your belief is that I should be harmed for not agreeing with your belief, is it you who is in the wrong. Legally and morally. And talking of morals…

Q. If you don’t believe that God watches everything you do, won’t you just run around stealing and murdering? Where do you get your morals from?

A. My morals come from empathy. I know it’s wrong to hurt others, I know it’s wrong to steal, I know it’s wrong to murder. I also know it’s wrong to discriminate against people based on the prejudices of an ancient book. If your morals come via texts that require ‘blasphemers’, gay people, rape victims, or disbelievers to be killed, then in the real world, you are the one without morals.

Q. So you worship Satan/science/money/yourself?

A. No. Atheists don’t worship anything. That’s the point. Satan’s not real, science is there to be challenged and advanced, money is a tool for control, and I am but a humble creature trying to navigate the world and do what I can to leave it better than I found it. No one should worship anything. If you worship something, you give yourself an inferior mindset and halt your own progress.

Q. If God appeared before you and proved you wrong, your world would crumble, wouldn’t it?

A. No. If a genuine God appeared before me, I’d be fascinated and would ask it all the same questions Stephen Fry would. Why the hate? Why the suffering? To be honest, I think it’s more likely that extraterrestrials with superior technology exist, the kind of technology that is sufficiently advanced as to appear indistinguishable from magic (to paraphrase Arthur C Clarke). Which brings me neatly to…

Q. How do you know there’s not a Creator?

A. I don’t. Currently, we can never know whether there is or isn’t a Creator. My thoughts on this are that if there is or was such a Creator, it’s far more likely to be from an advanced civilisation with technology superior enough to appear  as magic. Or miracles. (See what I did there?)

This is not to suggest I’m putting forward the Alien God theory, but there are many passages in the Bible that could be read as primitive people’s accounts of things we now have better explanations for: Everything springing from nothing = the Big Bang; Eve created from Adam’s rib = cloning; two of every species fitted into Noah’s Ark = frozen sperm and ova thereof; Ezekiel’s Wheel = UFO; The Mercy Seat above the Ark of the Covenant, from where God speaks to Moses = radio/telephone. And there are many more examples. But even if we were created by members of a superior race or species, it doesn’t mean we should worship them, or that they are still around invisibly watching and judging us.

The  problem, you see, is not the existence or non-existence of any kind of God. The problem is with religion. If you believe your holy texts to be the unadulterated words and rules of your God, and this is kind of the definition of religion, then you can’t pick and choose. You have to face up to the problematic passages that tell you how to treat your slaves, how to condemn people who don’t think exactly as you do, how to subjugate women, how to define non-believers as subhuman. You can’t say ‘that was for then, now it’s different,’ without admitting that these are not the timeless words of God, but the prejudices of men from those days.

It’s not the supernatural element of the idea of God that disturbs me, though unquestioning faith in unreality can be harmful in itself, it is that people put words into God’s mouth  and use religion for their own ends. That is more of an abomination that non-belief ever could be.