02 January, 2011

Know thy enemy: Firing blanks at the wrong 'enemy'


What is an atheist? Most people would say that an atheist is one who believes there is no God... but they would be mistaken. A person who believes that God does not exist is an anti-theist, not an atheist. An atheist is properly described who does not believe that God exists. The difference is hard for believers to comprehend but it is an essential difference. An anti-theist has made a decision of 'faith'. He states definitively that he 'believes' that God does not exist. An atheist makes no such decision but simply asserts that he does not believe in the existence of God. Many atheists are anti-theists, but one need not necessarily be an anti-theist to be an atheist.

Most of the articles that have been directed at 'atheists', which attribute to them a 'belief' that God does not exist ends up offending many who bristle at the allegation that they 'believe' anything about God. “Atheism is no more a 'belief' than not collecting stamps is a hobby” succinctly sums up their objection to being labelled as 'belief' or a religion.

Think of it this way:

-someone who believes in God is a theist
-someone who believes that God does not exist is an anti-theist
-someone who does not believe in God is an atheist

Theists and ant-theists actually believe something to be true about God. Atheists simply say that there is no proof that God exists.

Believers can be forgiven for confusing these two groups as the anti-theists have begun to assume an ascendant position and have done their best to shepherd atheists into their camp. Richard Dawkins & Christopher Hitchens are both anti-theists in as much as they believe that there is no god. Most 'militant atheists' who have been speaking against God actually fall into the category of anti-theists, even if they themselves do not comprehend the difference.

Does this mean that atheists are not a group that believers needs to be concerned about? No, it does not. They are firstly a field for evangelization for if they can come to believe that there is evidence that God exists, then they are open to the possibility of changing their minds. If believers can mine the rich tradition of teaching to rediscover many of the philosophical proofs that point to God's existence, they would possess a valuable tool to use to help bring non-believers into their camp. Such evidence will have little impact on someone who has already come to believe that there is no God. It is harder to change someone's 'belief' because believers must argue that anti-theists are wrong, not simply misinformed or uninformed about God's existence.

Is this difference important? Yes. It's important because it points out that believers have fixed their sights on the wrong 'enemy'. Those who are an immediate danger to the public expression of faith are in fact the anti-theists who are promoting a counter conviction/belief that is directly opposed to any expression of faith in God. Anti-theists are those who argue vociferously that God is a 'sky fairy' or other such derogatory terms as they try to denigrate the convictions of believers. An actual atheist wouldn't really care one way or the other about the existence (or non-existence) of God because they do not believe one way or the other about the reality a divine being.

Atheists are not the enemy of believers. Anti-theists are. Believers might make more progress in the great debates in society regarding the role of faith if they developed a more sophisticated understanding of who they are fighting against.

(PS: Thanks to Lady Janus who helped me to finally come to understand this difference!)

10 comments:

  1. "Those who are an immediate danger to the public expression of faith are in fact the anti-theists who are promoting a counter conviction/belief that is directly opposed to any expression of faith in God."

    References, please. Either quote, from their own writings, where Dawkins or Hitchens have argued for preventing the public expression of faith - by private individuals, on their own time and property, and with their own money, of course - or retract your false statement about them, please. If you can find such references, I will apologize, of course.
    I await your response.

    "Anti-theists are those who argue vociferously that God is a 'sky fairy' or other such derogatory terms as they try to denigrate the convictions of believers."

    Please indicate the differences between a sky fairy and your god. Start with a cogent definition of each, one that has been verified and tested. If that's not sufficient, please indicate why the god of the Bible exists, and the god of the Koran, or the Bhagavad Gita, does not.

    "An actual atheist wouldn't really care one way or the other about the existence (or non-existence) of God because they do not believe one way or the other about the reality a divine being."

    This would be true, if god's followers were not so bent on trying to force me and mine to follow their particular god's preferences for disposal of my wealth, raising of my children, my intimate partners, my reaction to sickness, my politics, and the disposal of my remains.
    When - and if - god followers decide to keep their noses out of my private affairs, I will be more than happy to leave them to their belief in talking serpents, flying horses, and god-defeating iron chariots.

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  2. This would be true, if god's followers were not so bent on trying to force me and mine to follow their particular god's preferences for disposal of my wealth, raising of my children, my intimate partners, my reaction to sickness, my politics, and the disposal of my remains.


    Thats a two way street. The godless have their fair share of agenda's force fed to believers as well.

    Cheers
    Paul

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  3. I would question your reasons for designating Richard Dawkins as an anti-theist. In his book, The God Delusion, he proposes a scale of 1 to 7 where 1 is complete belief and 7 is complete non belief in God. He says he is a 6.7 or 6.9 depending on the day and therefore he says technically he is an agnostic.

    Christopher Hitchens calls himself an anti-thiest because not only does he not believe in God, but doesn't want a world in which there is a God.

    Both individuals oppose religion and adopt the tactics of the so called "new atheists and treat religion as similar to politics, economics and hold it up to criticism and where warranted ridicule.

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  4. Anri: So, until you attain a state of life where you can do whatever you want, with anyone you want, with absolute impunity to deal with your family relationships as you please... you'll fight against the voice of belief in the public square.

    I assume that you understand that your self described temporal demands match perfectly with the average 2 or 4 year old? Somehow you have been able to keep yourself from understanding your common obligations and responsibilities to the community at large and have defined life only in terms of your own wish fulfillment. I don't want to be the one to 'burst your bubble', but life doesn't operate on your terms... at least for those who have successfully completed their kindergarten program.

    So, let deal with your earlier demands. This is a blog. It is a place where people express opinions and where I get to publish my own. It is not an academic journal. If you want to find the relevant quotes from Dawkins or Hitchens, google them yourself. I have read both authors. I have watched some of their public lectures and debates. I have a good comprehension as to the nature of their argument and the evidence they offer to back it up. I need not provide footnotes for your benefit.

    The nature of your 2nd request is simply purile and intended to offend. If you are not bright enough to understand the difference between the two terms, then you're not smart enough to take part in these conversations.

    One of us is living in a delusional state with some immature beliefs. I'm pretty certain it's not me.

    Fr. Tim

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  5. Ok, step by step them.

    "That you cannot prove God's non-existence is accepted and trivial, if only in the sense that we can never absolutely prove the non-existence of anything. What matters is not whether God is disprovable (he isn't) but whether his existence is probable. That is another matter."
    - Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, P. 54 (emphasis in orig.)

    "And here is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely on science and reason, because they are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason."
    - Christopher Hitchens, god is not Great, p. 5

    So, there are some quotes from the authors that you have said dogmatically believe that there is no god. Didn't even have to use google, just my meager personal library.

    Secondly:
    My question was not calculated to offend, it was calculated to draw forth a cogent reply. If you don't care for it, ignore it - it's your blog, and you are accountable to no one else here, least of all myself. I do have to wonder, however, if you found the second part of my request, in which I asked you to compare your god to those of other major world religions, to be equally puerile and offensive?
    If not, why not respond? If so, why so?

    Lastly, I'm not certain how asking to be freed of the strictures of set of rules handed down from charismatic religious leaders of the middle east (regardless of a 4000, 2000, 1000 or 10 year pedigree) came to be construed as "Do as thou wilt: this shall be the whole of the law."
    Clearly, I owe great responsibility and respect towards society - that is, the living, breathing, flesh-and-blood humans surrounding me. I owe a varied measure of loyalty and deference towards some of the groups and structures these humans group themselves together in, mostly to the extent that these groups respect the rights of those people within and without them.
    I owe no loyalty or respect whatsoever to any dictatorship, earthly or otherwise, that treats humans as its property (however cherished), and regards its judgments as inflexible rules overriding any and all rights of those within its power.
    Such a dictatorship might very well have the power to cow me like Winston Smith, or send me to hell or Siberia for my thought crimes, but this power does not grant it the right.

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  6. "someone who believes in God is a theist
    -someone who believes that God does not exist is an anti-theist
    -someone who does not believe in God is an atheist"

    Clarification - Someone who believes in a God can be a theist or a deist. The difference being a theist believes God continues to interact with creation, not so with aa deist. Note that the "proofs" or God's existence only go as far as deism, theism is a completely different issue.

    As to your distinction between atheist and anti-thiest, it's not clear. Also what about agnostic. Technically, all atheists are agnostic (and most will admit it). But they are practical atheists just like all of us are practical atheists about Zeus, Ra, Apollo et. al.

    Anti-theist is generally held by someone who doesn't want there to be a God, atheists and agnostics are just waiting for any evidence for a God or Gods.

    As for the "enemy", maybe promoters of religions should concentrate on defining God first and determining that God's concept of good and evil instead of "attacking" non believers. All we're saying is that there is no evidence to support your hypothesis.

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  7. Larry Green04 January, 2011

    It seems to me that as they say on sesame street " one of these three are unlike the others.One of them just don't belong here."
    The term “ theist” and the term “ atheist ”designate an expression of belief and/or disbelief - however one would prefer to state it. If I am to be truthful I must say that I have no means by which I can verify to what degree I believe in the existence of God but I can say with greater certainty that I do not believe that God does not exist. This “non belief” could spring from indifference but it is no more a passivity than the activity of the obverse. The obverse form is easier to check partly because it requires much less effort and thought. It still is however the same as saying that I do believe in the existence of God even though it gives no indication to what degree. I don’t know how many human beings are capable of totally believing and continuously in the existence of God therefore to suggest that the term “atheist” merely designates an expression of passive disbelief essentially lumps us all together as atheists to varying degrees. If one truly “ believes not” in the existence of God then one does believe that God does not exist.

    Anti -theist does not designate an expression of belief at all but rather an “active opposition” to anyone believing in a God.
    The understanding of God is above human comprehension therefore any concept or image we have of what “God is” is a myth and there can be no wrong one or no right one. We cannot be equally right about our different ideas of God but we can be sure that we are equally wrong.

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  8. Larry:

    I'm not certain I fully understand your post, so I wanted to ask a couple of clarifying questions. If I am reading your first paragraph correctly, you appear to be stating that if someone holds the position that a phenomena is 'not proved', they still, to some extent believe in it - that is, they cannot be an 'atheist' in regards to it. If this is the case, would you accept the statement that you believe in, say, faeries at the bottom of the garden, or Jedi mind powers? Is it your argument that a christian can never truly disbelieve in (for example) Allah or Ganesha? How about Thoth or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

    In regards to your second paragraph, you state - if I am reading you correctly - that god is essentially unknowable. What, then, of the people that claim to understand that he is, for example, just or good? Are the people who claim understanding of his motives (love of humanity, desire for justice) mistaken, in your opinion?

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  9. Larry Green05 January, 2011

    Anri
    Your questions for clarification are welcomed. I will do my best to provide answers that do clarify my opinion but I suspect that things wont be a whole lot clearer for you , not because I am to stupid to explain or that you are to stupid to understand , but primarily because the prejudice that dilute my perspective is so much different from the prejudice that permeate yours but still lets make an earnest attempt.

    With regard to my first paragraph you said “you appear to be stating that if someone holds the position that a phenomena is 'not proved', they still, to some extent believe in it - that is, they cannot be an 'atheist' in regards to it "
    Incorrect Anri. What I say is that the aforementioned ‘ position’ does not necessarily make the holder an “ A “ anything. I think most people who believe in the existence of God also hold the position that God’s existence is unproven in the empirical even rational sense . I think there is a natural fundamental desire - a need- in humans to believe in a being greater than ourselves and that many believers seek and would welcome ways such as the ‘ physical proof ’ , an eye witness,a super rational revelation, or receiving faith from the same God they strive to strengthen their belief in. This want for proof and faith does not make us atheists, on the contrary it reveals that we have touched within, our most fundamental desire. I am not saying that one cannot be an ‘atheist’ but that if any person who makes such a claim about his/her self wants to be distinguished from ’theists’ then they must assent to the belief that God does not exist. Any claim in between in my opinion is indicative of an individual who perhaps belongs to one of three possible categories.1. An atheist afraid to state concisely his/her ’ belief’ 2. A lazy theist. 3. A very humble theist.
    It is my argument that a Christian cannot truly disbelieve in (e.g. ,excluding the facetious) Allah.
    With regard to my second paragraph. Unlike anything created the oness of God and the universality of God are one and the same being. Humans are capable of understanding universals only through the sensitive reception of the particular ,therefore God is not knowable in the same way as the objects of his creation are. Just and good are predicated of God because He is the exemplar of them. In another sense justice and goodness in the world eminate from perfect justice and perfect goodness and these we call God. By the natural light of reason we can see that they “are”, even though because of the same light we cannot see what they look like. All change involves movement from potentiality to actuality. In that which is perfect there can be no change therefore no potential and no movement neither locally or substantially. There is no movement in that which is “ Pure Act.“ The actions ( e.g. love - in its verbal form-, desire, anger… ) spoken of in God are a similitude of effects.

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  10. Larry:

    Well, I am content with my definition of atheist as one who simply is the opposite of a theist - that is to say, one who holds no particular belief in a god or gods. I can't say that your position is wrong, as it is likely the more usual meaning of the term, but I'm willing to agree to disagree on that one.

    In regards to god's presumed perfect aspect, I've always been confused as to how perfect justice and perfect mercy were reconciled. Justice, after all, is giving someone exactly what they deserve, while mercy is giving someone better than they deserve - both rather by definition. This is not a major point we're tossing back and forth per se, just an observation.

    In any case, thank you for taking the time to respond. I will admit that I don't feel particularly enlightened afterwords... I don't understand much of what you are saying. For instance, I have no idea what the 'oness of god' might be, or how a god that (if I understand you correctly) that is perfect, and therefore lacking potential and movement can ever do anything... but I'm willing to chalk that up to simply not grasping your lingo.

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