“I don’t believe that Sweden exists!”…
… my friend suddenly announced from across the coffee‐shop table. “There I’ve finally said it”. He took a long sip of espresso and started fiercely at me, clearly daring me to respond. I paused for a moment to think, my cinnamon roll halfway to my mouth as I digested what he’d just said.
This short blog has been taken almost entirely from Any Bannister’s exceptional book The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist, and forms part of our series of blogs on 7minutes on the topic of atheism.
…“It’s obvious when you think about it: Sweden is just a political conspiracy, invented to motivate other European citizens to work harder. All that talk of the best healthcare system, the highest standard of living, tall, svelte and beautiful people. Come on, it sounds more and more like a myth every time you hear it. But I’m not fooled. I do not believe in Sweden.”
I stared at my friend silently allowing the sounds of the coffee shop to drift over us for a few seconds while I pondered. In the background the radio began playing ‘Dancing Queen’ by ABBA.
“You’re insane,” I said. “What do you mean you don’t believe in Sweden? That’s ridiculous. If Sweden doesn’t exist how do you explain IKEA furniture, or the Swedish chef on The Muppet Show, or what glues Norway to Finland. That’s a staggering claim! What’s your evidence?”
“Evidence?” my friend asked.
“Ah,” said my friend knowingly. “I see your problem.”
“Yes your problem. In fact your confusion. You think that my denial of Sweden is actually a claim of some kind, that it’s a belief. But it isn’t. It’s a non‐belief. … I’m not making a claim of any kind – in fact quite the opposite. I’m claiming nothing. I’m merely rejecting one of your beliefs. Your belief in Sweden” …
Andy Bannister continues:
While that entirely dialogue was unsurprisingly fictional, the response from my friend concerning the reasons for his doubts about Sweden have some real‐world parallels, especially in the way that some atheists describe their non‐belief in God. The argument goes this way: atheism is a disbelief in God and therefore one does not need to give reasons for it. The idea lying behind this is that atheism is purely negative, the mere absence of belief, and it is only positive beliefs for which we need to provide reasons. …
Listen to the New Atheist Christopher Hitchins:
Our belief is not a belief
Rhetorically it’s a smart move: if atheism is simply a negative claim, the mere absence of belief, then presumably atheists can sit there and throw stones at everybody else’s beliefs while not having to bother justifying their own. Like my friend in the coffee shop they can innocently deny they are claiming anything, and refuse to give answers. However like many secular sound bites, the idea that atheism is a non‐belief is riddled with as many holes as a Swiss cheese …
Andy Bannister goes to demonstrate that atheists absolutely hold to beliefs which are clearly a result of their atheism. We covered many of these in the recent post Do you have enough faith to be an atheist? In fact Andy shows that not only is atheism a belief system – a faith — it is a core part of an atheist’s identity. And our identity defines who we are. He quotes Prof Stephen Prothero of Boston University:
Atheism is a religion of sorts, or can be. Many atheists are quite religious, holding their views about God with the conviction of zealots and evangelizing with verve … It stands at the center of their lives, defining who they are, how they think, and with whom they associate. The question of God is never far from their minds.
… I think that some atheists find this idea frightening because it means there is hard thinking to be done. You cant simply say “Prove your religion to me”, then cross your arms and scowl like a traffic warden with a bad case of haemorrhoids. Everybody has beliefs that are central for them, beliefs that cause actions, beliefs that define them ….
The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist
Blending comedy and popular philosophy, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist has been described as “Jon Stewart meets C. S. Lewis” and is a fast‐paced, rip‐roaring, laugh‐out‐loud, thought‐provoking engagement with some of the popular arguments advanced by media‐savvy atheists like Richard Dawkins.
If you enjoyed reading this try Do you have enough faith to be an atheist?