The question seems to insinuate: “well if you don’t believe in god then what the hell do you believe in?” …and I think this is unfortunately what most people tend to think when they hear that someone is an atheist.
The word atheist comes with loads of baggage. In my view, its a rather negative word with a cold, empty feel to it. And of course, this is only natural, as the word is indeed a negative statement (the word theist refers to a believer in God and the word atheist, therefore, refers to a disbeliever). The term simply defines one as a denier of God and says nothing more of the person, and all that people are left with is an impression that the atheist stands against the idea of God (a cherished or respected idea by so many people in the world) and they often must also assume that the person probably believes in nothing much at all and is most likely a cold, uninteresting person for that matter. …Might as well shoot yourself in the foot before declaring yourself an atheist.
Prejudice about Atheism.
Religious people (who happen to still be the majority in the world) are generally regarded as warm-hearted, good-natured and profound people, while atheists have a certain selfish, soulless stigma to them. This is why, even though I guess I am technically an atheist, I always avoid describing myself as such.
People don’t often realize that there is so much to believe in without having to believe in God.
I guess this is because since the beginning of civilization most of humanity has always believed in God in some form or another – hence atheists are still the odd ones out and probably will continue to be so for long to come.
A lot of people are used to simplifying and reducing all the mysteries of the Universe to this all-encompassing idea of God. It is an easy thing to believe and they are therefore reluctant to consider more complex answers to the mysteries of life which results in a short-sightedness as to what could atheists possibly believe in if not in God. People think that by taking God out of the equation everything falls apart. But it’s not like that.
What Atheist Belief In
Atheists can still believe in pretty much anything: In Love, in the soul, in aliens, ghosts, angels, good and evil, right and wrong, sin and virtue, and even afterlife or some kind of heaven. What people forget is that by definition atheists only REFUSE to believe in one thing and one thing only, and that is in God as a personified entity (the traditional definition of God). If people kept in mind that this is the only thing that being atheist means then I would feel freer to describe myself as such, but the reality is that they tend to throw “pretty much everything else there is to believe in” into the same basket with God, and are left wondering “what do they believe in then?”.
It’s not fair that this difference in belief should cast atheists into a category of “disbelievers”, as this sounds terrible and insinuates they believe in nothing. Buddhists, for example, do not believe in God and are technically atheists, but at least their faith in Buddha keeps them in the “believer” category, while atheists, because of not having come up with a personified idol of some sort, are stigmatized as faithless, disbelieving people.
I’m sure that many atheists must have their own “Gods” too (as I certainly do) – because, after all, we are all free to define (or discover?) God for ourselves. But while religious people are allowed to have their endless interpretations of “God” (The Lord, the holy spirit, Allah, Krishna, Zeus, Inti, etc, etc), atheists are sort of not allowed to use this term to describe their interpretation of God because people have trouble getting their heads around the concept of a God that does not resemble us in nature (without a personified image). When atheist Albert Einstein expressed that he had a boundless admiration for the mind-boggling complexity of life and the Universe which he liked to call “God”, he was recipient of a wave of criticism and spiteful abuse from the religious world; as if to prohibit the insinuation that God is not an entity that is watching upon us from above.
Basically, it’s still a hard time to be an atheist. It seems that so long as you are under the “religious” category, no matter how bizarre or ridiculous your beliefs are, people will just nod and smile politely at you; they will never question (because we have learned to never challenge faith intellectually). But if you are an atheist then you will often get an inquisitive little frown from people when talking about beliefs, and you have to fight for a spiritual identity outside of this flat label of “atheist”… you will have to answer questions like “what do atheists believe in?”
I think Atheism is a negative word and should stop being used as a “belief” label because it’s not one, it’s a disbelief label. It’s like describing Christians as anti-Koranists, or Buddhists as anti-Godists, and in fact, all religious people do stand against many beliefs of other religions, but we still label them for what they do believe in and not for what they don’t believe in.
The growing number of people in the world who are simply refusing to keep believing in the childish idea of a personal God up in the sky who runs the showdown on Earth should be dignified with a more comprehensive terminology. They just believe in reality, so why not describe them as Realists, Facts, or something like that? something that will help people see that we, too, struggle to understand the world and decide what to believe in just like everyone else, that our beliefs can vary from one atheist to the other unlimitedly and that the only thing we have in common is a confidence in saying that we don’t believe in the celestial entity above.
People should bear in mind how narrow the term atheist really is and that to demand an atheist to explain what he believes in is just as bizarre and intrusive as asking it to anyone else be it an atheist person or not.