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Something I've seen quite a bit on Mumsnet is confusing me slightly

(390 Posts)
GeorgianMumto5 Tue 27-Nov-12 00:38:13

...I often read statements along the lines of, 'I'm an atheist because I there is no God,' and, 'I don't want my child to be taught about your fairy stories [religious teachings],' which is all fair enough but what's confusing me is, aren't these just people's opinions? One person can't provide definitive proof of the absence of a deity, anymore than another can provide definitive proof of the existence of a deity, surely? Or am I missing something?

This is a genuine query - I'm interested to know. I'm not trying to stir up arguments, although I'm happy to be argued with and told that I'm wrong.

As a person with a faith, I'd say it's all a matter of faith - either you believe it, or you don't. If I was without faith, I guess I'd say it's a matter of opinion. In any case, I don't get the absolute confidence people have that there is no God. I think there is, but I couldn't prove it and wouldn't think to tell another peson that I'm right on that topic and they're wrong. Where does all the certainty come from?

Snorbs Tue 27-Nov-12 18:14:06

Holo, you seem to be saying that a simple statement of atheism is somehow not enough because, um, you claim it's not. Instead one must have a positive statement of what one does believe because, um, you claim that one simply must.

Sorry, I don't buy that. I don't believe in gods. That's it. I don't believe in lots and lots of things that strike me as folklore. But just because I don't think Finn McCool really existed, it does not follow that I must therefore believe in something else such as empiricism. That's a non sequitur.

Atheism isn't a "believe in the supernatural or have an equal faith in something equally esoteric to counter it" thing. I don't believe in gods. I don't believe that there's Russell's teapot out in space. I don't believe both with about the same level of certainty and just as my disbelief in gods doesn't require a positive affirmation in a given philosophical standpoint, neither does my belief in the teapot. You may say that they're not equivalent standpoints but, to me, they seem pretty much the same.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:17:01

Why do you hold those viewpoints, Snorbs?

technodad Tue 27-Nov-12 18:18:53

Because she has thought about it carefully

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:21:33

...whilst I, on the other hand... grin wink

If 'careful thought' is the arbiter of who is right, we've got quite an arm-wrestle ahead! grin

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 18:22:33

I disagree with your statement that we'd not be able to live without belief in something. With enough food, oxygen and care from those around them, everything lives barring disease, age or injury. I live perfectly well without belief.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Tue 27-Nov-12 18:25:53

Look, the main point of religion has always been social control, and the privileging of one class of people over the rest. That's the main reason for objecting to it, and refusing to take any of its silly, self-contradicting mythologies seriously. No one has ever been able to produce any evidence that their or anyone else's imaginary friends exist. Therefore the imaginary friends don't exist. Simple as that.
If it comforts you (generic, hypothetical 'you', not singling out any specific poster) to have an imaginary friend, and you favour one with a substantial myth system and a powerful political machine behind it, then that's sort of fair enough. If your imaginary friend makes you feel a bit happier, fair enough. If you do socially positive things because you think that's what your imaginary friend would like you to do, then that's also fair enough: the social benefits are there whether you're doing things to please an imaginary friend or because you can see the sense in doing them all by yourself.
Up to this point, your imaginary friend is about as relevant to me and other people as what colour of wallpaper you have in your dining room.

Unfortunately, that's not enough for some people. Their imaginary friends are their excuse for mutilating their children's genitals, enslaving women, trying to control what other people eat and who they have sex with, and all the rest of it. This is why it's important to object to the bullshit and laugh at it and point out its faults. Because the people with the biggest investment in peddling imaginary friends are the ones who want control over the rest of us.

MMMarmite Tue 27-Nov-12 18:26:46

HolofernesesHead that's an interesting post.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:26:56

Really? Do you vote? Do your dc go to school? If so, how did you choose their school?

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:27:50

(That was to Colditz btw - flurry of posts in between! Just about to read SGB's now...)

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 18:28:47

But this is an arm wrestle that will go on forever. Because you are a believer, you cannot conceive of a life without belief, and to you it would at least be an empty hell, or you feel that you couldn't live.

Bt my life, as someone who lives without belief and wants the onus of proof, is not empty, and I live quite happily.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:30:11

SGB I do find your posts hard to read; I have to translate them in my head to a kind of reality that I recognise.

I also disagree with genital mutilation.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:31:43

So Colditz, do you vote? Or send your dc to school? If so to either of those, how did / do you decide who to vote for / which school to let your dc be part of? What was the thought process?

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 18:34:44

I chose their school because it had the best record of dealing with special needs. This did not require belief, it required statistics. I vote, I choose the candidate who is offering me and mine the best option. This, again, doesn't require belief, unless you mean the day to day assumption that someone isn't lying. If he turns out not to do what he said he would do, I would vote for someone else next time.

People who 'believe' don't do this, they don't switch allegiance and opinion just because their deity of choice didn't do what he said he would do, such as deliver them from evil and protect them from harm. They concoct ever more self blaming excuses abut WHY they weren't delivered and protected, and ignore what would be glaringly obvious to someone who examines statistics before making a decision.

MMMarmite Tue 27-Nov-12 18:35:32

I think the Christian God most likely doesn't exist because the claims made about him lead to many logical contradictions.

MrsHoarder Tue 27-Nov-12 18:39:39

Imagine you knew an adult who believes in father Christmas. Not totally outlandish, almost all children do. They never receive presents from him and claim this is because they have been bad this year. Nothing you can say will convince them that the father Christmas their patents told them about as a child isn't real. But also nothing they tell you could ever convince you that he is real.

This is how a God who provides no concrete evidence of his existence appears to me. And I have tried to have faith as a young adult.

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:45:07

Okay, so, I understand the school thing entirely (my ds has SN). For my parents, the choice of school for me and my sibs was very conditioned by belief (their strong belief in state education coming from strong Socialist commitment). I am choosing to send my dc to a church school (with a very good SEN dept) because of my beliefs. Even if people 'just' send their dc to the school down the road there are nearly always some forms of belief involved - belief in community cohesiveness, belief in environmental responsibility, belief in family continuity etc. These are all valid beliefs.

Voting - what info did you use in working out what the best option was? Which bits of the various manifestos you read did you filter out as irrelevant, and which bits did you feel were essential? I won't tell you how I vote, but my voting strategy is very much based on my beliefs about the crucial problems we need to address, the truth of how the world is and what we need to do to respond responsibly to that truth. So voting is an exercise in believing.

You said that your life is not empty - that's exactly my point! All people's lives, religious or not, are full of all sorts of beliefs that determine the decisions we make and the things we do. We can't not believe. We might not believe in God, but we can't not believe full stop.

technodad Tue 27-Nov-12 18:47:22

But I have all the evidence for Father Christmas in the love I have for him, and the love he has for me. That is evidence enough. Prove that he doesn't exist. wink

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:52:17

MrsH, being a Christian is nothing like your Father Christmas analogy. Your argument would only stack up if Jesus had never lived.

MMMarmite Tue 27-Nov-12 18:52:18

Holo, what criteria do you use to reject belief in something then? Are you open to the possibility that the Muslims are right? Are you not worried that you will burn in hell for being a Christian? "And whoso opposes ALLAH and HIS Messenger, Then ALLAH is surely Severe in retribution."

Himalaya Tue 27-Nov-12 18:58:07

Holo - a vote is not an exercise in belief in the existence of something though which is what we are talking about here. It's the same word but used in a quite different way

"I believe I'd like a cup of tea" ....
"I believe in the value of cooperation"

Etc... Are different kinds of beliefs to

"I believe in ghosts"
"I believe in heaven"


HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 18:58:07

MMM, [whispers in case I get into trouble wink] I don't believe that anyone will burn in hell.

As for Muslims being right...well, IMVHO, many Muslims are right on many things. I believe strongly in Jesus as the ultimate revelation of the nature of God, so obviously, I think that Muslims miss out on that. But tbh I see that working out what it means to say that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God's nature is a lifetime's work, so I'm not there yet either...

HolofernesesHead Tue 27-Nov-12 19:00:04

Himalaya, hello! smile

Yes, absolutely, the word 'believe' is vast. I like the meaning that focuses on trust (as in the 'I believe you' campaign). Christian belief is a trust in a person (Jesus). Which is often overlooked in these discussions, so thank you for bringing that up.

colditz Tue 27-Nov-12 19:09:37

But I voted according to what the politician SAID he would do for MY family. Not because I believed he was going to do xy and z, but because he SAID he would.

I don't act on my beliefs, I act on proof of my ideas. The things you say are essential beliefs aren't beliefs at all, they are thoughts and drives.

I will send my children to school tomorrow, because without an education, they will struggle to find employment, and they will be poor and unhappy. It's not a belief, it's backed up by evidence. I will get dressed tomorrow, before I take them to school, because if I don't, I will be arrested for indecent exposure, and furthermore, it's November, and cold. This isn't a belief, it is a fact that is backed up by the evidence of the British judicial system, a calendar and a thermometer. I will feed my dog tonight, not because I believe it is a good thing to do, but because it is an essential part of owning a dog, because if you don't feed them, they suffer and die. I tip waitresses because I want them to have some more money that they get paid. I am kind to people around me because I would feel very guilty and worried if I wasn't, because my mother taught me to be that way.

Not one of those things requires belief. Conditioning, a certain amount of knowledge about the culture I live in and the people a spend time with, yes, but what do I need to believe in order to function as a person?

technodad Tue 27-Nov-12 19:11:23


You stole my line about Father Christmas and replaced the word love with the word trust!

Anyway, lets get back to the point.
Why do atheist a get frustrated and upset religious people? See the above thread!

headinhands Tue 27-Nov-12 19:13:27

I see no evidence for any interventionist god, yahweh/allah etc so I have no logical reason to assume that such a god exists. If there is a god who is unconcerned with us there's no point thinking about it 'cause it ain't thinking about us.

I enjoy these threads on MN where you see people from different faiths claiming the same cause for their beliefs, nature, answered prayer, personal revelation and so on coming from believers of all the mutually exclusive gods. As someone further upthread said, a Christian need only think about how they feel about Allah/Islam and vice versa to see how easy it is to not believe in something.

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