If you don’t love Jesus, you gotta love somebody

The Washington Post blog The Root has an African-American atheist, Mark Hatcher, saying what that’s like.

[One day] I’m walking across campus, and normally don’t have it on, but I had my Atheist t-shirt on. Somebody came up to me and said “Oh my God, I thought I was crazy, I thought I was the only one. Thank you for letting me know I’m not insane.” That’s understandable in our community. You gotta love Jesus. If you don’t love Jesus, you gotta love somebody. My mom’s first question to me was ‘What, so you don’t believe in anything?!” And that’s hard in the black community. You gotta believe in something in order to be a complete person. This person coming up to me, saying that they thought they were insane because of the type of pressure that was on them to believe in something that they just simply couldn’t, I was like, “You know what? We need a community here”…

There are other things you can believe in though. You can believe in a better future for humans. You can believe in hope, in solidarity, in compassion…you can even (though you will get a lot of people yelling at you) believe in progress. You can believe in music, in art, in love, in sex, in nature, in beauty – damn, you can believe in a lot of things. They don’t have to be a person, especially not a magical person.


  1. Brian M says

    Do we need to “believe” in an over-arching narrative for our life that makes us important. Because that is what I see religion providing for some people…its almost an ego thing.

  2. says

    Do we need to “believe” in an over-arching narrative for our life that makes us important. Because that is what I see religion providing for some people… its almost an ego thing.

    My only disagreement with that is: you probably don’t need the almost.

    Quite seriously, a lot of what religions are about is providing people a ready-made narrative, and frequently a nicely dramatic one. You’re fighting evil, the devil is down there just waiting to crawl out of the ground and devour you and anyone else you don’t convert, so on; the god has this thing you must do for him, and it is your job to do it, you must not fail. Note that for all they’re a bit cookie cutter, they do have the drama already written in, set up to appeal to a desire to have this critical role. Yea, the god is in his heaven, and you’re an itty bitty bug to him, but you’re also the pinnacle of his creation, and on what you do, the universe will turn.

    Look at the complaint believers frequently give if you tell them there’s no reason to believe: this would mean this would all have no meaning. But what they’re really acknowledging with this complaint is: their reason is essentially that narrative… They’ve been given this quest, this striving; take it away, and oh dear…

    Well, seriously, what’s funny is: all that would actually happen is they’d have to write their own, for a change, and they’d have somewhat wider variety of plots to consider. There’s lots, as Ophelia points out, you can take up as a challenge, if you’re really looking to keep yourself motivated and busy, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

    In that sense, religions with those ready-made narratives are a bit like a computer/video game on rails. But one some play so endlessly they may have no idea that games don’t actually have to go that way.

  3. josefjohann says

    “Well, then, what DO you believe in?”

    It’s a typical question, and it comes from the belief (heh) that if you don’t believe in god, you have to believe in “something.” And you are expected to have a satisfactory, god-shaped “something” or alternatively, you are supposed to be forced to reckon with this and understand it as a deficiency.

    But the whole assumption that you are supposed to believe in a god-shaped thing is itself a part of religious ideology. What’s interesting is it has the appearance of just being a free-standing claim “you have to believe in something!” that people would believe before adopting any particular religion. Yet the believe is generally acquired from within an already accepted religious doctrine.

  4. stewart says

    Just the other day, a believer, discovering I was an atheist, gave me, as a parting shot: “Even atheists believe in something. They believe in nothing.”

  5. Sastra says

    I suspect that, deep down (or, rather on the surface), many religious people simply assume that “hope …solidarity …compassion… progress… music … art… love… sex… nature … (and) beauty” are all either necessarily based on the supernatural, or supernatural themselves. Essences. Magical spirit-stuff and things-in-themselves. Otherwise, they’re all reducible to matter in motion — which means that they’re nothing BUT matter in motion, and nothing more. They can’t actually be.

    So I think you’ve got a fear of reductionism coupled to a genetic fallacy, helped along with a difficulty in abstract thinking. They’re concrete thinkers. You can’t pick up things which aren’t physical, so they must exist on another level — a spiritual one. If you don’t believe in God or some other spiritual realm of supernatural existence, then there’s no place for hope, solidarity, compassion etc. to exist in and be really real.

    When I’ve tried to dig beneath what people mean when they insist atheists believe in “nothing,” this is generally the sort of thing I get. Ask them directly. “Is Beauty supernatural? What about Compassion? Love?” I capitalize the terms because they apparently capitalize in their minds: reified abstractions.

  6. Ysanne says

    […] damn, you can believe in a lot of things. They don’t have to be a person, especially not a magical person.

    Yep, it’s so frustrating when people have no clue what an “atheist” exactly doesn’t believe in, even though it’s literally in the word: someone without god(s).
    The definition makes no statement about belief in human goodness, evil, the adorability of fluffy bunnies, ghosts, angels and demons, a soul and some kind of life after death, telepathy and other supernatural abilities, conspiracy theories, the validity of the Goldbach conjecture, Santa Claus, or really anything except the existence of god(s).
    People fail to realise that rational, skeptical thinking is just something associated with atheism for various psychological and cultural reasons, but neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for it. It’s a pity that it also works the other way round — believing in god helps justify believing in all kinds of other, more obviously stupid stuff, too.

  7. oursally says

    >“Even atheists believe in something. They believe in nothing.”

    As an engineer I don’t need to “believe” anything. I trust a few things – the solar system will continue to obey the laws of physics, the doctor did a medical degree and thus knows more about neurology than I do, people who have not lied to me in the past can be trusted to be honest…

    The trust can be broken: if the doctor turns out to be a quack, if a friend lies to me, I can revise the relationship.

    If physicists come up with a new theory, I can be fascinated. The guys who said (or still say) the world is flat were mistaken. (If the sun comes up the other side tomorrow I am willing to revise my assumptions.) The difference is that in the old days they would set fire to you if you disagreed. Now they don’t mind terribly, just fire off a letter to Nature.

  8. stewart says

    The person who made the observation I quoted above is not someone I have known long, nor do I know her very well, but the subject under discussion was the fact that she had not survived the probationary period in a job she’d just begun. She was trying to be philosophical about it, which included her saying that, as a believer, she is sure that god didn’t intend her to have that job. I wasn’t trying to offend, but I would have felt dishonest just nodding as if I agreed, so I politely said that, as an atheist, the idea that a god cared who worked at [name of organisation] didn’t make a lot of sense. She didn’t react immediately, but apparently it got under her skin enough that she felt a need to both include me as a believer and disparage what she claimed I believed in just as we were saying goodbye.

    Just so the context is clear.

  9. says

    Perhaps if she’d had the capacity for rational thought, and taken responsibility for her own fate, she’d have kept the job! Arf!

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