What Do You Get From Being an Atheist?
The Questions Christians Ask
Many atheists have heard some version of the following question from religious believers: “What do you get from being an atheist?” How, or if, I answer this question depends on the delivery and my mood at the moment. If it is antagonistic, I may not respond at all. The more patient I’m feeling, the more thought I’ll put into my response.
I sometimes reply that I don’t “get” anything out of atheism and go on to explain why this isn’t a problem. I don’t base my beliefs on what’s in it for me. That seems like an awfully shallow way to operate, though I suspect it isn’t unusual. I’ve never known how to make myself believe something I didn’t think was true. The fact that there could be benefits to doing so hasn’t changed that.
It is true that I didn’t want to be an atheist in the first place. I fought against it for over a year but ended up there anyway. Why did I end up there? Nothing else made any sense. There wasn’t any evidence to support the alternatives. What have I gotten out of it since then? Rejection and bigotry.
But I suppose there is another way to approach the question, one I’m more likely to choose when I’m in a good mood. Atheism strikes me as being somewhat closer to the truth than theism. By that, I mean that it seems more likely to reflect reality than theism. If we find value in this, we could say that being closer to the truth is one benefit of atheism. If I value it, we could even say that it is something I get out of being an atheist.
My initial reaction to the question is that the questioner doesn’t understand how belief works. I then try to remember that it might be how belief works for other people. I do not experience belief as voluntary. I couldn’t wake up tomorrow, decide I’d like to believe in gods, and begin doing so. But this doesn’t mean that others couldn’t do so. I could lack an ability others have. For all I know, most others can switch their god-belief on and off like this.
Atheism is not a religion. It isn’t even a philosophy, worldview, or belief system, though it could be one small part of all these things. For me, it doesn’t refer to anything other than not believing in gods. Everything else people try to associate with it is part of something else…