Thought Catalog

You Can’t Be An Atheist

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You can’t be an atheist because there is nothing romantic about that kind of certainty. Certainty is the destination you arrive at at the end of a conversation, one I was hoping we could have together, for the rest of our lives. These are supposed to be my head + your chest conversations where I ask you questions that don’t have answers and you tell me your best guesses and we both marvel at how small we are in the grand scheme of things.

I want to be more than a witness to your soliloquy. If am going to feel like your partner in life, I need to understand how your mind works and there is nothing I understand less than coming to a conclusion about something and sticking to it for the next fifty years. How do you deal with outliers? Religious people have crises of faith and scientific fields discover new things all the time. You are alone in your assurance that you possess a Truth. Doubt it a little bit and tell me why.

Scientists are the most beautiful when they are talking about the limitations of science. You can never do an experiment as many times as there are possible outcomes. This is why the scientific method produces theories, not facts. You can’t be an atheist because I’d respect you more if you had a wrong hypothesis than a wrong life-altering metafact.

You can’t be an atheist because I always cheer for the underdog, and in philosophy the underdog is the person who understands that they don’t know anything and chooses not to argue about it. There’s nothing to be gained acknowledging the good points of worldviews without accepting them as a story that tells your life. It’s an unselfish praise because it doesn’t benefit you, it doesn’t help sleep come easier at night, doesn’t explain what will happen tomorrow. You can’t be an atheist because the strength of living with these questions is sexier than your answers to them.

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You Can’t Be An Atheist is cataloged in , , , ,
  • Lefty

    Okay…then you can’t believe in god.

    • nishantjn


      • Jack


    • Aase Maren Østgaard

      Or be an agnostic. Or anything, really.

    • Kenzie

      Exactly. This goes both ways. How many religious groups claim to know the Truth? As an Atheist, I acknowledge there are limits to what science can do, but each day our knowledge expands. Also, I am certain of a few things. I have one life. My loved ones die and I will not meet them again in afterlife. I cherish what I have without this idea of faith and religion.

  • H

    I surely can.

  • Patrick Hanlan (@pathanlan)

    This might be a differentiating factor between different groups of atheists – I feel that atheism is about accepting we don’t know everything and never will. Part of my interpretation of it is the acknowledgement that kind of helplessness. It’s just something you have to become okay with.

    • Clara

      Absolutely. This is 100% how I feel about my atheism.

    • Sarah

      Actually that would be more agnostic than atheist

      • Jack

        “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” –Bertrand Russell

        I totally agree btw. It’s called atheistic agnosticism, (or agnostic atheism depending on your semantic preference).

      • Melody

        I think that you can accept that you don’t know everything and still believe there is no god.

        I certainly accept I can’t know everything, but I believe there is no god.

      • Boxxy

        Most commonly used definitions of Agnostic technically fall under

      • ryepdx (@ryepdx)

        Actually agnosticism is an answer to a completely different question than atheism. Agnosticism isn’t “atheism-lite,” though I guess that’s what some people mean when they call themselves agnostic. I won’t get into the etymology of the word, but it basically just means you don’t think it’s possible to know for sure whether or not there are gods. It’s an answer to the question of the divine’s knowability. Most atheists, myself included, could be described as agnostic-atheists. We don’t believe we can know for sure if there are gods, but we think there probably aren’t.

        “Hard atheists,” or gnostic-atheists, can be just as obnoxious as all the religious folks who think they have it all figured out. Fortunately I don’t think there are many of those, at least not in my circles.

      • Matt

        Agreed. Not to get into semantics, but my understanding of the very meaning of “atheism” is that you KNOW for a FACT that there is no god.

      • Andrew Michael Potter

        No, Matt, that’s GNOSTIC atheism. There aren’t too many of those, because it’s a stupid position to hold. The rest of all atheists agree that although there probably is no God, and the chances of there being one are so slim that we might as well just not believe in him and take our chances living life without thinking about him, if you ask us whether we KNOW there is no God, we’d say “no, we’re just not living our lives as if there is one because we’ve seen no compelling evidence to convince us otherwise.”

  • Quart

    This is terrible.

  • nishantjn

    I hope you’re not talking about theory and fact in science without really knowing any science.

  • K

    If anything an atheist puts more thought into how small we are in the scheme of things. I think that makes a far better “head + your chest conversation.”

  • Christina

    Ummmm.. Not quite.

  • Tony

    “You can’t be an atheist because there is nothing romantic about that kind of certainty.”
    That same reasoning works against believing in God.

    • Joe

      FAR fewer people of faith are “certain” of their god/faith as atheists are about theirs.

  • Emma

    What in the world did I just read?

    • Melody

      That is how I felt to. I was like what is this and why is it here.

      • Monica


  • Mahnoor Khan

    Well said!

  • Dan

    Are you under the impression that atheists are certain of God not existing? I’m afraid you’ve gotten a little too much of your information from church. Atheism is just the rejection of the existnace of gods, this goes for Allah, Zues, Promethous, Santan-Lakshmi and yours.

    Do we *know* any of them don’t exist? No. But we don’t believe in things until we are shown evidence so the proposition of your god goes with it. Some profess certainty, but they are a small faction. Understand why you reject Zues and you’ll understand why I reject your god.

    • Lady

      Yes, this. “Atheist.” Break the word down. It means a lack of belief in God. It doesn’t mean a certainty that God is impossible. It’s every bit as possible as anything your brain can make up. An atheist just knows that the burden of proof lies on the people who assert something is so. Not on the people who don’t assert it. You can’t prove a negative. You can’t prove there’s no God. Atheists simply say, I don’t believe it without reason. That’s different than saying God is impossible. By the by, Buddhists are atheists. As are Scientologists. As are agnostics (saying “I don’t know” is not a belief in God. It is therefore a lack of belief in God). The only things atheists have in common are a lack of belief in God. You can believe in all kinds of supernatural bullshit and not believe in God. Plenty of “spiritual” people who say things like, “I don’t believe in God, but I believe in energy” (no shit–that’s because energy is a scientific term for something that actually exists. We all believe in it)–guess what: They’re atheists. There is a stigma to this word, when really, quite a lot of people are atheists and just don’t admit it. So maybe you say “You can’t be an atheist because you can’t be so certain.” I say, if you’re uncertain, then you’re most likely an atheist.

  • Arthur J.

    So you’re saying that people can’t be atheists because…ummm…you don’t like it? Horrible waste of an article.

    • ryepdx (@ryepdx)

      Eh. More than that, she’s saying that atheists have no sense of wonder at the universe, no sense of being small and not knowing the answers. She feels as though atheists think they have all the answers. I kinda take offense to that…

  • Kat

    I don’t know why this irritates me but it does.

    It’s romantic to me the way we are insignificant and we may not know everything but we discover so much about our natural and non-divine existence.

    “We are stardust,”

    Isn’t that kind of interconnectedness beautiful enough? That, through a series of chances, we happened and we are a beautiful and brief combination of materials in this vacuum of unfathomable depths that we call the universe?

    Believe what you will but I don’t think any doctrine has it correct. I live for my fellow man and myself: we were all given one life and I will not accept that any religion contains all that can be considered true or right.

    If you are a member of a religion, are you not yourself reveling in an absolute truth so that you sleep easier at night?

    I think we all doubt things and that’s fine. I choose not to believe in any ordained Gods and that’s fine. Get over the idea that the natural world is devoid of romanticism because it is overflowing with it.

    • An Uncertain Atheist.

      Beautiful. Well said.

    • Meghan Johnson

      My thoughts exactly.

    • Dang

      Wow, very well said. Beautiful.

    • sara

      kudos! i feel the same way. it’s childish and selfish to be telling someone they can’t be who they are, simply because you don’t like it. that seems to be a very religious thing to do, unfortunately.

    • celinesetiadi

      I would say ‘preach’, but it seems awfully inappropriate to do so. Either way, I entirely agree.

    • Sarah

      I completely agree! There’s a beautiful quote by Lynne Kelly that I think beautifully expresses the sentiments of your last statement in particular:

      “Some believers accuse skeptics of having nothing left but a dull, cold, scientific world. I am left with only art, music, literature, theatre, the magnificence of nature, mathematics, the human spirit, sex, the cosmos, friendship, history, science, imagination, dreams, oceans, mountains, love, and the wonder of birth. That’ll do for me.”

    • Molly

      i 100% agree!

  • Doug Hart

    Go ahead and watch me. If there is a god his sense of humor is so twisted I’d rather him leave me to rot than give me eternal salvation. What’s he going to salvage me for? A band-aid for a boil on Billy Graham’s ass.
    I’ll sit this one out.

    • Doug Hart

      we are golden. and we have to get ourselves back to the garden.
      Fuck you!

      • Jack

        “We are stardust. Billion year old carbon. We are golden..” Great song. Very moving. Although I always took the getting ourselves back to the garden as more of a metaphor for promoting the positive aspects of humanity like love, community, personal and collective responsibility, etc.

      • Doug Hart

        I only posted that because I forgot to click the follow up box the first time. I had to be flamboyant. I have a reputation to maintain. Ask JK. He’ll tell you.

      • Jk

        You do have a certain flair!

    • Jk

      Doug, you are my favourite commenter on TC. I feel like you might be my dad masquerading.

      • Doug Hart

        Jk? Son! Is that you? Come see yo daddy. Bring your ATM card my boy? I am living under the 59th street bridge. Manhattan side.

      • Jk

        Hahahaha! I’m all tapped out pops. Hope there’s room under there for me.

      • Doug Hart

        Man! Nothing sets the dogs to barking like a post on religion.

  • An Uncertain Atheist.

    You obviously do not understand atheism. Or really anything past the end of your nose for that matter. Poor thing. Go educate yourself before you write stupid things like this, please.

  • Alex

    You do realize that this entire article can be flipped round and re-posted as “You Can’t Be Religious”, right?

    • Sierra

      I think it’s pretty clear that the author does know this. I may have been reading it wrong, but it looks to me like she was trying to say she objects to absolute conviction on either side, and prefers to be with someone who thinks about spiritual questions, but understands that they don’t know any of the answers for sure.

      • Alex

        That’s what an atheist is though. Someone who admits that they don’t know all (or any) of the answers. As opposed to someone religious who has a book full of answers for every question.

      • Jack

        “I very much suspect that if thinking men would have the courage to think for themselves, and to speak what they think, it would be found they do not differ in religious opinions as much as is supposed.” –Thomas Jefferson

      • Sierra

        I think she’s railing against athiests who are 100% sure that they know the spiritual answers (there’s no god/higher power), and from her condemnation of certainty in general, I assume she also disapproves of religious people who are 100% sure they know the spiritual answers (that there is a god/higher power). I took this as a pro-agnosticism essay, not a pro-religious one. Again, I may be reading it wrong (and biased by the fact that, if I were reading it right, her views line up well with mine).

      • Sarah

        If that is what she intended to say, she certainly didn’t articulate it very well

      • Sierra

        Really? “Certainty is the destination you arrive at at the end of a conversation, one I was hoping we could have together, for the rest of our lives. These are supposed to be my head + your chest conversations where I ask you questions that don’t have answers and you tell me your best guesses and we both marvel at how small we are in the grand scheme of things.” This doesn’t look to me like the writing of a devout religious person. It looks like someone who doesn’t want to be with anyone who’s sure they know all the answers, regardless of what they think those answers are. I really don’t understand how anyone gets “religious zealot” out of this article.

  • Andrew Michael Potter

    I don’t see the romanticism in not trying to understand things. Why are atheism and science mutually exclusive to you? I guess this piece is cute, or whatever, but it doesn’t make much sense. Kind of like she tried to say something, but it came out all wrong? Or maybe she just fundamentally doesn’t understand what she’s talking about? I accept her American right to have differing opinions, but I don’t think I have to respect opinions that are founded on misunderstandings.

  • Nick

    Come on people. The author isn’t saying YOU can’t be an atheist! She is saying a specific person (one it seems she wants a future with) can’t be because it clashes with HER sense of romance. Its intriguing and I liked it!

    • Andrew Michael Potter

      I think most of us understand what she’s trying to say. We’re just pointing out how stupid it sounds.

      • Tj

        Agreed with Andrew.

      • wow

        Oh yeah, we don’t agree so let’s tell her how stupid she is!

        Sounds pretty typical of an atheist to me.

    • TheEman85

      I honestly never thought about that, and I read it twice looking for something I missed. It makes the article better, but I’m still not a big fan of it. (very pretty writing though)

      • Andrew Michael Potter

        Well, it’s not really a matter of disagreeing, is it? It’s a matter of her marginalizing an entire group of people while at the same time completely misunderstanding what it is that unites them as a group. She is wrong, it is black and white. There are gnostic atheists, who claim to explicitly know that God is not real, but that’s not what atheism is. That’s why it gets its own special title.

        Look, I apologize for not making it clearer. I get upset, as you can imagine, when somebody attacks my entire worldview, and even more upset when the piece of writing attacking it makes little sense.

        It’d be like if some racist wrote this exact paper and called it, I don’t know, “You Can’t Be An Asian” and then filled it with Jewish stereotypes instead. The Asian readers would feel terrible, but the Jewish readers would feel terrible and confused because it’s their named attached to the belittling of something they aren’t.

  • Jack

    Yes, yes I can. Just like you can believe in god.

    You’re misrepresenting the atheistic position as being closed-minded and claiming a certainty that no one can claim; who said atheists are certain? Except for some loud-mouthed arrogant idiotic internet trolls, most atheists are neither close-minded nor certain. Being atheistic just means you don’t believe there is a god, not that you know that there isn’t one. Difference. I’m an “atheistic agnostic” (crazy nuanced terms, I know) aka IDK due to insufficient data, but due to a lack of evidence I don’t live my life believing.

    You should change the title to ‘You Can’t Be Certain, But No One Can. So Have Your Opinion, Just Don’t Be A Douche About It.’

  • Chance Mora

    So hear’s the thing, I’m not an atheist, not by a long stretch, but I think this little, whatever this is, can be summed up in a few words, “Bullshit, you’ve got it all wrong.” You say in your article, “You can’t be an atheist because there is nothing romantic about that kind of certainty.” This argument, I fear, can be used to deny the existence of god.

    Next you say, “…I need to understand how your mind works and there is nothing I understand less than coming to a conclusion about something and sticking to it for the next fifty years…” My question to this statement is a rather straight forward one, why not discuss the reasons that he/she became an Atheist? That would be an amazingly enlightening conversation if you ask me.

    This point leads into the next section very well, and is, I’m sorry to say, just wrong, “You can’t be an atheist because I’d respect you more if you had a wrong hypothesis than a wrong life-altering metafact.” The issue with this statement is that most Atheists that I’ve read about are not, in fact, against a “God” they simply say that can’t believe in something that there is no evidence to support. You liken believing in a God to Scientific Method, that is laughable if only because there is NO SCIENTIFIC PROOF that a “God” or any other higher “Being” exists. If you, or anyone else, could offer irrefutable evidence of the existence of a higher power, there wouldn’t be anymore Atheists.

    The entire last paragraph drives me up the wall, and I’ll tell you why, “…and in philosophy the underdog is the person who understands that they don’t know anything and chooses not to argue about it.” From what I understand of Atheism, the whole point is that they OPENLY PROFESS that they don’t know everything. As Penn Jillette said in his recent book, “You don’t have to be brave or a saint, a martyr, or even very smart to be an atheist. All you have to be able to say is “I don’t know”.”

    I ask the author, how does this, “There’s nothing to be gained acknowledging the good points of worldviews without accepting them as a story that tells your life.” Reflect Atheism? I mean, most atheists that I’ve read about look at various religions and say, “That would be nice, too bad it isn’t true…” and that’s alright because IT DOESN’T AFFECT THEIR LIFE. You make the assumption that nothing can be gained from looking at other ‘worldviews’ without accepting them as ‘a story that tells your life,’ how does that work? Does everyone now have to accept every faith that they thing has good points? That just doesn’t sit well with me.

    The last sentence in your piece, quite honestly, MAKES ME CRAZY, you said, “You can’t be an atheist because the strength of living with these questions is sexier than your answers to them.” You are again writing this with the assumption that Atheists all think they have the answers to everything, when in fact, they have more questions than ANY theist could ever have. When I ask you, “Who or What created the universe?” A theist would say, “My God.” An Atheist would say, “I don’t know.” In your words, “the strength of living with these questions is sexier than your answers to them.”

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  • A Reader

    thought catalog has gone so downhill

    • Another Reader

      over one article. The beauty of writing is, people can say whatever they want. You don’t agree with it, just move the fuck on.

  • derp

    I am an atheist but I don’t want to be. I’d like nothing more than to be spiritual, believe in things like collective consciousness and that life is meaningful. I gain nothing from this position but I can’t change it, I’ve tried.

    • Uhh, what?

      Being an atheist doesn’t commit you to feeling that life is meaningless or has no spiritual side to it. Try thinking about how much less you would get out of life if you were to spend it praising/begging for forgiveness from ancient mythological figures.

    • Meghan Johnson

      I’ve often felt the same way, Derp, wishing I could convince myself to believe in something. But atheism still leaves room for uncertainty, and there is beauty in uncertainty. A lack of belief in a god does not necessarily require a lack of belief in anything beautiful or meaningful.

  • W

    The author never said that they believe in a definitive deity, or, God.
    They are obviously open-minded and adaptable. For the comments above, there’s no hypocrisy here, stop taking it so personally. It’s a refreshing point of view.

    • Melody

      Ya, but the author also wrote: 50 Questions to God on Thought Catalog which makes me think she may ya know believe in god…..

  • parenthetical

    Well, unless he (or she) is a jerk (and “soliloquy” may be a hint), he oughta be able to point out a couple of weak points to make her feel better. And joint marvel at how small they are in the grand scheme of things should NOT be a problem. Plus, an atheist may not be her “underdog” in philosophy, but in the U.S.A. at least, he’s the philosophical underdog jackpot! She needs to turn that frown upside down! Less romantic? Well, yeah, I see what she means. But rejecting someone’s conclusion (so far) on a Very Big Issue — or to be more accurate, rejecting *someone* — because you’re too in love with not knowing stuff isn’t very sexy, either.

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