Sunday, 4 March 2012

Atheist/Theist - Are they so different?

OK. So apart from the obvious lack of a belief in a god, are religious theists and atheists always that different?

Atheists see no such thing as 'sin' in the concept of it being against a god. They do however accept a concept of “sin” against humanity, therefore a kind of objective morality still exists. 

We (atheists) can accept that we can always be better and we want and do work to improve ourselves (similar to acknowledgement of being sinful or falling short of a god’s standard).

We believe there is no “holy spirit” to help us improve, but still recognise that we do still need help! We find it again, in humanity. There is also no real concept of “perfection” as there is (nor has been) a being completely “without sin”.

Another difference is the way the world is viewed perhaps? A theist may see the world as being less than it was meant to be; God’s perfect creation ruined by sin. An atheist however views the world in what could be seen as a more positive light; The world was never meant to be perfect! Even though there’s defiantly plenty of crap, it is amazing and inspiring to realise how much goodness there is in this world, without a god needing to make it.

A third major part is the concept of an afterlife. An atheist finds little comfort in the thought of everlasting life or paradise if it comes with the understanding that other human beings could be going to hell. Surely it is a much nicer thought that all humans simply rot after this lifetime and are never to exist again than it is to think that even one individual, no matter how “evil”, would exist in eternal torment.

Of course what we want or like the sound of doesn’t dictate what is true! Neither do the things we may be afraid of, but it is confusing to me when the idea of heaven is presented as a positive part of religion.
All that I am describing here cannot be simply attributed to “atheism” as a whole, each individual differs. Add the title “Humanist” however and you cover it quite well. 

Humanists love humanity as a whole in the same way theists may love a god. By doing this they happen to also be doing what most god’s apparently want anyway, “love thy neighbour” etc.
Prayer is another key difference I can think of. No words are spoken to a personified god but the idea (at least in christianity) of “praying continuously” still applies in a way. This sort of prayer is continually asking/wanting to do what God would want and hoping for the ability/opportunity to carry it out. Of course the “god” of the Humanistic atheist doesn't really exist, but the same thoughts that would have been directed at him are still there.

A big question may be; OK so if there is no God then why? Why be “good”? Why do these things? - Well if there is no God then love still exists! Love is a choice. You don’t “fall in love” with your God, you choose to love him, and continue to choose to love and follow him every day. In the same way you can choose to love humanity.

It is easy to love a god that is "perfect". Humans however are not. Also if there is a god then you apparently have to love him or else! With humanity it is entirely optional with no heavenly reward or punishment. Surely this could be seen as a greater love?

The English language slaughters the word "love". A four letter word that can be attributed to a thousand different scenarios with important differences! But that is a rant for another time...

So what are the rewards for loving your fellow human if there is no god? - Well, happiness

Why does this way of life bring happiness? Does it come from God? - Perhaps. Although I would argue that evolutionary psychology has a role to play there, but that is also an extended topic for another time.

"Evolutionary psychology tells us that we have instinctual prejudices against people different from us. One of the tasks of a civilizing culture, then, is to educate and work against this inherent tribalism – to look beyond the differences in order to identify the similarities; to recognize, share, and rejoice in those things that unite us rather than divide us." - Michael Werner

Perhaps the most important part of our beliefs, whatever they may be, is why we hold them.

Fear is not a good reason to hold a belief, at least not on it's own. Although many atheists may accuse theists of holding their beliefs purely due to this motivating force (theists may even accuse atheists of the same), it is however unlikely that this is the case.

Love is an excellent reason to hold a belief. Ask any religious individual why they follow Jesus or Islam or any other religious teachings and 'fear' is unlikely to be amongst their vocabulary. Human nature is generally to want to be good, to be better. It isn't hard to recognise that we aren't perfect! Whether we are meant to be or not may be open for debate, but the simple fact is that the majority of us want to love. And to be loved.

Though not a christian, I like Dawkins and other atheists still hold up the "Golden rule", "Do to others as you would have done to you". (Just because the bible may contain a similar message does not make it true)

Some readers may be thinking, "Hang on! - Evidence! Reason! Logic! - THESE are excellent reasons to believe something! Why have they not been mentioned?"

Of course science is a beautiful and creative tool we humans use to understand the world as it really is! But we are not all "scientists". We do however all feel emotion.

Emotions are powerful. Emotions inspire change. Emotions make us human (though animals also feel emotion). Love may be a choice, but it can also be an emotion. The desire for it certainly is! True love connects us, it transverses divides, overcomes fear, crosses cultures and brings us together.

"Remember your humanity and forget the rest"


  1. Excellent piece. Oli. I can find little to add to what you have already said here.

  2. The golden rule is found throughout humanity, in China, in India, in the West. It transcends atheism and religion, and just makes sense ;)

    I'm an atheist-pantheis-Taoist...figure that one out, lol. I shy away from anti-theists like Dawkins and Hitchens (his brother is okay!), but I can really relate to a lot of what you've said here.

    I'm a very inclusive person. I don't think atheism is negative as many make it out to be. It simply lacks one thing, a belief in a deity. Most people who are atheists don't realize it. Not really a big deal to me. As far as theism and atheism are concerned, I do not even think the two are mutually exclusive. One could be a Christian and an atheist, it's possible, why not? I bet many Christians already are. Just look at God not as a deity, but as a presence, more from a pantheistic point of view.

    Having said that, it doesn't make much sense to sit around and bash either side for anything they believe. The world is what it is. We believe what we do. To me there's a beauty in all of it.

    Just stay away from cults, is all I ask :D

  3. Very interesting article, Oli. I enjoyed the concepts you presented and I learned a bit more that I hadn't been aware of regarding atheism. While my own thoughts and beliefs align with a different mindset, I always appreciate an educated, fair minded, logical and well mannered presentation on differing expressions of beliefs. If I had to label myself - which I tend to avoid, because labels are limiting and exclusionary - I might fall into "alternative Christian-Buddhist-Cherokee spiritualist". Maybe. What matters to me is that we each attempt to live in such a manner that we strive to be the best version of ourselves daily. I'm not hung up on what organized religion or belief structure brings each of us to that point.

    Very interesting blog! I will return for more visits. :)

    - Dawn

    1. I'm also weary of labels which is why i have the rather drawn out "Humanistic de facto (agnostic) atheist & liberal secularist, passionate about love, truth & justice" as my blog header :-P

      I don't mind different beliefs at all, in fact i they are essential. Life wouldn't be much fun otherwise.

      I apply something along the lines of this quote to knowing what the "right beliefs" are, (although I'm obviously an atheist);

      “The whole world is in chess. Any move can be the death of you. Do anything except remain where you started, and you can't be sure of your end....None of us know our end, really, or what hand will guide us there. A king may move a man, a father may claim a son, but that man can also move himself, and only then does that man truly begin his own game. Remember that howsoever you are played or by whom, your soul is in your keeping alone, even though those who presume to play you be kings or men of power. When you stand before God, you cannot say, "But I was told by others to do thus," or that virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice. Remember that”. - King Balwin IV (Kingdom of Heaven, 2005).

  4. Hi, Oli! ~

    When my son was little somebody asked him what religion our family is and he replied, "We're my mom's religion." haha!

    I have found nuggets of Truth in many different belief systems and practices. I investigate what I find interesting, I believe in what I experience to be True. Although, I am very invested in my beliefs, I can't think of a belief I have that's not open to changing when new evidence proves it to be inaccurate.

    Another important aspect of my personal belief system is that I invest myself in spiritual ideas and practices that would make my life better even if they turn out not to be True. For example I believe in the 'Heaven within' that Jesus spoke of, not the Heaven in the clouds after I die if I'm good that many Christians speak of.

    Thank you for this thought-provoking and insightful post ;-)

  5. Just re-read through this article and fixed a load of typos! I really must check my posts before uploading!

  6. Hello and welcome to blogging. I'm a Buddhist myself but I have many Atheist friends so it's nice to meet you too. You have very good points - "love is all that matters" - indeed! I hate labeling of any kind but in my opinion you sound more like an Atheist rather than a Humanist. One of my close friends is Humanist and, trust me, she would give her own life for the good of humanity. I'm very selfish in that aspect...but that is another subject of discussion. :-)

    1. Hey John, thanks for the comment. I'm curious to how i sound more like an atheist than an humanist? Just wondering. I'd kinda class myself as both.

  7. Following you right back! Found you on my site today, and thought I’d check you out ;-)
    My daughter’s boyfriend, Daniel, is the son of a Presbyterian minister. When he turned atheist this year, you’d have thought the world was ending, as far as his family was concerned. His reasoning was because he can’t prove scientifically any evidence for the creation story, and so he is bent on disproving God, period.

    The science of physics requires physical evidence to admit the existence of a substance. It does not allow for other dimensional causality. It assumes, rather, takes as its primary tenet, that there is no connection between the natural and the spiritual.

    Indeed, it declares that if something cannot be explained, measured, and understood by the five senses, it does not exist at all. Therefore, anything other than this physical realm, according to scientific principals and law, does not exist.

    On the other hand, quantum physics suggests that the seen can indeed be motivated by the unseen; that if something occurs in this reality that cannot be explained by examination using the five senses, there is a good probability that it is affected by a force from another dimension or reality. I am captivated by the way science seems to be increasingly dissatisfied with the explanations that have been widely accepted for many years. Among the most genuine of true researchers are those with the willingness to find truth rather than to find support for a particular theory. This is what separated Albert Einstein from other physicists. His passion was for truth and reality. He was driven to find the truth regardless of what it meant to old and established theories and accepted truth.

    Did you ever see the movie, “What the bleep do we know?” If so, what did you make of it?

    1. I that documentary Debra....It was really thought provoking! Definitely made me more interested in quantum physics. There's so much we don't know and that is waiting to be discovered!

  8. Some really great thoughts Oli! I'm really enjoying your blog. I think it's important that we look for what are common denominators and can help build bridges among people rather than what divides us and erects barriers.

    I think you say it all when you mentioned that though our thoughts may differ with one another, everyone feels emotions, everyone loves. People might differ in terms of their personal beliefs but we all share a common human experience...We all are born, fall in and out of love, face our own inevitable demises.

  9. This statement really hit me: "There is also no real concept of “perfection” as there is (nor has been) a being completely “without sin”."

    Actually, there is a concept of perfection. It's embodied in the Holy God of the Bible. And there has been a being completely without sin -- Jesus Christ -- who was without sin because he was BOTH human AND God at the same time.

    J. R. Nova wrote: "One could be a Christian and an atheist, it's possible, why not?"

    No, one couldn't. To be a true Christian is to be in a relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. God has revealed himself as one God who exists in three persons. He has revealed that Christ and Christ alone saves. Why? Because God can't have sin in heaven. All human beings are sinners and we can't make ourselves sin-free. To atone for our sins, a sacrifice has to be made, i.e., somebody has to die. A sacrifice HAS to be without blemish, that is, sin-free. Therefore, we can't die and redeem ourselves, that is, be our own sacrifices. But Christ being BOTH man and God could do the job on our behalf because he was sin-free. That's why Christ and Christ alone saves. He gives us HIS righteousness and takes our sin when we accept him.

    And the Holy Spirit does more than identify sin. He helps us overcome sin. Each Christian should begin a process of sanctification, that is, a process whereby he or she grows more and more like Christ. It's a lifetime process. You will not find any perfect Christians in the world, but you will find Christians in the process of being perfected.

    Not all people who wear the label Christian really are Christians in fact. They are only nominal Christians. If a Christian confesses the kind of pantheism or anything other than Christ alone saves as I have explained it, then they aren't true Christians at all.

    And if you look at other religions, you will see that they are all about earning their way into God's presence. It can't be done. That's why they are all useless, leading people away from God rather than to him.

    As for human nature wanting to be good, I disagree. We are all born with sin natures. We have NO idea what good even is apart from God. Until I was filled with the Holy Spirit, I had no idea what sin really was. Why? Because my sin nature had warped my ability to identify it. Apart from God, we have NO objective moral truths or values. We only have humanity's ideas of what's right or wrong, good or bad, and you'll notice that people argue over them all the time. As Dostoevsky said, if there is no God, everything is permissible. We're left with the "51 per cent rule". The majority gets to dictate how things are. Look at what that has done in places like Nazi Germany. Or we're left with the "he who has the most guns, rules" type of government.

    And as for love, you would have no idea what that is either if not for God. For this is how we know what love is, that one should die for another. That's what Jesus did and he did it while yet we were in our sins and therefore not deserving of it. Biblical love is called agape love. It's sacrificial and I can guarantee that no one apart from Christ can fully grasp it or live it.

    There is a way that seems right to a man, but it leads to death. Humanism is one of those ways.

    1. "There is also no real concept of “perfection” as there is (nor has been) a being completely “without sin” - this is describing the atheist view.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.
      I am very familiar with the view you present but would have to say that (in my opinion), views like, "if you look at other religions, you will see that they are all about earning their way into God's presence. It can't be done. That's why they are all useless, leading people away from God rather than to him", are very ignorant and possibly quite arrogant.

      You, like other types of christians, have an idea of what "christian" is. Other christians disagree. How do you work out which of you is right?

      You may say that you use the bible and/or your conscience. But you have absolutely NO authority to say that others do not or that your interpretation of the bible is correct. What you see as being correct is simply your view, it cannot actually be absolutely claimed to be correct. It may seem right to you, but anything will seem right to anyone if they have faith in it.

      Atheism (and I) see faith as a disease. It seems to completely blind people of their ignorance and enable people to do things that conflict with what they see to be right.

      This is not always 'bad' however, as in the blog post, theist can believe whatever they like as long as they're not harming anyone. Unfortunately theism does much more harm than good.

      The idea JR Nova posted, "One could be a Christian and an atheist, it's possible, why not?" is meaning that you can be humanist AND atheist. Being humanistic (like Jesus) is most defiantly not dependent on believing in a god.

      If there can be no sin in heaven, and sin is anything that is not in parallel with the will of God, this heaven seems absolutely pointless. There could be no free will, no love, nothing that makes us what we are. How can this God possibly have a 'relationship' with someone who can only do what he wants? The idea is ridiculous!

      All religions are nothing more than comforting ideas that make no sense to the non-ignorant mind (I don't mean ignorant as in the personality trait). They all make the assumption that we are meant to be happy ALL the time. It's a nice thought, but people like me (atheists) view the truth as far more important than this cheap idea of happiness. (That doesn't mean atheists can't be happy though)

      I do not see how you can love a god who is perfect anyway. If they are perfect then of course you'd "love" them! Love requires flaws surely? Love is making the choice to make sacrifices for someone despite their flaws. If someone IS perfect, you'd make sacrifices for them without question.

      Theists aren't stupid, but by the simple nature of being certain about something, they are dangerous.

      There is no such thing as absolute good and evil. We have evolved to the point where we are able to reason what we think is good for our collective happiness and what we think is bad. That's all. This thought is upsetting to theists, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. What we like the sound of does NOT decide what is true.

      The terrible thing is that theists seem to have been robbed of the ability to think in different ways about things. If they do so, they take it as being the work of Satan. This more than anything hints that god is man made.

  10. Interesting post, great thoughts and well written

    Visit my post on What is God? on!/2012/07/what-is-god.html




Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...