One of the more interesting tacts I’ve encountered from Christian apologists is the claim that atheists do not exist. It’s one of those arguments that gob-smacks you into silence the first time you hear it. Having someone stand before you and strip you of self-authorship by denying that you exist is quite the experience.
I came across a relatively recent post by Ralph Barker rehashing this argument, so I figured I’d write a brief post about how it is insidiously dehumanizing.
Basically, the argument goes as follows:
Premise 1: God said there are no atheists (as demonstrated by scripture)
Premise 2: I believe God’s word (as represented by scripture)
Conclusion 1: There are no atheists
The relevant scripture (as cited in the article) is Romans 1:18-20:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
My Reading of the Argument
With full and complete acknowledgement that I am no scholar of Biblical text, here is how I (an example of a nonexistent atheist) read this passage:
The ungodly and unrighteous will suffer the wrath of God.
God’s existence is self-evident.
Not that this can be demonstrated, mind you. But self-evident.
You’ve been warned.
More Than Atheists
The one thing that always perplexed me about the “atheists do not exist” argument is why it focused on atheists. The passage in Romans is “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” Presumably, this would refer to anyone who denies the existence of the god of the Christian Bible. Buddhists, Jains, Taoists, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and millions of other non-Christians fit this category as well. Heck, Jews and Muslims my fall into this category. Though the three religions share connections, it is hard to know if they are close enough to avoid the “ungodliness and unrighteousness” tag.
So, following this logic, they do not exist. Buddhists do not exist. Hindus do not exist. Since Muslims are pretty questionable, we can probably safely assume that the vast majority of India does not exist. These people, many of whom practicing religions older than Christianity, do not exist. According to Barker, they are simply “denying the truth…” because “God is a threat to what they believe and to how they want to live their lives.” His response is to look you in the face and tell you that you do not exist.
Stop, reflect, and let that sink in.
Responding to Questions with Questions
Barker ends his post by touching on another bad bit of apologetics:
It is very interesting that atheists, who deny God’s existence, spend so much time, energy, and even money fighting those who do believe. I don’t believe in ghosts or goblins, but I don’t spend any time trying to persecute those who do. Why would I?
Setting aside the inappropriate use of ‘persecute’, Barker is basically saying: “Look, if atheists don’t believe in God, why do they talk about him so much?”
Mr. Barker, if we do not exist, why do you (and your fellow Christians) spend so much time talking about atheists? Hmmm, I think you know the answer.
I considered creating a ‘counter-apologetics’ category for this post. I decided against it because I feel like the “atheists don’t exist” argument (much like the “why do atheists talk about God so much” argument) are pathetic on a level that barely qualifies them to be called apologetics.
But, to anyone reading this and considering using such arguments, please keep mum. When you use these arguments, you come off like an arrogant asshat. This is because the arguments are premised on the complete dehumanization of others: otherwise known as arrogant asshattery.