Is atheism really that hard to understand?


Last Updated on 2022-07-08 by Joop Beris

As an atheist, I can understand that people are perhaps surprised that I don’t believe in a god. After all, the majority of people on this planet is religious to some degree and even here in the secular Netherlands, many people believe there “must be something”.
However, what will never cease to amaze me, is the fact that people do not understand what atheism means. Atheism is consistently misrepresented, mainly by religious people. They try to argue that atheism is somehow just another religion. Is atheism really that hard to understand? Well, apparently it is because today I picked up on a truly awful piece of writing by a Brad Emery, who published an “article” in the Australia edition of The Huffington Post, entitled: “Dear Atheists, I Truly Admire Your Faith“.

I put the word ‘article’ above in quotation marks for a reason. I feel that an article is supposed to have some kind of substance or argument behind it but this particular bit of writing feels much more like a rant. And not a very clever one at that. The title sums up most of the inane ranting that follows because there is the ‘faith’ word. Emery is trying to equate atheism with religion by saying that atheism requires faith or is a faith. By doing so, he’s trying to level the playing field, as if atheism and religion are both similar positions. In reality, they are complete opposites.

Atheism is not a religion

I don’t know how many more times this one needs explaining but let’s do so one more time for the benefit of Mr. Emery and people like him.
The word ‘atheism’ comes from the Greek atheos, consisting of the parts a and theos. The Greek a means without, the word theos means god. Translated into English, that yields “without god” or “godless”. That’s all it means and all it will ever mean.

Atheists therefore are people without a god. Atheists don’t believe in a god, they don’t worship a god and there are no services or divine commandments. The astute reader will note that this sounds remarkably dissimilar to a religion, which typically have these things. Atheism is therefore a position of disbelief. It doesn’t require faith to not believe in anything. In case this is still hard to understand, here’s a picture that sums it up very well.

This is atheism

This is atheism

So, is atheism really that hard to understand?

Fallacy salad

Predictably, the ‘article’ goes downhill from there. Emery continues to misrepresent atheism, either out of ignorance or to serve his own agenda. Let’s look at some of the things he has to say.

The reality is the ‘beliefs’ of atheists require as much, if not more, faith as people of religion. It’s the refusal to acknowledge this that makes hard-core atheists so aggressive and somewhat unpleasant to listen to.

As I have just demonstrated, atheism is a position of disbelief, which requires no faith at all. Not believing in a god is about as effortless as not believing in leprechauns or the tooth fairy. Explaining this to theists is what costs energy.

First is their assertion that there is no god.

There is actually only a small percentage of atheists who assert that there is no god, a position known as gnostic atheism. Most atheists are actually agnostic about the existence of god. Personally, I feel that the existence of a god is highly dubious but I am open to evidence. Hence, I would fall in the category of agnostic atheists.

True atheists are marked by their opinion of where that primordial atom came from, which is that it simply came into existence of its own will.


Something coming from nothing; the first molecule just ‘popped’ into existence. This mantra of true atheism seems far from the ‘rationalism’ they espouse. In fact, ‘fanciful’ would be a more appropriate word

Actually, atheism has nothing to say about where the “primordial atom” came from. Atheism is not cosmology, atheism is not physics. Atheism is a disbelief in god, period. This means that atheists are free to believe that the entire universe was farted into existence by the celestial dragon one rainy Tuesday afternoon.
Emery is simply raising an argument from incredulity here, nothing more. Just because he can’t believe that Lawrence Krauss might be right, doesn’t mean that what Krauss has to say is fanciful.

…these abhorrent acts of Christendom should not be confused with the person or the teachings of the Jesus we read about in the Bible. One has only to read the ‘sermon on the mount’ in the book of Matthew to see that evil acts done by those who purport to be Christ’s representatives are abhorrent to Him.

Assuming there ever was a Jesus who ever held a sermon on the mount. Neither of these assertions are proven in any way. Just because they appear in your holy text, doesn’t mean they are actually true. Besides, Jesus also has some pretty awful things to say in the Bible. For instance, read Luke 12:47-48 NLT, where Jesus explains how to beat your slaves. Jesus also kills a fig tree for not bearing fruit (Mark 11:13). I’d be mighty careful take any advice from this guy…

Unfortunately, in pointing the bone at Christianity, atheist zealots such as Hitchens and Dawkins conveniently forget or completely ignore the 20th Century. It was during this period that some of the greatest atrocities were committed by regimes deeply rooted in atheism.

Emery asserts that the atrocities of the 20th century, committed by Hitler, Stalin and Mao are somehow the fault of these people being atheists, without demonstrating how this could be true. For an excellent refutation of this point, please see the blog of Michael Sherlock.
Besides, even if Stalin or Hitler had committed atrocities in the name of atheism, this in no way exonerates or absolves Christianity from the atrocities committed in its name. Emery is a committing a tu quoque fallacy here by saying that atheism is just as bad a religion which does nothing to prove that Hitchens and Dawkins are wrong about religion being a force for evil.

Possibly the hardest to swallow is the atheist use of the victim card, which runs along the lines of “I don’t have a problem if you’re religious, but don’t offend me by judging me for not being religious or by telling me what you believe”.

wpid-img_20151028_194419.jpgI am unaware of atheists saying these words but even if someone did say that to you, what is your problem in simply honouring that request? Does it cause you an inconvenience to not speak about the things you believe in?
I have no problems with people being religious. I don’t care what you believe in the privacy of your own home. However, if you are going to manifest your irrational beliefs in public, you should not be surprised if someone challenges those beliefs. If your particular religion is used to withhold rights or pass legislation, you deserve to be challenged. If you are going to insist that your particular brand of faith should be taught in schools, you need to be opposed. This is what most atheists do feel strongly about. That’s not playing the victim card, that’s standing up for freedom.

Personally, I have no problem with atheists, though it would be nice if they stopped pretending they are uniquely persecuted and acknowledge that their religion requires as much faith and has been as much abused by some of its disciples as any other religion on earth.

Mr. Emery, I am an atheist and I do not feel uniquely persecuted today, which I consider to be an improvement over several hundred years ago when people like me were burned at the stake by people of faith. What I will not acknowledge is that atheism is a religion because that quite simply is a false statement. Atheism is not a belief, it is a conclusion. I wish that people like you would finally understand and acknowledge that.

Stopped playing your game...

Stopped playing your game…

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