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Atheism and communication failure

Many Christians say they *know* that God and Jesus exist. So I guess it's natural that when an atheist says she doesn't believe in God, they assume she's saying something similar, hearing "I *know* God doesn't exist". And many agnostics seem to assume that as well, thus statements such as "I'm not certain, so I'm not an atheist". But in my experience, almost all self-labelled atheists will admit potential uncertainty, that they could die and find themselves facing Odin, or Jesus, or being reincarnated. What we usually mean when we call ourselves atheist is simply that we do not believe. We don't have faith, we see no evidence, and we often find the religious beliefs absurd (whether due to internal contradictions, such as an all-loving Father who sends people to eternal torment for not loving him enough, or external ones such as the sheer profligacy of other religions.) Technically we could be agnostics, and many in fact call themselves atheist agnostics, or agnostic atheists, but others go for the simple label, emphasizing not the potential for doubt but the real fact of not being a theist.

Because I imagine that when an agnostic calls himself such, he thinks he's sending the message "I'm open-minded, I'm not claiming certainty or Truth". But the atheist often hears "I'm a wuss afraid to tell religious people I think their beliefs are a crock" or "I don't believe it's true but wish it were" or "I think there's something special about religious doubt, as opposed to the doubt a good scientist or empiricist has about any and all truth claims". And also hears "I think atheists are being just as dogmatic as religionists."

After all, no one can prove when we won't find ourselves being judged by Hades or Odin or Anubis when we die, but almost everyone alive would be rather surprised to find this the case. The atheist feels she's just saying that she'd be equally surprised to find Jesus when she dies -- why should this be considered particularly dogmatic, or unwarranted?

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
pompe
Mar. 12th, 2007 10:57 am (UTC)
Very true. The issue isn't to me if a deity of some sort exists but if one have faith in its existence. There's no - to me - evidence to back up a conclusion that a deity does exist, so I do not believe.

And I can to some degree recognize myself in the anti-agnostic stances above. I can understand people believe, and I can understand people do not believe.
countrycousin
Mar. 13th, 2007 01:30 am (UTC)
There do seem to be some militant atheists who take a stronger position. I admit, your position seems much more reasonable to me.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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