March 7, 2014

This I don’t believe

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 2:21 pm by chavisory

Less often than I used to have the time for, but still on a fairly regular basis, I wind up in debates with atheists online, when I protest some ultra-generalized hysterical but maddening mischaracterization of Christianity or of religion in general.

Just for instance:  “But Christianity teaches that women are subordinate to men,” and I blink confusedly and go “…wait, what?”

Because mine didn’t, and doesn’t.

I ran across this graphic a while back….

I'm an atheist

[Graphic reads: “I’m an atheist.  I believe the existence of any deity has never been proven and is unlikely to ever be proven.  I believe that good can and should be done without worrying whether or not you’ve done sufficient good to be rewarded.”]

And the funny thing is, I could just as easily say the exact same thing as a Christian.

In fact, most of the time, most of the things that I’m presumed to believe by aggressive atheists, if I identify myself as a Christian, are not only not the case, but nonsensical to what I actually believe.

And while what I do believe in is more difficult to verbalize, what I actually don’t believe in is easy.


I don’t believe God is a bearded magical guy who lives in the sky.

I don’t believe the existence of God has been proven, or is likely to ever be.  I’m not even particularly sure that it should be, were it even possible.

I do not believe in doing good or being decent to other people only because some authority tells me to, or offers the reward of heaven or threatens the punishment of hell.

I probably don’t believe in heaven or hell as literal places at all.

I don’t believe that the way you get sent to either one is by sufficiently appeasing or pissing off God, or for believing or not believing in the right religion or the right deities.  I don’t believe that because I (obviously) think my beliefs are true, that other faith systems’ beliefs must necessarily be false.

I don’t believe in a God who particularly enjoys punishing people for normal experiences of being human, or who rejects people for who they are or who they love.  I don’t believe in a God who demands an unreasonable level of perfection or obedience to an archaic and unchanging system of rules.

I don’t believe in a God who demands that we not question or doubt or use our capacity for critical thinking.

I don’t all that much believe in what most people think of as magic or the supernatural.

I don’t believe the existence or action of God is necessary to explain what simply isn’t understood by science yet.  I don’t believe that the wonder or beauty of creation or the natural world is dependent on us just not understanding how it works.  I don’t believe that what we don’t understand yet is particularly strong evidence for the existence of God.

I don’t believe that the reality of evolution is in any way antithetical to anything truly important about my religious beliefs.  I really, really don’t.

(So I don’t believe, either, that the fact that neurological capacity for spiritual experiences can be shown to have evolved, in any way undermines or contradicts the authenticity or significance of that experience.)

I don’t believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God.  I don’t believe the Bible was written by anyone but people, who had historical and cultural contexts, histories, emotional lives, and agendas of their own.

I don’t believe that morality can only originate in religion.

I don’t rely on a pastor to tell me what to do or how to think.

I don’t need to believe in a heaven or an afterlife to escape fear of death.  (Which is not a particularly effective strategy anyway—I still fear death.)

I don’t need to believe in an all-powerful protector in order to not fear life.


So let’s go ahead and get past this part of the debate:  these are the things I really don’t believe.  If those are the only terms in which someone else can understand what religion is or what its significance might be to a person or to a culture, that’s not my fault or a weakness in my belief system.  I am not under any obligation to say “Oh, you’re right, of course, my faith system is what you say it is regardless of how little you understand about the actual experience of it.”

I’m not trying to convert anyone, to convince you to believe anything you have no genuine inclination to.  And I’m not arguing that religion shouldn’t be criticized when it exhibits real problems or when real harm is done in its name or under its influence, but relying on one-dimensional caricature to do that, insisting that religious belief by definition consists of things that for a lot of people it really doesn’t, is as unfair as it is unhelpful.

Describe the God you’ve rejected.  Describe the God you don’t believe in.  Maybe I don’t believe that God either.” —Timothy Keller


  1. alexforshaw said,

    I too have encountered atheists who miss the point about faith. To me proof of God’s existence is neither necessary nor particularly desirable, and is not a factor in my own beliefs. Indeed, regarding my beliefs, I could tick off every one of your “I don’t believe” points.

    For the record, I am an atheist and my wife is Catholic. We are both accepting of different beliefs and tend to encounter most problems when dealing with fundamentalists and extremists of all sorts (religious or otherwise). For us tolerance, acceptance and compassion are the most important values.

    • chavisory said,

      Yes, there is a lot of conflating of fundamentalism or literalism with “real” religion, but I really find more similarity among people of different religions (or no religion) but similar values, than even within any one faith.

  2. The problem is that, looking at that long list of all the things you don’t believe, someone could (and some do) believe the opposite of every one and call themselves a Christian as well.

    So if you call yourself a Christian and don’t clarify what you mean, if we think you hold a position that other Christians hold, it’s really not our fault.

    • chavisory said,

      That’s true, and I do not wish to obscure, the fact that many other religious people DO believe those things.

      The issue is that neither religion nor Christianity are monolithic entities. Both belief and practice are very fragmented across denominations and cultures. Practically no single belief or practice is truly universal or assumable, and so if you’re making your assumptions based on stereotypes and ignorance…that is your ignorance that there is practically no uniformity of belief in the realm of religion because it’s just not a homogenous thing in *any* regard.

      Usually, though, when I enter a discussion and identify as a Christian, it IS to clarify something…and this still happens. “No, Christianity teaches [fill in the blank with whatever it is that some Christianity does but some really doesn’t].”

  3. I don’t understand why quotes from profoundly ignorant people are such a big hit on atheist blogs.

    God’s exist was reasoned out over 2500 years ago by the pagan Greeks.

    And the fact that all the great civilizations grew up around religion and the greatest mass murders were carried out by atheists tells a stark but easily understood truth.

    • chavisory said,

      Plenty of mass murder has been committed in the name of religion, though, so I really don’t buy that argument. Both religious and non-religious people are capable of evil and have demonstrated so in some pretty epic ways.

      Plenty of people throughout time have presented reasoned arguments for the existence of God, but none of them are airtight, and frankly, I don’t think that’s really…the point. Part of what I’m saying is that *my* experience of religiosity or spirituality *doesn’t* depend on whether the existence of God or gods can be rationally established. It’s not a rational experience.

      • Cha,

        The atheist mass murders of the early and mid 20th century made Adolf Hitler look like a piker.

        While Der Fuhrer mass murdered 12,000,000 non-Arians, the atheists mass murdered 100,000,000 of their own citizens.

        The atheists beat Hitler by a factor of almost 10.

        It is a myth that religion fosters mass murder.

        Religion attenuates the baser nature of man and that is why all civilizations rose up around religion and why all civilizations fail under atheists.

        Atheism unleashes the baser nature of men upon all of mankind.

      • chavisory said,

        I’m not saying religion fosters mass murder. I don’t believe that it (inevitably or necessarily) does.

        But you’re kind of leaving out a lot of death and misery wrought by religious fundamentalism or sectarian conflict.

        I don’t believe in that assumption about atheism. I know too many deeply ethical and compassionate atheists. Knocking atheism is not what this post is about. It’s about a certain argumentation error made by a certain faction of atheists.

      • Cha,

        Judeo-Christianity preaches love of God and neighbor.

        So does Buddhism and Hinduism.

        You must be referring to iSlam, which means you are making an erroneous generalization about religion.

      • chavisory said,

        1. Stop calling me Cha. Wth?

        2. No, I’m not. There was kind of a lot of violence, civil war, and persecution against innocent people committed in Europe, colonial America, and throughout the new world in the name of Christianity. Against religious dissenters, against Native Americans, against whoever happened to be on the wrong side, at any given moment, of the whole Catholic/Protestant…thing…in England.

        Just because a religion preaches something, doesn’t magically make its followers good at following that teaching.

        There have even been violent fundamentalist Buddhists. There ARE both violent fundamentalist, and peaceful, non-literalist, moderate Muslims. Just like there are in Christianity. Just like there are in Judasim.

        It is you who are committing some epic fallacies of categorical thinking.

      • Chavisory,

        Here is you disproving your own argument, in your own words:

        “Just because a religion preaches something, doesn’t magically make its followers good at following that teaching.”

        That means the violence you are complaining about is caused by men not following their religion.

        And that is exactly the essence of my own argument:

        Religion attenuates the baser nature of man, therefore it is good and essential for the formation of civilization.

        Atheism does nothing to attenuate the baser nature of man therefore we can expect atheist regimes and societies to be brutal and oppressive.

        And off course history has proven the argument that I make from pure reason.

      • chavisory said,

        “That means the violence you are complaining about is caused by men not following their religion.”

        No, it really doesn’t.

        I’m going to ask at this point that you stay on topic re: the actual post, which is not about the comparative virtues of religion vs. atheism or intended in any way to undermine the validity of atheism itself.

      • Yes, it really does.

        If you can’t even understand what your own words mean you can’t possibly know what you are talking about from one moment to the next.

      • chavisory said,

        No, just because religiosity doesn’t necessarily succeed in suppressing violence, does not mean that lack of religiosity itself causes violence.

        That’s like saying that because, say, Aspirin fails to effectively treat my back pain, that lack of Aspirin causes back pain.


        And with that, stay on topic or I’ll ban you.

      • Chavisory,

        The logical fallacy you are employing now is called the Nirvana fallacy:

        Religion isn’t perfect at controlling human evil doing therefore religion itself is evil.

        You haven’t been able to explain away the fact that all great civilizations grow up around religion.

        And you’ve completely ignored the fact that atheists are the greatest mass murderers in human history.

        On the one hand with religion, there is mankind striving however imperfectly toward the good.

        On the other hand there is atheism and the unleashing of pure evil upon mankind.

      • chavisory said,

        Sorry I’m gonna have to ban you now after having asked you twice to stay on topic.

  4. “It is you who are committing some epic fallacies of categorical thinking.”

    He does that. He also thinks that not believing in god, by itself, somehow leads to murder.

    • PK said,

      The bottom line is – HUMANS kill. And they invent reasons for why it’s “ok”. The label of what they believe in can be used by them to justify (at least to themselves) what they do. It’s not a game where people keep score. A lack of a belief in god, at least to me, doesn’t immediately imply evil. And it really bugs me when people just turn off their brains and decide that’s the case. Good, caring, thoughtful people are that – regardless of religion (or lack thereof). Evil, selfish, hurtful people are that – regardless of religion (or lack thereof).

  5. notesoncrazy said,

    I was raised as an atheist in a very fundamentalist Christian driven town. Sadly, my understanding of religion and especially Christianity became equating it with ignorance, rigidity, and hate. Of course the truth is that not all religious people, or Christians, or Christian fundamentalists (or even all the ones I met!) are filled with any of those things. It’s simply that being the outcast in a town where it was expected and encouraged to bully me for my beliefs gave me these ideas.

    In college I fell madly in love with Durkheim, and exposed to academic writing on the value of religion to society, as well as the exposure to a ton of brilliant, open-minded, and kind students and from all walks of life and religious backgrounds, I have learned to value how important and positive religion can be for individuals and societies.

    I am still an atheist through and through, and I can’t really expect that to change, but I always feel connected and inspired when I meet (in person or online) people who can truly grow and live better lives because of their religion and not in spite of it. I still have big problems when individuals let their religious beliefs interfere with scientific development, but the fact is the two things don’t have to conflict. Science and spirituality are not mutually exclusive.

    Thank you for expressing yourself so articulately, and for standing up for what matters to you.

  6. Anodos said,

    Religion* is a lense in which we can view the universe. Change the lense and the view could change slightly or drastically.

    The lense can be obscured by others or by the individual looking through the lense. If one isn’t aware of how the lense is put together, it can be easy to accept a lense that looks like what others use, but has been changed by the person or group offering the lense.

    It is also possible to convince oneself that an obscured lense is not obscured. This could happen if one realizes that the lense they have isn’t what they want, but are afraid to change due to what the reaction would be by others who share their current lense. This can happen for *ANY* lense.

    While we can view the universe through a lense, that doesn’t mean what we see equates to what we think, feel, or believe. As this post showed, Chavisory sees the world through the lense she has and, in my opinion, does additional processing post-view.

    No one has a monopoly on how to live a good, moral, ethical life. Though plenty of people and organizations have tried to state otherwise. 🙂

    * – This includes Eastern philosophies that have been categorized as religions, here in the States.

  7. Byron said,

    Some people are always looking for an argument, but I think most atheists would be pretty cool with your beliefs (when we’re not too busy unleashing pure evil on mankind, of course).

    Atheists get cranky when people won’t separate religion from morality, religion from law, religion from science, etc. or when people misconstrue the removal of religion from morality/law/science as an attack on that religion. We’re pretty happy to respect freedom of religion so long as no one’s pushing any given religion on us.

    • chavisory said,

      “Atheists get cranky when people won’t separate religion from morality, religion from law, religion from science, etc. or when people misconstrue the removal of religion from morality/law/science as an attack on that religion.”

      As do I. 🙂

  8. lynnesoraya said,

    I’ve had pretty much the same discussions — it’s infuriating when people tell you what you believe without bothering to find out what exactly it is. Great post.

    • chavisory said,

      Thanks, Lynne!

      Yeah, it’s just…one facet of a more generalized phenomenon where a lot of people seem to be very sure that they know what my experiences, beliefs, and perceptions are better than I do….

  9. Monica said,

    I really think you need to check your opinions. I am not a right wing Christian but I totally disagree with you . We are not less than men in church, maybe you need to really research modern Christianism

    And I don’t see your tolerance to us either. ;(

    • chavisory said,

      I’m not sure what you’re referring to? I didn’t say that we are less than men in church, and I do not believe that we are.

      I’m not sure who the “us” is that you think I’m being intolerant of.

  10. I often say different denominations were created bc ppl don’t agree…no one does tho and I think whether I agree w all their teachings or not almost every religion has things we can learn from. But anyway as the only non religious person in a pastor’s family I think you make some good points

  11. And son had an assignment on major world religions. I was surprised how many commonalities they had (was a compare and contrast assignment)

  12. John Reagan said,

    The Bible certainly has a litany (pardon the pun) of women being submissive to men :

    What Does the Bible Say About Submissiveness?:

    Whether or not your personal experiences didn’t involve submissiveness, it sure is in the Bible, and the Koran and Torah. But Christianity as practiced here is wildly different from church to church. You only have to look at the Westboro Church and contrast that to say the teachings of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral to realize it’s so.

    • chavisory said,

      Yes, I’m familiar with what’s narrated in the Bible. But I don’t equate what’s being told there as divine, eternal commandment, rather than subjective history of spiritual struggle.

      Yes, I know that many churches and sects teach that female subservience is divine, eternal commandment, but the fact that that interpretation exists and is practiced doesn’t make it representative of either Christianity or religion in general.

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