On Atheism

“But your Internet friends aren’t really atheists at all,” Mr. Magundi told Brielle. “They say they’re atheists, the way they might say they’re Steelers fans, but they don’t believe what they say. When they insist that the Bible, alone among ancient texts, is without literary merit—when they insist on spelling ‘God’ with a lower-case g, though they still capitalize ‘Woden’ and ‘Kukulkan’—then I know that they’re not atheists at all, but believers in a state of desperate rebellion. An atheist would judge the various books of the Bible the way he judges Gilgamesh or the Bhagavad Gita; he would treat the Christian God the way he treats the Greek Apollo. He would not insult a being he did not believe in. Your friends are desperately trying to convince themselves that God does not exist the way a five-year-old desperately tries to convince himself that Santa Claus does exist. There are thoroughgoing atheists in the world who exhibit none of these peculiarities; they do not rebel against God any more than they rebel against the Easter Bunny. The so-called atheist who is in a state of constant rebellion actually clings to belief in God with more tenacity than a revival preacher.”

One thought on “On Atheism

  1. Mr. Tannhauser cleared his throat. “I’m not an atheist myself,” he temporized, “but much as I would like to believe most rebel atheists are actually rebelling against belief in God, I don’t think one can fairly summarize it quite so deftly. In my experience most such rebels are not defying their own belief in God, which may, in fact, be so shallow or underdeveloped as to be effectively nonexistent; they’re defying their parents’ belief in God, or their teachers’, or their community’s elders’ — and to be even more precise, they’re not defying those beliefs so much as they are rejecting the codes of conduct people have tried to impose upon them in the name of those beliefs.

    “In some instances that rejection is rooted only in selfish unwillingness to pay the price of upholding those codes, and thus the atheism is rooted not in sincere disbelief but in the need to disguise that selfishness — it is more respectable to say, ‘I reject this code because I think it based on false premises’ than to say ‘I reject it because upholding it is too hard’. In others, it is rooted in the betrayal of enduring suffering at the hands of those who teach or practice those disciplines, which manifests as a desire to strike back at all such teachers and practitioners: part of the reason nobody insults Apollo the way Christ is insulted is because nobody in the vicinity of an insult to Apollo is at all likely to take it personally, nor is anyone likely to try hiding abuses under an Apollo-worshipper’s cloak of sanctity. In still others, it is a product of getting brainwashed to judge the beliefs evil because of how other people — typically great faceless masses safely in other countries, or in the past and the grave — have supposedly suffered from them; these are often the most difficult to reach because they are sincerely convinced of their own rectitude and feel no need to be corrected by those they purport to champion.

    “But in my experience, people genuinely afraid that a proposition they mislike may be true tend far more simply to avoid the issue altogether, rather than violently challenge it over and over again. It is always fashionable to accuse someone fighting for a cause to be secretly afraid that his cause is wrong, but that has always struck me as unfair on the one hand — how would someone prove such an accusation wrong? — and useless on the other: even if it is true, so what? Most people fear that they may be wrong at one time or another; that is irrelevant to the task, if it be necessary, of showing that they are in fact wrong.”

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