Atheism is not a belief
This is something I hear fairly often: “You can’t prove that God exists or doesn’t exist, so an atheist is just as belief-bound as any theist.” Another variation on this is “Atheists take their religion just as seriously as any other religious group does.” I think this is a very backwards understanding of the term(s).
In short, the term atheist means a person that does not believe that a God exists. There is a distinct difference between:
“I do not believe that God exists.”
and the incorrect variation:
“I believe that God does not exist.”
Atheists simply do NOT believe. It’s subtle, but quite an important distinction. It is not a religion, but the rejection of religions. Allow me to explain.
Do you believe that Smurfs are real living things? No? Do you need someone to prove that they’re not real? Should you be classified as a believer in asmurfiesm? In order to classify Smurfs as real living things, you would need actual evidence of their existence — perhaps a sit-down chat with Pappa Smurf about how Smurfette has survived all these years as the sole female in the group. Joking aside, the complete lack of evidence is what keeps Smurfs out of the real things bin. Yes, I know they are an example of fictional characters, thus real in the sense that they have an origin and a TV show — but my point is illustrative. If you do not believe in the existence of something, there’s nothing to prove or even debate. If you do believe in something, then there must be a reason — be it logical and evidence-based or not. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is another great example of this belief paradox. If you believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, you get to call yourself a “Pastafarian”. If you don’t, there’s no special title. Believing in something is distinctly different from not believing in something.
To further understand, it is important to fully engage the words used to describe belief and specifically religious belief. First of all, the word belief is well defined by Merriam-Webster:
1. a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing
2. something believed; especially : a tenet or body of tenets held by a group
3. conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence
For topics of the supernatural, such as religious deities, the term “leap of faith” is used to justify a belief without physical evidence. Merriam-Webster does a great job of making this clear too. The M-W definition of faith:
1. a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty
b (1) : fidelity to one’s promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
2. a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
3. something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>
— on faith
: without question <took everything he said on faith>
I prefer a more simplified definition of faith when referring to religious topics:
the mental process of suspending logic and reason to accept something as true without evidence, typically indoctrinated subconsciously
Logic and reason require evidence to support facts. A belief in something based only on faith is exactly not that. Atheists do not believe in God. Many atheists generally don’t believe in anything on faith per my definition of the term.
The best way to describe an atheist’s belief or non-belief in God is to say that the evidence supporting the claim is woefully unsatisfactory, in fact to the point of making the claim essentially nonsensical. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is an equally rational proposal for a supernatural force guiding our existence. We must also acknowledge the fact that our modern understanding of the world (in 2014) makes this claim much easier to accept today. Stuff is less mysterious now than it was when the snowball of religious indoctrination got its start.
Some religious people refer to faith as a gift. I simply refer to that as custom vocabulary manipulation and golden-egg seeding, which is some of the basic mechanisms of how cults form and propogate — which I explain in more detail in Cult mechanics.
There’s another point here as well, which I’ll dig into much deeper later — that belief and faith are actually passed down from generation to generation as subconscious indoctrinations that are very highly protected by defensive social structures. If they didn’t have these defenses, they would no longer exist today.
Next essay: Cult mechanics