How can you find common ground when a loved one no longer believes in God?
Without ever insisting that atheism is the correct conclusion, Believe It strives to bridge the disconnect between the devout and the debunkers. Featuring quotes and arguments found throughout the history of skepticism from Epicurus to Sam Harris and beyond, Believe It lays out a line of reasoning and analysis designed to illuminate the thinking that inspires a godless worldview. Broken down into three parts, J. David Core here examines from an atheist’s POV the fundamentals of disbelief; likely refutations of some of the more common theistic arguments; and such difficult issues as grace, the historicity of religious texts, and the nature of truth.
Whether you are the parent of a new atheist, a co-worker of a long-time unbeliever, or simply want to understand the motives and thought processes of your non-religious friends, Believe It: You Know an Atheist.
Typically, the older we become, the more ingrained our worldview becomes. Conversely, the younger we are, the easier it is to accept new (and foreign) knowledge and adapt to it. Consider that babies learn language much easier than adults, and young people adapt much more easily to changes in their situations. Yet, as we age, it becomes harder to learn languages or to acclimate to environmental upheaval. A baby with absolutely no foreknowledge will learn to passably speak the language of her parents with no formal education or training at all. A six year old will quickly adjust to a move from the Deep South to the Snow Belt … or from the US to Dubai for that matter.
However, as adults, many will not only find diphthongs, umlauts and gender-based articles confusing, they will probably consider them to be just wrong. Meanwhile, the culture shock some experience on vacation in Europe or Asia can be enough to make them so uncomfortable that the idea of moving there permanently would actually cause heart palpitations.
Yet people of all ages do move to Europe and Asia all the time. Each and every day, adults learn to speak languages with rules that seem to make no sense. There are socially accepted reasons for this to happen, so nobody tends to question why one would make such a drastic change to the status quo. However, changing one’s long-held ideas about the nature of existence is another matter. If you think about it, what one believes about the nature of the universe isn’t automatically right just because a person believes it. Many people believe a number of discordant things about such topics as creation, death, eternity, afterlife, etc. Clearly some of those beliefs are incorrect, and obviously those who believe “A” do not think that you are the one with the right answer if you believe “B.”
If you are a Christian, you do not think the prophet Mohammad was the emissary of God. If you were Muslim, you would not believe that Jesus was divine. The tenets of the other religion would be, in your opinion, something to reject. You would be, in effect, an atheist toward that religion. Here’s a hard fact: in regards to your beliefs, most people in the world are atheistic towards what you believe, and you are atheistic in regard to most of the world’s beliefs.
This is known as Roberts’ Rule. First articulated by an atheist named Stephen Roberts, the rule says simply, “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
In other words, asking an atheist why he doesn’t believe in God is like asking you why you don’t believe the prophet Mohammad was delivering God’s message. A person believes what he believes, and disbelieves what he cannot believe. In that sense, atheism is not a decision one makes, but a realization one comes to about one’s self.
Try to make yourself believe something you simply don’t believe. Yes, it can be done, but not under normal conditions. Stockholm Syndrome, for example, is a legitimate psychological phenomenon in which a person under duress from a captor begins to empathize with his oppressor. However, not every example of belief by indoctrination is so severe. Through meditation you can convince yourself that you are not feeling pain or that a red barn is blue. However, if your son tells you that he is the one who believes the barn is blue, he’s not going to simply stop believing it just because you make a compelling argument that it’s actually red. Also, his refusal to acknowledge the redness of the barn—while a rejection of your interpretation—is not a rejection of you as a person.
This is one way you can begin to understand his atheism. It’s not a rejection of you or of your love. Somewhere in your family history, your ancestors converted to Christianity—rejecting the faith of their forebears. This doesn’t mean that your great-great-great-great-grandmother didn’t love her mother and father. It means she made her own decision for her own life, and she was brave to do so.
Keep this in the front of your mind as you continue to read. Your son just came out as an atheist, but he didn’t just become one yesterday. It’s been a process, and he has thought about it. He was an atheist yesterday, and he loved you then, and you loved him. The only thing that’s changed is you now know something about him that you didn’t know yesterday but was true yesterday nonetheless. It’s no different than the time you learned that he doesn’t care for your eggplant casserole.
A word of caution: many theists (people who believe in God) approach discussions with atheists disingenuously. A well-known theistic vlogger known as shockofgod invented a term he calls “Santa Syndrome.” Whenever an atheist compares coming to the realization that he does not believe in God to when he realized there was no Santa, Shock derisively dismisses the argument as sour grapes. In doing so, he ignores the underlying point the atheist is making which denies Shock of the possibility to engage on an honest level. Please do not make that mistake as you read on.