This week, my good friend Donovan, (@MrOzAtheist), wrote a piece: Why are we afraid to admit that we know things? In it, he wondered why it is that we so easily say we know there are no such things as leprechauns or other fictitious phenomena, but when it comes to god, some of us still cling to the label “Agnostic”.
I understand where he’s coming from. I am not afraid to admit that I know there is no god like I know there are no leprechauns. I’ve said a few times here on my blog that the entire idea of a god to me, as someone who has never known belief and grown up in a very secular part of the world, is crazier than ghosts, vampires, zombies, you name it. “God” is absurd. There is not one ounce of me that thinks a god exists and there’s not been a second of my life that hasn’t been true.
Where I stray from Donovan, is when I try to focus on two of my very important goals:
Normalizing atheism. I don’t want people to experience discrimination or adverse effects after admitting publicly that they are atheists.
Causing doubt in theists. I don’t need to deconvert anyone, I just want to create a little bit of doubt because a theist who has some healthy doubt, is not about kill or harm for their belief.
To accomplish the first goal, I use two tactics. One is to be kind and patient and always try to look like the bigger person if the theist begins to hurl abuse. This makes me, an atheist, seem like the least threatening of the two of us. The second way I try to accomplish this goal is by making theists see that atheism isn’t as scary or as evil as they’ve been taught to believe. To this end, avoiding the assertion that there is absolutely no way there is a god, is important because that is far scarier to a theist to hear, than “I don’t believe.” If my goal was to prove there is no god, I’d reconsider. But my goal is simply to soften the appearance of atheism and make it less threatening.
In accomplishing the second goal, my biggest concern is focusing on their reasons for their belief. As soon as I say “I know there is no god,” we are suddenly discussing my beliefs. We’ve moved the target and now, instead of just trying to cause the theist to doubt what they’ve been taught to believe a little, I’m trying to make the case that there is no god. Ultimately, a much more difficult case to be made (to a theist) than the case for mere doubt.
In chatting with theists, I want to be discussing what they believe and why. In my opinion and experience, it’s the most effective way to bring theists to doubt fast. If we have to turn the focus on me, and what I believe, we’ve suddenly lost that effectiveness. Now, we are examining me rather than them.
So, when a theist asserts that I make the claim there is no god, I tell them that, no, I don’t. I merely lack belief in things for which no convincing evidence exists. Making the theist feel as though there is an opportunity to change my mind is the absolute quickest way to get into what they believe and why.
I explain to them that I am an agnostic atheist because then we can turn the spotlight away from me.
The truth is, demonstrable evidence would change my mind. I don’t think there is a chance that evidence would ever surface because I simply don’t think there is a god, but evidence would, in fact, change my mind. It would about leprechauns, too.
The difference though, between leprechauns and gods, is that a vast majority of the human race believes in gods, and some of those people use that belief to inflict harm on others. Creating doubt in those people is not just important, it’s required for the health of the human race. If they were harming people in the name of leprechauns, I would be just as careful about how I approach talking about the existence of leprechauns. I would take just as much care to ensure the believer is forced to examine their own beliefs as opposed to mine. I would take every precaution to make sure I am not shutting them out and making them fearful, and try, like I do with theists now, to be as friendly, as non-threatening and as approachable as I possibly can.
There is obvious room for all approaches, though and though I choose to use this approach, I realize coming right out and saying there is no god may be the best approach for others.
Do you consider yourself a full-on gnostic atheist? Let me know in the comments.