Why do unbelievers care so much about belief?

November 1, 2007 at 4:01 pm 19 comments

Why 2Let’s keep this short and sweet. You may want to know why unbelievers care so much about belief. Well, perhaps you do not, but the internet is flooded with Christians and other believers who do. Sometimes, it is simply curiosity, and sometimes, it is presented as some sort of argument against unbelief. As if to say nonbelievers somehow disqualify their nonbelief by caring.

I’d like to direct you to a Wikipedia entry entitled List of problems solved by MacGyver. It argues my point very well. Here is perhaps the single longest Wikipedia page I have seen, and it’s written about the extraordinary feats of a fictional character in a TV show. By the way, who are these people who write mile long wiki entries on fiction? Could they be, say, enthusiasts?

As surely as there are stamp collectors and amateur writers, there are hobby philosophers. There are people who like to think about whether God exists or not; not because they have a spiritual crisis; not because they feel the need for the crutch of faith; not because the devil tricked them into denying the obvious truth of Gospel; not because the Flying Spaghetti Demon whispered to them in a dream “Go forth and make the heathens numerous!”; but simply because they find the question intrinsically interesting. That could be the reason for all the discussions on belief.

That is my reason.

Now, most of the people on this blog, as fits a blog about de-conversion, are de-converts, and so they may have other reasons for thinking about this. They may live in societies that demand a justification for nonbelief but not for belief. Whereas, I live in a society that is largely the opposite. They may find the consequences of irrational faith on them, as exhibited by society, unbearable. But still, there is nothing keeping them from simply not discussing faith and the lack of faith online.

So my diagnosis is this: they are hobby philosophers, the whole bunch. That is why. Now that you know, I hope you will never feel the need again to discredit an atheist by saying, “Oh, surely you can’t really be all that disbelieving when you obsess so much about God?” Because no one denies that the MacGyver enthusiasts who put together that wiki page know MacGyver isn’t real, right?

– Simen

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19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. tobeme  |  November 1, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    That is a very interesting slant. Not sure that comparing yourself to MacGyver is a credible thing to do. Interesting point though.

  • 2. Simen  |  November 1, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    I’m not comparing myself to MacGyver, I am comparing myself to the enthusiasts who write wiki pages about him, in that I write lots and lots about what I consider to be fiction. Implicitly, I’m also comparing God with MacGyver; which fits well, being as they can both make anything out of nearly anything.

  • 3. ollie  |  November 1, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    There is something else going on: we care about belief because we are so often questioned about our own non-belief and we are so often put down because of it too.

    Here is another way of thinking of it: suppose some of our believing friends were suddenly forced to live their lives in a society that, say, worshiped the great Ju-Ju in the sea. They celebrated the Ju-Ju holidays, they thought that the Ju-Ju intervened on their behalf (supernaturally), the believed that particular creation myth and thought that the Ju-Ju actually made people sick and well. Even worse, some of them thought that the great Ju-Ju punished society for allowing Ju-Ju atheists to live among them!

    My guess is that they would spend lots of time thinking about the Ju-Ju and trying to explain to others why they didn’t believe that way. 🙂

  • 4. Jon F  |  November 1, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    As a deconverting christian, I blog on and on about the process because for me it is a grief process and verbalisation is a part of this, and also because blogging provides a way to express myself in the hope that I will be understood. For many of us, there are not many “real” people we can really talk to about the deconversion process as often family and friends are not there with us.

  • 5. washedandforgiven  |  November 2, 2007 at 12:49 am

    Personally, I care about people who have disbelief, not because I think they are interested in God necessarily, but because I want no soul lost. It’s because I care that I question those who do not believe, not because I’m obsessed with their disbelief.

  • 6. muffa123  |  November 2, 2007 at 4:12 am

    Strange that people who are believers make a point of caring about the non beleivers, the whole point about humanity which is largely lost on the believers, is that we should care about the whole. A point about believers is that they are so busy believing that the ills of the world go largely unnoticed, instead of simply believeing it would be nice if there were more of them willing to have a go at bringing some fairness and balance to society.

  • 7. locomotivebreath1901  |  November 2, 2007 at 9:45 am

    “Why do unbelievers care so much about belief?”

    Great question, but I believe ‘hobby philosophers’ is an inadequate answer. Most people can’t even spell filosophie, let alone think about it. I believe that most folks simply don’t give a crap – unless backed in a corner or threatened with extinction which cause a crisis of conscience.

    Conscience – from the Latin meaning ‘with knowledge’. Knowledge? That almost sounds like the human species was programmed….

  • 8. Simen  |  November 2, 2007 at 10:41 am

    I think you underestimate people here. Every averagely intelligent human has the ability to philosophize — of course, whether or not it will result in good philosophy is a different matter altogether. If what you said was true, that most people don’t give a crap, why do people care? Why do they discuss it? Of course, not everyone does. Many people never discuss or mention religion at all except in connection with funerals and other religious rituals. But those who do — do you think they’re all just undergoing spiritual crises?

    And how would you even manage to get a spiritual crisis, if you didn’t think about spiritual matters before? Many people are perfectly happy going through their lives believing or not believing what the culture they’re in believes or does not believe. For these people, who don’t think about religion at all, what could provoke a crisis of conscience?

    Trauma, perhaps, but many people don’t need trauma to wake them up. My point is, there are certain matters you simply don’t discuss unless you find them interesting. Now, I may not take any specific interest in food, but that doesn’t mean I don’t ever talk about good food, bad food, what should I eat today. Food is one of those everyday things we got to think about no matter our interests. Now, religion, on the other hand, is something that is far removed from the average person’s day-to-day life; it’s something to think about if it interests you.

    Perhaps you’re right that most people don’t give a crap. But then again, most people don’t discuss religion at all.

  • 9. loopyloo350  |  November 2, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    I have a friend who is an atheist and it’s kind of funny sometimes, because most people never mention religion at all around him, but he almost always brings it up. His wife is Catholic but they don’t discuss religion at all, although he does sometimes attend mass with her. But he seems to search for answers, even as he dismiss and argues away at everyone elses beliefs

  • 10. Richard M  |  November 2, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Interesting answer. I agree intellectual interest in a socially, politically, culturally, and psychologically important topic is surely its own justification.

    I would like to add, though, that for former believers like myself the issue of God’s existence is important because he was once psychologically real to us. That loss is complicated, often hurts (though often results in relief, too — or, to make it even harder, in both). The fact that we no longer believe God exists does nothing to alter that fact that in an important emotional sense, he once did. Exploring it by talking about it feels, well, necessarily. Richard

  • 11. societyvs  |  November 2, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    I think Simen is right – plus religion is a topic we can all approach at about the same level – since there are many open-ended questions and ideas to be discussed – no one has all the answers…maybe that’s part of the intrigue. Maybe the sense of importance also plays in there somewhere – I think it is a great topic for all of us to share about (no matter how we decide to look at it).

    I actually appreciate the varying points of views about faith(s) and what is being said in blogs like these and many others. I have learned a lot from people and this only happens in deep discussion – or being pushed beyond comfortable boundaries. I may not be an atheist or a de-convert – but I value what is being said by them – since they are just as important in the conversation of faith.

    Many of the perspectives I have gained from oddly enough come from people who dare question faith – and they come up with some great persepctives – like ‘it would be nice if there were more of them willing to have a go at bringing some fairness and balance to society’ (muffa). I also look at Harris and the idea faith can be used to promote vice – and he’s right. Yet within faith these types of ideas never get bantered around.

    I am glad that we all get the opportunity to say what we think and feel – isn’t that part of the greatness of humanity? Faith just happens to be one of those things that once talked about – it’s kind of conjures of some emotions and need to speak about it. This is healthy I think.

  • 12. Simen  |  November 2, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    I do find everyone’s viewpoints interesting–clearly, everyone has different motives (but I stand by my post: I think few would discuss God unless they found the question interesting in and of itself).

    Discussion and reasoning, while, as clearly the readers here feel, a good way to go through your own insecurities, etc., can and is also and end unto itself.

  • 13. writerdd  |  November 2, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    I care about belief because believers are always trying to shove it down my throat either by knocking on my door with their Bibles, or by trying to coerce politicians to make religious dogma into law, or by censoring what’s on TV, and so forth. For the first several years after I stopped belieiving, I didn’t think about it at all. Then George Bush got elected and that’s all she wrote.

  • 14. superhappyjen  |  November 2, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    “Macgyver uses two candlestick holders, a floor mat, and an electrical powercord as a makeshift defibrillator to revive a fallen comrade.”
    Great stuff.

    This is a great point Simen and exactly what I’ve tried to articulate in the past, but have never been able to put it so eloquently. My religion, of course, is Star Trek. ST is much more believable than Christianity because most of it takes place in the future, therefore no evidence needed. I don’t need to waste my time regurgitating transparent pseudoscience about the great flood, I’ll just wait for the Vulcans to make first contact.

  • 15. James Diggs  |  November 3, 2007 at 7:31 am

    I think you make a great point and I think that your “enthusiast” argument can describe many of those who have religious beliefs too. There is a level in which Christians (and other religions too I am sure) can invest so much time in the details of their tradition that they come across in very much the same way as the MacGyver enthusiasts or Star Trek fans. I think what is interesting is that when it is about “God” it takes on a kind of nobility in their mind that may be in reality unjustifiable. I think this is especially true when the enthusiasm about their religion supersedes how they love and treat others. So I think those who “believe” and those who don’t can both be caught up in these kinds of discussions simply because they find the topic interesting and they interact with it much like a hobby. Good post.



  • 16. kramii  |  November 6, 2007 at 1:09 pm


    Brillain post! I agree (for once) with your entire post.

    Of course there is more to it than that. To many, the question of belief is not just a hobbyist’s interest. It is the emotional and practical issues that stem from belief / unbelief that they have to deal with.

    What intrigues me is why some things are more interesting than others: Why is MacGyver more interesting than… someone less interesting? Perhaps because there is something about MacGyver that we would like to see in ourselves? Now, I’ve not watched McGyver myself, but I guess from the Wikipaedia article that we’d all want to express his level of resourcefulness? His practical knowledge? His ability to achieve success? Perhaps thare is something of the MacGyver in all of us. Perhaps we recognise that MacGyver as an ideal *is* real – in the sense that he embodies our hopes and dreams for our own lives.

  • 17. bipolar2  |  November 14, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    ** Holy insight, Batman! God is The Joker. **

    Twittering about an alleged god, gods, maybe a divine committee in charge of the universe is unimportant and uninteresting.

    The minimum standard god enthroned by U.S. law (“in god we trust”) or the god of some double-thinking scientists, or the god of Kant simply can not be assumed to be “the” divinity claimed by each big-3 monotheism.

    I can have opinions about a fictitious character “Hamlet” as presented by Shakespeare in his play, ‘The Tragedy of Hamlet.’ I can also have opinions about a mythological being “God” as presented in the synoptic gospels of ‘The New Testament.’

    All I know about these characters is what I can read in pages directly devoted to them. I can no more find “God” by doing astronomical research than I can disinter “Hamlet’s” bones in a chapel at Elsinore.

    When Nietzsche said, “God is dead” he added a gloss — “the belief that belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable.”

    ** the obscenity of comic book monotheism **

    The almighty lords of dualism: Yahweh, God, Allah are moral equivalents of comic book super-villains. God is The Joker. Sacred comix nonetheless enjoy fanatical cult followings. Geeks parsing Batman. Theology is fan fiction.

    Don’t however mistake political ideology for religious belief. Wherever political ideology reduces to politico-theology, secular society fails. To the true believer: Secularism corrupts. Tolerance capitulates to evil. Only the pure (= self-righteous) are saved.

    Holy text is merely pretext. Ideology masquerading as religion bamboozles the masses, the media. Telemullahs there, televangelists here.

    Real terrorist threats in the US: xians undermining the Constitution, trashing biological science, and perverting education to suit a totalitarian ideology of social control and cultural domination.

    The disgusting Bush dictatorship manqué represents only a failed prototype.

    Home-grown christo-fascists threaten the life of the Republic far more than all so-called Islamo-fascists combined.

    copyright asserted 2007

  • 18. Lenoxus  |  December 12, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    “Twittering about an alleged god, gods, maybe a divine committee in charge of the universe is unimportant and uninteresting,” said Bipolar2 before twittering about belief. 😉

  • 19. DeeVee  |  August 31, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    As an Atheist, I am very concerned about “belief,” because the religious vote. I would not care one whit what the religious said or did. They could flagelate themselves every night with whips till they bled, and I would not care.

    The problem is that the religious vote…and demand that if you do not believe in their religious garbage, their imaginary god is going to send you to hell….and thus, they have a right to “save you,” by over turning the US Constitution and US Bill of Rights…and creating a theocratic state. In such a theocratic state, the religious can continue to use religious blackmail, extortion, and threats to “force” you to believe in their god…up to and including teaching religion in public schools.

    Furthermore, the religious are attemping on every level possible to discredit science… the very science and medicine that often saves their own lives and the lives of their children.

    Religion is an institutionalized exercise in political doctrine, with god being the enforcer and the bully….Because down deep the religious mind knows that its all fantasy and imaginary, the work of the religious is then to create massive defense mechanisms, cover up the truth, discredit science…so that the power structure of religion can continue to lie and bamboozle human beings. Therefore, the religious “vote” to continue the lie, which is not just enough for them to believe in, but they demand you also believe.

    Throughout history, religion and government have worked hand in hand to promote the despotism of both the church and state. This has to end….this is the 21st century, and there is not a shred of proof as to why religion should exist.


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