Theists, Atheists & Belief

The argument by theists against atheists often goes like this:

"How can you say you don’t believe? Everyone has to believe; otherwise, you are cynical and cannot embrace the future.
Even if you say you don’t believe, you most certainly believe in things like friendship, love, science, truth, ethics, etc.
Hence, you are also a believer.
Also, it is very much not humble and certainly wrong to say you know everything with certainty. You cannot know there is no god.
Even though science has made great advances and we know a lot about life and the universe, there is so much we don’t know and will never be able to know, but we can get glimpses of it through spirituality we cannot get any other way.
Hence, god(s) exist, because all of that is god.

I’m very confused by that. Maybe that is because I also know very little about atheists and how they frame their belief system in opposition to theists, but I feel a lot of different concepts get conflated here. Theism seems to be the human norm and atheism seems to be a radical divergence from that human norm. One says: “I believe in god(s).” The other says: “I don’t see it. I don’t believe in god(s).” Not: “I believe in nothing.” Maybe it is because for many theists, god is everything, and if you don’t believe in it, you believe in nothing. But for atheists, just not believing in god does not equate to believing in nothing. Just not god.

A less radical, but still radical enough version of this throughout history has always been: “I believe in god X.” “No, you are wrong. God X is bad. Only god Y, my god, is good.” This often ends in rather bloody arguments. This also seems to get more intense when everyone has just one god. If they have many, there is less to fight about.

I’m also not sure how it is more humble to say we know so little about the world, and it is full of magic and that magic is absolutely certainly god. That might also be wrong. It is also very culture-centric, as each religion has their own gods and interpretation of them, and each is equally certain, but they cannot all be right. It looks to me like being an atheist until proven wrong is more humble.

Thinking about it, monotheism might be even more radical than atheism.

Imagine you are a good old Greek from 2000 years ago. There was not one god for you. There were plenty. Each had their specific function for parts of your life: a god for love, friendship, war, justice. You believe in them the same way an atheist believes in the same values.

Along come those pesky monotheists and say: “No, there is just one god. Our god. Your gods are not to be worshipped.” In the Bible, one description of those monotheistic gods, one god gets to have all of the before mentioned duties. If you believe in just him, he helps you win wars. He lays down the laws to Moses, who gives them to everyone. He is the one to love. The big downside of being an atheist is that they have done a bad job at taking the good parts of religion with them. Namely, the rituals around life's most intense events and the architecture that goes along with it.

When a baby is born, it is a beautiful ritual to have Bris or a christening. All the friends and family come together to welcome a new being into the world. There is magic about that and it instills meaning. This seems to be really hard to replicate. We wanted a secularized christening for our firstborn, but we never made it happen and there was nothing to fall back on that other atheists had established. We just made sure to have as much of the family and friends there after birth as possible and had them around for a magical week.

When getting married, just signing some papers in a dingy building for some bureaucrat is not very inspiring. But here the magic is easier to replicate. For one, because secularization forces also the theists to deal with bureaucrats and also because everyone accepts and expects a get-together for a wedding, even if everyone might be an atheist. Magic preserved. It is also common for atheists to rent church-like places and even for theists to rather be at the beach than inside a temple. When we married at the beach in Malibu with some of our closest friends and family, it was a magical moment, and we kept the tradition of having someone talk through the procedure and others sing and play music which instilled it with meaning.

When atheists face death, the lack of rituals becomes most obvious. When my father recently died, I sometimes wished, at least he was part of a real religious community, because then everything ritualistic is already taken care of. In the Christian version of that, there would have been a priest to hold the ceremony at some church and my dad would have been buried in a graveyard behind the church. We didn’t have any of that. We had to make up those rituals. We found a forest graveyard, I held the ceremony personally and my wife guided me through it emotionally. So basically we just copied proven rituals on the fly and in a sense, it was probably more meaningful than outsourcing it to some entity you are not really convinced about.

In essence, atheists should claim back the magic and wonder of the world that they gave away too easily just to make a silly point. No shame or contradiction in that.