A Manifesto for Non-Belief

There’s always talk about what atheists don’t believe. But what do they believe?

A reader named Steve has a website where he lists 17 “propositions” that he feels non-believers should follow.

A few examples:

2) Do not attempt to impose belief systems on others.

12) Do not denigrate believers.

15) Do not search for a meaning to life.

Some seems obvious. Some seem dead-on. Some need some serious rewording.

At times, it sounds like he is saying that we can’t learn anything from religious people, though I don’t think that’s his intent.

Granted most atheists would not write a list like this at all (there’s no need to codify non-belief), are there any general rules of thumb non-religious people should follow?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://godlesswasatch.blogspot.com John Moeller

    Granted most atheists would not write a list like this at all (there’s no need to codify non-belief), are there any general rules of thumb non-religious people should follow?

    I think that you’re making a statement and asking a question that are somewhat separate. Many atheists have a philosophy that’s not really an atheistic philosophy, but a moral philosophy, like Secular Humanism.

    So the answer to the question for me would be “yes,” and the Council for Secular Humanism about sums it up for me with their Affirmations of Humanism. And I disagree with the statement that atheists wouldn’t write a list like this, except maybe because one has already been written. Some wouldn’t, but I would bet that for the most part, atheists are very interested in a moral code. It’s what keeps us and our families, friends and communities alive and happy.

  • http://wintershaven.net Jacob Wintersmith

    Yeah, a lot of those items are confused or illucid.

    I flatly disagree with #12. The absurd, ill-founded ideas which riddle major religions deserve to be mocked. Refraining from doing so just makes it that much easier for people to think that it’s somehow intellectually respectable to believe in virgin births.

    Of course, if someone asks you to stop bothering them about their religious beliefs, you should do so — to do otherwise is simply harassment. That said, we desperately need more rationalist voices to laugh openly at the kooky ideas which pervade our world.

    Try asking a religious person whether they seriously believe that, say, Moses parted the Red Sea. I think you’ll find that doing so will elicit awkward, embarrassed reactions from a lot of theists. Even if a person ultimately says they do believe in such miracles, the fact that they were embarrassed to say so is a great cause for hope. Those people aren’t fanatics; deep down, they possess a core of sanity which knows that Santa Claus isn’t real. And in a saner world, they wouldn’t buy into religious nonsense. We atheists need to tell the world — repeatedly — that those beliefs are absurd, and we need to let people know that its OK to walk away from God.

    The difficult part is to do so in a diplomatic way, that is, to tell believers that religious beliefs are ridiculous without telling that they are stupid people. Not an easy thing to accomplish.

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  • The Unbrainwashed

    Jacob –
    100 % agreed. I was about to write the same exact comment.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Is this really trying to be a list of beliefs, or are they just general constraints on atheist beliefs? If you really want to know what atheists believe, you can’t just look for a set of answers. You have to find a set of questions, and then ask individual atheists one by one. There are certain things that atheists would agree on, such as most of the list given here, but such a list would be small compared to what atheists actually believe.

  • http://godbegone.blogspot.com [GBG]

    When people do things like this it gives the religious one more reason to say “atheism is just another religion” and drag us down to thier level.

    We aren’t a religion. We don’t need our own commandments and “ways of living”.

  • K

    I think he needs to mind his business because I will act just as I please.

  • Mriana

    John Moeller, the AHA has the same thing. The only difference is that the AHA has the Humanist Manifesto III and CSH has the Humanist Manifesto 2000. The second manifesto was drafted by Paul Kurtz.

    Therefore, I would say Humanism sums it up for me- no adjective added. It makes it much simpler since the two are basically the same.

  • http://godlesswasatch.blogspot.com John Moeller

    @Mriana: Good point.

    @GBG:

    When people do things like this it gives the religious one more reason to say “atheism is just another religion” and drag us down to thier level.

    We aren’t a religion. We don’t need our own commandments and “ways of living”.

    Um, ok. That seems a little like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    No, we aren’t a religion, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t adhere to a set of principles. I intend to lead by example. I am very interested in a “way of living” that is altruistic, egalitarian, benefits the most people and increases happiness for all. I insist on calling myself an atheist, and letting people see for themselves that I am a moral person and can lead a moral life.

    The fact that my beliefs on morality happen to coincide with Humanism doesn’t make me religious. The primary point (IMO) that you have to make to the religious is that you can have morality without religion.

  • Karen

    I like the humanist notion of engaging the world with both reason and compassion. That’s a nice balance.

  • Sheila

    Hemant – enjoy your blog. Love the “friendly” aspect of it and seeing things from another perspective.

    On that note, Jacob wrote:

    we need to let people know that its OK to walk away from God.

    (please read friendly banter into this…) If you’re an atheist, that’s a rather interesting comment, since from your perspective, God doesn’t exist. Right?

  • Mriana

    I have a question… If God doesn’t exist, then how can you walk away from s/he/it? Why not say, it’s OK not to believe _______? This is not claiming anything exists or doesn’t exist. Saying it’s OK to walk away from God says that deity exists. Just a thought.

  • http://paxnortona.notfrisco2.com Joel Sax

    Mriana: interesting point.

    Thought about language here. “Do not ~denigrate~ believers.” The word denigrate stems from Latin meaning “to make more black”. Many African American scholars find its usage offensive (because it implies that black is evil) and suggest “disparage” as a substitute.

  • Mriana

    “Do not darken my doorstep” or “Do not denigrate my doorstep” makes a bit more sense. My son is 1/2 Black and he came up with that sentence. He said your sentence was a bit hazey. Even I curled my lip concerning it. Of course, we both have a fairly good command of the English language. However, my son says what you said about African American scholars and their feelings about the word denigrate is believable.

    In this case, my suggestion was almost the same premise, but due to semantics and not to offensiveness. The thing is, you can’t walk away from something that doesn’t exist.

  • Claire

    Saying it’s OK to walk away from God says that deity exists.

    Well, not necessarily, not if it’s used figuratively. Julia Sweeney’s “Letting go of god” uses a similar construction, but it’s clear when you hear it that what she is letting go of is the idea of god. It might be clearer to say “walking away from the idea of god” or “the concept of god”, but simply saying “walking away from god” has more dramatic punch. I guess it depends on whether the author prefers impact or absolute clarity; sometimes it’s hard to have both.

  • Mriana

    Now Julia Sweeney is funny. :)


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