Ordinary everyday events are experienced differently when viewed by atheists and by believers.
There are obviously more than six, but I’ve tried to pick the everyday ones that most people would encounter. Imagine two people, each with a reasonable job, living alone, but with one being a believer and the other being an atheist. How does their average weekday differ?
1. Being Alive
The first thing most people do in the morning is wake up. For the religious, they likely ended the day before with a prayer at night. Generally speaking, humans are afraid of the dark and standardized prayers in many religions recognize this and ask for god’s protection during slumber and may even request elevation to heaven should they not survive the night. So, for a believer, the morning is a time to be thankful that the night has been successfully concluded with death, disease, and demonic temptations all successfully avoided.
For the atheist, it’s time to feed the cat, discover that you’re out of coffee, and wonder why you had that dream about the Teletubbies again.
Hopefully, neither of them is anxious to check the daily horoscope to see what the planets have in store for them that day.
2. Thanks for the Food
For many believers, the first meal of the day coincides with the first prayer of the day. It’s time to thank god for the food you are about to eat, and to remember that you owe the existence of your sustenance to god’s grace.
The atheist has a much simpler calculation; you work, make money, spend part of it on food, usually cook it yourself, and enjoy the benefits of your own labor. It’s a time, consciously or not, to reflect on your earning capability and culinary skills. And if you over cook the oatmeal, or break the yolk in the fried egg, you have only yourself to blame.
3. Am I Being Rewarded or Punished?
Once both the believer and atheist are at work, they see people who make less money or have less gratifying jobs than themselves, and also those who make more or who have more personally rewarding jobs. How do they feel about this?
For both of them, it’s partly the same considerations. That person got their job because their Uncle owns the company. The other person will never move up, because they don’t have a college degree, despite being able to do the work. This other person has hit a “glass ceiling” because of their sex, or life style, or personal grooming habits.
But for the believer, it may go a step further. If they are worthy, god may reward them with promotions, or a new job prospect, or some benefit. And they are likely to pray to god for these things, just in case god wasn’t aware that the believer really wants them. If they don’t receive them, then they may think that in some way god has found them unworthy of these benefits, or that god is testing them, or has another plan for them.
For the atheist, there is no one to share the blame with if they get passed over for the promotion, or if they get laid off from work. Likewise, there is no one to share the praise with when they do get a salary raise, or are selected for a training program in Hawaii, or achieve some other benefit. Of course, the atheist may also believe that they are being given poor assignments because their boss is really a space lizard masquerading as a human being...
Hopefully, neither the believer nor the atheist is considering sleeping (a polite way of saying “have sex with”) with th boss as a way to get ahead.
4. It’s God’s Will
During the day, both the believer and atheist are likely to come across some news that they find troubling. Maybe it’s about hunger and malnutrition in some part of the world, or perhaps it’s about violence resulting in the deaths of innocents, or a natural disaster, or any of the myriad things that people find disheartening about their world. How do they both react?
Both may find blame with some local human agency. This side caused that problem, that ethnic group is a troublemaker, etc. And the same is sometimes true for natural disasters, where human actions can cause some and exacerbate the harmful effects of others. They may disagree on the causal factors, but the analysis is basically the same for both.
But the believer adds another dimension. As god is an active participant in the world, the event, no matter how trivial or momentous, is a manifestation of god’s will. It is an active indication of god’s displeasure with something, or god’s mercy (like having two people survive when 30 die in the train wreck). Since god is behind these events, and since nothing happens for many believers without a reason – with that reason being god’s unknowable purpose – the best way to address these concerns is to talk to god about them. Prayer is necessary to turn god’s wrath away or to extol god’s mercy. This doesn’t stop people from actively participating in charity, but it does make people wonder what the victims did to deserve god’s anger in the first place.
For some people, this unease never quite goes away even when a particular tragedy ends. If you are a Filipino Catholic, then why does god so frequently hit your country with typhoons, volcanoes, earthquakes, and floods? If you’re a Pakistani or Bangladeshi Muslim, why are your countries now poorer than Hindu India? If you’re a Saudi Muslim, why doesn’t god help your people invent patentable technology? If you’re Jewish, where was your god during the holocaust – on holiday?
But the atheist has none of these excuses or explanations or potential solutions to fall back upon. Events have causes, some clearly dictated by human actions and some by natural conditions. There is no one to blame for a typhoon, but there are people to blame (usually Government officials) for a poor response to the tragedy. For
atheists, this can sometimes be frustrating too, as there is no easy “god did it” answer to explain these events. You have to learn something in order to understand how and why a volcano erupts after centuries of dormancy. You need to understand plate tectonics to grasp why a particular area is prone to earthquakes. You need to read the
history of a conflict before you can truly understand why two peoples seem utterly incapable of living peacefully next to each other in peace.
Both the believer and the atheist can succumb to feelings of frustration in the face of apparently intractable events. Neither will see themselves as being individually capable of providing a solution. For both, personal involvement is an option, like contributing to charities, or political activism, or doing volunteer work. But for the believer, they can pray and feel that they are “doing” something positive to address the situation. That placebo of personal comfort is not available to the atheist. The atheist? If they worry too much, they might get an ulcer or become a true curmudgeon.
5. Getting What I Want
Driving home from work, our believer and atheist see a nice new car that really takes their fancy.
Our believer whispers a quick prayer to their personal god, to please help them get a car like that (if it’s god’s will of course, so they can explain to themselves later why the prayer may not have worked). Then they run their budget in their mind and estimate whether they could afford the likely monthly payments.
Our atheist does the same mental calculation, minus the prayer. Only hard work, or winning the lottery, will get the car. Gifts from god are not an option.
They both buy a lottery ticket when they stop at the store to buy some milk, coffee and cat food on the way home. The lottery ticket is their chance to win the car. The believer might say a prayer about it to ensure that god knows about this, just in case god wasn’t paying attention when the believer purchased the lottery ticket (god is pretty busy with all those typhoons, and wars, and deciding who should die from cancer and who recovers, and so on).
They both realize that they are more likely to be struck by lightning than to win the lottery, but someone has to win it, right? It’s a cheap way to buy some hope for both of them.
6. Sleeping Alone
The day is done, and it’s time to sleep. The dishes are done. It’s the end of another day for both our believer and atheist.
The believer enjoys masturbation before going to sleep, and only briefly considers that god is watching. God is omnipresent, except when you need your privacy, of course. Does god really want to watch you when you’re sick with diarrhea or agonizing constipation? And when the believer closes their eyes to sleep, they do so in the certain belief that they are not alone. With them are perhaps guardian angels to protect them from the evils of the night, and the everpresent god too. They are never alone, because they can always talk to god or the angels or saints or divas. Those supernatural entities may not talk back, but it’s not like you are just talking to yourself, as that would mean you were crazy.
The atheist talks to their cat, even though they know that the cat has a rather limited vocabulary, but it makes you feel good to talk to the cat sometimes. And the cat will purr, and meow when it wants something or just to remind you it’s there (people who live with Siamese cats will know what I am talking about here). The atheist masturbates too, but doesn’t worry about anyone watching so long as the window drapes are shut and the web cam is turned off.
From the outside, they are indistinguishable. As god never shows his/her/it’s face, there is no objective indication that the believer is talking to anyone other than themselves. God never makes the green light on the road signal last longer for the believer, never makes the food cook faster or taste better, and never takes out the garbage. They
both live alone in the world, but the believer lives in their own mind with an impotent invisible companion... a cat is far better option.
Photo Credits: Sin Amigos