One definition of the word believe is to “accept something as true.” Synonyms include credit and trust. A second definition is to “hold something as an opinion, to suppose, or assume.” Synonyms for that definition include reckon, figure, and guess.
In her book Writing Down the Bones, the chapter Make Statements and Answer Questions, author Natalie Goldberg advises, “So even though life is not always so clear, it is good to express yourself in clear, affirmative statements.” I leave no doubt and no wiggle room with my clear declaration (albeit, not stated affirmatively). I’m not assuming, guessing, reckoning, or supposing. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, what part of no don’t you understand?
That’s how I choose to say it: “…no gods.” My reasoning is that saying I don’t believe in a god or gods is insufficient and could be misleading. I don’t need weak qualifiers to protect my position—nor do I need to prove it to anyone.
I am not simply accepting anything as true or false. I am not supposing or assuming anything. I am stating my position as a fact. While some may use some esoteric scale (like the above) to argue that I must wear the label of gnostic atheist, as opposed to agnostic atheist, I disagree. I have one position that determines my point of view on many other things such as there are no ghosts, no devils, no angels, no unicorns, pigs cannot fly, and Mrs. O’Leary’s cow cannot jump over the moon, but may have caused the Great Chicago Fire.
I enjoy Halloween and ghost stories around a camp fire as much as I ever did. It’s unnecessary to believe in spirit-world entities to enjoy being frightened by them. Reality, however, should be frightening in some circumstances.
Picture this. You’re sitting quietly in a random crowd of 100 people in the United States. Suddenly one person jumps up and yells loudly for all to clearly hear, “There is a god!” Let us now assume that said person had a good, but personal, reason for this announcement. None of the other 99 know it. What happens next?
Perhaps 40 or 50 people will say, “Amen.” Even more will likely applaud. Everything is fine and the feeling of the crowd is positive. Right? People have every right to their beliefs. In a random group of the remaining 99, not everyone will have the same beliefs. But there would be no grumbling, no accusations, no death threats, and not one person of the other 99 will stand and say, “Prove it.”
Add one person to that crowd – me. What if I stand up first and announce loud and clear, “There are no gods.” Keep in mind that of the thousands of gods humans have believed-in and worshipped over thousands of years, at least 70 people in the crowd agree with me, with one exception – the god they happen to believe in. Despite this, what likely happens next?
Even when people know of my atheism, if I make that statement, I’ll be challenged to prove it. They see no oddity in asking me to disprove something more than 70% of the people claim to believe, but are equally unable to prove. Even some agnostics and atheists would challenge me by asking if I know it for a fact.
I had the opportunity to spend time with my grandchildren this past summer. A friend wondered what I might say if one of them asked me if I believed in god. At the time, I wasn’t sure how I would answer. While it never came up, should it now, my answer is “No.” If a discussion or Q&A ensues, I would manage as honestly as I could. I am not afraid to use the words, I don’t know.
So, by stating that there are no gods, I’m establishing my position. I’m not a person who believes in god. I am not agnostic. While I have interest and curiosity about all religious beliefs, It’s not my intent to change anyone’s mind, unless I’m asked. But belief in god or not, I think religion is harmful. I am not trying to ruffle any feathers or destroy any fantasies. I agree with Ms. Goldberg and I’m thus making a clear statement – there are no gods. I’m keeping it simple.
Confidence and assuredness are good things, but we should consider all options.
Look both ways and mind the gap.