What is an atheist? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an atheist as follows.
“A person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods.”
Because this definition does not define which god one must reject to be a “true atheist,” we are therefore all atheists with respect to those gods we do not believe in, such as Zeus, Thor, Dionysus, Horus, Krishna, Poseidon, and for some of us, even the more popular gods of Yahweh and Allah. To merely assert one believes in the “true God,” which can therefore define a “true atheist” is nothing more than a non-falsifiable faith claim, which is therefore meaningless because the inability to falsify the Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or any other god does not make the claims for their existence true. This is Russel’s Teapot. And just as we cannot falsify the hypothesis of there being a teapot floating about in outer space somewhere in the universe, we also cannot falsify the claims for an invisible god, Flying Spaghetti Monster, invisible pink unicorns, or any other figment of our imaginations. That is why the mere “non-falsifiable” status of a supposition like a god and the supernatural has no bearing whatsoever on its validity as a truth or factual claim. All truth and factual claims require genuine, credible, replicable evidence and/or sound reasoning to demonstrate they are correct and not mistaken about their truth claims. That is why the burden of proof for the truthful and factual correctness of a given claim rests squarely on the shoulders of those making such claims. The problem with all religions however, is they have no genuine, credible, replicable evidence whatsoever to prove their so-called “truth” claims, which is why they are in the exact same boat as belief in the existence of Poseidon, Russel’s Teapot, Leprechauns, or any other imaginary being or entity. “Hitchen’s Razor” clearly speaks to the position all religions are in.
“What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”
If any of these faiths did have genuine, credible, replicable evidence and sound reasoning for their claims, then they would no longer be a matter of faith, as they actually are, but could be demonstrated as a matter of fact, as we have discovered before in this book.
There are some famous adages that “actions speak louder than words” and that “behavior is everything.” This is quite true with respect to religious believers and the contradictions between what they profess to believe and how they actually behave. As we have discovered throughout this book, the fundamental problem with all theistic belief lies in its contradictions. The logical, scientific, and behavioral contradictions inherent in all theistic thought is what ultimately makes all theistic beliefs in the supernatural false, since all contradictions and double standards are always false, as we have also discovered several times before in this book. Our actions do in fact reveal our true values, not what we profess to believe. And it is in our actions in particular where we are all exposed for the atheists we truly are – including ironically, the most devout believers. While it is a famous aphorism that “there are no atheists in foxholes” in response to the idea that all people during times of extreme stress such as war will believe in, or hope for, a higher power or God, concluding there are therefore no atheists, the exact opposite is actually true. For it is precisely because almost everyone – including devout believers, dodge bullets and hide in foxholes during war which at least in part shows we are in fact, all atheists. If a person of faith truly believed what they claim to believe, then there would be only atheists in foxholes since atheists understand the fact that death is real, and this is the only life we have. A believer on the other hand should have nothing to fear in dying because either God will spare them, or take them home to glory in Heaven. The fact most believers behave exactly the same as those without faith behave during these life-threatening circumstances demonstrates a profound contradiction between the faithful’s professed beliefs and reality.
Most believers buy health insurance. Why are they wasting their hard-earned money? According to Biblical advice from Jesus, faith is all you need – even to move mountains. Therefore, helping us get over a cold, curing our cancer, and even regenerating our amputated limbs should be a piece of cake for the Almighty and omnipotent Creator of the universe, and according to Jesus should only require our prayers and faith – not doctors, medicine, and chemotherapy, nor any other human intervention. Yet most people of faith see doctors regularly, take conventional medicines, and those who do not seek modern medical treatments for their children, relying on “faith healing” alone are seen by most – including many believers, as being neglectful and even abusive to their children. This exposes a blatant contradiction between what one espouses to be “true” about the so-called “power of faith,” and what one knows for a fact is actually true about how to obtain genuine treatment for illness and injury and how the world actually works. While those who fly airplanes into buildings for their belief God told them to do so are delusional, they at least act in accordance to their stated convictions. The fact we are so often shocked when people act on their religious certainties, as many of us were when the nineteen hijackers did precisely this on 9/11, clearly demonstrates the fact that people tend not to behave in accordance to what their religious scriptures, beliefs, and spiritual leaders tell them to do, and why in actual practice, most of us do not take our professed religious convictions seriously, any more than an admitted atheist does. If more did act on their espoused convictions, as the nineteen hijackers did, there would be far more chaos and bloodshed. While one could argue there would also be more love and peace, the Bible is filled with so many contradictions on what constitutes “good” and “moral” behavior, as we have discovered before, that the paradigm of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of judging others not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, Hitler’s belief in the “righteous” slaughter of six million Jews during the Nazi Holocaust, the fact of early American slavery, and the near genocide of Native Americans during the push by United States settlers to expand across all the land west of the Mississippi River in response to the belief in “manifest destiny,” can all be justified by scripture, rendering it useless as a paragon of virtue and moral behavior. This is why scripture is in truth, a mixed bag reflecting both the best and the worst of our behavioral tendencies, which exposes God as being conspicuously similar to ordinary human beings in his strengths and flaws, bearing witness to the Judeo-Christian god’s human-made origins – not anything “divine.”
The Christian who cherry picks the Bible for the passages they like, while ignoring or dismissing those passages they do not like, demonstrate the fact they merely “pick the cherries” that coincide with their preexisting beliefs and prejudices, and then use scripture to rationalize and justify their behavior. This is how some can believe the condemnation of homosexuals in the Bible is “good” and “righteous,” while others see it as a moral abomination and an embarrassment to the assertion of Yahweh’s “moral goodness.” When we cherry pick the Bible passages that speak to what is almost universally considered morally and ethically sound, such as the “Golden Rule” – to do unto others as we would have done unto us, to not murder, to not lie, and to not steal, while rejecting those passages which admonish us to kill those who work on the Sabbath, kill those who worship other gods, and to keep slaves as long as we do not beat them to death, we are acting on our own moral intuitions – not the supposed “morality” of the Bible which also condones genocide, misogyny, polygamy, and slavery among other atrocities, as will be explored in more depth in the next chapter.
The Christian who fears death and encourages their terminally ill friends to seek treatment for their illnesses exposes yet another contradiction, as was partially touched on earlier. For if Christians truly believed that they and their sick friends are “bound for Heaven,” why then would they be afraid of death, and discourage their sick friends from dying as soon as possible, to hasten their entrance into a life of “Eternal Bliss?” Similarly, why is it Christians care at all about making the world a “better place,” as many Christians do, when according to Christian theology, this temporary life is essentially meaningless in the grand scheme of things since all will one day be “made right” in an “eternal” afterlife? Also, since “faith alone” is all we need to get into Heaven, as Christian theology also claims, according to Paul, why then should we be admonished by scripture to be “moral” people, and to treat others well at all if our “good” actions are as valuable as “filthy rags” as also stated in the words of scripture? (Isaiah 64:6) This is yet another example of the many blatant contradictions of scripture. It seems that to prolong one’s life in this world, to make the world a better place, and to behave in ways which contradict “inerrant” scripture is to live as an acting atheist, regardless of what one professes to believe. These behaviors only make sense if we truly are atheists deep down inside, since they are consistent with the atheistic realization this is the only life and world we have, while these behaviors are completely inconsistent with the fundamental belief of Christians that those of faith are going to “a better place in Heaven after death,” which only requires our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and not our actions to get there.
However, it is understandable why one would not want to publicly admit their atheism or even their lingering doubts about religious faith. I myself to this day still struggle with this, and am not sure when or even if I will ever come completely “out of the closet” as it were, about my non-belief in gods and the supernatural. The motivation to “stay in the closet” is strong since the costs of being an admitted atheist are high, as such an admission puts one in the “out group” of mainstream American society, which can be extremely disruptive to family and professional relationships, personal friendships, and numerous other social costs. Atheists in American society in particular are perhaps the most misunderstood and despised group of individuals, simply for refusing to give in to their childish credulity, and not give cover to religious superstition and absurd, magical thinking not backed by genuine, credible, good evidence, and an honest desire to know what is actually true about our circumstance, regardless of whether we “like” it or not. Atheists are almost certainly reviled at least in part because they do not deny the reality of death as the religious and spiritual-minded do, and seem to “spoil the party” as it were, since we human beings are prone to believe in magic and “the transcendental.” Those who call these beliefs out for the superstitions and irrational and false imaginings they are, can and often are a target of prejudice and hatred for daring to call out the absurd for what it is. I especially admire the late Christopher Hitchens for his brazen proclamation of being an anti-theist – one who not only does not believe in a god, but does not want to believe in a god since he reasoned only a slave would want such a proposition to be true by choosing to live under a “celestial dictatorship,” or a “celestial North Korea,” as Hitchens often put it. To their faces he would call out Catholic Church officials on their blatant hypocrisy in harboring and giving cover to known child molesters, and did not hide or pull any punches on his views with anyone. I give he and Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett – the “four horseman” of atheism among several others, tremendous credit for putting themselves on the line by speaking publicly, openly, and critically about extremely controversial views about religion. I especially admire Sam Harris’ open and persistent criticism of the free pass the Muslim religion gets politically on both the right and the left.
For atheists to persistently demonstrate the fact our cognitive biases and adaptations ultimately serve to help construct a grand delusion of religious and spiritual beliefs as an extremely sophisticated defense mechanism against our greatest fears such as death, and the fact it is not some actual “god” or “supernatural world” apart from our physical universe that is ultimately responsible for our spiritual and religious beliefs, is at best annoying, and at worst, extremely threatening to those who are committed to their ideological presuppositions. Perhaps with more intellectual honesty, compassion, and humility as we learn more about the truth of our circumstance, we can eventually come to accept not only that we are all atheists, but that it is okay to admit the fact.