Why I’m Not an Atheist

Sometimes people post the question “If you weren’t Mormon, what would you be?” As I think about that question, I’m a little bit torn. There are so many other churches and faith traditions I have my share of sacred envy for, and which I deeply respect and appreciate. But for me, the ultimate answer is probably that I would be an atheist. I do have a rational bent of mind.

So why aren’t I an atheist now? What is it that keeps me squarely in the theist camp? One word: death.

I think I could pretty easily be an atheist most of the time. But for me, where the rubber really hits the road is with contemplation of death, particularly deaths of loved ones. I simply cannot conceive of eternal nonexistence, and of not being with my loved ones again in the hereafter. Although my mind normally privileges the rational, in this case it definitely privileges the extrarational. I very much believe in postmortem existence.

I fully realize that this might be a psychological defense mechanism, that my brain might simply be protecting me from contemplating that which I cannot face. If so, so be it. I am much happier traipsing through this life with this belief than I would be without it, so I’m not too concerned with the source of the belief, I just thank God that it is something I possess.

That is my one spiritual gift–the gift of faith in the hereafter. And it is a gift that I treasure.


  1. Here is my thought. You know that we are made up of living cells that freely die on cue. They give their “all” for the greater entity that they cannot possibly understand. I think we do the same.

    Death wouldn’t be so scary if one believed that all individuals are really parts of one larger entity. It is really vanity and ego centrism to think that my little subset of experience and memory should be the pinnacle everything.

    I am content to think that I am one with God on this level.

  2. True, death is by far the biggest drawback of atheism. I made some related observations in my post on why I don’t like death.

  3. Interestingly, the impossibility of ceasing to exist is what I most dislike about mormonism. I blame my lack of enthusiasm about eternal life on a. being female (what do goddesses do anyway?) and b. life-long chemical depression. In spite of this, I firmly believe that there is life after death.

  4. As an ex mormon blogger turned atheist, I deeply appreciate Kevin’s post. My position is that I don’t have any good reason to believe, although others might. Kevin feels that he has a good reason to believe and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t envy him a little bit.

  5. observer says:

    There are probably over a thousand Near Death experience accounts that can be found here. I’ve read most of them. Though I think some of them are hokey, the vast majority of them are very convincing and powerful. It’s strengthened my belief in life after death.

  6. I can’t believe you would choose the filthy atheists over evangelical Christianity, Kevin. Pfft.

    I’m not sure what I would be if I weren’t evangelical. There’s obviously plenty I admire in Mormonism, but I have a hard time imagining myself making the shift to the Mormon concept of God and accepting Mormonism’s gender teachings.

    If I were staying Christian, my runner-up Christian branch would probably be Eastern Orthodox. Outside of Christianity? It’s more of a philosophy than its own religion, but I’m rather fond of Confucianism.

    I can’t ever see myself being atheist, though in the past year I have had the pleasure of getting to know some really awesome atheists and my respect for them is certainly growing.

  7. It’s tough, but I find that meditation helps me to accept death much more easily (granted, I’m an agnostic, not an atheist, and I’ve never lost immediate family members). Something about surrendering my conscious thoughts for the peace that meditation brings allows me to contemplate nonexistence.

  8. This article is fun. It’s like the gang is coming together.

    Death doesn’t bother me from a personal standpoint. Perhaps I’m making a poor analogy…but every night, I go to sleep. I have a time sink from when I go to bed and when I wake up. This is time that is simply lost — it’s like time skipping to the future.

    Now, this is rather different than death. 1) There still is brain activity…for example…we all dream multiple dreams every night. We just may not remember all of them or any of them in a given night. 2) Our time skip is ended by our waking up in the morning.

    But what if you went to sleep…and never woke up? Even worse, what if you went to sleep with no chance of dreams because there are no detectable brainwaves? This wouldn’t concern you too much, because you wouldn’t be conscious enough to think about it. You’d be in the time skip.

    Similarly is death.

    What I fear a lot more than death is pain. Death is the end of it all. But pain is very conscious and very aware.

  9. I don’t have trouble accepting nonexistence. there’s a certain beauty in its inevitability and completeness. As someone who sees a lot of death physicalism seems like the simplest explanation sometimes. Simplest and wrong, though. I just don’t find it a finally persuasive account. I rather liked being atheist when I was. When I investigated my soul and cosmos 20yrs ago, there was God. I haven’t been an atheist since.

  10. I hit a psychological brick wall about six years ago. And all of a sudden everything I used to believe so ardently seemed like a bunch of poppycock. But the things that have kept me from drifting completely into atheism are:

    The Book of Mormon — as much as I’d like to disbelieve it, I can’t.

    The conduct of the brethren (and sistren) — while they’re not perfect, there’s just something about them, a virtue.

    Hope in the hereafter — I hang on to some of the doctrines that Joseph Smith restored, especially those having to do with family relations in the eternities.

    And last of all, there’s just “something” there, something going on that I cannot attribute to random processes.

  11. Justmeherenow says:

    If someone must say, “If for some reason I didn’t have my customs and understandings of God and didn’t have my present faith, I’d just doubt everything,” such thinking reminds me of the statements in Ecclesiastes. Which in my own lame paraphrase goes something like this:

    Human thoughts ostensibly toward the deepest understandings possible about the nature of happiness and especially about the customs and principles of godly faith, about the ultimate nature of ethics, about the nature of divinity and of God, ultimately lead to doubt. Yet go ahead and seek reasonable pleasure as it is rightful to do so and endeavor to follow godly customs and do God’s will.

    Which seems less wholly disbelieving and atheistic to me, yet more agnostically theistic — that is, admitting that one does not have absolute humanly knowledge of what is divine, holy, right and true but drawing as close as one can to the inklings thereof, anyway(?)

  12. BJM,

    Funny you should mention your reservations about Mormonism’s gender teachings and then go on to say how fond you are of Confucianism.

  13. Kevin,
    I’m confused by your post. You’re going to die, just like the rest of us. Mormonsism isn’t going to change that. Science is still trying to prolong and overcome death, however religion stopped trying long ago, since they assume an apocalyptic prophet mysteriously solved that problem. So if death is the enemy, you seem to be taking sides with the wrong team.

  14. StillConfused says:

    I think it is because of my farming background but I have never really had that big of an issue over death. My eldest brother gave his life as a fireman. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. He is now free from the pain and suffering. In farming, you deal regularly with the circles of life. It is just part of the natural routine of things.

    As far as the afterlife goes, I personally think of us and God as energy rather than physical beings. Sp I believe that that energy continues on in some way or another. I just don’t worry about how that will be at this point… it is going to happen whether I worry about it or not. As in Judaism, I focus on making the most of my life rather than worry about what happens next.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    JTJ, huh? You confused me right back.

  16. #11 Liam ~ I figured as much, but Confucianism won’t put a hierarchy of leaders over me to check in with me regularly and insure that I keep their gender teachings. I can just sort of keep the parts I like.

    I’m not wild about how the EO church doesn’t ordain women, either, but if I limited myself to egalitarian religions, I’d have a fairly small, mostly New Age pool to choose from.

  17. Kristine says:

    “But for me, the ultimate answer is probably that I would be an atheist. I do have a rational bent of mind.”

    /tears hair/

  18. Why does the continuation (or recycling) of some sort of life/consciousness after death require a belief in deity?

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    Kristine, are you denying that theism is extrarational?

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    DavidH, it doesn’t, logically, but it is generally theistic traditions that hold to this. I don’t know any atheists who believe in life after dath, do you?

  21. I know plenty of theists who don’t believe in life after death, and there are some Eastern religious traditions that are theistic in very different ways, and sometimes to a relatively limited extent, which believe in continued life.

    Kevin, it’s all too easy for me to imagine that death is the end. Scary, to be sure. But easy. I’ve got hope and faith, but not certainty on these themes.

  22. re: 12
    While Kevin can speak for himself, there’s no confusion here JTC. For a devout Latter-day Saint the physical death we all must experience isn’t “really” death, it is a transition to the next phase of our eternal existence.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    JNS, right, not all theists or theistic traditions accept life after death. Witness historically for example the Saduccees. But I wasn’t claiming that all theists believe in life after death, only that atheists don’t. I’m genuinely interested if there are counterexamples.

  24. Kevin, I actually prefer the Atheistic conception of death. I go to sleep every night and consciousness departs. Nice. I’m Mormon because I think it’s right. If I wasn’t I think I’d go Catholic just ‘cus I like Augustine. Or maybe Quaker for the music. Or Buddhist for the meditation. Or Muslim for the prayer practices. Or animist for the conception of nature. Or Evangelical so I could hear guitar and drums and wear jeans at Sunday meetings. But Mormonism’s given me my relationship God and Christ. I like that best.

  25. Kristine says:

    Kevin, I think atheism is just as extrarational. It seems to me that agnosticism is the only purely rational possibility. (If “purely rational” even exists, which, of course, it does not).

  26. At least you’re honest about being a coward.

  27. If “purely rational” even exists, which, of course, it does not).


  28. Kevin Barney says:

    Kristine, fair enough. Obviously I didn’t mean to suggest that atheists have a corner on reason; I was using “rational” there in contrast to something like fideist, the way those terms are contrasted as extreme schools of thought in the Dialogue review of David Paulsen’s book on Mormonism and Christianity in conversation, which I just finished reading. I’m definitely a fideist, but with rationalist tendencies.

  29. Kevin Barney says:

    Jack no. 6, I could be an evangelical if I could be sort of the generic kind. I’ve been to Willow Creek and enjoyed the service there, so that is something I could probably handle. But if I were going to switch within the Christian tradition, I think I might try something more high church and liturgical just for the change of pace.

  30. Lutheran or Methodist, almost certainly.

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    Russell, my wife comes from the Lutheran tradition, and I’ve attended lots of their services. That one would definitely be at or near the top of my list. I don’t really have any experience with Methodist services.

  32. Chris H. says:

    I would be a Unitarian..and not just because the one nearest me only meets twive a month during the summer.

  33. Chris H. says:

    that should be “twice” not “twive.” It think the Unitarians would be most tolerant of my spelling as well as my liberalism.

  34. If unitarians are tolerant of poor spelling, they’re the church for me.

    I absolutely agree that “purely rational” doesn’t exist.

  35. Oh, Unitarian Universalist. Definitely. Their whole religion comes down to two things — being responsible and compassionate.

  36. I used to think that if I chose something besides Mormonism it would be atheism. But it wouldn’t; I am a believer.

    But I’d have to say no to evangelical or any other low-church traditions. Even though we’re a mixed bag, many of the things I don’t like about Mormon culture are a result of the low-church part of our background. So high church with a strong social justice component. (I always feel like I would get poetry better if I had a better grounding in the symbolism of high church, and I hate that I don’t enjoy reading poetry.)

    And Jack, I have to say, I don’t worry about Mormonism’s teachings about gender hereafter, because, in spite of undoubtedly well-meaning loudmouths, they’re wrong. We have a much smaller conception of the hereafter than we often like to think we have.

  37. Kevin Barney says:

    Andrew no. 8, I don’t fear personal nonexistence, I just have a hard time conceiving of it forever and ever. It’s true I can’t recall existence before birth, and I agree that the sleep analogy, while imperfect, is a helpful way of conceptualizing it. Still, I just can’t wrap my mind around an eternity of no cognition whatsoever. For me it’s not a matter of fear, but of incapacity to comprehend. (The fear part comes in when contemplating the nonexistence of loved ones.)

    I agree with you about pain. I personally have very liberal feelings about euthanasia for that very reason. There have been a few times in my life when I gladly would have traded nonexistence for a cessation of the pain I was experiencing.

  38. re 37:

    it makes sense that you would have a hard time conceiving of it. It’s because you’re essentially trying to conceive of something with a tool (e.g., your consciousness) that by definition would not exist in the hypothetical conception.

    There in fact have been Scientific American articles on the very subject…that because of our dependence and reliance on our consciousnesses…we are biased toward believing that they always will be. Of course, this doesn’t say that they will or won’t, just that we are inclined to believe one way.

  39. I stand rather in awe of the church organization. I don’t know where else I would go because I don’t see any other large-scale faith group attempting so thoroughly to support its members in their personal and family development. There certainly is a lot of good done out there, but (speaking from my experience as a man), I don’t see anything quite like the primary–>aaronic priesthood–>mission–>marriage–>priesthood leadership progression of service for creating kind, caring men. We turn a remarkable number of total jerks into really great husbands. Any faith for me has to be serious about conversion for every member and serious about spreading its membership to encompass the whole world. Tacit acceptance of everyone just “following their own path”, i.e. drifting aimlessly from congregation to congregation just doesn’t do it for me.

  40. When I left Mormonism, I looked into atheism and evangelical Christianity. I had already written off Islam (too violent, oppressive, intellectually backward) and Catholicism (almost as weird as Mormonism).

    I tried to be an atheist, but I couldn’t do it emotionally. Of course, a Mormon would attribute that to the Light of Christ. A scientist would attribute it to evolution. Somehow, those who believed in a hereafter survived and passed their genes on to the next generation.

    I don’t know. So, I am agnostic and look at religion as kind of a passing interest that I look into once in a while.

  41. To tie back in better to the main post, atheism for me would lead to far too much of a “lone-wolf” approach to life. I would just end up being a (more) selfish, arrogant person.

  42. Totally not Andrew says:

    re 37:

    let’s try this again.

    I roughly said: It is not a wonder why you or anyone else would have problems conceiving of it. You have to use a tool (consciousness; self-identity; you may wish to call it your “soul”) to do the conception…so how can you use a tool to conceive of a hypothetical situation where that tool doesn’t exist? How can you consciously perceive of what it is like to be unconscious?

    I’ve read a few scientific American articles that suggests humans are thusly biased. Because we interpret all data through our consciousnesses, it’s tough for us to conceive of not having this. It doesn’t mean that a persistent consciousness (e.g., life after death) does or does not exist; we are just biased to believe a certain way.

  43. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 41, that makes sense. Thanks for the clarification.

  44. Matt W. says:

    Some portions of buddhism are athiestic but believe in a hereafter.

    Kevin, I’d love your thoughts on Paulsen’s book. I loved it, especially the parts on process and open theism. And I am extremely grateful you have the spiritual gift of looking to the hereafter, but you are wrong about one thing, you do have other spiritual gifts. I see them on display often here in our little community.

  45. Atheism offers a form of logic – but it is not any more or less rational than a faith-based approach.

    In fact, atheism tends to demand (and claim for its own support) a level of proof/knowledge that does not exist in this world – which is a decidedly un-rational approach.

  46. Totally not Andrew says:

    I think everyone really has inflated ideas of what atheism is or is not, based on the atheists they may have seen or heard.

    Atheism, at its merest, is simply the lack of belief in god. That is all. This is the only thing, furthermore, that every atheist has in common, just as the only thing every theist has in common is belief in some formulation of god. But like you can’t tell just from someone saying they are a theist WHAT KIND of god/s they believe in (or what they feel about those gods, what they feel about morality, worship, life, death, etc.,)…similarly, you can’t find out much at all from a person’s atheism. You have to go specific for both sets of people…e.g., from theism, you might find that someone is monotheistic, and from there you might find out that someone is Christian, and most specifically, you might find out they are Mormon. Once you get down to the denominational level, you can predict specific things about a person (although, of course, even then there’s flexibility for difference in position — and Mormonism isn’t creedal, so it’s not like there’s such a specific theology that all Mormons believe the same on every issue.)

    So, if we flip to atheism…we have the same issue. Some atheists will take a hyperrationalist point of view. Some will take a rather scientistic point of view (not to be confused with scientific). Some will take an anti-theistic point of view, and so on. But these things are not necessary for atheism and are not part of atheism. The only thing necessary for atheism…the only thing that will make or break an atheist, is not believing in god/s.

    So…why might someone not believe in gods? This is where you have to find out different reasons…but whatever the specific reason, I think the simplest is: they are not personally convinced. And I think it is very rational to not believe in something that you are not convinced of. To be fair, I think it is very rational to believe in something you are convinced of (which, through faith, spiritual experience, etc., etc., theists are convinced of whatever their tenets are). I think in the end, it boils down to the idea that these things tell us more about *subjective experiences* people are happening…and not necessarily about *objective and external realities*. So, we aren’t really cracking that God exists or does not exist because we are convinced or are not convinced…we are simply coming to the rather trivial conclusions that we are subjectively convinced…or not.

  47. Kevin, there are atheists who believe in a human soul. If the soul exists, they argue, then it has to go somewhere. Therefore those atheists believe in life after death.

    There is also some discussion whether Buddhists qualify as atheists or not. Buddhists are certainly naturalists and believe in life after death.

    The believe in life after death is such a double edged sword. On the downside, it certainly opens the door to religion as opiate. On the other hand, secular utopias suffer from the same pathology.

    From the Holy Inquisition to the Gulag, the worst crimes would not be possible without the best intentions. Better to live without illusions and respect human beings as they are.

  48. I’m with Hellmut, if I wasn’t Mormon I’d definitely would be one of those.

  49. Pedro A. Olavarria says:

    If wasn’t LDS then Id probably be Muslim.

  50. If death is the only, or one of the main factors, that keeps you believing in God, isn’t this like the wife that kind of knows deep down that her husband is having an affair, but doesn’t acknowledge it to herself in a conscious way that might mean her taking action to stop it. Believing in God gives you the enjoyment of not being afraid of eternal death and nothingness; a bit like that same wife enjoying the lavish lifestyle her cheating husband provides, the big house, the fancy clothes, and the country club membership.

    Aren’t you just fooling yourself by denying the truth, if the only reason you are staying in the relationship is the comfortable lifestyle?

  51. Anon, due to being a chicken. says:

    I’m atheist now, partially because I find the idea of a Mormon afterlife kind of horrifying. It’s either a segregated heaven, or if I become the god of my own planet, the idea of needing a savior for that planet–a human sacrifice to forgive the sins of all my spirit children. No thanks.

  52. Bridget Jack Meyers, you’re stupid…you say that as if someone asked you to be an Atheist. No one asked you to be anything. No point in calling Atheists filthy because you aren’t one.

    I pity you.

  53. Bridget was being facetious, Lee. Chill.

  54. If I weren’t Mormon, I’d definitely enter a monastery. I don’t know if I’d stay past the novitiate, but I’d really like to give it a shot. (Probably Cistercian or Trappist.)

  55. Thomas Parkin says:

    If I wasn’t a Mormon I would definitely believe in _all_ of the following:

    coloured auras, chakras, egg-shaped homes, alien abductions, raising the vibrational level in the neighborhood, governments poisoning their citizens with chem trails, negative-ion generators, mother nature as benevolent, enemas, the global brain, chinese athnologoly, pretty much everything chinese (excpet chinese astrology, which is bunk), the CIA is after me and Mary Magdalene was Jesus step-daughter.


  56. “extrarational”

    Is that your way of trying to avoid saying “irrational” or “not rational”?

  57. Kevin Barney says:

    Just to clarify, my saying I would be an atheist if I weren’t a Mormon was a contrary to fact thought exercise. I’m happy being a Mormon and I’m a theistic believer.

  58. Kevin Barney says:

    The Latin prefix “extra” as a compound carries the connotation of “beyond.” Therefore, extrarational does not mean irrational (“without reason”), but rather beyond reason.

  59. Lee,
    Name-calling is unacceptable, unless I do it. Play nice!

  60. Also, Unitarian.

  61. Pedro A. Olavarria says:

    I guess one might say I’m a DNA Mormon so Id either be a Mormon Fundamentalist or A Community of Christ-er.

    If any style of book of mormonism is completly off the table then Id probably be Muslim.

  62. I’d be a French Foreign Legionnaire. Is that a religion?

  63. Zoroastrian, obviously.

  64. Peter LLC says:

    Is that a religion?

    Indeed it is, and even has teachings germane to this post: “Marche ou crève.”

  65. Buddhist.

    It’s not necessarily atheistic or theistic, but perhaps more agnostic. For the vast majority of humanity, we may never directly KNOW whether there is a God or not, but must rely on words of prophets and others who talk about seeing Him. In Buddhism, this question is a bit irrelevant as the focus is more on things that help you (and ideally the rest of the world) be a better person.

    In general, Buddhists are peace-loving, engaged, compassionate and focused on what is important in life here and now. They aren’t as focused on what may come after.

  66. After spending years studying critical Biblical history, I’m convinced that if it weren’t for Mormonism, I wouldn’t be in the Judaeo-Christian realm. There are just too many holes in the Bible and its history, that if it weren’t for modern day witnesses to Christ, etc., and the spiritual testimony I’ve received, I would simply not believe in anything beyond the grave.

  67. If the miracle of my children’s births weren’t enough proof for me that God was real and alive, my near death experience definitely was. Raised by Christian parents and following their example, embedded my faith and strong belief, which I drew from in my experience.

    While in the light of the tunnel of death, I felt my spirit being drawn back, and when I gained consciousness, it was the look on my Mother’s face that revealed to me that her prayers had brought me back to this world. Maybe it wasn’t my time to go, but I was confident that it was her faith and prayers that sustained me during that time.

    I lived on to find that she would later need me in ways that I could not have imagined, after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Even though I had 3 children and a full time job, I did everything I could to make sure she had the care and quality of life that she deserved. It was a difficult time for me, but I know that God spared my life for her, as I was the only one there when she needed someone the most in her life.

    I guess you could say that seeing the answers to prayers is the main reason that I will never doubt the existence of God and why I will always be a Christian, no matter what.

  68. Atheism is boring. I would probably go for some kind of Reform Judaism.

    I can definitely go on record as not caring for the Mormon version of the afterlife, at least as far as it’s been explained unto me. It’s so complicated. All that paperwork, too. Bah!

    I think that without an afterlife, mortal life becomes ultimately meaningless. It has personal meaning, while you’re alive, but beyond that, nothing. The injustice of this world would be almost too much for me to bear, if I didn’t have faith in an afterlife that put mortality in perspective.

  69. The teachings of Nehor always appealed to me. Yes, definitely Nehorism.

  70. Kevin Barney says:

    I like the Mormon afterlife because in its variegation it has a near-universalist quality. I’m not big on the idea that the vast majority of all humanity is going to burn in eternal hell.

  71. Kevin, Thank you for your honesty here. I find myself in a similar boat. I believe only because I have made a conscious choice to do so. I have had a few experiences that help me believe, but not enough to prove anything.

    People who say they are not afraid of eternity have not seen it. I have – it is the scariest thing imaginable. Pray that you never see it.

  72. you should toughen up a bit.

  73. There’s a certain strain of smug confidence in atheism that I don’t care for. I understand their rational viewpoint, but their surety is what puts me off. That’s why I think if I weren’t Mormon I’d be agnostic. At least they can admit they might be wrong. (and yes, I’m aware of the irony…)

    While I see the atheistic argument as a perfectly reasonable viewpoint, I, like CEF, still choose to believe in God. And it’s a choice I make every day.

  74. athiest says:

    Sounds to me like rather than truly believing there is an afterlife (and hence, a god), you simply hope that there is one. Well, as you say, it’s a gift you have, faith – albeit blind. I guess that’s kind of a pre-requisite of faith though, not-knowing to some degree.

    I guess my problem is that I just can’t bring myself to believe in what has not been recognized. There is too much that has forewarned me otherwise.

  75. Eric Russell says:

    I don’t have a problem with atheists; I understand where they’re coming from. In fact, if it weren’t for the existence of a living god, I’d definitely be atheist too.

  76. If you realize that you have no good reason for believing something other than that it makes you feel good, in what sense can you really be said to believe it?

  77. Totally not Andrew says:

    I’m probably arguing fruitlessly now, since people obviously have their beliefs about what atheists and agnostics are and are pretty set, but I would just argue.

    Just because there are a lot of atheists who appear smug does not mean that smugness is a necessary quality of atheism. You don’t have an atheist bible that says the qualities an atheist should have, and even if you did, smugness wouldn’t be one. Certainty wouldn’t be one either.

    Again, the only common theme among all atheists is a lack of belief in gods. Even rational viewpoint is not a necessity.

    This one will probably REALLY not go well here…but I’ll push it anyway. Atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive options (and neither are agnosticism and theism, for that matter). Agnosticism is not knowing (in this instance, about the existence of god). But the not knowing is an answer to a different kind of question (obviously, an epistemological question…a question about knowledge). It is wholly different than questions about beliefs…which have answers about belief (atheism or theism).

    Does God exist? An atheist is not required to “know” that a god does not exist. So it is completely conceivable (and, I would argue, most atheists would say” that an atheist could answer this question with, “I have no idea.” or “I don’t know, but probably not” or just “I don’t know.” They lack knowledge; they are agnostic. A much smaller minority are gnostic atheists…Most atheists — even the vocal ones –will recognize they could be wrong. They just need persuasive evidence, and the problem is…no one’s got that.

    So, what is the question that can determine an atheist or theist? It’s not “Does god exist?” because this is irrelevant, and potentially unknowable.

    The question is, “Do you believe God exists?” or “Do you believe in God?”

    These questions ignore the true existence or nonexistence of an external being and instead focus completely internally on a person…so as long as a person can know himself, he can answer this question (if a person *doesn’t* know himself, then that’s just said.) A “yes” is theism. A non-yes is atheism.

    This distinction should be intuitive, and it is etymological. When we use atheism and agnosticism in common, pedestrian ways, they warp the definition. We shouldn’t say that agnosticism is something you are “other than” atheist or theist. No, agnosticism is something you are *with* either atheism or theism. It is VERY conceivable to think of a person who says, “I don’t know if god exists, but I believe/hope he does.” This, in FACT, is the pinacle of faith, and this is nothing but an agnostic theist position. by the same token, what about someone who is not convinced? Who doesn’t have faith? “I don’t know if god exists, but I don’t believe he does.” Agnostic atheist.

    I would challenge the others who ask the theists pressing questions that you guys are approaching things incorrectly. For example, to Wm Jas: you don’t need “good reason” for believing. Believing is just something some people do. However, all we should be trying to establish is that, without “good reason,” no one should feel bad or be belittled for not believing — atheism should not be regarded as strange and terrible. If someone believes because it makes them feel good, then that *precisely* can be compelling reason for them to believe.

    On the other hand, I would argue that for an atheist, the same subjective points that would work for a theist simply don’t convince. They either don’t feel good from assuming belief or whatever they feel doesn’t convince them to believe.

  78. Steve Evans says:

    TnA, I wasn’t convinced until you used the boldface. Sign me up for godless secular humanism!

  79. Totally not Andrew says:

    Just to note: secular humanism =/= atheism. They aren’t equivalent and totally exchangeable terms. Secular humanism is a belief system that meshes well with atheism (like Mormonism is a belief system that meshes well with theism).

    Back to point: Steve, you don’t need to become secular humanist. Mormonism already is a humanism, don’t you think? It is a humanism with the end goal being eternal and supernatural progression

  80. Steve Evans says:

    TnA, I am aware of the distinction. But IMHO, you can’t be a good atheist if you don’t buy into secular humanism. That’d just be lazybones.

    And I agree, I don’t need to become a secular humanist.

  81. Totally not Andrew says:

    But IMHO, you can’t be a good atheist if you don’t buy into secular humanism. That’d just be lazybones.

    …I have failed profoundly in everything I have tried to achieve in this thread…

    no, I’ll try in a different way. “IMHO, you can’t be a good theist if you don’t buy into Islam. That’d just be lazybones.”

  82. Steve Evans says:

    No, you’ve failed profoundly. Stick with that.

  83. Totally not Andrew says:

    smh, man, smh.

  84. TnA: Don’t feel you’ve “failed profoundly”. I’m generally just a lurker here, enjoying the comments, but just wanted to offer my support.

    Your comments and arguments are very enlightening and I truly appreciate them. I can understand your resignation when a well-thoughtout argument is followed up, not with a valid counterargument or else valid discussion, but some flippant remarks.

    The sad thing is that the flippant replies to your comments aren’t even funny.

  85. Steve Evans says:

    That is sad.

  86. Don’t feel too discouraged Steve. Even if you’re not funny, at least you don’t need to become a secular humanist.

  87. Totally not Andrew says:

    re 84: What’s really more disappointing is that I didn’t see it coming. I thought BCC was a completely different kind of place with a completely different character of poster and commenter alike. And you know; it’s all my fault for having an unrealistic expectation about things and people.

    The fact is that this is Steve and co’s site. They define what it is all about and what the tone is.

  88. Andrew, try to relax. I am simply trying to keep things light. I have a hard time taking anything very seriously on a Monday morning. It is not an indictment of your worldview or your character.

  89. Totally not Andrew says:

    I am very relaxed. I am coming to terms with my naivete and disillusionment, and I’m moving on.

  90. Back to lurking…

  91. re 89

    Agreed. I thought this site would be a welcome relief from the chatter apparent on other sites – at least a bit more respectful and intelligent.

    It appears that isn’t the tone they’re shooting for…

  92. S.P. Bailey says:

    I am troubled that BCC has somehow gained a reputation for being intelligent, respectful, and uplifting.

  93. S.P. Bailey says:

    BCC = not exactly the Vulcan Ministry of Science.

  94. Careful there, S.P. You can call your kid stupid, and I can call my kid stupid, but if you call my kid stupid, I will make Steve kick you in the groin.

  95. S.P. Bailey says:

    Ha! Scott, you sound like TnA and Mike S.

    I love BCC. Trust me, it can take my stupid jokes.

  96. (I hope you know that my comment was feigned seriousness)

  97. Scott doesn’t have to convince me to kick Bailey in the groin.

  98. I’m not big on the idea that the vast majority of all humanity is going to burn in eternal hell.

    On this point the Mormon afterlife is praiseworthy, at least relative to other Christian traditions.

  99. Hey, don’t ignore the apatheists : those who don’t care whether god exists.

    I’m still trying to find the word to describe me: That you can’t prove or disprove god exists and even if you could, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. (One could argue that the latter is essentially the Mormon position: that the whole point of our earthly life is what our behavior is in the absence of God. Thus having God intrude inexorably changes the conditions of our existence, ergo God can’t tamper, intrude, or otherwise interfere with our lives. Therefore, His actual existence is irrelevant.)

  100. Thomas Parkin says:

    None should worry, BCC doesn’t exist, either.
    This is all part of your bad and worsening dream.
    Or else, possibly you’ve eaten some bad pork, and that is what is causing you to imagine this blog. ~

  101. the Mormon position: that the whole point of our earthly life is what our behavior is in the absence of God

    Your logic breaks down at this point, Joe, because that doesn’t at all reflect the Mormon position. We may not be in the direct presence of God, but the Mormon position expects — demands — a two-way communication between God and man. Callling it “absence” completely misstates the case.

  102. Thomas, don’t be silly. Imaginary blogs are not caused by bad pork. They are caused by a lack of sex.

  103. BCC’s comment moderation policy turned me into an athiest.

  104. Thomas Parkin says:


    Oh, my. :) ~

  105. Kaimi, I’m athier than you are. Steve Evans is the athiest of all.

  106. If I left Mormonism, I’m not sure I’d be an active believer in another denomination. I’d probably be a Buddhist, non-denominational Christian. I would do what I do now anyway – focus on personal spiritual growth outside of the group setting and use the group interaction to focus on service.

    The idea of endless death just doesn’t do it for me, but I could handle reincarnation – since that’s fairly close to Mormonism’s eternal progression stages of life, at least compared to other Christian conceptions.

  107. Sorry to add a serious note to such an engaging and enlightening discussion. Only being able to check in like a normal person really bites.

  108. Totally not Andrew:

    Your points are interesting, I’ll have to think about them more and see how the distinctions play out. I think there are normative uses of the words that should be accounted for, and you are fighting an uphill battle in making the fine distinctions, but for the sake of conversation it is likely usefull to parse the terms as you attempt to do. Are there any theorists who you base your thinking upon?

  109. Totally not Andrew says:

    re 108:

    BHodges, well, to try to point back to theorists is like focusing back on authority figures…when things don’t really work like this.

    That being said…Michael Martin in “Atheism: A Philosophical Justification” has elaborated the difference between strong/positive atheism and weak/negative atheism, which meshes well with the idea that the only thing required and necessary for atheism is a lack of belief in gods (e.g., negative atheism). Martin similarly makes the case for the distinctiveness of what agnosticism/gnosticism answers vs. what atheism/theism answers.

    But I mean, this is not something that we just “have theorists” about. This is something that should be intuitive and etymological, based on how the words are constructed and what they reasonably *should* mean. Common contemporary use has warped the words very far, but when we probe the issue, we should be able to see how warped the common definitions are (e.g., is it possible for a theist to be agnostic? Most certainly. This should intuitively that the two are different kinds of positions, and not mutually exclusive. Same for atheism and agnosticism.)

    But I mean, if you just go to the about.com page “Atheism vs. Agnosticism: What’s the difference?” it’s lain out very simply. Similarly, the Iron Chariots Wiki lays it out very plainly.

  110. Chris H. says:

    “BHodges, well, to try to point back to theorists is like focusing back on authority figures…when things don’t really work like this.”

    WTF does that mean? He is trying to bring it back to an academic discussion….and he has busted you. Your best response is an about.com page and a Wiki.

    Maybe as a professional theorist (not of religion) I am a bit baffled by this dismissal.

  111. Totally not Andrew says:

    re 110:

    Chris H.

    To state it in simplest terms so you will understand: the problem is that implicit in the request is an assumption that there is an “authority” figure that necessarily speaks for all atheists and that there is an “authority” figure that speaks for all agnostics. This is not the case. These cateogires are only established through an *intuitive* and *etymological* process that describes the positions people actually carry.

    So, to point to theorists (even though I *did* point to Michael Martin) is antithetical to the point. It is no different than when people try to raise up Richard Dawkins (whether pro Dawkins or anti) or some other dude who gets a lot of books published as if they are the paradigm of atheism, when that is not the case and we need to stop pretending that it is.

  112. TnA: I think you have me wrong. I am not looking for “authority figures,” I am merely interested in studying fields of thought. I think you are getting me wrong. I was simply trying to ask you to direct me to some sources where I can look into it further.

    Thanks for insulting the old intelligence, though! ;)

  113. I didn’t mean to write the “getting me wrong” bit twice. I started my thought, then went away for a second, returned and didn;t delete what I’d already written.

  114. Chris H. says:

    “the problem is that implicit in the request is an assumption that there is an “authority” figure that necessarily speaks for all atheists and that there is an “authority” figure that speaks for all agnostics.”

    Umm, that is no way makes sense and has nothing to do with the comment you were replying to (as BHodges has already stated). Man, an anti-intellectual atheist. What fun is that. My main interest in atheists tends to be that they are interesting. Most of my favorite philosophers, when it comes down to it, are some form of secular humanist or atheist (this may be due to my focus on politics and the economic order).

    You remind me of my John Bircher friends who panic when confronted with academic ideas. You dismiss them as “authority figures,” they dismiss them an “godless socialists.” Theory is not an appeal to authority, it is an appeal to depth.

  115. Totally not Andrew says:

    re BHodges and Chris H, if you want to see depth, you ask me questions. I’ll talk to you plenty about it, will freely answer questions, and I’ll go as deep as you want on the issue (despite your enduring rude manner). If you want to defer to some other theorist to get me out of your hair and then have the gaul to say that I’m panicing when confronted with academic ideas, then I’m going to point out your ulterior motives. If you’re just going to volley ad hominems as well, then I will simply continue to know By Common Consent for who they and their commenters are.

  116. Chris H. says:

    “then I’m going to point out your ulterior motives.”

    What would those be?

  117. Totally not Andrew says:

    re 116:

    at least for you, Chris, you don’t want to actually address what I’m actually saying in my comments. You don’t want to address me. So, you don’t. You insist that I’m not “deep enough” or that I’m “anti-intellectual” (which are ludicrous assertions, but whatever floats your boat) and instead cry for authority figures instead of looking at the ideas as they are and as they are explained simply. You expose your bias as you say “your best response is about.com and a wiki” — which highlights that you’re really not looking for ideas…you are looking for names to latch on to.

    And I’ve already anticipated this. The names are not important. The ideas should stand for themselves or fall by themselves, regardless of the prestige of the advocates

  118. Chris H. says:

    I am not the one who ask for theorists (authority figures, if you will). I actually do not care about theorists or theories of atheism (or theism for that matter). I attacked your argument about theory in #108. Your argument is anti-intellectual.

    Theory is not just about names, it is about systematic argument. To say that theory brings depth, was not a way saying that are not “deep enough.” You are putting words in my mouth. Apparently you do not need to draw from the work of others, because you have it all figured out on your own. Good for you. I am not sure if you should be so confident in your argument.

    Thanks for clarifying my motives.

  119. Totally not Andrew says:

    re 118:

    of course, Chris H, I can see that you are a physically different poster than BHodges.

    But I simply announce that you have no basis to attack my argument as anti-intellectual unless you take a series of assumptions that are either 1) not founded or 2) are directly related to BHodges comment 108.

    For example, I can bring up a systematic argument. BHodges wants names of others who bring up systematic arguments, instead of just asking for the systematic argument. He asks for theorists, rather than theories.

    So, to continue on (without qualification) with BHodges argument, you reject my potential nature as someone who can systematically argue. But you do this already, because you claim I’m anti-intellectual. You ask what fun is that.

    You have no grounding to claim either my argument or I are anti-intellectual unless you take a series of dangerous assumptions, when really, all you SHOULD have said was as you said in your latest post: “Apparently you do not need to draw from the work of others, because you have it all figured out on your own,” which takes a slew less assumptions, but which, judging by your tone, you don’t understand the significance.

    My argument is that the nature of this issue doesn’t *require* the work of others. This isn’t anti-intellectual, even if you equate that.

  120. Chris H. says:


    Good night.

  121. Kevin,

    If you believe Einstein’s theory of relativity and its implication that time is a continuum, then it is not true that you ever cease to exist even if you’re an atheist and don’t believe in an afterlife. Your birth and death are simply the endpoints of a life all the moments of which exist “simultaneously”, so to speak.


  122. Andrew,

    Time to step away from the keyboard.

  123. Totally not Andrew says:

    re 122:

    OK, Scott. Poof. I’m gone for good. Good bye.

  124. Andrew, I just wanted to know a few sources you would recommend to give me more info on your thoughts. I wasn’t attempting to slight your views. I have no ulterior motives. I simply was interested to read more on the subject. At this point I’m sorry I asked, maybe I’ll try to find something myself.