One Letter Makes A World Of Difference

Does God Exist? The theist says
He does, but what is meant by “God”?
Belief has different forms and ways
And “theist” is a false façade—

The problem with the answer is—
Which god? The question won’t define.
It serves as a projective quiz
We each fill in the blank with “mine”.

While theists think a god exists
Which god that is, they can’t agree.
These gods can fill up endless lists
Still none of them’s the god for me.

“Agreement” seems a specious word
When treating many gods as one
Agreement? No. The thought’s absurd…
And as for me, I’ll stick with “none”.

Today’s verse is inspired by a (presumably) well-intentioned but (demonstrably) poorly executed opinion piece at the Iowa State Daily. I’d have commented there (and thus never have had reason to write the verse), but they won’t accept contributions unless a real-world name is attached. I’ve spent 5 years cultivating a pseudonym; my real name would be meaningless to them (yeah, my pseud is probably meaningless to them, but they can at least follow a trail of breadcrumbs and read here). Anyway, the piece jumps off the rails in the first three sentences:

Does God exist?

Theists believe yes. Atheists believe no.

And moves from there to equate the two sides as equally making a claim of belief.

What a difference one letter can make. What if the author had asked “Does a god exist?” With that indefinite article, the false consensus of “theists” is punctured. “Theists” is an artificial group, a strange bedfellows assortment of traditional others, competitors, and enemies, but united by not being atheists. Not by “believing in God”, as polytheists are theists too, as are a good many people who would not identify their particular god as the capitalized “God”. My goodness, the first commandment would not be necessary if all gods were one God.

And atheists are not those who don’t believe in God; they are those who don’t believe in a god. They are the privative, none-of-the-above belief category. It is not a belief, it is the “none for me, thanks” drink preference. It’s the “I don’t run” answer to “what’s your distance?”

The problems (and there are many) in the rest of the piece all fall from this initial improper stance. When you take your first compass reading, get it right; the rest of your journey depends on it.


  1. Pliny the in Between says

    I suspect that many believers are so consumed by their beliefs that they have to assume that the absence of same must leave a huge hole in your life. As you say, it’s actually more of a ‘no thanks, I’m otherwise occupied” response to their offers of spiritual enrichment that defines an atheist. Once you forgo belief it opens up a lot of time in your life to pursue other goals.

    FYI Cuttlefish – at MN tonight there will be a posting for NTLAP Day that might involve a sighting of a certain rather shy sea creature. No relation, I’m sure. Hope you enjoy it.

  2. Randomfactor says

    I like your “drink preference” analogy.

    “What’ll you have, folks?”

    “Beer. Keep ’em coming”
    “Whiskey, neat.”
    “Nothing for me, I’m the designated driver.”

    Which one would almost certainly pass a sobriety test at the end of the evenign? Yet they all answered the same question…

  3. says

    Ob quote: “I contend that we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” — Stephen F. Roberts.

  4. Cuttlefish says


    I love that quote, although I actually disagree with it strongly. When it works, it’s succinct and powerful… trouble is, it oversimplifies. If my aunt, for instance, rejects the very possibility of Apollo or Ra or Thor, specifically because the first commandment tells her not to have any other gods… well, that’s not why I dismiss hers.

  5. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    “Atheism is a religion as bald is a hair color.” I like that one.

    Or “Atheism is a hobby the way not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

    Or simply, “Do you believe in Santa Claus?”

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