To begin, I’ve never liked that word. It’s belittling. It originates from the Greek word atheos, “without god.” It is a clever term created to keep those who disbelieve in a supreme being from speaking out; no one wants to be “without” anything. But it’s not like atheists created a word for religious people.
“You believe in God? Oh, you’re an illogical?” I can hear an atheist using that same tone of dissatisfaction so many Christians use when confirming an atheist’s beliefs.
It is unfortunate that word has been in use for so long. Atheists as a group are so diverse. Atheists range from people who simply do not believe, to people who have involved themselves with research, the scientific method and logic and have concluded God does not exist. The group also includes the agnostics who believe there might be a god, but doubt it. This diversity almost prevents applying new nomenclature, because while all reject or highly suspect the idea of a supreme being, they do so at different levels and to varying degrees.
It’s a funny feeling; one I do not know how many others have experienced. Christians try to shame us for our beliefs, all the while demanding a respect and non-questioning of theirs. And while it is expected we have extensive knowledge of the millions of pieces of evidence, and hundreds of thousands of reproducible tests, all Christians need is one book and a little faith to justify themselves.
Some will not be so forward and flatly tell you why you are wrong, though. Some will tell you all day long how they think of you as an equal, but when you ask what they think about your lack of faith: “I don’t think you’re inferior… you’re just where I was once because I was all confused myself.” It’s condescending language; “It’s not that you’re less than me, it’s that we are at different places… and I’m ahead of you.”
Recent books might make it easier to come out of our godless closets, though.
“Letter to a Christian Nation,” by Sam Harris, lays out some inherent problems with religious beliefs. He posits that religious moderates give cover for religious extremists; because moderates demand tolerance for religious beliefs, people cannot attack extreme or fundamental religious beliefs. The book, a paltry 91 pages, concisely addresses most arguments for religion or from religious people, and it wouldn’t hurt for all people to read it.
Richard Dawkins, the Darwinian Chair at Oxford University, and one of our time’s greatest intellectuals, is an outspoken atheist. He recently published “The God Delusion,” in which he, too, attacks religion, because it “subverts science and saps the intellect.” He writes, “We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it. No real fundamentalist would say that.”
In a documentary for the BBC, Dawkins said, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”
Atheists should not be made to feel they are being unfair in asking religious people to support their claims. If creationism is worth teaching in schools, what evidence backs it up? If creationism is worth believing, what evidence leads people to believe it?
If we are forced, and we want to be, to have evidence to back us up, it is high time religious people recognize they are being dishonest by not having any for themselves.
Ryan Speaker is a senior history major. His column appears every Wednesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.