There is No Such Thing as an Atheist

On my recent blog post, I received an interesting comment from John L. Knight, who said:

I think there is no such thing as an atheist. By default, people set them self up as deity…without even knowing it. Anyone who think they are in control of their destiny is claiming self sovereignty…to be a god.

This is another one of those atheist myths that needs to be opposed at every opportunity. Thanks John for providing that opportunity, and I will do my best to address your statement. Hopefully, it will help you understand atheism a bit better so that you can engage them in meaningful dialogue in the future.

I find that theists often try to change or water down the meaning of a word so they can accuse atheists of something that isn’t true. This is one of those times. In order to accuse an atheist of worshiping themselves, you have to bend the meaning of the word ‘worship’ to a horrendous degree.

So here is the actual definition of the word:

: the act of showing respect and love for a god especially by praying with other people who believe in the same god : the act of worshipping God or a god

: excessive admiration for someone

The first one is clearly not true. An atheist doesn’t believe in God(s) so showing respect or love for such a being would be out of the question. The second definition would mean that all atheists would have to show excessive admiration for themselves, which is patently absurd. I’m sure there are some atheists who have an undeserved high opinion of themselves, but this number would be small. As an atheist myself, I can assure you that I don’t have excessive admiration for myself. I don’t loathe myself but I definitely know I have faults and weaknesses, just like anyone else.

Also, atheism is merely a lack of belief in a deity. To say that one must worship something is incorrect. I can only surmise that it’s because some theists can’t imagine a person who doesn’t need to say magic rituals or believe in an invisible deity to feel worth in this life. Basically, John is making the assumption that all people must worship a God of some type (like John himself) and if they don’t, then they must replace that with something else – such as worshiping themselves.

Funny, I still don’t have a shrine to myself. I don’t sing hymns to myself. I don’t pray to myself. There is no book of ‘Mike’ with dogma laid out for myself. I don’t see any monuments erected on courthouse lawns proclaiming the Ten Mike-isms to the world. I’m still waiting for a country to inscribe ‘In Mike We Trust’ on their money, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. I’m fairly certain I don’t worship myself and that no one else worships me, and I’m fine with that. I think worship is highly overrated and completely unnecessary.

To make the claim that ‘by default people set themselves up as a deity’, even calls into question what John considers a deity. Does he think being human qualifies someone as a deity? Does he think all atheists view themselves as infallible? Does he think all atheists have magic powers and can walk on water?

To make such a claim, John either has a weird idea of what constitutes a deity worthy of worship, or he is simply parroting something he’s been taught to regurgitate, every time he’s faced with atheism.

John claims that simply thinking you’re in control of your destiny, somehow means you’re claiming self-sovereignty.

Personally, I don’t think I’m totally in control. For example, I might have every intention of going to the gym in five minutes. I get up from this computer desk, grab my gym clothes, walk outside and get hit by a car in the parking lot. I certainly didn’t ask to be run over. I don’t think I have god-like powers that would allow me to teleport the hell out of there. I wouldn’t say I’m in control, either. There are some things within our ability to control and many things that fall outside of that ability.

In order to claim that atheists worship themselves, John must stretch and redefine words. He must make the word ‘worship’ nearly meaningless, and ironically, even cheapen the word he uses to describe how he shows his adoration for his own deity.

Finally, atheists clearly exist, John. We’re not going away. Not everyone feels the need to get on their knees to an invisible deity. We’re happy saying, ‘I don’t know’, when faced with something we have no possible way of knowing.

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15 Comments

  1. Strong rebuttal! Of course I wasn’t implying that atheists literally worship themselves but was rendering metaphorical rhetoric to make my point that from a theist perspective, that those who claim no deity do so based on their individual, autonomous thought process placing them self on a metaphorical throne and dismiss any other form of philosophy that threatens their own. Incidentally, if theism is a farce, why is it so threatening? In conclusion, I simply think that “Atheism” is merely a label describing people who think differently philosophically based on preference of a belief system. Theists do the same thing and so therefore no condemnation or belittlement is not helpful to each others cause. Thanks for further explaining your position.

    • Glad you could drop by, John.

      You said: “that those who claim no deity do so based on their individual, autonomous thought process placing them self on a metaphorical throne and dismiss any other form of philosophy that threatens their own.”

      What philosophy is that? Atheism is a lack of belief. Not a belief structure itself.

      “Incidentally, if theism is a farce, why is it so threatening?”

      Threatening to who? Many atheists don’t care about religion, while others do. Some think religion is a good thing, while others do not. You’re making blanket statements that clearly show your misunderstanding of what atheism actually is.

      “In conclusion, I simply think that “Atheism” is merely a label describing people who think differently philosophically based on preference of a belief system.”

      Atheism is a label that wouldn’t be needed if there weren’t a bunch of theists around. For example, we don’t need the label ‘a-unicornism’, because most people don’t believe in unicorns.

      However, atheism is not a philosophy. In fact, there are atheists who practice Christian atheism.

      • Hello, Mike
        You said, “What philosophy is that? Atheism is a lack of belief. Not a belief structure itself.” Any “ism” is an embodiment of a belief structure of some sort. How can you argue other wise? Why else would you expend the amount of energy you do to defend it or propagate it? I would say you have a solid belief, or philosophy that guides your life. Anyone with the gift to reason lives their life based on a standard spawned by their thought process and culture.

        You said, “You’re making blanket statements that clearly show your misunderstanding of what atheism actually is.” Isn’t that what we do; make blanket statements as an easy way out form of discourse. I think we all guilty of that at times but can surmise that you possess a misunderstanding of what authentic Christianity actually is. One thing about Christianity, it’s steeped in experience. True faith is a shared experience exempting no race, culture or status; and since primeval history. How do you account for people sharing the same experience who don’t share the same language separated by continents and thousands of years?

    • “Why else would you expend the amount of energy you do to defend it or propagate it?”

      So if I find a subject interesting, then it’s automatically a philosophy? Again it seems, you misrepresent a word to serve your own whims.

      “I would say you have a solid belief, or philosophy that guides your life.”

      I agree. Being an atheist isn’t that philosophy or idea.

      ” Isn’t that what we do; make blanket statements as an easy way out form of discourse. I think we all guilty of that at times but can surmise that you possess a misunderstanding of what authentic Christianity actually is.”

      Nope. People who do that are rarely correct with their blanket statement. That includes Christians and Christianity.

      I also wasn’t talking about Christianity. You’re attempting to educate me on what my being an atheist means.

      Also, you thinking there is such a thing as an ‘authentic Christianity’ (presumably yours, of course), you’re using the No True Scotsman fallacy. It’s also another example of using blanket statements that are rarely correct.

      “One thing about Christianity, it’s steeped in experience.”

      One’s that lack evidence. Subjective experience. I know.

      “True faith is a shared experience exempting no race, culture or status; and since primeval history.”

      The overwhelming majority of people adopt the dominant religion of their culture and the one they were born into as a family unit.

      Funny how that works.

      “How do you account for people sharing the same experience who don’t share the same language separated by continents and thousands of years?”

      Do you have an example?

      • Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. ~ 1 Peter 1:3-9

  2. Ah yes, I’ve heard the variation of Atheists think they can subvert God’s will with your own. Patently false until someone can first prove beyond a shadow of doubt there is a God and then show he has a plan that includes me. Until then I’ll do the best I can with what I’ve got, thank you.

  3. If I worshiped myself, I probably wouldn’t have self-esteem issues! If people could understand and accept that religion is a social construct (instead of a genetic absolute, for example) then the idea that atheists believe in nothing would be easier to understand.

    Oftentimes when my friends complain about being overweight, I remind them that 150 years ago they would have been an object of sexual attraction and desired by a majority of men. The fact that we find thin women beautiful (as a society, not arguing about individuals) is because society has redefined what it takes to be beautiful. But there are still plenty of men who think that larger women are more beautiful than thinner ones. Nobody questions why they “go against the grain” because we all accept that attraction has many influences beyond social expectations.

    I feel like religion works the same way. It’s commonplace to have religion in our lives, and it dances gingerly through so many areas of our lives that we hardly notice. From our laws to our politics to our music to our purchases, so much of it is stained with some semblance of religious influence. But because religion is developed and spread by culture and society rather than through genetic inheritance, than I doubt that we all have to worship something.

    If you raised up a society that never spoke of a god I don’t believe that eventually that society would become selfish and vain. It would eventually construct rules of order that emulate some rules of religion because those rules keep social order and promote social justice. Nobody needs a god for that.

  4. Good overall rebuttal, though you covered a lot of points I’d generally consider extraneous. The presumption that a belief in one thing can derive from a lack of belief in another is a fallacious argument to begin with.

    To press one more point in the broad and varied discussion here, I’ll go back to this:
    “How do you account for people sharing the same experience who don’t share the same language separated by continents and thousands of years?”
    John, I think your example was too steeped in learned culture to truly represent this question, but a general response is that human minds are structured the same no matter where they are or what culture they were raised in. Seeing correlations between experiences is no more surprising than the fact that all languages seem to consist of nouns and verbs and such. Both are incredibly amazing and interesting, but no reason to jump to supernatural conclusions.

    While I don’t believe, as John suggests, that I am in control of my own destiny, I would neither come to the conclusion that someone else is. The world is amazing and wondrous enough as it is and I’m okay not knowing everything. Filling the gaps of our knowledge with superstition only cheapens our experiences as thinking beings.

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