What’s the difference between an ‘atheist’ and an ‘anti-theist’? Well, taken from the original Greek, ‘atheist’ means ‘without gods’, which means the ‘atheist’ doesn’t believe in God. The ‘anti-theist’, on the other hand, set themselves in opposition to God or gods, or the belief in them (‘anti’ means ‘against’ in the Greek).
So are the most vocal of the ‘atheists’ really ‘atheists’, or are they ‘anti-theists’? Take a look at this collage of billboards put up by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, and Backyard Skeptics, and you tell me:
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Can you see why it’s kind of hard to take the ‘atheist’ label seriously for folks like this?
The ‘anti-theist’ denies the existence of God or gods, and sets him/herself against believing in God or gods, as I wrote earlier. The question is, ‘Why?’ From anti-theists you’ll hear all the arguments about ‘reason’ and ‘free-thinking’ and all that (as you could see on the billboards), yet they come across as totally unreasonable when the idea of thinking freely (and acting freely) regarding religious belief is concerned. In fact, they become (in many cases) quite vituperative and vehement in both their denial of the existence of God/gods and in their demands that everyone else should deny the existence of God/gods.
I maintain that the driving force behind their words and actions is that they know God/gods exist, and they don’t want them to. Why would that be? Because, at least in the Christian sense, God expects certain kinds of behaviors from His children, based on their belief in Him and His Son. Those behaviors He expects run counter to what people desire in many cases – kindness and love towards others (regardless how they treat you), moderation in food and drink and sex, generosity, and the like. None of these things is truly onerous – after all, we have laws on the books which often curb our desires, don’t we? The difficulty is that we are in charge of curbing our own desires, and that’s difficult (in fact, in some cases, it’s nigh on impossible).
I think one of the billboards posted by American Atheists pretty much sums up the whole of the problem:
Yep, that’s the problem for anti-theists: there’s Somebody watching them, watching their every move, watching them indoors and outdoors. They’re being ‘spied upon’! (insert gasp of horror here). And that Someone who’s ‘spying’ on them can’t be punched in the mouth or arrested like a window-peeper, can He? Nope – not only is He not physically present, He’s God, who (if the Bible stories are true) could puff you out of existence with no more effort than blowing out a candle.
But there’s more to it than that, and the poster says so. When people do the wrong thing (anything, oddly enough, which tends to run counter to one of the Ten Commandments), we feel guilt. Guilt is a bad thing (mmmmkay?) because it makes us feel sad, and feeling sad is the most horrifying trial any human being can be put through (much worse than, say, being strapped to a table and having your eyes burned out with a hot poker ... but that’s a topic for a different post). So how do we avoid the horrifyingly damaging effects of guilt on our consciences? Well, we’ve got two options: stop doing the stuff that makes us feel guilty (which is absolutely no fun at all) or...
Deny that there’s Somebody keeping tabs on us.
And Satan’s Door Number Two is a lot more easily chosen than trying to put a rein on our lusts, isn’t it?
Personally, I’m pleased as punch there’s Somebody watching my every move. It keeps me honest.
Oh, and for you atheists who are quiet, unassuming, and inoffensive folks out there who might be feeling bad about what I said ... you can lay your anger squarely at the doorsteps of the loudmouth anti-theists who’ve taken over the public face of atheism. Kick them in the hind end, not us; we’re just the folks pointing out the problem.