A frequent accusation leveled against atheists is that they don’t really disbelieve in God, but are just rebelling against him. This seems kind of silly from my perspective, but I can see why it might have some weight to someone who actually believes in a god. After all, someone who doesn’t believe in a god isn’t going to be terribly bothered by how that god wants us to behave. Therefore, most vocal atheists not only don’t feel they are bound to follow any god’s orders, but are openly resentful of attempts by religious believers to impose those orders on them. If you think that god is real, and encounter that resentful attitude, it’s easy to see why you might think it’s the source of the atheism.
It doesn’t help, of course, that some holy books make exactly that claim. I don’t know whether the writers just made the same mistake described above, or if they cynically exploited the fact that it’s an easy mistake for others to make. In the end, I don’t suppose it matters. The statements are in there, and I guess we just have to deal with the fallout.
But let’s think about this just a little bit. Can you think of any time in history when anyone actually rebelled against any actually existing authority by pretending it didn’t exist? Can you imagine a thief analyzing a target’s security, deciding that he can’t possibly get past it, and then deciding to go ahead with the robbery on the basis of deciding the police don’t exist? Think the American Revolution would have been successful, if it were predicated on the idea that the British Empire didn’t exist? Do you suppose that anyone even stood up and suggested that as a serious approach to take to the problem? People just don’t behave like that.
Or perhaps, even more nonsensically, you think we’re rebelling against a god we believe exists, and we’re just telling you it’s because we don’t believe. As if, somehow, we have the balls to spit in the face of the all-powerful creator of the universe, but are scared to admit it to ordinary people. Does that make any sense at all?
On a more personal note, allow me to tell you a little something about myself: I’m not a particularly rebellious person by nature. I am a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy. I’m a follower. As a rule, I do not like to argue. I don’t like to contradict people about things they clearly feel strongly about; I just don’t feel comfortable with that kind of conflict. I especially do not like to engage in those conflicts if I don’t believe I have a really solid reason for my contrary position. I don’t go around breaking laws (well, except maybe the occasional speed limit. Shh! Don’t tell!), even ones I don’t agree with. I am not a brave person. The idea that I could stand up to the ultimate authority in the universe and “rebel” makes no sense at all. That’s not me.
And yet, here I am telling you that I don’t believe that such a being exists. I’ve spent more than three years writing with fair regularity about this perspective. This isn’t a testament to my vast desire and capacity for rebellion. It’s a testament to just how ridiculous the very idea of a god seems to me, how utterly wrong-headed it appears to me that anyone should bind themselves (and attempt to bind others) to the dictates of an imaginary being.
So, to sum things up, the idea that people are atheists because they just want to rebel against a god gets the equation backwards. Rather, because we don’t believe a god exists, we see no reason to take its demands seriously. And it isn’t necessarily even a case of rebelling; if a god doesn’t exist, then many of the dictates attributed to it don’t even make any sense. There’s no reason to care what it wants. We evaluate the demands, therefore, on what we perceive to be their merits in the real world, and feel pretty free to disregard the ones that are evidently harmful or pointless. That’s really all there is to it.