Archive for October, 2007

Atheists and christians

by Jason Stotts

One interesting, but often overlooked, consequence of christianity is the idea that any set of beliefs must be based on faith and is, therefore, a religion. This leads christians to say absurd things such as people who do not believe in god are atheists. If this does not seem to be a problem yet, follow with me. To say a group of people are X is to say that each individual in the group is an X. So, to say that these people are all atheists is to say that every person in the group is an atheist. Does it sound odd yet?

To say that I am a christian is to say that I hold certain beliefs (e.g. that the bible is true), to say that I am a Capitalist is to say that I hold certain beliefs (e.g. that Capitalism is the only moral economic system), to say that I am a egalitarian is to say that I hold certain beliefs (e.g. that all people should be equal). It should follow, then, that to say I am an atheist is to say that I hold certain beliefs. However, this does not follow.

To say that one is atheist is to say that one does not believe in any gods. It is to assert a lack of belief. There could be no such thing as atheism as a set of beliefs. It would be like saying that I am an agremlinist because I do not believe in gremlins. A person can only be fundamentally identified by what they do believe, because every belief entails the disbelief of a very large set of other beliefs. As an Objectivist, I am also a non-christian, a non-socialist, a non-altruist, and so on ad infinitum.

The problem here is epistemological and it warrants its own essay, but I shall leave that for another time. Let me just say that one must carefully identify all of one’s positive beliefs and never try to define oneself by what one is not.

I am atheist, I am not an atheist.