Disbelief in religion is not the same as belief in nothing

Recently a theist and close family member has asked me what I believe in a few times… But he doesn’t seem to like my answer and I’ve been struggling to understand why.

According to him, my (Facebook) posts that criticize religion are negative thinking, which just begets more negative thinking. Apparently it’s wrong to disbelieve in something for which there is no evidence unless I propose an alternative, in his mind. (Why?) He also referred to me as angry despite my perfectly clear responses. I’m not angry, and have no reason to be angry. I find it frustrating when people make outrageous claims without a shred of evidence in debate groups, but frustration and anger are two very different things. I use the frustration to write articles about the strange things that people believe, and sometimes as a platform to launch refutations to religious apologetics arguments, but there is no anger involved.

I don’t see it as negative to criticize religion. Religion itself is negative. It’s like a disease. And I’m always surrounded, always bombarded with the sentiments of the religious, all the time. Religion does real harm in the world, and I’m not about to stop criticizing it just because somebody can’t understand how disbelief in god requires no alternative. If you can believe that your god is eternal, why not the universe that he supposedly wished into existence? No, disbelief in a creator neither requires an alternative, nor does it amount to belief in something else.

How can I make this clearer? In much the same way as all religions, even the most primitive, have creation myths, and I see no reason to differentiate between them, I see no difference between the Christian Bible and the word-of-mouth passing on of religious myths between members of an isolated tribe on some small island somewhere. They are exactly the same – they’re magical explanations for things that primitive humans did not understand, that were then passed down through generations via indoctrination, which is the brainwashing of children to believe in the impossible before they are old enough to think critically. That’s what it boils down to. All religions, and all gods that all the religions worship, are human constructs. There is no shred of evidence for any of them because people made them up. If there is any wisdom in, for instance, the Bible, it’s like wisdom in poetry – It got there by accident or by clever creative writing.

That’s why I criticize religion… because there is nothing in it. It’s all made up. When people credulously share their religious beliefs, I point it out, with passion. No anger is involved.

But this doesn’t mean that I believe in nothing. I just don’t believe in shit that was made up. Disbelief is not some other kind of belief, any more than abstinence is a sexual position that can lead to pregnancy. Assuming that my disbelief is equivalent to some kind of equal but opposite belief is a projection, and creates a false dichotomy on the part of the believer doing the projecting.

I’m not a scientist. I didn’t reject my Christian upbringing because of scientific reasons (although I do find science interesting). I rejected it purely for logical reasons, because I realized that it and every other religion is not logical, and that it was made up by primitive man.

I still struggle to understand the question of what I believe in… I’ve been an atheist for years now, enough to have lost count. I don’t know where the universe came from, and I’m OK with not knowing. Maybe there was no big bang; a theory I read about recently. Or maybe there was… Maybe the universe will continue to expand until all heat is lost, then collapse again to a single point, then start all over again, in an endless cycle. While I find such hypotheses interesting, I don’t know enough about them to formulate any kind of opinion, and I honestly don’t care to know. Knowing will make no difference to me anyway. I will never understand how this universe came to be, and that’s fine. Not knowing doesn’t mean that I need to accept some nonsensical belief about god and his son.

I don’t need to believe. That’s the difference between myself and that family member. I don’t understand why he thinks I need to believe in something, and he doesn’t understand why I don’t. We’ll probably never come to any kind of mutual understanding, although ironically, I think I do understand his point of view better than he understands mine, because I used to believe a long time ago. Maybe, and this is only a guess, this comes down once again to his belief… He assumes implicitly that a creator exists, and in his assumption he cannot comprehend that I do not make the same assumption. Thus my disbelief does not compute, and according to logic as he sees it, I must thus believe in something else, and be angry… Don’t forget the anger. Who or what am I angry at? I don’t know. But it’s an explanation for atheism I’ve heard all too often.

I asked if this answers his question. Of course, it does not. To paraphrase him, it isn’t possible for anybody to conceptualize nothing; therefore I am either fooling myself or lying. Again, why would I need to conceptualize anything (or nothing, as the case may be)? I said that I am happy to stop at, “I don’t know”. Accepting religion means only accepting a made up answer to the question. And that made up answer just moves the unknown to god, a magical being, whose cause mysteriously should not be questioned. It’s like saying that I don’t know where my missing sock went, so it must have been taken by the sock fairy. But don’t dare question the existence of the sock fairy. You can’t prove that she doesn’t exist, and you can’t prove that all the missing socks aren’t in sock paradise. Furthermore, I shall insist that the burden of proof lies with you to prove that the fairy and her magical realm aren’t real. No explanation you give, no logic or reason will ever persuade me that the sock fairy isn’t real because I know in my heart that she is. (Why not just stop at: The sock’s gone. I don’t know where.)

As for conceptualizing nothing… yes, I can’t. I can’t imagine not being alive, not being conscious, but yet I don’t remember anything of before I was born. Death will probably be something like that, but I admit that it’s not something I like to think about.

Maybe I should stop trying to be understood by theists? Perplexingly, although I have yet to write an explanation that is ever understood (by theists), my fellow atheists understand my views very well. I’ve also been accused of not truly being an atheist. Apparently I’m still Catholic and don’t know it. I wonder how many of us hear that one? Amusingly though, I can’t be a “believer in atheism”, angry at god, and still a Catholic without knowing it, all at the same time. I have been called all of those things by the same person, and it doesn’t add up. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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5 Responses to Disbelief in religion is not the same as belief in nothing

  1. I often get confronted with the same thing when I tell people I don’t believe in religion. They often don’t get it and say I have to believe in something. I’m pretty into science, but I don’t believe in science. Science is a way of thinking perhaps, not a belief system. I have morals and values that I try to uphold and perhaps those could be considered ‘beliefs’ but that usually isn’t what people are looking for when they don’t comprehend not believing in religion. I was brought up Catholic, confirmed in fact but I don’t believe in the Catholic Church which I’m pretty sure based on what I learned in my time in the religion is a requirement for being Catholic although people tell me I’m still Catholic even though I don’t believe in the religion. Cognitive dissonance indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerome says:

      It gets worse. In the Skype with him yesterday, he claimed that I am wasting my time on the bible bashing. According to him, I’m wasting my intelligence on idiots which is akin to clubbing seals. This is apparently due to the meth having a permanent effect on my brain, so I am just tweaking without the drug.

      He can’t see how harmful religion is, and since he is a believer, he also can’t see how annoying it is that religion and religious belief is literally everywhere. I can’t scroll down on facebook, walk down the road or walk around in a shopping centre without having to run into it headway, in some form or other. I can’t involve myself in my son’s education without finding that it slips into school, somewhere it does not belong, in some form or other. I can’t go anywhere or do anything without some fucking happy clappy shoving their god in my face. So I react by writing about it, and that writing is angry? Insulting? Disrespectful? Why would anyone see it that way, when it is simply criticizing belief in the impossible for which there is no evidence?

      As long as I am confronted by bullshit every day, I will write about it, but my words are not nearly as insulting as his. But I guess you’re right… Those who don’t get atheism will probably never get that we don’t have to believe in something else.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If I’m asked that kind of thing (what *do* you believe in?), I usually say that I believe in Humanity. I believe that we are responsible for our decisions, our future, and taking care of each other; cuz if we don’t do it no one else will.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerome says:

      It’s a good answer, but it’s not what my brother wants. He seems to want me to give an answer that explains the start of the universe, as if God answers that. The problem is, it doesn’t. It just moves the problem to over there, that magical thing/deity/whatever… He created it. So the idea that I have to believe in something must be some kind of fallacy… not one that can name though.

      I mean… modern science doesn’t have an answer, and I am nowhere near smart enough to come up with something that explains it all. (Scuse me while I dust off my Nobel prizes, FFS.)
      Further, I’m not that interested in coming up with some brilliant theory to explain it all. I just don’t believe in bullshit. That’s all.

      I find this enormously frustrating.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah that’s all I’ve got, start of the universe is unknowable since none of the physical laws even hold up at the very earliest moments of the big bang. Being honest with myself requires that “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer.

        Good luck, maybe he’ll come around, been gently working on my brother for a few years now.

        Liked by 1 person

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