The Great Divide Between Atheists and Theists

I haven’t run into too many atheists that think or admit that there are smart theists in the world. I haven’t run into too many theists that would call an atheist intelligent or thoughtful. What I find fascinating about the entire divide is that both sides are convinced they are right and that the other person is delusional. Someone is always accusing the other of being naive or not being honest with themselves or brushing over the facts. How many ‘God Debates’ end with drinks after? How many good friends do you have that hold an opposing view from you? It blows my mind how difficult it is for both sides to value and listen to the other sides opinion. It is even more surprising at how many relationships are strained because of the differences between the two opposing beliefs.

Really though, what I find that tops it all, is that the entire conversation is so abstract and irrelevant to daily living that the only ramifications to one side or the other is the very fact that you hold your belief. Neither belief generally motivates people to live that much differently than the person they are arguing. You probably won’t find a debate going on between an atheist and theist that either of them can use their own lives as examples as to why they are right. You might get the theist pointing to good things in life and giving credit to God and you might have the atheist pointing to good things in life and pointing to evolution. But either way, good and bad things are still happening no matter what did or did not cause them.

I’m convinced that you could probably have two identical people and the only thing that would separate them would be one would believe in God and one wouldn’t. Everything else would be the same. The way they love their families, help the environment, struggle with temptation and the relationships they are in. It is why I find the whole debate futile. The reality of God’s existence as a cognitive belief matters so little to the way that people live or to how society is ordered that it doesn’t really matter if one believes in God or not. It doesn’t really matter if one attributes good or bad things to God, evolution, Satan or meaninglessness. What seems to be a reality across both theism and atheism is that people live good and/or bad despite which side they are on. It doesn’t follow that what you believe about your surroundings and how they happened changes the way you interact with them.

Which is why I am driven absolutely nuts when the word ‘faith’ is thrown into the ring as a weapon to try and explain one’s belief. This was used as a weapon on me all the time growing up whenever I would ask hard questions about life, purpose or theology. Someone would just say ‘you just have to have faith’ as if that was a legitimate piece of evidence that made something more true. Faith has nothing to do with evidence and everything to do with trust. To have faith in a specific worldview means that you trust that worldview. The atheist trusts science. The theist trusts religion. The Christian trusts Jesus. This in absolutely no way makes the object of the trust absolutely true or right or whatever words we tend to need to make ourselves feel better.

The Great Divide I see between the two opposing sides is not the difference of evidence on either side. It is the refusal for either side to see or acknowledge faith (trust) as their starting point. There is no weakness in faith as is generally assumed by some, usually those that see faith as the opposite to reason. It is easy for me to say this I guess because I grew up in a worldview where faith was accepted. It would be more difficult for an atheist to accept this proposal because they would generally see faith as the enemy, something to be feared, almost like chosen ignorance. However, faith isn’t chosen blindness. Faith is the starting point for absolutely any belief that we make about the world, including reason and scientific discovery. Including the natural longing that people claim they have toward the divine. Some theists choose to trust and have faith in religion. Some atheists choose to trust and have faith in their ability to reason and the current knowledge we have through scientific discovery. Some people choose to have faith in both. If either side would acknowledge faith as their center then the argument ends and you can go along and start having more fruitful conversation. But all it takes is for one side not to acknowledge faith as a legitimate way of forming a life.

Belief is just things that we think. Things that sit around in our head. It is proven many times over in studies by physciatrists that just because we believe something doesn’t mean that we actually will live or do what that belief entails. The divide then is both sides arguing as if their belief is going to change anything concrete. It probably won’t. So my suggestion then is not for the debates to end, but for the debates to take on a new level of meaning. Instead of just debating with words and critical analysis. Maybe faith needs to play a more central role to the entire thing. If faith is trusting in a worldview, that means if your faith is real you will actually live out that worldview in concrete ways. If you just believe it to be true (with no moral feeling toward it of good or evil) then odds are your life won’t change. But I think what we need in this debate is life change not mind change. People that are actually becoming more like the things they believe. In order for that to happen, people need a worldview they can trust not just one that they can believe in.

2 Comments

  • Hi Nate,

    On many points I see where you’re coming from. But fundamentally it’s the problem with definition. Atheism is not a belief system. It is the lack of belief in god. In this part of the world the lack of belief in the judao/christian god. I don’t think you believe in Zeus or Isis or any of the old gods…we atheists just go one farther.
    Also,religious’faith’ should be understood as to accept certain things that are unseen or unexplained as a reality just because you have been taught to do so. This is not the same as having ‘faith’ that medical science will find a cure for the cold.

    For these reasons above is why so many conversations come to an abrupt end with people unable to understand each other.

    just my 2 cents :-)

    Julie

    • Hi Julie, I guess that with all my interactions with atheists it inevitably comes down to the atheist expressing a belief in science or reason as explaining their atheism. So then even though the term of atheism means lack of belief it almost always comes with an explanation as to why they hold that belief. That would be more the part that I am criticizing because as soon as an atheist (or theist) answers that question they have chosen a belief system and basing it on faith that it is the correct lens to view the world.

      Also, when I compare the faiths of an atheist (skeptic?) and a theist I’m not comparing it to the faith of finding a cure for the common cold, but rather, faith that science can provide answers of meaning and purpose or morals in the world (like Sam Harris attempts to do). Which is a fine way to approach it, but there is an element of the same kind of faith that one would need in science to be able to have that kind of hope in science.

Join the Discussion