Lately there seems to be this contagious and stultifying trend in which a normal debate about religion is lowered to arguing semantics. This tends to occur, usually, when a Theist tries to find something that would make Atheism as much of a belief as any other. This can get quite tiresome. But it seems to stem from mutual frustration of the Theist as they run up against a wall when speaking with a Skeptic. Now of course this isn’t to say that “running up against a wall” is a mandatory outcome of a debate for the person of faith, but usually it is the result of the Theist having to realize that they in fact are the one who has to prove something. It is not the responsibility of the Atheist to prove or disprove anything. Many unbelievers who have tried to “disprove” god or the supernatural will find themselves up against the impassable wall of faith. Though we can continue to explain the world with ever blossoming science, the Theists will always find new ways of inserting faith into the crevices that appear in the wake of recent discoveries.
So the tactic that the modern Theist seems to use is one of trying to show that “Atheism is a religion too.” This is done through all sorts of methods—some more ridiculous than others. The believer will try to label “science” as the faith of an Atheist—though this fails in the long run as science is a process of discovering the truth through new information, whereas faith is about taking in revealed or presumed truths about the universe which are never subject to question or change. In fact, this is the true difference between the believer and the skeptic. The believer looks at the universe with a predisposed bias; he must look at the world through the lens of seeing everything as god’s work, plan, or process. He comes to believe in his religion either from cultural upbringing or through emotional episodes where something “feels true.” The skeptic, on the other hand, views the world as objectively as possible. For her, the “truth” literally is “out there” and can only be seen by observation. Nothing is to be taken for granted, and nothing is to be assumed before interpreting stimuli. For the believer, the absence of a god is not an option. For the skeptic, everything is an option—and can only be shown to be a fact or respected theory through consistent and reliable information. So to compare Atheism and Theism as one would, say, Islam and Christianity—both being a similar process or thought, just the end result is a difference of opinion—would be foolish. They are wholly different in their function.
In all honesty, I have become completely indifferent, if not opposed, to specific terminology when it comes to belief or unbelief. The question I would put in place of this sloppy name calling would be as follows: “do you go through your day feeling that god or supernatural forces are in someway responsible for the universe?” There are three basic answers: No, I don’t know, and Yes. There are a few clever ones who try to squeeze in an “I don’t care,” but I assume that those who state this are merely in the “I don’t know” category. To say “I don’t care” is quite possibly the result of wanting to avoid the agonizing debates that can occur around this topic—which is completely understandable. But, to be fair, the idea of not caring about believing in a god or not is something worth addressing, but this goes outside the scope of this essay.
Be it Yes, No, or in between, whatever answer comes up from this question is worth patient and diligent scrutiny. Yes, even us often proud Atheists need to be sure that we’re abstaining from belief for personally valid reasons. We should never acquiesce to Atheism because someone else said so or “just because.” Likewise, I would hope the same for the believers. However, as many Atheists will often express, their lack of belief usually comes from investigating why they’d believe in a god in the first place.
The reasons for Atheism or Theism will always differ from person to person. And it is for this reason that blanketed terminology shouldn’t be used for anything more than a box to check on a census form. In discussion or debate, opposite sides have to be clear on the question I mentioned before and why they personally have reached their respective conclusion. This will hopefully clear the air of having to try and pinpoint what someone is by focusing on why they view the world the way they do. Additionally, this requires someone to explain their position methodically instead of just saying “I am a ___________.”
So therefore, I, Eric Jackson, go through my day not at all believing that a god or supernatural force is in someway involved. My reasoning is simple: I am expected to believe in such things only because of when and where I was born—and the details (such as whether one was the Son of God or not) would have been wholly different had I been born somewhere else. I am content with how science explains the world. I do not see reason to add ideas and concepts that cannot be tested or verified to the fields of study that have brought us medicine and the modern industrial world. My morality and ethics are determined by whether or not something causes another sentient creature to suffer. It is clear that an increase in secular values has in fact made the world a better place; everywhere I see that religion has a predominant role in government or society, I see tyranny. Should any demonstrable or physical evidence be discovered that shows a controlling force behind everything, I will happily accept this in my perspective. It is not my duty to disprove the existence of a creator, but rather it is the believer who must show proof. It is my goal as a human being to see to it that all other sentient creatures are brought the same standards of life that I would desire for myself—and religion has, throughout history, shown to be the complete antithesis of secular and liberal freedom that should benefit all.