Disbelief: Common Things to Hear as a Non-Religious Person

I’d like to preface this entire thing by saying that I have no intention of making this a “woe is me, my life is so hard” kind of post.  This is more a way to express my own perspective on something that I have had to deal with many times in my life.

Almost a year ago now, I wrote a post about the fact that I am not a religious person.  It’s not really something I keep a secret, but nor is it something I bring up all the time.  But it has definitely had an impact on my interactions with other people.

I wanted to frame this post in a way similar to my post on common reactions to a Muslim terrorist attack, in that I’m going to address some common things I’ve heard in reaction to my non-religiosity.  So here we go.

 

“You just don’t understand.”

This usually crops up after a debate over religion, in which the religious person will attempt to brush off the entire thing by saying “oh you just don’t understand religion.  That’s why you don’t believe in it.”

The intention of this statement may not be malicious in nature, but the implication is rather condescending.  Basically what this is saying is that the only reason someone wouldn’t be religious is because they haven’t taken the time to examine it, that they haven’t truly given religion a chance.

But I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment of the situation.

It’s well-known that there are a great number of Christians out there who openly profess their belief in God, but haven’t actually read the Bible on their own.  In fact, more often than not, the people I know who have read the Bible are actually atheists who grew up Christian.  At some point in their lives they encounter a “crisis of faith” for lack of a better phrase, and so they spend their time researching, examining, and generally absorbing knowledge on the subject to help make up their minds.  If they find what they encounter irreconcilable with the tenets of their faith, it usually results in a loss of it.

One could argue that the people who used to believe are more “in the know” than most of the people who do believe.

 

“Why do you hate something that you don’t believe exists?”

Once upon a time I ran into an image shared on Facebook that went like this: a child sitting in the grass was holding a notebook in front of him.  The image was shot over his shoulder and there was text photoshopped onto the paper (poorly I might add) which said something akin to the following:

“Dear atheists, why do you hate God if you don’t believe he exists?”

And this was, of course, followed by a smug little smiley face drawn in the bottom corner.

Now, there are multiple things wrong with this, the first of course being that not all atheists hate God.  This is an over-generalization that is sadly used more often than I’d like.  There is this preconception among some religious people that atheists or non-believers are all angry and bitter because they, of course, believe in nothing (which is also a misconception…people who believe in nothing or that nothing matters are more often referred to as Nihilists.  Atheists are people who don’t believe in the existence of a god or deity).

The second thing wrong with this is that of course you can hate fictional characters.  We do it all the time.  We hate Villain X in Movie Y.  We hate Character A in Book B.  Whether or not something or someone is real isn’t the sole criteria for being allowed to hate that particular thing or person.  If that were the case, “liking” something that was fictional wouldn’t make any sense either.

But the final thing about this image is how outright condescending and pretentious it is.  By placing the child in the image, the author implies that the voice of the person writing the message is a child’s voice.  And the implication of that is of course that the argument being made is so obvious that a child could make it, which then brings forth the assertion that all atheists are just childish and stupid.  This would understandably make a non-religious person rather angry.

I think that was the point.

These kinds of images are generally shared as something called “flame-bait” on the internet.  What this means is that the intention is to start an argument for the sake of starting an argument.  It isn’t meant to create any kind of meaningful discussion.  It’s just meant to piss people off and that’s it.

 

“It’s just my personal beliefs.”

I’ve heard many a religious person argue that “something can’t come from nothing” when referring to the Big Bang theory.  The common counter-argument is to say “well you believe in God…so where did he come from?”  The reply to such a question is usually “God just is…he always was.”  I’ve pointed out to people before that such a response is at the very least slightly hypocritical.  They’ve just claimed that “something can’t come from nothing” but then they espouse belief in a being that literally came from nothing, who “always was”.

That’s usually when people start getting defensive.

They usually say something like “it’s just my personal beliefs man…no need to get so angry about it.”  And the more you push back against it, the more you look like the aggressor even if they’re the ones who started the whole thing in the first place.

I have no problem with people believing what they want to believe.  However, I’ve always thought that if you’re truly secure in what you believe, then it should stand up to scrutiny.  But too often I see people falling back on the victim card, claiming that they’re being personally attacked.  And when that card is played, it’s all over.  There’s no way to win against it.  The more you fight, the more you lose.

 

“There is faith in science just like there’s faith in religion.”

Oh boy…this is the big one.  People of religious faith sometimes suggest that science requires faith in much the same way as religion.  But is that really a true statement?

First of all, let’s take a look at the Google definition of faith.  It lists two of them:

  1. Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
  2. Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

The first one is simple enough.  You can have faith in pretty much anything in the world: humanity, nature, society, and so on.  But it is the second one I really want to focus on, specifically the part that says “based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof”.

You see, the difference between science and religion comes down to their method of application.  Religion, as many often say, is a spiritual and personal thing.  Science however, is more impersonal.  It relies on experimentation and observation rather than scripture.  It all boils down to the scientific method, which begins with a question.  This question generates a hypothesis, or possible answer to that question.  Then, an experiment is designed and carried out as a way to see if that hypothesis is correct.  After the experiment is done, conclusions are drawn from its results.  If the results confirm the original hypothesis, then all is well.  If the hypothesis is proven wrong, then it’s back to the drawing board to come up with a new hypothesis.

Religion, however, has no such method.  To put it simply, there’s a reason they call it a “leap of faith”.

The thing that irks me and gets under my skin is that the same people who assert that science and religion both require faith also gleefully try to poke holes in science every chance they get.  These are the people who claim that the second law of thermodynamics disproves evolution, even though that’s totally false and based on a flawed understanding of the law.  These are the people who claim that “something can’t come from nothing” when talking about the Big Bang theory.

This would all be fine if these people were open to discussion, but they’re usually not.  I’ve already talked about how sometimes people get defensive (“it’s just my beliefs man”), but that’s only the tip of it.  Often, people will get outright furious if you dare to disagree with them (and this isn’t confined to the religious either…there are non-religious people out there who can be just as arrogant and close-minded).

Science isn’t perfect.  It is constantly changing, constantly evolving.  Albert Einstein hated the idea of quantum physics when it was first proposed, saying quote “God does not play dice with the universe” (a quote commonly misinterpreted as meaning he was a religious man…Einstein was using God as a metaphor).  And now, quantum physics is a widely accepted realm of science.  Evidence is always being gathered and interpreted, whether it falls in line with an already established theory or not.  The scientific view of the world is not absolute, and those that practice within its various fields generally understand that.

In the end, I think we all have to find our own ways of interpreting and understanding the world.

 

Well that’s all I have for this time.  Again, I would like to reinforce the idea that I am totally fine with whatever you decide you want to believe.  The world is an incredibly complex place, and part of being human is coming to grips with that.  I hope I didn’t come across as angry or bitter.  I try my best not to, especially since I know I was a little angry with religion in my younger years.  In any case, thanks for reading my rambling thoughts.

Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

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