Misunderstandings about Atheism

Wed Nov 05, 2014 3:42 pm by Inferno

I recently saw an interview with David Mitchell. One topic discussed was his stance on religion. Here’s what he said:

1) Up until 0:30, it’s rather uninteresting: So he’s not an atheist, he’s an agnostic. I’d point out that he’s wrong, he’s an agnostic atheist, but that’s not a huge problem.


I’ve mentioned it a few times all over the forum, so I won’t go into it here, but “agnostic” is a qualifier about the position of God, it’s not a position in and of itself. You can be an agnostic about everything, aka. claiming that nothing is knowable, but you can’t purely be an agnostic about whether or not God exists: If your life does not include a God or gods, then you’re an atheist.


2) The first real problem I have is between 0:30-0:40. David says that he “wants there to be an all-powerful, benevolent God”. That’s fine, lots of atheists want that. In fact, I’ll use two definitions now:

An atheist is a person whose world view does not contain a God or gods.

An anti-theist is a person whose world view does not contain a God or gods, sees both organized religion (i.e. churches) and religion itself (i.e. the belief in a God) as something detrimental. Such a person would not like for there to be a God.


Christopher Hitchens famously said:

Such a person [an atheist] might very well say that he wished it were true [the existence of a god]. I know some atheists who say, ‘Well, I wish I could believe it. I just can’t. There’s not enough evidence for it’ … I say I’m an anti-theist because I think it’d be rather awful if it was true … you would never have a waking or sleeping moment where you weren’t being watched, and controlled, and supervised by some celestial entity from conception until, well, not even until your death because it’s only after death when the real fun begins, isn’t it? It’d be like living in North Korea.”

This is what I understand anti-theism to be: Absolute opposition to both organized religion and the hope of an afterlife. I’ll be absolutely clear: I agree with Christopher Hitchens that any god yet proposed* would be ghastly and I seriously hope that there is no god.


*That needs extra clarification as well: The gods of ancient Greece do not count as gods in this context. They are basically humans with super-powers, not gods. If they do count as gods, then I’d have no problem with them, they’re awesome.
What I do have a problem with is the bogus claim that a god can be both all-powerful and all-loving and that there can be a heaven.

3) The next problem I have is between 0:45-1:01.

David says that there are, and I have to be fair here, “some atheists” who want to tear the comfort of religion away from people. While it may be true that there are some people who want to do that, that’s not the position of the vast majority of atheists. Or anti-theists, for that matter.

Instead, most atheists I have talked with are perfectly happy to let people pray in their own homes or even in churches as long as religious stupidity (genital mutilation, fanaticism, religiously motivated killings, opposition to homosexual marriage, etc.) stays within the confines of their own homes or even churches. Another famous Christopher Hitchens quote goes as follows: “What about the most important minority in the history of the world? … We have to be insulted and outraged every day by what we see and what we read. By slaughter and murder. Slaughter and murder and barbarism and insult and superstitious nonsense.”

If religion and the insanity associated with religion wasn’t shoved down our collective throats, I think few people would have a problem with religion. As it stands however, I see it as my duty to stand up to it.


4) The last problem I have is between 1:25-1:35. David says (roughly) that “the idea that you take away one of the excuses, that the killing will suddenly stop happening is absurd.”

Quite right, that is an absurd proposition. That’s why I’ve never seen anyone make it. There is one argument put forward by Christopher Hitchens that there would have been peace long ago in Northern Ireland if there had been no religion, but I think that’s wrong. There certainly might have been a better chance, but I think the struggle would have been largely political instead of largely religious.

However, things like 9/11 would undoubtedly never have happened. If not for the crazy idea that you get rewarded for your death in an afterlife, nobody would have strapped a bomb to themselves and blown themselves up. It’s ridiculous.

Much of the opposition against evolution would be gone, a good deal of anti-science would simply vanish. Genital mutilation would be gone almost entirely. Abortion clinics would be largely safe. And so on and so forth. A lot would definitely change and the way David explains it is a simple misrepresentation.

I hope this clears up some of the misunderstandings about what atheism is and what atheists believe. There will be, I hope, a fair amount of discussion on this issue.
Some people may disagree with the distinction of atheism and anti-theism, nor atheism and agnosticism.
Some people may disagree with the notion that a god is by definition a bad thing.
Some people may disagree that religion interferes too much.
Some people may disagree that the things I listed under 4) will go away if religion were to disappear.

Ah well…

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