A sure sign that my New Yorker instinct has yet to fully kick back in after four years of college in small-town New Hampshire: when a guy on the street asked me to stop and lend him my ear, I actually paused. Turns out he was selling God–or at least his church.
As I gazed at my apartment building, just a block away, if asked if I’d heard about [insert organization of spiritual salvation here]. I hadn’t.
Then: Do you believe in God?
Him: Why not?
Me: I just don’t.
As he started in on something about Jesus Christ, I smiled, told him sorry, but I just wasn’t interested, and moved on. He said okay and let me go, which was a relief–religious or secular, salespeople on New York City streets can be very aggressive.
What kept me thinking about this brief interaction after, however, was my own answer: “I just don’t.” I just don’t? I’ve articulated why atheism is important to me on multiple occasions in my college newspaper, the Dartmouth Free Press—“I just don’t” seemed a cop-out.
Actually, the first response that flitted through my mind was “personal decision,” but I dismissed that as really empty. I can easily write 3,000 words defending atheism, describing my own atheist and humanist belief system, outlining the background which lead me to this place, from “technically Catholic,” to agnostic, to firm atheist. I enjoy discussing atheism and religion. Why can’t I give a meaningful, brief response to why I don’t believe in God?
This isn’t the first time a random stranger has asked why I don’t believe in God. Visiting a friend’s college, a guy invited me to attend his church Sunday. I informed him that wouldn’t work out since I was an atheist, leading him to ask what led me to reject God, and was there a time I cried out to him and he didn’t answer? Um…no, I replied (actually finding the scenario pretty funny), and explained that I don’t reject God, a common misunderstanding, I simply don’t believe there is one–so there’s nothing to reject.
What it comes down to is there are many reasons I find atheism and secular humanism meaningful in my life, and as many specific problems I can point out with religion/Christianity. But, I realized, the question, why don’t you believe in God, isn’t asking about that. No meaningful response to that question exists for me.
Maybe next time I’ll try asking why the Christianity salesman doesn’t believe in Aphrodite or the rest of the Greek pantheon–maybe his response can give me an idea for a better soundbite. “God” doesn’t factor into how I live my life any more than Zeus, or Muhammad. Disbelief is the default. As Stephen Roberts stated: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” Many people may find (or feel) reasons for faith in God–that doesn’t mean anyone else should need a reason for not sharing their belief.
So I guess my answer truly is: I just don’t.