Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I'm an atheist

I was asked on Sunday how I'd recommend responding to those who are 'new atheists' (followers of Dawkins/Hitchins etc). I want to listen and love them and invite some conversation. Often it goes this way:

Person A: I'm an atheist.
Person B (often): Oh. 
End of conversation.

What if we could try this:

Person A: I'm an atheist. 
Person B: Can you tell me about the god you don't believe in?

This is a way of opening conversation that was probably being closed down, and it doesn't require expertise, just a listening ear. If the invitation is accepted what you'll often then hear is...

Person A: god is big, nasty, accusing, condemning, unstable, against us...
Person B: Interesting, sounds horrible - I don't think I'd want to believe in that kind of god either, where does that view of god come from?
Person A: ...
Person B: Can I tell you about the god I know, would you take a look at Jesus with me...

Which presupposes that a Christian gets that their god isn't "big, nasty, accusing, condemning, unstable, against us" which he isn't. That view verges on the demonic and is very ugly, whereas if we take a look at Jesus we something very different. Turns out for many people that this issue isn't so much whether a god could exist but a passion for a certain kind of god not to exist... and again I'm keen to engage with the historical person of Jesus whom investigation of might end up with us using (redefining) words like god, but in a very different kind of way.

And when we get talking I'm not convinced Richard Dawkins has that many followers. More people are like Marcus Brigstocke who have been put off hard-core atheism by Dawkins, have taken a cursory look at the options and are left without a god they're happy to believe in, but also left with a fear of being alone and without any good answers to the problem of suffering.


  1. interesting! I am a Christian, but currently reading the God Delusion by dawkins. really because I want to know what all the fuss is about and actually what I find is that Dawkins is like the Daily Mail: takes all the bad stuff and twists it into something, then incites people to believe it. It's the kind of book (and that kind of thinking) that appeals to a certainn market and indeed I am sure Dawkins et al and their PR machine know it.
    Those with a more academic and enquiring mind, in my opinion, do seem to get turned off by it and can see through the relentless one way street that Dawkins is pushing.
    I've also read Brigstocke (and blogged on it) which I really 'enjoyed' as it gives you a flavour of what the normal person on the street sees in the church.
    red :)

  2. "Person B: Can you tell me about the god you don't believe in?"

    No. Because I don't believe in any gods that have been presented to me by believers. If you believe in one, and want me to believe it too, by all means present it. I'd love to hear what evidence you have.

  3. A reasonable atheist has probably thoughtfully ruled things out and I'd be interested to hear what gods and why. That said, your version fast forwards us to evidence which is v.helpful, and what I'd hope to do...

  4. The rest of your post also implies, intentionally or not, that an atheist would only not believe in a 'bad' god.

    The attributes of the god in question don't matter to me when the question is 'does this god exist?'. I'm no more or less likely to believe in a 'good' god than a 'bad' one.

  5. any opinions about ?

  6. I'm wondering whether that is a better response to an agnostic than an atheist. Most people I know who claim the title atheist claim to do so for evidential rather than moral reasons. Most agnostics more tend to cite moral reasons, or a belief that God is simply irrelevant.

    The God Delusion is a typical case in point. Dawkins does bring in the moral arguments, but that is to show why Christianity is dangerous to permit/promote, not why he personally doesn't believe it.

    Having said that, and wondering aloud, perhaps the best first question is 'why?' or 'have you always been an atheist?' and then go from there. Deals with people a bit more individual basis.

  7. It's an attempt to ask why and to open conversation but by no means the only way.

    Are people only atheists of bad god? Most often yes, and certainly in the case of dawkins, brigstocke etc - its not lack of evidence but apparent lack of an appealing option. And lack of engagement with Jesus.

    Will all believe if they hear of Jesus? No but at least there's a chance if they do... and it'll be distaste at the cross... which is often a perception that its cosmic child abuse, but at least then we are talking and considering Jesus.

  8. Although it sounds more intellectual to say that it is purely evidence based as opposed to the moral attributes or lack thereof of the supposed God that swings it for the atheist, honestly, what is more appealing for those who value autonomy above all else? An immanent, Holy, loving God who is so repulsed by our evil that He had to go to the cross and so has the authority to judge every one of us, or an indifferent, impersonal deity who simply wound up the cosmic clock, and leaves us to do whatever we want?!

    Does an orphaned child want to know purely whether their biological mother and father exist? Will that truly, honestly satisfy them? Or do they want a relationship with them? Do they want to know if their mother and father are good, loving people?

  9. The appeal of the attributes doesn't mean therefore that God exists, sure, but it may lead to a more open, enquiring heart and mind.