A Christian’s Inner Atheist January 8, 2010

A Christian’s Inner Atheist

David Hayward is a Christian blogger who has an interesting post on this site about how he has an “inner atheist” — That is to say, he has thoughts that might be more in line with how an atheist would think than a Christian.

A few examples:

2. fundamentalism, in any form, annoys me

5. although the church can be good, too many Christians are blind to the difference between the community and the corruption and corruptive power of the institution

8. that some people are discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, beliefs, race, gender, etc., is unethical, especially within religious groups

It takes courage for a Christian to say any of these things and I commend David for writing his list.

I wonder if any of you have thoughts that might be more in tune with a theist — things you might not feel comfortable sharing around other atheists. Do you have an “inner theist”?

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  • Jenifer


  • I do not know about the whole list, I have yet to read them all, but the examples you quoted are not things that an atheist is more likely to think than a Christian. There are plenty of Christians, my self included, who think those things.

  • My boss made my fellow Director’s and I take a strengths assessment a few weeks ago. It appears to have identified something that at least some people think means I have an “inner theist.”

    I believe I am connected to and have responsibilities toward other things (living and otherwise) on this planet (and off it).

    This gives me a strength in “Connectedness” and, per the folks at Gallup, means I’m most certainly spiritual and believe in a higher power…I think it means I’m not a selfish idiot…

  • I don’t see his list as “inner atheism” – or even inner agnosticism. He’s just an “actively intelligent” believer able to reconcile the real world with his beliefs. (Being actively intelligent is an ability which bible literalists voluntarily refuse to use.)

  • Jordan

    My ‘inner theist’ manifests itself whenever I try really hard to get into the theist mindset. I really try to listen to theists when they provide arguments for faith and be as open-minded as I can. I’m still waiting for a persuasive argument.

  • ungullible

    Logically I know there is no such thing as luck. But there are some things I can’t help but feel jinxed on – as if, yes there is a god, and he is taunting me. That’s about as close as I come to having an inner theist. 🙂

  • Well I have to be careful to avoid speaking in absolutes sometimes. For example I say I don’t believe in god but I have to allow for the possibility of a god. That can trip me up when speaking, such as the incorrect “there is no god” versus the correct “there more than likely is no god”

  • Polly

    I’ll play this game:

    1) Boy, the workings of biological life sure are complex and amazingly interdependent. It really does look like it was organized by something intelligent. Though, not even in my more extreme musings do I think that that intelligence is in any way interested in humans/animals other than as experiments or curiosities.

    2)Atheism will never generate a standard morality. Neither has religion over the past few thousand years. But, pretenders to absolute, rationality-based morality are almost as misguided as the religious.

    3)Atheists’ claims to be the most rational is grating. What hubris. There are certainly intelligent and thoughtful theists out there…somewhere. Many theologies are internally consistent – not believable to outsiders, but not illogical either.

    4)In the far distant future we may come upon evidence for a god, or at least intelligent creator(s). Maybe the theists really are right. Maybe the argument is only half-way done with an incomplete set of facts and there might still be more to learn. One side of a court case always sounds irrefutable until you hear the rest of the evidence.

    5)Christianity is better than Islam – at least for the last few hundred years. I don’t see Christians sending their children off to blow up themselves along with others on their way to church. Even poor Christians don’t succumb to such insanity.
    Judaism seems better than either. (but not better than atheism 🙂 )

    6)Perhaps people, on the whole, are better off with religion than without it. Maybe not everyone “can be good without god.” Of course, many aren’t good with god, either.

    7)Maybe if I were god, I’d drown the world, or wipe out whole cultures, too. (that’s only on a really bad day)

  • Alec

    I don’t think that I have “an inner theist” other than I say things like, “Oh my God” and “Bless you” (that one’s more of a social convention than a religious practice).

  • ATL-Apostate

    No. I gave up the fairy tales about 5 years ago. Religion is repugnant to me now.

  • Matto the Hun

    I stoned my inner theist to death… and then sent an army of she bears to kill it again. After that I considered drowning it with a flood but it was my resting day so I didn’t bother.

  • Tyro

    I have some superstitious beliefs. I know they’re irrational, I know they’re wrong yet their emotional impact is still strong.

    I suppose I agree with (5) of Paul’s list but I disagree with everything else he wrote which probably makes me grating but oh well, reality is tough that way.

  • John L.

    I’m like bjorn in that I don’t like to be absolute with anything that can’t be proven. I believe anything is possible and beliefs should just be ideas. That way if you think a certain way towards something that has no evidence on either side you can just say well that’s just my idea and I could be wrong. I wish theists would be more like this and admit that they could be wrong. And it would be fine for them to have there ideas just like how I think aliens are real, but not ghosts and I have no idea why because that’s just what I think and I’m cool with people thinking differently. To go even further, to label yourself an atheist could be taken as an absolute despite a lack of evidence for your claim. Outspoken atheists do promote this idea that we should say that there’s probably no god instead of there is no god, but I think we sometimes forget since it sounds wishy washy.

  • muggle

    There is no “God”.

  • Aj

    I think this is more about how a Christian thinks his version of Christianity is better than other versions of Christianity. Considering the amount of splits in Christianity this isn’t anything new.

    Apart from 2. and 4. I don’t see atheists agreeing very much with him. It’s all typical liberal Christian as Jake says, nothing authentically atheist. Empathizing is hard, better to fake it instead.

    2. fundamentalism, in any form, annoys me

    This is an underhanded shot at atheists, just so you know, this guy is a bit of douche.

    7. I think all religions are an apparent local and temporal manifestation of a deeper unifying reality

    I’ve never heard an atheist use the phrase “deeper unifying reality”. I’m sorry, I don’t speak hippy. Liberal Christians like the word “deeper”: deeper meaning, deeper consciousness, deeper experience, it’s either New Age influence or their minds are wandering towards sex all the time.

  • My inner theist… nothin’, I got nothin’

  • I think I’ve always liked the idea of having an “inner theist,” in that the more ritualistic aspects of religion can seem appealingly comforting. I distinctly remember, for example, watching with envy as my middle school classmates morosely toyed with their Jewish star necklaces during times of adolescent crisis. Similarly, I used to really wish that I could feel any legitimate connection to prayer as a source of solace.

    And yet–the inner theist still shows no signs of becoming a presence in my life. And more and more, I’m perfectly okay with that.

  • Amyable Atheist

    My sentiments are with ungullible regarding luck, except it’s been the other way around. In the past few months, things I want have been working out and falling into place with almost alarming ease. Not that I’m complaining, but it’s almost to the point of becoming suspicious with respect to job, apartment, etc.

    Granted, I put up with a nasty layoff and subsequent months of unemployment last summer, and worked very hard to accomplish a major (academic) goal while maintaining my (wonderful and generous) network over a period of about 4 months, but still, I keep joking to myself that I’m being “tempted’ to slide down the spectrum of rationality and into believing in whatever variety of woo appeals at the moment – luck, karma, blessings, what have you. Almost as though my Catholic upbringing is functioning in reverse and I’ve grown vigilant against being tempted by the dark, seductive, easy road of credulity…how’s that for irony?

  • medussa

    There are times when I’m seeing some unbelievable beauty in the world, like the Giant Redwoods in California, or the beach in northern New Zealand, or a herd of bison in Yellowstone, or an ice lake in Iceland, etc, or when I have just helped deliver a baby, that I find myself understanding why theists believe in miracles.

    That’s about as close as I get to woo. It has more to do with feeling the preciousness and beauty of life than with any belief in a supernatural power. It really is miraculous, in the sense of statistically unbelievable, that such complexity and beauty developed, and I enjoy it deeply when I see it.

  • Sometimes in quiet moments I think that I might actually be the second coming of Christ (manifested as an atheist)… but then a moment later I realize that the idea is preposterous and I become rational again.

  • Neon Genesis

    If it’s a debate between atheists and liberal theists over interpretation of scriptures, I sometimes find myself siding with liberal theists in their interpretation. Like, if it’s a debate between Sam Harris and Karen Armstrong for example, I’m more likely to side with Armstrong’s interpretation of scripture than Harris’. I also still enjoy reading the bible and I even like singing worship songs still.

  • Jenniffer Groceman

    I was all ready to reply when I started reading the comments, then I saw that medussa had me nearly word for word.

    My inner theist has kept a lot of guilt from my childhood Catholic days. Ridiculous, but there. And sometimes- rarely, but sometimes- I find myself longing for some comfort, in the sense that a belief in god and a heaven can comfort you when someone you love dies. There are times I find myself really wishing that my mother had passed on to somewhere I had hope of seeing her again. It’s purely my selfish wish to see her that drives this, but I see the peace that it gives other members of my family, and I can’t help but envy that peace once in awhile.

  • Afraid I don’t. I was raised with no religion, no faith, no spirituality. It just was never mentioned. Atheism was never mentioned, either, in fact. The supernatural, superstitious, and metaphysical simply did not obtain. I found all the wonder I needed in science and all the imponderables I could want in philosophy.

  • gmcfly

    Inner theist? Mine says that religion is the only thing that can give hope to people who are dying.

    It may be a fantasy, but it is a sometimes-necessary fantasy.

  • Dan W

    I’m pretty sure I don’t have an inner theist. It went away along with my outer one, when I became an atheist.

  • Fett101

    “1. the existence of God can’t be proven”

    Er… Shouldn’t that be “the existence of God hasn’t be proven”. You can’t prove there isn’t a god, not the other way around. It would take something pretty outstanding to do so but it’s a (slim) possibility.

  • Jake:
    The two statements
    1) “an atheist is more likely to think than a Christian”
    2)”there are plenty of Christians who think those things”

    … are not mutually exclusive.

    Consequently, the fact that “there are plenty of Christians who think those things” does not establish that “an atheist is not more likely to think them than a Christian”.

    I don’t think I have an inner theist any more (or rather, I don’t have one I can recognize). I used to, but I the parts I recognize as theistic aren’t there now.

  • little my

    Yay. my inner theist is a bit fundamentalist. Thats the way I think of (many)religious people. My atheist “self” can oppose inner theists creationist-bibleliteralist wiews… atheists usually dont bother dealing with liberal theists, we go to search the ugliest ones (or they come to find us). So my inner theist is a fictional* character made of the wiews how I see fundamentalists and the easiest way of reading bible.

    *Actually I have never been religious

  • Sunioc

    I had an inner theist, but then I got my prescription refilled and it went away.

  • Tizzle

    I often use the fact of my time/date of birth to explain my personality even though I know that’s illogical.

  • Tony

    As someone who was raised catholic I still sometimes catch myself worrying about the spectre of hellfire, until I realise I’m worrying and banish it with rational thought.

    Also my “inner christian” doesn’t believe in Thor or Zeus or the Great Juju.

  • Mike Lee

    Desiring an actual karmatic theme to the universe isn’t exclusively characteristic of theists, but still I think it a weakness of mine.

  • keddaw

    2. fundamentalism, in any form, annoys me

    Sorry, but I’m just not having that. You’re either a fundamentalist or you’re not a Christian/Jew/Muslim. Religion isn’t a buffet, it’s all or nothing. People like this are like vegetarians who eat chicken.

    If you don’t believe any of the central tennets of your religion then you don’t believe in that religion so get out and start your own with the bits you DO claim to believe in.

    By staying in religions they don’t fully agree with people give them numbers which gives them legitimacy and power over not only their members but over society as a whole.

    I have a Messianic complex, but other than that I don’t have an inner theist.

  • Not for years, brother. Not for years.

  • Inner theist? Yes, maybe. Sometimes I find myself wishing for things to happen instead of going out and taking action to make them happen. This is happening less and less often, though, the longer I am free of my religious upbringing.

  • littlejohn

    My “inner Catholic” likes wine and crackers, and my “inner Baptist” is a terrible dancer. Oh, and my “inner Mormon” is allergic to tobacco smoke. Do those things count? My lawyer has advised me not to discuss my “inner Rastafarian.”

  • I agree. I find myself agreeing with atheists on many of these issues.

    I’ve said a lot of these same things in comments before but only one of my comments has ever been approved and posted to your site.

  • Arctic Ape

    Fantasy literature.

  • saed

    Yep, sure do.

    …a few things about god and religion that I kinda like.

    Peace… saed

  • Neon Genesis

    Sorry, but I’m just not having that. You’re either a fundamentalist or you’re not a Christian/Jew/Muslim.

    So, Catholics aren’t real Christians?

  • While I do believe that all living things are interconnected, I consider that to be simply the way the universe works, nothing “spiritual” or “theistic” about it.

  • Sven

    While I’m definately atheist, I often consider how my actions would look to a hypothetical all-knowing all-benevolent 3rd party judge.

    “Sorry, but I’m just not having that. You’re either a fundamentalist or you’re not a Christian/Jew/Muslim.”

    Really? For example: the basic tenants of Christianity are summed up in the Apostle’s Creed. It’s a list of Christian beliefs, but nowhere in that list can you find “I believe in a literal interpretation of the Old Testament” or anything like that.

  • Brian Macker

    I this kind of thinking would lead me to believe I have an inner lesbian.

  • Tony

    Sorry, but I’m just not having that. You’re either a fundamentalist or you’re not a Christian/Jew/Muslim. Religion isn’t a buffet, it’s all or nothing. People like this are like vegetarians who eat chicken.

    That’s precisely the same technique used by fundies who state “Atheism means you deny the existence of a god therefore you’re not an atheist!”. Essentially to be a christian is to have a certain belief about the divinity of Jesus (as an example), but it is perfectly reasonable (indeed far more reasonable) to treat much of the scripture as allegorical. Fundamentalists don’t consider scripture to be allegorical, and consider it to be literally true. That’s the difference.

  • Yes. Very much so. Religious ritual is extremely comforing. Although agnostic/atheist I often still goes to religious services.

  • maddogdelta

    I worship Jessica Alba. Does that count?

  • False Prophet


    Fundamentalists don’t consider scripture to be allegorical, and consider it to be literally true. That’s the difference.

    Except that they don’t. They talk a good game, but they ignore parts of Scripture that are inconvenient to their beliefs as well, they just have dumber rationalizations for it.

    When it comes to exegesis, the big difference between liberal and fundamentalist Christians is which parts of Scripture they hold dear. Liberal ones like the parts about “love thy neighbour” and the 200+ about helping the poor. Fundies focus on the half-dozen passages that condemn homosexuality and make shit up about God condemning abortion (since it’s not actually mentioned in the Bible).

    As for my inner (lapsed Catholic) theist, well:

    1) He’d like a world where people were rewarded for good works.

    2) There’s something powerful and appealing about hundreds or thousands of people participating in a mass public ritual, even though such have often been invoked for evil ends.

    3) I sometimes wonder if the classic works of pre-modern art and music would have turned out so beautifully without a religious or mythic inspiration.

    4) There is a very cathartic element to confession and penance.

    5) I often wish it was easy to decide what is right and wrong, because sometimes it’s not.

  • Aj

    False Prophet,

    …and the 200+ about helping the poor.

    That might be unfair to many fundamentalists, who donate time and money to the poor. Many of them might tarnish this by using this as a promotional campaign, but liberal Christians do this a hell of a lot too. Jesus told his followers to give away their wealth, and liberal and fundamentalist Christians can both agree he was very wrong on the matter.

    …and make shit up about God condemning abortion (since it’s not actually mentioned in the Bible).

    Did they even have abortions? I’ve heard of Greeks using poison, but apparently they made the plant go extinct. The Bible does seem to be against “wasting” semen by not attempting to conceive children with it, and I think that can be honestly interpreted as against abortion or any contraception, if taken that it’s about God not wanting people to intervene in reproduction.

  • Aaron

    So, Catholics aren’t real Christians?

    According to my fundamentalist family? No, they are not. When I mention something the Catholic Church did as an example of “immoral Christian behavior” they say “See what I told you?”. many consider the pope to be the anti-christ.
    I think in America, using the behavior of the Catholics as an example in debates with theists is pretty useless. They think they are apostates.

  • Aaron

    I have an inner theist, probably due, in part, to my fundamentalist upbringing. Mostly now I realize that religion can be useful. This is not to say I think it is factual, but the religious process can be a useful way to affect the behavior of society.
    Sometimes this is reflected in the increased charitable giving of the religious over the non-religious, and sometimes it is reflected in Malaysian riots. It is not necessarily good, but useful.
    It is usually used to achieve a secular goal that has a secular motivation, but to sell it to the average Joe or Jane (or Abdul) you have to play down the secular motivation and pretend it has a religious motivation. Religion is really just an ancient form of mass marketing. (No pun intended, but dang if I ain’t gonna use that in the future!)
    The Malaysian riots are really about social dominance, I suspect, just like the ID movement in the US. But an honest admission of “I don’t want THOSE people to have their way because I want to be in charge” might not play with the average citizen. I statement like “THEY are trying to seduce your children by using the name Allah, and you are evil if you do not fight them!” can gain traction.
    It’s funny how that sounds a lot like the “THEY are trying to seduce your children by legitimizing gay marriage, and you are evil if you do not oppose them!” and “THEY are trying to seduce your children by teaching evolution, and you are evil if you do not oppose them!” argument we hear in the US. It’s always “think about the children”.
    Maybe religion is just a way to take control of the children.

  • Aaron

    God condemning abortion (since it’s not actually mentioned in the Bible).

    There is one about causing a women to miscarry through violence, and I think the punishment is just a fine paid the the father. It’s only murder if the wife dies. Although my nephew (working on his masters in theology) says the passage reads that it is murder if the baby dies. I would look up the passage, but I assume you all can find it.

  • In the past few months, I have been preparing for my fiance to go to Iraq for nearly a year. When I think about him over there and potentially getting injured/killed/traumatized/insert-bad-thing-that-could-happen-to-him-here, I kind of wish I still considered myself a christian. That way, even though it never did and never will do any good, I could at least pray for his safety and feel somewhat better about the situation. Logically, however, I know that his survival/well-being does not depend on a god, but on the actions of the other US soldiers, himself, and the Iraqis. So even though I am a firm atheist, sometimes I still wish for that crutch of religion.

  • Afraid I don’t. I was raised with no religion, no faith, no spirituality. It just was never mentioned. Atheism was never mentioned, either, in fact. The supernatural, superstitious, and metaphysical simply did not obtain.

    Same for me. Honestly, I can’t even begin to imagine what having an “inner theist” would feel like. The religious impluse is very foreign to me, and I find religious rituals bewildering and uncomfortable. If I do have an inner theist, I guess it would be the part of me that likes singing Christmas carols. But I’ve never thought they were remotely true, so I’m not sure that even counts.

  • HankTheCowdog

    My inner theist sez: If I had kids, I’d send them to an academically strong Catholic school, ideally one run by Jesuits.

  • Steims

    1. I sometimes feel like I am lucky, or can beat the odds. Even in games of chance.

    2. I really like fortune cookies and give them far more credence than they deserve.

    3. I expect/wish for Karmic retribution.

    4. I feel like the woman I am with was “meant” for me.

    5. The feeling of trancendence when escaping in nature or pondering the cosmos is certainly the type of feeling that I remember from my religious upbringing, but now I attribute it to the truely awesome, instead of a god.

  • The Empty Truth

    I have a series of multiple disabilities that I have had to deal with all of my life. This has caused me a great deal of grief since I was born into a Christian family that cannot accept an atheist belief. If I tell my parents about any of this my Mom especially internalizes her grief because she feels that she is loosing me to Atheism and that I will be damned to hell. Whenever I try to fulfill my parents wishes I find myself lost confused in the religious logic that is constantly contradictory. I have to endure their slams on Atheism and have to jump through the hoops that prove I am a Christian. The truth is that coming to terms with my disability went hand in hand with accepting Atheism. Once I realized that my Christian Parents could not mentally handle an Empty Truth like Atheism I resigned myself to the Pain and Suffering of being a Christian that was Blessed by God with a Benevolent Disability. But more and more being forced to pretend to be a Christian is wearing me out to the point of extreme mental exhaustion. Christians do not know how peaceful it is to be able to accept the Empty Truth and move on. I’m not saying that we should reject the Bible because it is history I believe. It has good laws to live by. I’m just tired of well meaning Christians that quote good sayings then condemn you when you don’t fit into their beliefs. I looked very hard for employment in California then calculated a high unemployment rate. Then when I met a Christian Contractor he stated that I was unemployed because of my sinful nature. This statement only served to plunge me into greater depression and exasperation. Christians have no clue how their benevolent intentions actually destroy others. The stress of unemployment and a disability can often plunge a person into adverse or frustrated behavior. You don’t need another Christian to come along and heap coals on the fire. I still adopt the Morals and the Laws and Teachings of the Bible. I spent money running around and doing good works and trying to do God’s will. But in the end Christians are not connected by the Holy Spirit. Things don’t line up as God would intend. My Stability has always come from adopting the idea that God doesn’t exist and my instability has always come about from becoming overwrought with the idea of benevolent intervention. The Bottom line is that my disability has not strengthened my belief in God. And all of my greatest triumphs have been because of Government Programs or Money in some way. Maybe in some psychological way Praying helps me come to terms with my disability but the truth is that it only helps when I relax into my acceptance that my disability is here to stay and that it cannot be prayed out or delivered by Prayer. Thank God for DVR, Government Programs, and /or Disability assistance. For if it weren’t for them Christianity would have driven me to suicide a long time ago and my own parents would have been a big part of it. Give Everyone what they want that makes them happy and content. Believe with Believers and Disbelieve with disbelievers. Render unto Cesear what is Cesears.

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