Evangelism Challenge: Atheism Is Not Even A Hobby


(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

Have you ever signed up for a 5K race in order to motivate you to start training? You don’t want to get to race day and not be ready for the challenge. Whether it is running or some other endeavor, many of us understand the connection between an upcoming test and the need to study beforehand.

How would you respond to this statement: “If atheism is a belief then not collecting stamps is a hobby.” (Available at atheists.org).

Or as Bill Maher has put it, “In fact, not only is atheism not a religion, it’s not even my hobby, and that’s the best thing about being an atheist. It requires so little of your time.” (Quote with citation available at Wikipedia).

Here are some guidelines:

  • Respond to the questioner, not just the question
  • No more than 300 words - that’s about two and a half minutes of talking.
  • Share encouragement and critique with one another so we can get better at how we lovingly, respectfully, and wisely approach people from different perspectives.

(SeanO) #2

I recognize that for you atheism does not feel like it is a belief in the same way that a religion is a belief. Religious people attend services, study their holy books and seek to actively implement their beliefs in the world. From your perspective, you just live your life and don’t worry about all that stuff.

But just like a fish swims in the currents of the river or ocean, if you do not actively believe something (like a religion), you passively believe whatever your culture dictates. Passive beliefs are much harder to recognize than active beliefs because they do not require any work.

If, for example, you believe it is generally good not to hurt other people, but you never thought about why (and maybe don’t care why), then that is a passive belief picked up from your friends or environment.

Simply because a belief is passive does not mean that it is not a belief. Beliefs, both active and passive, are powerful forces that shape us. So if what you believe require little of your time, then that means what you believe is largely passive and has never been evaluated.

Religion and philosophy can help us to evaluate our passive beliefs to see if they stand the test of scrutiny. Don’t you think that examining our passive beliefs is a worthwhile thing to do?

(Tim Ramey) #3

If you tell me “If atheism is a belief then not collecting stamps is a hobby", then is it safe to say that you don’t believe in atheism?

(Carson Weitnauer) #4

Hi @Tim_Ramey, can you unpack your question a bit for us? What’s the aim of the question? What kinds of responses do you think are most likely? What led you to select this question as the best response? I look forward to learning more!

(Jimmy Sellers) #5

Not to belabor the point but I do find it interesting that you see religious belief as requiring effort and time allocation, but rationalization does not. It sounds like “comme ci, comme ca” or in today’s vernacular “whatever”. If this is the order of the day what do you think people thought in Hitler’s day? What about Rwanda or Aleppo? Do you really think that this mind set is going to take you through the rough patches of life? What would you say if Jesus does come back? I think that what is needed is a better understanding of what religion is and the difference between it and a hobby or any thing else that requires mandatory behavior or action. Let’s talk.

(Tim Ramey) #6

@CarsonWeitnauer Sometimes I feel like I’m not up to par with your minds but I’ll try to explain my thinking.

Not collecting stamps is not a hobby. What makes it a hobby is collecting stamps but it’s devoid of any collection. Likewise, the point in your quote is that atheism is not a belief system as it’s devoid of belief. The intention of my question was to challenge that thinking as atheism is a belief system or he wouldn’t believe in atheism.

Please don’t hesitate to clue me in if I am missing the intention of the quote.

(Carson Weitnauer) #7

Hi Tim, I may be understanding you - let me know! It sounds like you are simply disagreeing with their assertion.

It might help to see how this is presented at atheists.org:

Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

The challenge is this: imagine you are talking with the writer of this article. What would be a wise, kind, interesting way to respond to what they have shared with you?

(Jennifer Judson) #8

That additional information is helpful, Carson. Thanks.

If it is being asserted that “an affirmative belief that there is no god” is not the same as (≠) “a lack of belief in god,” then my belief that there is no monster under the bed is not the same as (≠) a lack (or absence) of belief that there is no monster under the bed. So in the first instance, I’ve considered the notion of a monster under the bed but “rejected” the idea (or affirmed that I do not believe it). In the second, it would seem that I must have never considered it in order to have the “lack of belief.” But it seems the affirmative belief that there is no god is more in line with something rejected than a “lack” of belief, which contradicts the authors statements. Perhaps there is some logic missing in the semantics that I’m not seeing, or something missing in my understanding.

If atheism is a lack of belief (aka never considered) then there would be no need for an atheists.org. But since there is an atheists.org then obviously a lack of belief is not the same thing as something never considered, and by the admission of the author it is something “rejected.” How then is the statement, “To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods,” not just wordplay?

In today’s culture, significantly more energy is being asserted in the cause of atheism. That to me seems “an affirmative belief that there is no god,” which the author denies. Why spend so much energy on the absence of something?

(Tim Ramey) #9

My polite answer to them would be that there is not much difference between “not a disbelief in gods and a lack of belief in gods.” If I say that it’s not that I disbelief in Jesus but rather, have a lack of belief in Jesus, I feel it is a play on words because they both involve the fact that Jesus is not believable or I would believe in Him. There is no belief in Jesus - whether it’s called “not that I disbelieve” but have “a lack of belief.” It IS a belief system and that is you don’t believe in anything. You truly believe that. In my view, that is a belief system.

(Jennifer Judson) #10

I’m not sure the statement “If atheism (lack of belief in God) is a belief then not collecting stamps is a hobby” is a fair or valid comparison.

For reference, here are definitions from the internet:
Definition of hobby: an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation.
Definition of belief: something believed; an opinion or conviction: confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof.

The original statement asserts:
If (lack of belief = belief) then (not performing an action associated with a hobby = hobby). Since we know the second part of the statement to be untrue, it follows that the first part is also untrue–assuming it is a valid statement.

To be a valid statement, then belief and hobby should be equal or at least have a correlation. I’m not seeing that they do. This then would seem to be an invalid argument. Can you tell my why you think it’s valid?

I can see how it seems that a “lack of belief” does not equal belief, but how does the idea of atheism stack up against the definition for belief? Is atheism an opinion or conviction? Yes. Seems it is also confidence in the truth of something that is not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof. Just as an atheist can assert there is no proof of God’s existence, I can assert there is no proof that God does not exist.

Athiest.org has terminology on the site such as: Join Us, Get Active, Find Your Group, “If you are looking for a community, we strongly recommend reaching out to an affiliate in your area.” These seem to have all the accoutrements of an organized belief system or at least a group organized around a belief.

What am I not getting? Help me understand? Do you have a valid argument that will help me understand?

(Melvin Greene) #11

Well, far be it from me to argue with you about what atheism is. Since I’m not an atheist, I would not presume to tell you what atheism is, or is not. My only question is what is the difference between disbelief and a lack of belief?

(Helen Tan) #12

I’d like to share with you a tweet from Lee Strobel:

"To continue in atheism, I’d need to believe nothing produces everything, non-life produces life, randomness produces fine-tuning, chaos produces information, unconsciousness produces consciousness, and non-reason produces reason. I just didn’t have that much faith."

Do you agree that there are claims underlying atheism which need to argued for, for which evidence needs to be offered? What do you think?

(Carson Weitnauer) #13

Hi @Tim_Ramey, @Jennifer_Judson, @Melvin_Greene,

Consider this response: are you an atheist about Zeus? Probably the answer is ‘yes’. Now, do you actively disbelieve in Zeus, or is it more that you just lack a belief in Zeus? Probably more of the latter. Zeus never crosses your mind, isn’t relevant to your day-to-day experience, going to worship Zeus doesn’t seem like a compelling option, and so on. I think that an atheist who expressed this kind of statement is saying that’s their attitude towards Jesus.

So, where @SeanO takes this idea is to summarize how he understands their perspective, then raise the suggestion that perhaps they are passively drifting with culture. Then he asks a question: are passive beliefs worthy of investigating? @Jimmy_Sellers asks if a lack of belief is enough to go through the rough patches of life. @Helen_Tan quotes a statement that concisely brings together a number of clashes between beliefs that many atheists would agree with, as well as raises some questions to stimulate further conversation.

Perhaps this offers some further ideas of how to creatively, wisely, respectfully take this opening statement and go deeper into a mutually interesting conversation?

(Melvin Greene) #14

Yes, I was going to go down that same trail, @CarsonWeitnauer that you highlighted; comparing lack of belief in Christianity with lack of belief in the gods of Greek, Roman, or Norse mythology. Actually, I was going to use the lack of belief in Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. It would seem to me that if they had the same lack of belief in Christianity as they do in the afore mentioned, they would treat Christianity the same way. They would just go on with there lives in absolute disinterest. Instead, we find the exact opposite. Atheists and Atheistic organizations are continually working to remove any public visages of Christianity through the court system, or by legislative action.

There was a follow up question I was also going to ask. That was, "Why does it matter so much on whether religious people see atheism as a belief in no God as apposed to understanding atheism as just a lack of belief?

(Tim Ramey) #15

@Helen_Tan Great quote, Helen. Yes, I would agree with Lee that atheism is actually a belief system which needs explanation. If I have to argue for what I claim or give evidence for my reasoning, it has to be based on what I believe. As Lee puts it - it is a matter of faith. If we claim everyone has a worldview, it is based on what we think is true or what we’ve been told is true and therefore choose to believe it as truth.

(Jennifer Judson) #16

I see where you are going and thanks for the input. I think some of my general impressions of atheism has shaded my thinking on this and I seem to be very hung up in the semantics. Perhaps you all can help me with this.

First, the “author” was making a distinction between “an affirmative belief that there is no god” and “a lack of belief in god.” I’m not sure I see a difference in an affirmative disbelief and a lack of belief, except perhaps in a matter of degree. That’s my first mental challenge. They certainly may be making a distinction for a point of clarity, as in “I am saying we are this and not that,” but just because they are choosing to specify their language that way has not helped me to see the nuanced difference. Thus I get caught up in semantics.

Most metaphors fall short of a direct comparison, but here are my thoughts on the Zeus explanation. True that Zeus is not relevant to my day-to-day experience. When I learned about Zeus it was in the context of mythology and history; what a previous (and long gone) civilization believed. Any contemporary context would be film, comic books, maybe art; comfortably under the category of fiction. I know of no one in my community that has an affirmative belief that Zeus is God. So my thoughts/beliefs on Zeus has little relevance as compared to others in my community. So if you are trying to get across that atheists think of Jesus in that same fictional context, then I see what you are trying to say.

But atheists generally DO live in communities/society where others have an affirmative belief in God (whether or not that includes and affirmative belief in the person and/or divinity of Jesus). Probably many atheists spend no time thinking about the idea of God one way or another, except to answer NONE when asked to specify a religious affiliation. Either they cast off the idea of God long ago or they’ve never given it much thought (in which case I wonder if they can really be called an atheist). But on the spectrum of atheism, there are certainly those who are strident proselytizers. Seems to me their position is an affirmative disbelief, and they were the group I had in mind when I read your post, given the source was atheist.org. My mind immediately went to that end of the spectrum.

After all my mental consternation, I’m asking myself why does the difference between an affirmative disbelief and a lack of belief matter? If a person doesn’t believe in God, I’m wondering why a categorization matters very much in the long run. So I’m left wondering about the initial challenge and how should I respond to, “If atheism is a belief then not collecting stamps is a hobby.” I do like SeanO’s response. Well done Sean, your tone was engaging and sincere.

Now, I probably would respond:

To be in community together we have to be able to communicate and understand one another. Help me understand what you see atheism to be, if it’s not a belief. Is it a category that would not exist if it was not used as a comparison to those who believe in god(s)?

It’s hard to describe a void (let’s say a hole), yet the hole exists. We describe the hole with language as a thing that exists, yet in essence it is an area of nothingness, a lack of solid matter. But it is defined in relationship to the matter around it. Am I getting any closer to understanding?

Why do you think a belief in God is important to others?

(Melvin Greene) #17

In my humble opinion, @Jennifer_Judson, who have articulated that quite well. I especially like what you said at the end about the void, or a hole. I have similar thoughts on the insistence of atheists in using “lack of belief” instead of unbelief, or belief that there is no God. If you do not believe in a “certain something”, then you believe that there isn’t a “certain something”. Nature does not like a void. Something will fill it.

(Missy Deregibus) #18

My atheist friends, mostly professors, are smart and very moral people. What I have heard them express is that God is simply unnecessary to explain the world around us. Using Occums’ razor, you just don’t need to insert belief into a deity to explain the cosmos or the human experience. It’s like inserting leprechauns into the equation.
As someone who has taught apologetics for years, I think many “arguments” and defenses on the internet are pretty useless, especially done outside the context of actual friendships. Being salt and light, having actual relationships, shared interests and maybe being kind (and good humored) go much further. 1st Peter: “live such good lives among the pagans…”

(Carson Weitnauer) #19

Hi friends, I want to thank everyone for jumping into this conversation! We have learned so much from each other and everyone has added really important insights.

So: kudos to @SeanO, @Tim_Ramey, @Jimmy_Sellers, @Jennifer_Judson, @Melvin_Greene, @Helen_Tan, and @missyd57 for having the courage to share your perspective, your heart, and your wisdom on how to approach someone who has a dismissive, stand-offish approach to religion! You are setting a great example for the rest of the RZIM family and this conversation will continue to give guidance and encouragement to those who see it in the days to come.

(Terrell Allison) #20

Carson greetings

“If atheism is a belief then not collecting stamps is a hobby.” I would call that a false dilemma.

That atheism is a faith is evidenced by their refusal to accept positions that favor the existence of God even when empirical evidence is provided.


A Talk With Lawrence M. Krauss [7.5.06] July 5, 2006

But when you look at CMB map, you also see that the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way, correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun . Is this Copernicus coming back to haunt us? That’s crazy. We’re looking out at the whole universe. There’s no way there should be a correlation of structure with our motion of the earth around the sun — the plane of the earth around the sun — the ecliptic. That would say we are truly the center of the universe.