General Question

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

What's the line of thinking when Christians refuse to believe that atheists don't believe in God?

Asked by MyNewtBoobs (19026points) December 30th, 2010

So, I’ve often encountered Christians who don’t believe me when I say I don’t believe in God. They think I’ve had some sort of spat with him and am refusing to acknowledge his presence as some sort of punishment, but deep down I know he’s there. Or something of that sort – where deep down, I know he’s there.

What’s the line of thinking for this? Religion is bullsh*t, total crap, abusive manipulation – wrong! Those are not the answers I’m looking for here. I’m looking for something along the lines of “Ah, yes, that’s John Calvin’s theory of Predestination, inspired by the humanist teachings of St. Augustine and influenced heavily by Thomas More. It’s a large part of Presbyterianism, but doesn’t usually expand beyond that denomination.” (Yes, I basically threw words out there…)

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56 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Wishful thinking.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Pandora's avatar

I would think you would have to ask the individuals who don’t believe you.

Trillian's avatar

Well, it’s delusional and diminishes the other person’s feelings. I guess it’s really no different than an atheist refusing to admit that a christian’s beliefs are real and valid to them. It is a human trait to see one’s own views as valid and differing views as flawed somehow. It takes maturity, intelligence and critical thinking skills to admit that to others, their views are valid. It forces one to step out of one’s comfort zone and see reality from the viewpoint of another that may not be so comfortable. There are many who are unable to rise up out of this narrow view of the world.
Try to keep this in mind and don’t waste your time on small minded idiots who persist in seeing things in only one way. You are casting your pearls before swine. Do not try to convince them of anything, or waste your breath or a moments thought on them.

DominicX's avatar

An inability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. An ability to imagine another life other than their own. Since believing in God is such a significant part of their life, they can’t fathom how one could possibly not believe in God, so in their mind, they figure it must not be possible and they actually do believe, they’re just in denial. The interesting part is looking at who’s really in denial…

zenvelo's avatar

there is no theology that is the basis of this line of thought. It’s spiritual rigidity because you are threatening to people who cannot arrive at a belief system of their own.

for the record, I am a practicing but independently thinking Catholic. I don’t proselytize.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Excellent question. I’ve never thought of it in quite that way before, but you’ve hit something solid. It seems to be a sort of condescending attitude that, “Well, obviously you can’t believe there is no god, you just don’t believe in the right one, or you’re a Satanist or something.”

It’s sort of akin to the idea that I often see expressed here – and in so many words – when we have various political discussions and I express a generally anti-government viewpoint, that, “Well, you should live in Somalia, then, if you believe in no government.” In that case it’s a false dichotomy: “it has to be a US-style government that you favor, or none at all”, and in the case you note it’s more of a refusal to even consider that there could be a dichotomy.

filmfann's avatar

I am a Christian, and I understand what you are saying.
I will tell you that I stand in amazement whenever I meet someone who says they are an atheist. It doesn’t seem possible to me that someone can believe there is no God. I honestly have more respect for someone who believes the world is riding on the back of a turtle, swimming in a cosmic ocean, than someone who believes that this all exists without some higher power.
That said, I am always polite and curtious of everyone, regardless of their beliefs, or lack thereof. I feel I am a better salesman for Christ if I am not shouting SINNER at people.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Nullo's avatar

Because they have met people who had a falling-out with God (or their parents, or their congregation) and so are calling themselves atheists as a sort of revenge. Just as there are false Christians, so too, I suspect, there are false atheists.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Nullo But you don’t know of any theological thought behind this? It happens often enough that I really doubt it’s just a bunch of people reacting this way – somewhere, there has to be a priest/pastor/reverend/vicor talking about this in a sermon.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@filmfann But do you simply loose respect for them, or do you think they are lying?
The same amazement that God fills you with, science fills me with (believe it or not). But I do not go a day without that amazement.

Trillian's avatar

@papayalily Ah, I see what you’re looking for. I would think that the sermons like that would kind of fall into the categories of what @Nullo was saying. And a genuine inability to believe that another person actually does not believe in a God. I don’t know that there are actually any theories by Christians that cover this… Though I can well believe that a Christian would believe that it was part of God’s plan.
A minister might mention unbelievers in a sermon but consider this; Belief in God does not necesarily leave sciece out. There are those who can integrate both into a system. I, for instance, believe that God created the universe, and in so doing, created those laws which govern it and is bound by them.
A belief in God does not equate to a rigid adherence to a doctrine that I cannot support or a book that was written by fallible men. I used to envy people who believed in God, because I could not. I had my own epiphany and now I have faith but Ihave other beliefs as well. I see no reaon why they cannot all be true.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
MyNewtBoobs's avatar

I so didn’t want this to turn into a thread about how much people/Christians/Christianity sucks.
If anyone knows anything but doesn’t care to post it on this thread, please feel free to pm me – I’ve been dying to know the answer for some time now.

crisw's avatar

Articles like this seem to encompass many of the attitudes of theists who, basically, don’t believe atheists really exist.

Telling quote from the above-“An atheist is like a chain smoker who can’t find a cigarette, or an alcoholic who can’t find a bottle of spirits. They are missing what they need most.”

Here’s another article but from an atheist’s perspective. “Could it be that some believers refuse to believe real atheists exist because it’s a threat to their world view? That some of them do have doubts, but keep them hidden deep inside, because a) it’s a sin to doubt, which can lead to eternal damnation, and b) it may cause them to lose the respect of fellow believers? So, not only do they hide their doubt, but they convince themselves that nobody else really doubts. That the existence of God is obvious to everyone — and, so, atheists are lying, out of a weird sense of rebellion, perhaps. A honest non-believer, to them, would imply that someone, out there, has looked at the world, at the available evidence and decided that there probably is no God. This may cause the believer’s own doubt to surface, even if just for a moment, and that way lies damnation. Nah, there are really no atheists. They’re just a bunch of rebellious brats who don’t want any moral rules above them. Everyone knows there is a God.” has an entire article on “A common belief by conservative Protestants that Atheists believe in God” which offers some interesting rationales for why this is so- basically, because they believe the Bible says so.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

So far, what I’ve found is “Augustine focused on the importance of free will in his responses to the Manichaeans, and also on the limitations of a concept of unlimited free will as denial of grace, in his refutations of Pelagius.” But I feel like that isn’t quite right, especially since I have such a tenuous grasp on the idea of grace.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@crisw Ooops, your ReligiousTolerance link just goes to the main page.

ratboy's avatar

Psalm 14:1–3 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” If it’s so clear that even a fool can see it, why does anyone question it?

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
mattbrowne's avatar

Some Christians can’t think outside the box. Yet, some atheists can’t think outside the box either.

seedraker's avatar

Maybe because if you don’t believe something exists you don’t go around talking about it and atheists do just the opposite. You’ve built quite a little empire of doctrine based on someone you say does not exist.

Additionally, you believe the Christians are trying to force their belief that he does exist down your throat when in reality, you are trying to disprove the existence of someone you do not believe exists.

You are actually doing the same thing Christians are doing but the twist is, you hope to get converts from those who do believe he exists so you can all continue going about trying to disprove the existence of someone you say does not exist anyway.. Whew! I’m out of breath now.

crisw's avatar


“if you don’t believe something exists you don’t go around talking about it ”

That isn’t right. Skeptics spend a great deal of time discussing things that they do not feel exist, from ghosts to homeopathic cures. You may be on to something, though. Perhaps ardent theists don’t understand the mindset of skepticism because they are primed to believe without evidence through the promotion of faith, therefore they are less apt to understand questioning everything?

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@seedraker Moi? Personally? That’s a pretty big leap for one question, and my surroundings are far too modest for me to have an empire.

iamthemob's avatar

Something that comes close to a “formalized” concept of the attitude that you outline is the idea of backsliding – which may be the closest to what you want if we’re discussing Christianity.

But I think the line of thinking is completely reasonable from a Christian perspective. The assumption, and it’s a fair one, is that we start believing, and in the U.S., which is nominally Christian, that belief is generally going to be in a Christian view of god. And as children, we generally have a more magical view or the world. The idea that atheists have “strayed” from a path, therefore, seems natural and almost inevitable.

@filmfann – atheism is a pretty broad concept, and includes but is not limited to those who believe there is no god. I would feel comfortable in stating the majority of people who are atheists simply don’t believe in delineated concepts of a god, as to describe something that’s unproven and unobserved requires imagination as opposed to actual observation. So personally, I’m with you when someone specifically states “there is no god.” But not when they say they’re an atheist.

@seedraker – the need to assert that there is no god (at least one as defined specifically in a religion) or to denounce aspects of religious beliefs doesn’t by necessity show an insecurity about the assertions – rather, it’s generally necessary to point out a lot of the damage caused by religious indoctrination.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@iamthemob Well, but with some faiths they believe that God gave Man free will and free thought. Believing that there is no possible way a human could truly not believe in God is saying that there’s a limit to that free will, which then isn’t really free will at all.

mattbrowne's avatar

@seedraker – I agree. Very often this empire of atheist doctrine contains the thesis that believing in ghosts and tooth fairies is the same thing as believing in God. Its purpose: ridicule of believers.

We should keep a cool head. Ridicule tends to backfire.

iamthemob's avatar

@papayalily – Sure – but just to be clear, we are focusing (if not limiting) this discussion to Christians, right?

In terms of the Christian perspective – I think that it has less to do with a concept of free will and more about the person being tricked or being willfully blind to the truth in someway. In order to be turned away from an initial belief in God one has to come by additional knowledge. The question is whether that knowledge will be recognized as the challenge to ones faith and real “truth” that it is, or it will trick the person into turning against God, etc.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@iamthemob Not limiting. I don’t really know what other religions (especially non-Abrahamic ones) say about free will, or if there’s tons of Hindus in India telling atheists “well, deep down you know that there’s a Vishnu”. But it doesn’t have to be about Christianity, per se.

DominicX's avatar


“Maybe because if you don’t believe something exists you don’t go around talking about it”

What kind of crap is that? When religion is such an integral part of society, so much so that laws are based in it and discrimination is based in it, how can you not talk about your lack of faith in it? Especially when it comes to scientific debates and evolution being taught in schools, etc. Also, how can you make such a sweeping generalization of atheists? Most atheists I’ve met don’t try to convert anybody. Neither do most Christians I know.

I think this just goes back to the whole “people who believe something different than me are threatening to me”.

Paradox's avatar

Good question. I think you need to understand something here about this and pay attention: Religionists are trying to sell their brand of religion to you. Muslims do this as well. Now what is interesting here is the fact that I myself believe in the concept of a god but I’ve totally rejected religion on the basis it is manmade. Many religious people know I’m not an atheist but because I’ve rejected their brand of religion which requires a Saviour to get into heaven as well as the rest of their own personal political agenda they love to mix in with their religions. It is more like “well you believe in god so why not accept the Christian or Muslim God”?

I understand the point of the OP but the real factor here is the “religion” factor rather than spirituality or the concept of a God itself. There is usually an ulterior motive here to show you the “light” of their own brand of religious belief. Test this sometime and pretend you’re actually willing to agree that there is a god. Next will come the religious quotes showing you how “right” their religion is and then so on.

GingerMinx's avatar

I tend to think it is a lack of faith in their own beliefs that make them think that way. They need to believe that everyone actually does beleive in a deity so that their belief in a deity is justified.

Nullo's avatar

@papayalily I was tap-typing with a stylus and was losing patience. :D
Many doctrines – most, I would say – maintain (perhaps indirectly) that the soul knows that God exists. Since you are a soul that has a body (and not the other way around), it would follow that you, possibly on a level that you’re not entirely aware of, also know that God exists.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Nullo Those styli will getcha every time! So then do you know anything else about it? Books on the subject? Wiki links? My religious studies book hasn’t arrived yet.

Kardamom's avatar

Because for them to believe in God, you (as an atheist) can only be mistaken, because if you (as an atheist) were correct, that there is no God, then the Christian person or other person with faith in some other God, would be wrong, making their belief invalid. That is not an option for a person who really does believe in a God. It’s kind of a circular argument.

woodcutter's avatar

some gays seem to think there’s no way we all aren’t gay. Is this the same thing?

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I think you’re onto something, @woodcutter, but not from this angle. I think this is the trap that a lot of people fall into as heterosexuals, thinking that “of course that guy likes girls, just like I do – if he claims to be ‘gay’, then it’s a choice that he made”. I don’t know whether gays feel like you describe or not; I haven’t seen that. But I certainly have seen the idea manifested (over and over) that homosexuality is a ‘choice’.

Thanks for the idea.

Nullo's avatar

@papayalily Nothing comes immediately to mind, source-wise. If that changes, I’ll let you know.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@woodcutter In a very broad sense, yes – but I’m looking for the name of the theological philosophy behind it in Christianity. So, no.

DominicX's avatar


Some homosexuals think we’re all homosexual as opposed to heterosexual? I’m not sure that’s what you meant to reference….usually what I come across is that some bisexuals believe we’re all bisexual. And in a way, it is the same thing. Being bisexual is all they know, it seems so natural to them, they don’t understand how anyone could possibly only be attracted to one sex, so they figure they must actually be attracted to both and are just “denying” it.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
Nullo's avatar

@papayalily I would like to revise my first couple of posts in light of some research.
Rather than actually re-writing them, I’ll just post what I found.

The belief is derived rather immediately from Scripture, from passages like Psalm 19:1–2: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Evidence, even proof, of God’s existence abounds in His creation, and so the atheist, in order to remain an atheist, must be deluding himself to some degree, perhaps consciously, perhaps not.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I don’t really understand why my last response here was modded as “off topic”; I thought it was a fairly insightful response, and totally on-topic. To wit:

I think the reason why various theists (Christians and other theistic religions alike) believe that atheists are either ‘pretending there is no god’ or ‘being antagonistic to god’ (while tacitly acknowledging its existence) is because of a kind of mental conceit. The analogy I make is to heterosexual people who believe that homosexuality is a ‘choice’, and think “I could never make that disgusting choice. Why do they do that?” In other words, some theists think that atheism is a kind of pose or debating point, rather than a solid belief, or even a lack of interest in whether or not gods exist.

iamthemob's avatar


I think that the problem with your argument is that it actually reveals the logic of a Christian argument that atheists really do (or at least might) believe in God.

The difference in the sexuality analogy is that it’s not a belief so much as a drive. If there were evidence available that proved that God could exist, then most atheists would likely admit the possibility as reasonable, or believe fully in existence as a more likely option. However, no one can convince another that they like something they don’t – it’s utterly subjective.

Now, if we separated the atheists into general groups of those who actually have a belief that no god exists, which is a very particular view, then there is no logic to the Christian argument. However, if it is a lack of belief, or a lack of interest, then it’s logical if the argument is rather about faith than belief – and many times these are collapsed.

CyanoticWasp's avatar


Well, of course I ‘might’ believe in gods. Just the same as I might believe in anything else that can’t be disproven from existence, including invisible pink unicorns, ESP, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, two-headed snake gods, and liberty and justice for all. The evidence that god could exist is all around us: Where did all the ‘stuff’ come from, ultimately? A ‘hard atheism’ that denies the existence of god is as much faith-based as a positive belief in god, since the non-existence can’t be proven.

What I meant with my analogy is the self-centeredness that people get wrapped up in, thinking that ‘my’ belief is the right one because I’m ‘normal’, and therefore ‘right’, and opposing beliefs and the others holding them are ‘wrong’, for some odd reason that maybe I can ‘cure’. And of course those people try to convince ‘others’ that they should stop ‘pretending to like’ what they obviously shouldn’t… because they’re wrong. That applies to atheism, homosexuality, politics… you name it.

iamthemob's avatar

@CyanoticWasp – the egotism of an unproven moral certitude, based solely on the fact that most people around you think like you do, is an aspect of your argument that I can’t disagree with, and in fact whole-heartedly support.

Dutchess_III's avatar

People are people. That’s just one of the things some people do. Some people won’t stop preaching about God and how you’re going to burn in hell if you don’t accept Jesus. If that same person were on the other side of the fence and was an atheist, they’d be telling Christians that they’re delusional, superstitious and stupid.
If a Christian can’t “believe” that an atheist really believes there is no God, if they were on the other side of the fence, they wouldn’t “believe” that a theist actually believes there IS a God.
People are people and some people are like that. I’m a Christian and I don’t have a hard at all time “believing” that there are those who really, truly don’t believe in God!

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abaraxadac's avatar

I don’t think you meant specifically priests, or others who have a vested interest in having you believe their particular shtick. Some answers leaned that way.
First, to find the answer you are really asking, you must find out why the christians believe so firmly the way they do. Two reasons, in my experience. They are born-again, or they grew up that way.
Growing up that way encompasses the whole, ‘because I’m right, you’re wrong, and I am going to get the good feelings from knowing it first’ type of ignorance you come to despise in people, whether atheist or religious. And, I might add, reflects a good number of posts on this topic.
The born-agains are the ones you really want to understand, because you do not get why they cannot comprehend your point of view.
They had an intense, emotional experience, that ‘proved’ to them that God is real, and exists, period. Even if you have not, they remember when they did not, and assume you just haven’t tried hard enough yet to find it. Many of them honestly believe it is their God Given Duty to bring that experience to others who have not had it yet, and thus religious fervor is born.
For the record, I agree that ORGANIZED religion is manipulative bulls**t, but that spiritual experiences can be profound and helpful to those who enjoy them, and seek them out for themselves. Ultimately, to each his own I say. There are too many belief systems out there for a rational man to discount every one but his own, in my opinion.
For your requested response, as to ‘what line of thinking rationalizes assumptions about another man’s belief systems, when my own has a shaky foundation to begin with?’, I have never heard of anyone laying out something like that, perhaps you could give it a shot?
Most people do not consider it worth their own time and effort to analyze why others agree or disagree with them. And those that do, are very pragmatic individuals, who wouldn’t be caught dead making a statement they couldn’t back up with empirical evidence. The very nature of this argument, about an individual belief system, is founded on what someone else told you, and how you feel about it. Thus, being subjective in nature to each observer, there can be no empirical evidence, and so no relative theory describing or rationalizing it, beyond the observations of the behaviors of people engaging in the arguments themselves.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@abaraxadac There’s usually a philosophical explanation for why a denomination believes the way they do. Perhaps not in born-agains (I really don’t know either way), but the entire Protestant Reformation was based off of a highly philosophical dispute. I asked this question because I don’t want to dismiss these claims as just ignorant people being ignorant. I might not agree with what they say, or how they apply logic, but I want to understand – which is not going to happen if I just dismiss them as crazy illiterates.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

How did I miss this question?
I honestly believe that for some people, not just Christians, that not believing in god is so difficult a concept to grasp that they just refuse to wrap their head around it.
God is central to many peoples’ lives, so for someone that literally invests all of their heart into their religious beliefs, finding someone that genuinely doesn’t believe it is true… when they believe wholeheartedly that there is no way that it couldn’t be true… is genuinely difficult to grasp.

A person that is devout in their religion and worship of god believes in god just as your average person believes in gravity. You can’t see it, but you know damn well it is there. It would be the equivalent of someone coming up to you and saying “oh, right, I don’t believe in gravity. I don’t hate it, I just don’t believe in it.”
Hard to wrap your head around a concept like that. I’m pretty sure that mentality carries some heavy weight when it comes to someone challenging their beliefs.

abaraxadac's avatar

Then, lets broaden the scope to include Native American religious beliefs in the gods of nature, and Roman and Greek Gods.
A tendency to believe in something more than oneself, yes? An instinctual reaction to the observation that one is actually insignificant in the great scheme of things? A desire to have meaning for the struggles, and trials, one individual goes through in life?
I met one guy who told me he honestly believes that everyone that wasn’t himself was a figment of his own imagination, or else constructs to help him go through life. When I asked him what happened to me when I was not around him, he said my world went colorless, and had no meaning. This is an extreme example of the ‘tree that falls in the woods having no sound’ line of thinking, to my mind, as in ‘anything that does not directly affect me has no purpose to me or my world, which is the only thing I have a right or reason to care about.’
If it is a reaction to ones own insignificance, then it would stand to reason they would be bothered by your lack of belief, shaking them at the heart of an insecurity that they cannot control, and so must delete from their experiences, by changing your mind or not hanging out with you.
Also, if you personally wish to explore the possibility that you may be mistaken, and there is something out there, consider the arguments about life having been extinguished several times on this planet, and coming back each time; or the properties of water being so damned helpful to supporting life, even to its storage and transmittal of latent heat moderating the planets temperatures to life friendly conditions, with supposedly way more water on the surface of Earth than can be accounted for or predicted by science.
They do have valid, at least to me, reasons for their beliefs, before canting off on there own tangents, but many arguments that convince me were not around during the Protestant Reformation. However, that particular phenomenon took place in a society that had evolved because of the stability provided by religion, and the common man was thinking for itself. This caused a situation where enough individuals felt strongly enough to change the religion they were brought up in to something they FELT was more palatable, and the conservatives and radicals went their separate ways, each knowing they were right and the others were going to hell.
I see them as ignorant because they refuse to acknowledge that other view points can be valid, also. This automatically disqualifies them for consideration of truth or value in their personal beliefs, for me. I guess I really only care about what I believe, and I look for value in other systems to add to my own, in whichever way I FEEL is right. No tree falling away from me bothers me in the slightest, unless it harms me or someone I care about.
They are disqualified by me because I am personally convinced any true religion would have tolerance for other religions.
I do believe in God, but perhaps God is not a He, sitting on a throne, and wants me to worship Him forever. Perhaps an It, or not even a singular consciousness at all. More like the entire collection of life in the universe. A “collective consciousness”, if you will. I wrote some poetry into a song once, that went:
God is me, and that’s okay. God is you, we’re the same.
God is us, playing games, that’s the way, you make, me feel.
-God is real, and that won’t change. God is life, plain as day.
Like your mind, inside your brain, animation on this plane.

Two hundred years ago, a man would never believe a TV is not magical. two thousand years ago, when they were told by the ‘other side’ not to eat pigs, they were primitive, and getting worms from the meat, so it makes sense to me that they would get spiritual guidance like that(or else some guy figured it out and made it ‘from God’ to get the ignorant boobs to listen to him). Today, we have New Age channellers receiving messages from the other side, and without even looking it up online and reading it to find out what it’s about, it is dismissed as ‘Satanic’ by the modern day conservatives. Muslims and New Age hippies are considered radicals. What will they think in ten years, much less 200? To look for meaning in any one of these to the exclusion of all else would be to bury your head in the sand, which disqualifies you from my own, personal consideration of value.

I know this (still) does not answer your question about the philosophical theories behind them, I guess it is just my attitudes on whether or not I think it needs one. Ignorance and willful dogmatism need no more justification than ‘Might is Right’, exactly the kind of philosophical behavior we have been evolving away from for the last couple hundred years.

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