Why Do Atheists Like Me Keep Talking About God?



From Neil Carter

Earlier this week, a member of a relatively liberal Christian Facebook group to which I belong asked why the atheists in the group feel the need to insert themselves into discussions about religion when they aren’t believers themselves. If we don’t believe in God, why do we talk about him so much?

Whenever someone asks why we non-believers keep addressing matters of religion in public discourse, I always like to use an analogy written by Thought2Much, who is a good friend of mine and one of my comment moderators on this blog:

Imagine a world in which everywhere you turned, a belief in a literal Santa Claus was staring back at you. Imagine if the pledge to the flag included the words “under Santa,” and all of your currency included the phrase “In Santa We Trust.” Imagine if when you went to a courtroom to testify, you had to put your hand on a copy of the book, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and say “So help me Santa” at the end of your oath. Imagine that town meetings all across the country started with the singing of the song “Here Comes Santa Claus” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

Imagine that everyone you know insists that you go to services at least once a week during which you write letters to Santa, and if you don’t, they tell you there’s something wrong with you. Imagine if the first thing that anyone asks you in a social setting is not about what you do for a living or some other question, but, “What have you written to Santa about lately?”

Imagine if you couldn’t go to a gym, or a coffee shop, without Christmas music being played in the background year ’round. Imagine if you couldn’t get your hair done, or go shopping, or go to a doctor’s office without having Christmas music playing, whether it’s Christmas time or not. Imagine if you tried to complain about it, or suggest that maybe some other music should be played, and people told you that you’re a terrible person with no morals for saying such a thing.

Imagine if friends and family shunned you because you had the audacity to say that Santa Claus isn’t real, that he doesn’t bring presents to children around the world at Christmas, and that to believe so is silly with no evidence to support that belief. Imagine parents of students at the school in which you are a faculty member saying that the fact you don’t believe in Santa frightens them, and that they don’t want their kids in your class.

Imagine everyone around you telling you that if you don’t believe in Santa Claus, you will spend all of eternity being punished by being submerged under the ice at the north pole, and poked by Santa’s elves with sticks.

Imagine everyone telling you to just shut up about the fact that you don’t believe in Santa, and to just go along with all of the nonsense, because to everyone else, Santa Claus is absolutely, positively real, and you can’t tell them anything different, and since the majority of society believes in Santa, you must follow what they do.

If you think this all sounds ridiculous or farfetched, this is exactly what it’s like living in large portions of the United States for people who aren’t Christians. This is why we keep engaging in public discussions about God. It’s because this idea—which other people seem to think isn’t any of our business—is all up in our business every day of our lives. That makes it our business.

The discussions are already happening anyway. We’re just not content with being told we’re not welcome in the conversation.


Fantastic analogy. Fantastic.

I’ve long thought “freedom of religion” in the United States to be a complete farce, because we’re not really “free” to practice whatever religion (or lack of religion) we like, since Christianity is in schools, legal systems, and pretty much everywhere else, as if it’s the ONLY acceptable thing. And it’s true, if anyone goes against this, they’re told that they’re “evil” and “going to hell”.

A Christian seems to believe that there is, in fact, a supreme entity of some sort and that this God has something to do with our ultimate destiny. An atheist believes, often just as firmly, that there is no such supreme entity out there. Neither of these two groups is able to actually prove that their belief is correct. Most Buddhists, by contrast, avoid this discussion and try to live with the little we actually know with certainty.

    I disagree. I think most atheists, like scientists, are always open to new proven knowledge…

      To say “there is no God” as atheists do, slams the door on the “new proven knowledge” that DS refers to. Agnosticism is a better word for this position of openness.

      No, atheism says there is no god just like there are no unicorns. But if a unicorn showed up, they would say, “oh, how about that!”

    @Jim Houle (“Buddhists avoid this discussion and try to live with the little we actually know with certainty.”)

    Jim, when you say know with certainty do you mean about karma? and Grandma being reincarnated as a butterfly or a zebra? and that the entire universe, including the phone bill and the rent, is just an illusion?

    Also, I see repeatedly in the news that, where Buddhists get in charge of things, they become as oppressive and violent about staying in charge as any other group does that claims to be all dedicated to love and peace and the one true magic show.

The essential point about the term God (an ambiguous and unspecific notion) expressed above, is that to say “Yes there is” or “No there isn’t” both constitute beliefs, neither of which can actually be definitively proven by science. Whether it’s God or unicorns, absence of proof is not, scientifically speaking, proof of absence. It merely reflects our current limited understanding from the position of one small point in a measurelessly vast and largely unexplored universe. But that doesn’t stop anyone from declaring they know the truth of the matter either way. And the mindless application of both science and religion has produced some very unfortunate results.