I Don’t Believe in Theists
By Ryan Sutter
In an interview during the Vancouver Olympics on February 24th, bobsledder Lyndon Rush took advantage of his position as an Olympic athlete to tell the world that he doesn’t believe atheists exist. He went on record stating that there are no atheists at the top of bobsled runs, arguing: “Maybe they’re not in a period of their life where they believe in God, I guess. I don’t know. I don’t really believe in atheists.”
Out of all the ignorant and offensive things that theists say, I’m not sure there is one that bothers me more than this, the flat out denial that I exist. “Oh sure,” says the Christian, “Ryan thinks he’s an atheist, but it’s all a cover for living his sinful, immoral life. He’s not really an atheist because nobody can really be an atheist because there is a scripture that says that all humans actually believe in God on some level.”
If I am understanding the logic properly, the theist is saying:
1. I (the theist) believe in God AND
2. I believe that God writes literature AND
3. I believe that one particular book was written by Him AND
4. There is something in that book that I think says that atheists don’t really exist. THEREFORE
5. Atheists don’t actually exist.
Wow. No arguing with that chain of, er… reason. I mean, why actually talk to one of your fellow humans about their beliefs and accept that those beliefs are held with the same conviction your own are when you can just use your closed little world of circular logic to deny the very existence of alternate beliefs?
There is little that is more disrespectful of a person than to tell them that they don’t believe what they say they believe. It says, “your whole life is a lie.” It nearly always implies that the non-believer is secretly some sort of pervert or immoral person because that’s the only logical rationale available for why somebody would choose to make their entire life a lie.
I can sit around and get all righteously indignant over this kind of lunacy all day, but it’s so silly it’s hardly worth the effort. Instead, I’m going to take the approach of arguing their point in reverse: I argue that theists don’t really exist.
To begin with, the default state of all babies when born is to not believe in anything in particular (except eating and pooping). They don’t look at a pretty flower and think “God made that,” they simply see a pretty flower. If their parents tell them “God made that”, they will believe that. If the parents say, “Allah made that,” they will believe that. Basically, the child’s brain get wired in response to what they are taught and every theist in the world is also an atheist when you change the subject to a God they were not indoctrinated into believing in. Try convincing an adult to believe in Odin when they grew up believing in Jehovah. Ain’t gonna happen. Theism is a system of belief grafted onto an initially atheistic person.
But doesn’t that mean theists still exist? Following Rush’s anti-atheist logic, I’m going to argue no. Here’s why: Sure, there are people who claim to be theists. Perhaps those people even think they really do believe in God, but when it comes right down to it, they don’t and they secretly know it. The evidence lies in the fact that theists have to spend massive amounts of time and energy reassuring themselves that God exists by reading devotional books, telling everybody just how much they believe, praying, and committing many other such acts of self-selling. The entire life of religion is based around trying to keep devotees believing; keep them from doubting. This is the only sphere of life in which people have to work to convince themselves of things they supposedly believe. You don’t go around obsessing over the fact that you need oxygen to survive, writing hymns about it, saying prayers about it, swallowing doubts about it, cultivating faith about it. You simply breathe. Theists don’t build up their faith that their car, or their house, or their dog exists, but somewhere in the innate, pattern-matching, problem-solving, sapien brain is something that says, “oh sure, mom and dad said God exists, so He certainly must exist, but He’s, well, invisible, and um, I can’t, you know, actually demonstrate this to myself without trying really hard, and, um…”
This is like nothing else in the world. Faith is only required because in our natural state we know that things that exist only inside our heads, that can’t be touched, tasted, seen, heard, or smelled are in all likelihood not there. We know we can imagine anything but only experience through our senses. Part of us knows this and throws up a little internal voice that says, “Sure, I think I feel God, but how do I know that’s not just an emotion? A neuro-chemical? No, no, no, don’t doubt, doubt is bad, go look for some external proof, or better yet just stop thinking like this and pray more, or preach, or read about how other people really believe and emulate them.” Religious belief is a non-stop exercise in self-selling and stopping your brain from reaching a conclusion consistent with all of its non-God experience. Gods are an exception to all other rules we’ve ever encountered and it’s only through careful indoctrination on the part of parents and diligent effort on the part of self that this exception to the rule can be maintained. And the exception cannot generally be maintained for other gods. “My god is undeniably obvious, but yours is so obviously ridiculous that I feel sorry for you,” is a common theistic attitude.
So, there are no theists. There are only people who really, really want to be theists, people who sincerely want God to be there and have dedicated their lives to denying the voice in their head that tells them it’s all nonsense. They’re all secretly atheists because they were born as atheists, they are atheists about other Gods, and they require proof for everything else.
Call us atheists wrong, call us late for dinner, just don’t tell us that we secretly believe your story. It’s crazy, it’s disrespectful, and it’s highly offensive. And, if theists find my argument that they don’t exist is offensive, or disrespectful, my point is well made.
(Three days after his interview, Rush and his team competed in the four-man bobsleigh finals. With Jesus’ help, they came in third. –ed.)