Talking About Nothing

At the Thai restaurant in Campbell, the talk was spicier than the fish.

Someone asked why jocks thank God if they win a game. Does the Almighty really care if you covered the spread? And isn't scaring children by telling them they could burn in hell a form of child abuse?

That kind of gleeful, irreverent chatter, which lingered long after the restaurant closed, was the whole purpose of the meeting for the Santa Clara Brights, a group that formed in late 2003. The outings give atheists a chance to openly express their beliefs without fear of rejection or retribution. MORE

I've never understood how otherwise intelligent people can decide to adopt atheism. I can accept that one might be agnostic, i.e. not knowing whether or not there is a higher power. That position at least acknowledges that there are limits to human understanding of the universe. To be absolutely certain that there is no god, as atheists are, strikes me as just as much a matter of faith as anything that Christians, Jews, Muslims, or Buddhists believe.

However that is not the point I wish to make here. The story quoted above is about a group of atheists who gather together to, apparently, celebrate their lack of belief. I don't get how this works. Religious people of any persuasion assemble regularly to discuss their beliefs, read scriptures, consider how religious doctrines relate to everyday life, etc. These are all positive activities, and there is a virtually unlimited variety of things to learn and do.

Atheists, it seems to me, really have nothing to talk about. There are only so many different ways you can say "there is no god." Doesn't it get boring after awhile? What more is there to discuss? If atheism is so obviously correct and doesn't require any faith, then why is it necessary to study it?

The answer, I think, is that these sort of meetings are mainly social affairs. Fine - they can talk about sports, weather, politics, art, music, whatever turns them on. If atheists are more comfortable when they know their companions are equally certain there is no god, more power to them. Enjoy yourselves however you like.

Yet, as the story reveals, there is more going on at these events. Since there is apparently little to say other than "God doesn't exist" and "How about those Cowboys?" the conversation turns to how dumb and gullible those religious people are, and the many ways in which we are supposedly plotting to oppress the infidels.

In fact, in my experience most religious people don't give atheists a second thought. We're busy doing other things. When atheists and Christians clash, as in the matters of school prayer, Ten Commandments on the courthouse wall, etc, the atheists usually get their way. So I don't get why they feel so threatened.

The weirdest part is the exclusivity. Atheists seem positively terrified of having to discuss religious matters with a religious person. Why is this? Deep down, I think they know that their beliefs are no less "religious" than those of Christians, etc. Because they cannot admit this without exposing the vacuity of their own logic, they avoid situations where they might have to defend their own religion against others.

Think about it: if you go from atheism (there is no god) to agnosticism (I don't know if there is a god), you at least have to admit that there might be a god. And if you admit this, then you have to entertain the arguments in favor of there being a god. You can, and must, have honest conversations with religious believers. Maybe you still aren't convinced - but at least you think about it. An atheist cannot cross that line.

Outwardly, atheists appear to dislike and sometimes even hate religious believers. Dig a little deeper, and I think they are actually afraid of us. That's why they feel the need to have atheist-only social events.

I'm sorry they feel that way. I'm sorry that some Christians, in their zeal to spread the Gospel, probably take an overly aggressive approach in talking to atheists. Christianity is all about free will. We're not about "rejection or retribution," which is what the atheists in this story say they fear. We'd like to share with everyone what we think is Good News, but in the end the decision to believe - or not believe - belongs to each individual. God respects that decision, and we should, too.

For more about atheism, you can visit Et Tu. Jen is a former atheist who made a long and thoughtful journey into Christianity, all nicely chronicled on her blog. Check it out.


Jennifer F. said...

I think a lot of what perplexes you here might be made clear if you understand this: it's all about pride. Not with every single person who doesn't believe in God, but with most of the "vocal atheist" set. That's why they talk about it so much, that's why they don't want to have serious debates with religious people, etc. It's about showing everyone how smart you are. That's the name of the game.

Jennifer F. said...

Oh, and thanks for the link!

Anonymous said...

(Only anon, as I don't want to register)

You are correct in saying that there is a matter of "faith" in Atheism.

However, to say that Atheists are as religious as Christians/'Believers' is incorrect as there are drastic differences.

For simplicity, lets only talk abut Christians so I can use some terminology.

Christians adopt religious doctrine, truths, and guidelines based on their innate faith that these doctrines/truths/guidelines have been decreed by a higher power (God).

Atheists deny the existence of higher powers because they require faith in the absense of physical evidence. Because the term 'atheist' is incredibly broad, it really has only one core meaning: a person who rejects faith as a means of justifying worldy actions.

Atheism doesn't tell you how to live your life beyond that you should make worldy decisions based on worldy consequences.

Atheists don't believe in anything, except that it is necessary to base one's philosophies and actions on tangible observations. Because Christanity bases its philosophy on intangible observations (eg. Random good fortune, which is said to be a blessing from God), Atheists reject it, along with all other similar belief systems.

Patrick said...

Anon, thanks for the comment. I'm still a little confused so maybe you can help me.

You say atheists only believe in physical evidence and tangible observations. The problem I see is that these things still have to be processed through human brains into the biochemical reactions we call "thought."

How, then, do we know that the physical evidence our brains reveal are, in fact, really true? It seems to me that without faith there can be no reason, and without reason it is impossible to ever be sure of anything - including physical evidence and tangible observations.