1. Ollpheist
    Offline

    Ollpheist Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    44
    Likes Received:
    1

    An Atheistic Perspective

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ollpheist, Aug 4, 2011.

    For my story, I have crafted the main character after myself. Since it is a story written from the first-person perspective (past tense), I felt that it would be best to do so. However, I have run into a problem: my story does not have enough conflict between the protagonists. Surely, conflict between protagonists and antagonists is to be expected, but I feel my story would benefit from conflict between "the good guys" as well.

    I am a Christian, though one would be hard-pressed to describe me as your stereotypical, carbon-copied, cookie-cutter edition. My main character, consequently, is also a Christian, though that is never spelled out for the reader. The book focuses, in part, on the crisis of faith he goes through when he feels that God has abandoned him.

    My problem is that, while I once claimed atheism, I never truly "bought it". I was raised in a moderately strict Southern Baptist home, and while I've gotten away from the "Bible-thumper" mentality of my childhood, I struggle to understand an atheistic mentality.

    For me, many of the struggles of my day are handled through prayer and faith in God. Simply put, I don't know how an atheist thinks when it comes to problems they face, or how an atheist reacts to joy. When I experience joy, it is a moment for praising and thanking God. But what does an atheist think?

    To my chagrin, I was raised to believe that atheists are pitiable fools (in the moral sense) who are intellectual, stoic people. My childhood church and family pointed to the militant views of men like Richard Dawkins or Isaac Asimov, who I have now come to understand are not necessarily a fair representation of atheists anymore than Fred Phelps or Jerry Falwell is a proper representation of Christians.

    I am considering the introduction of an atheist character in my story, but I don't know how I could. I could certainly read books by atheists and perhaps gain some perspective, but--when it comes to religion--people rarely approach the issue of theism v. atheism without emotion. Consequently, most books I've read on the subject (from either side) display the author as emotionally charged, rather than that person in their "every day" mentality.

    Any suggestions you might have would be helpful as I try to fairly represent both atheists and those who believe in God in my novel.
     
  2. The_NeverPen
    Offline

    The_NeverPen Member

    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2011
    Messages:
    73
    Likes Received:
    5
    Richard Dawkins pretty fairly represents atheistic views. He's louder than the rest of us, maybe more of a jerk sometimes, he makes pretty much the same arguments that we all do. That said, I'm a hard-lined atheist who gets along fine with two devoutly Catholic roommates. The trick is that I don't have any less "extreme" views of atheism than Dawkins, I'm just not as confrontational.

    "Simply put, I don't know how an atheist thinks when it comes to problems they face, or how an atheist reacts to joy. When I experience joy, it is a moment for praising and thanking God. But what does an atheist think?"

    In truth, I don't think about it much. I'm generally a fairly depressed and even sanguine person, but I do daily count myself happy that I'm alive and free of serious health complications. When I manage to find joy, I simply relish in it, knowing how transient the experience will be. It gives me the motivation to be absolutely present in the moment, forget about my worries and fully immerse myself in whatever I'm doing.

    I would find it hard to give you some small piece of me that could fairly represent my views in your book, but I'm open to any particular questions you have. You can PM me if you'd like. I'm sure to respond, cordially, within 24 hours.
     
  3. Lemex
    Offline

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    10,507
    Likes Received:
    3,151
    Location:
    Northeast England
    Atheists, like myself, get through struggles by just getting through them. They might swear if it's infuriating, or simply accept their own limitations if it is something of less importance. God has no part in asking for help or guidance, if we need help we ask someone nearby. Also, we find joy in many things, and do not need thank god for it, we just feel happy about it.

    Oh, and Dawkins is a bit of an arse.

    I was raised to think something similar. *Sigh* My parents still dislike my Atheism.
     
  4. thewordsmith
    Offline

    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2009
    Messages:
    874
    Likes Received:
    124
    Location:
    State of Confusion
    There is a fine line between 'intellectual' atheists and agnostics. The atheist sees all of the randomness of life and generally believes everything in all of the many universes swirling through space is a result of chaos theory... out of chaos comes order come chaos.

    The agnostic sees that same apparent randomness. Considers the many other belief systems in our world. Sees the similarities of religious dogma in history through all of those widely diverse religious belief systems and says, "This is more than my mind can absorb. I cannot say, absolutely, one way or the other, which is right. I don't know."

    Where the atheist is set apart from the rest of the belief systems, with all others, there is a continuing question, "What is the truth?" The atheist, however, is satisfied he knows the truth.

    As far as character development, people are people. If you don't know someone is atheist or not, Republican, Democrat, Independant, or whatever, you would not know unless they brought it up in conversation. So your primary characterization would be developed along the same construct you would use for any other character. A person's belief system is just one facet of the beautiful gem they are.

    And stoicism is actually a belief system in and of itself.
     
  5. FedRafaFan
    Offline

    FedRafaFan New Member

    Joined:
    Apr 10, 2011
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    1
    I think you answered your own question. You said that you've come to realize that the atheists you've heard of don't fairly represent all atheists. That must be because you've realized that not all atheists are the same. Atheists deal with stuff the same way as everybody. I doubt the ONLY way you deal with things is by praying. Atheists think, they cry, they talk to their friends, they think, they go to therapy, they think, they do things to distract themselves, etc. Atheists are as varied as any other group.

    Also, I have to disagree with the atheist/agnostic distinction. They are not two "stops" on the belief continuum like some people describe.

    Theism (or atheism) refers to BELIEF
    Gnosticism (or agnosticism) refers to KNOWLEDGE

    Therefore, you can be an agnostic atheist (does not believe and does not claim to know. This is how most atheists I know feel), an agnostic theist (believes in God, but does not claim to know), a gnostic atheist (does not believe in god and claims to actually know. This is where Richard Dawkins would fall), or a gnostic theist (believes in god and claims to actually know. This is how most theists I know feel).
     
  6. Aeschylus
    Offline

    Aeschylus Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2009
    Messages:
    240
    Likes Received:
    18
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    I'm an atheist, and I can tell you that there is no big mystery to the way an atheist thinks. I don't think about the fact that I'm an atheist unless the topic comes up; I have nothing against religious people whatsoever, at least not unless they take it too far and let it block their common sense. I live and think just as any of my many Christian friends do. The difference is just that I don't believe in God.

    Yes there are atheists who hate religion, but usually that stems from something else, not just lack of belief. Atheism, by definition, is the lack of religious faith, and has nothing to do with hatred of religion. I'd also like to point out that atheism and nihilism are not the same thing. I don't think humanity is meaningless or that the universe is bleak and without meaning. Sure I don't think there's a higher power that guides everything, but I put a lot of weight behind human actions and emotions and everything. But the meaning doesn't come from a higher power, it comes from people.

    If you're writing about an atheist, you can just write about an average person and simply never mention religion once. If religion doesn't come up, he could be an atheist. I'm an atheist because I have never felt the need for religion, have never felt the call. My parents come from different religious backgrounds and neither are very religious, so I was just never raised religious. But I think there are a lot of beautiful things about religion, and on a couple of occasions I've contemplated trying to experience that. But you can't force religion on yourself, or anyone; it needs to be experienced and desired, and I haven't felt that yet. Just like some young people think it's "cool" or "rebellious" to be atheists, but they really aren't atheists--you can't force atheism on yourself.

    I don't get what you mean when you ask how atheists feel joy. When I feel joy I feel happy. I feel fortunate. A lot of my joy comes from when I succeed--then I simply am happy with myself. Or I'm thankful to someone else for helping me through it. There's no big secret to how atheists react to things like that; I think your joy and my joy are the same, we just view them differently because of religious perspectives. An atheist FEELS the same as you do when he feels joy, but he might THINK of it differently.

    I'm currently living in northern Virginia, where EVERYONE is Christian. It's a very strong religious community, and I really feel alone sometimes because of that. But like I said, I can't force myself to be religious. Doesn't work that way. In my worldview, God just has no place, and even if I wanted to I couldn't force myself to change that. I don't know how these things happen. But I can tell you that I don't tell people I'm an atheist here. In a community that is so heavily based on religion, it's hard to make people judge you fairly when they know you're an atheist. So I just say I'm not very religious. Which is true, cause I have no issue with religion. But I can't bring myself to say the word atheist to these people, because they associate that with hate and nihilism and Satan and whatnot.

    Your character probably feels kind of like that, especially if he has just abandoned religion and is in a very religious community: he feels isolated when religion comes up, and since this is new to him it probably comes up in his mind all the time. He might feel contemptuous of his religious friends, or jealous, depending on what made him lose his faith. But after a while he would adjust to the new worldview and simply go on--it's not a big deal. Unless he's a raving anti-Christian nihilist revolutionary or something, he's not going to see religion as anything bad, it's just different. He'll go on.

    If you want to investigate losing and rediscovering faith, take a look at Elie Wiesel, the author of Night. He was born in a Jewish community in Romania and raised with religion as a central part of his life. But after surviving several Nazi concentration camps and watching his family and friends die, he lost his faith in God. It took him decades to come to terms with his religion and God.
     
  7. another wasted day
    Offline

    another wasted day Member

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2011
    Messages:
    78
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    there
    Sometimes it's just very lonely.
     
  8. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    There are different intellectual levels of agnosticism, too. There are those who simply don't think that religion matters, and so haven't considered it. There are those who have considered it and have decided that they can't work it out (that seems to be the sort of agnostic you describe) and those who have come to an intellectual position that it is actually impossible to know -- the agnostics who think that atheists are not skeptical enough.

    And that's part of what the original questioner will have to deal with: there is a massive variety of non-religious positions (in fact, those agnostic positions are not necessarily non-religious; there are religious agnostics too.)
     
    1 person likes this.
  9. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,085
    Likes Received:
    5,279
    Location:
    California, US
    I was raised southern Baptist as well. My grandfather was a southern Baptist preacher at a small church. Preached plenty of fire a brimstone and damnation and all that.

    I'm agnostic now.

    I think experiences of joy are fairly universal among people. You don't have to be of one particular faith, or any faith, to experience it, or to even hold a special place for life and the planet and the universe.

    I don't find the idea of an interactive god to be comforting in the least. Looking around at the world, the idea that a powerful god has set all this in motion and guides people in their day to day lives should scare the pants off anyone.
     
    1 person likes this.
  10. Ollpheist
    Offline

    Ollpheist Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    44
    Likes Received:
    1
    Thank you all; this is quite educational. It seems my upbringing may have adulterated my thinking more than I previously believed. Please understand that if I unwittingly put my foot in my mouth, I don't mean to disrespect anyone.
     
  11. Lemex
    Offline

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    10,507
    Likes Received:
    3,151
    Location:
    Northeast England
    I don't understand how you would have offended anyone to be honest, but it's nice to know you are considerate.
     
  12. Ollpheist
    Offline

    Ollpheist Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    44
    Likes Received:
    1
    Unfortunately, due in part to my experience and part to my upbringing, I'm used to expecting hostility from other faiths (or lack thereof). Consequently, when discussing other religions or ideologies, I find myself apologizing out the nose for any offense I may have given.

    I was once a member of a board that said it was a "friendly atheist" board, though what they apparently meant was that it was friendly toward atheists. So I am, sadly, a bit "gun shy" when discussing the faith of others.
     
  13. Lemex
    Offline

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    10,507
    Likes Received:
    3,151
    Location:
    Northeast England
    Aw well. Understandable. We are all amigos here on this forum, and we have people of all different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs. No reason to be shy here, just relax and enjoy the fun. :)
     
  14. CosmicHallux
    Offline

    CosmicHallux Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2011
    Messages:
    130
    Likes Received:
    3
    I think there's a plethora of beliefs within atheism, just like within Christianity. I always thought that atheism just referred belief in a god.

    So, couldn't an atheist choose to believe in leprechauns or Santa clause if they wanted to ? (if you can choose to believe what you want). I've met people who were atheists but claimed to believe in ghosts.

    I tend towards pantheism, which seems confusingly similar to atheism. It's almost like a half filled glass of water. Is it half empty or half full?
     
  15. Ollpheist
    Offline

    Ollpheist Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2011
    Messages:
    44
    Likes Received:
    1
    Thank you. I do truly appreciate that. I've also been considering what my main character would do if he were to interact with different people, and I think that--in terms of conflict--a "Dawkins-esque" militant atheist may be just the ticket. However, I would need to eventually settle the conflict toward the end of the book, so I'd calm him down a bit.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I also have a raging Bible-thumper, so my main character may simply get caught in the crossfire and he'll be taking it from both sides: the one for being a Christian at all, and the other for "not being Christian enough". That might be a good way to balance things out. One of the main characters friends is also what most people think of when they hear "agnostic" (someone who claims to not know whether or not it can be known that God exists), though is more on the level with my main character's mentality (less militant).
     
  16. Lemex
    Offline

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    10,507
    Likes Received:
    3,151
    Location:
    Northeast England
    There are Atheistic Religions. Buddhism, Confucianism and Scientology do not require the belief in deities. So yes, Atheists can believe anything they want. All Atheism is is either the lack of belief in a god or gods, or the rejection of the idea that god/s exist. It's just how you define atheism.

    Personally, I tend to go with the root of the word, which is literally 'Without god'. If you want to be picky I'm an Agnostic Atheist, but I just call myself an Atheist.
     
  17. CosmicHallux
    Offline

    CosmicHallux Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2011
    Messages:
    130
    Likes Received:
    3
    Thanks Lemex. I still don't have all my --isms straight.

    Ollpheist--I think I know how you feel a little. One of my major characters has turned out to be an illegal immigrant from Mexico (and pregnant at that)--and the main antagonist is a racist, white American.

    I really don't want to alienate a huge population of Americans or to reduce the immigration debate to the issue of racism. It's worrisome to navigate the world of PC. But it can be pretty fun too.

    It's always nice to read a story where your beliefs aren't portrayed as stereotype--so that is very considerate of you to think of your readers. :) I'm sure your concern for fairness will show in your work.
     
  18. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,085
    Likes Received:
    5,279
    Location:
    California, US
    I don't think anyone is offended, Ollpheist. It is foolish to be offended at someone's expression of their religious beliefs. :)
     
  19. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,969
    Likes Received:
    5,491
    Disclaimer: While the below may sound cranky on occasion, I'm not the least bit offended by your question, and I hope you're not offended by my response. It's just that to me, your question is a little bit like, "How can you possibly enjoy life if you're not a vegetarian?" I have trouble not just with coming up with the answer, but with even understand how the question could come up.

    So: I'm having trouble understanding the problem - which is not to say that it's not a real problem, but I suspect that I'd have to be a devout Christian to understand how it would be hard to understand not being a devout Christian.

    Do you thank God for every good thing - a green light that could have been red, a successful meal cooked, the first tomatoes of the season, finally understanding the first law of thermodynamics, the taste of a cookie? Is the joy in those things really inextricably tied in with prayer? Are you unable to feel how the joy would still be joy, even if you didn't pray? Would the cookie not taste good if you just had the baker, not God, to thank for it? Would mastering a new academic subject not involve joy and satisfaction? Would a flower no longer smell good?

    Whether or not that's true for you, I find that that's very, very rarely true in books. Very few novels that I read have much to say about God. The detective in a murder mystery isn't constantly asking God who committed the murder; he's working to try to find out. The woman in love isn't always thinking about God; she's usually thinking about the person she's in love with. And so on.

    So it seems to me that for examples of non-religious characters, you could read almost any novel out there - the characters may or may not be atheists, but you can't tell one way or another from the book. I'm assuming that if you read a paragraph about a character who eats a cookie and contentedly sinks back in a chair saying, "Mmmmm..." you wouldn't say, "I don't understand. She's not praying. What's going on here? How can she be enjoying the cookie if she's not praying?"

    So I don't think that there's any need to read books by or about atheists (or agnostics - so far my discussion is equally relevant to both), because most atheists don't define themselves or their lives around their lack of belief in God. They don't believe in God, and therefore God is really not important enough to define their lives in any way. Their atheism is usually a quite small part of their identity, a part that they probably very rarely think about.

    That may be your difficulty in finding a depiction of an atheist in their "every day" mentality - in the everyday, they're not thinking about their atheism at all. _They're_ not eating that cookie and thinking, "This is very tasty. But God had nothing to do with it, got it? This cookie owes nothing to God because there is no God! Grrrrr!" They're just eating the cookie. They're not focused on the absence of God - they're simply not focused on God in any way.

    (Edited once again to add: They're "just eating the cooke" _and_ enjoying the cookie, and perhaps feeling grateful to their Auntie who baked it, and feeling validated and loved because Auntie cares enough about them to make them cookies. Gratitude and joy and other emotions can certainly be there, but they don't stem from God or belief in God.)

    ChickenFreak


    Edited to add: Another question that often comes up with regard to atheism is "How can you have ethics and morals without God?" Now, I know that you absolutely _did not_ ask this question, and I'm confident you're too polite to ask it, and I don't know if you even wonder. But just in case you do wonder:

    To me, wrong is wrong. It's wrong (for example) to mistreat others not because God says it's wrong, but simply because _it's wrong_. My perception is that I just know, in my gut and in my mind, that it's wrong. Now, in reality, I'm sure that I know it's wrong in part because I was brought up by people who knew that it was wrong - and who, for their own part, knew it not because of religion but because their gut and their brain also knew it was wrong.

    But my belief is that well-balanced, mentally healthy people know that these things are wrong. If you made me sit down and figure out why that's true, why we are a creature that, when properly raised, know what's wrong, I could trot out evolution- or brain-based theories. But that's just discussion; I don't look at evolution or brain development to know what's right and wrong, I just know.
     
  20. CosmicHallux
    Offline

    CosmicHallux Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2011
    Messages:
    130
    Likes Received:
    3
    What? I do that all the time! That's how I calm myself. Tearing apart cookies because they threaten my beliefs. I thought everyone did that?
     
  21. AJSmith
    Offline

    AJSmith Senior Member

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2011
    Messages:
    146
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Alaska
    I feel the same.
     
  22. Anonym
    Offline

    Anonym Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2010
    Messages:
    292
    Likes Received:
    10
    We eat babies. With A1 sauce.










    Lol.

    I think most atheists are more irreligious than anti-theistic. Philosophically, many atheists I've known - including myself - tend toward humanism and existentialism, but of course not all do.

    Personally, as for the enjoyment of life, I usually just feel very lucky and fortunate. Fortunate to be alive, to be who I am, to have won the genetic lottery, to have not died in childbirth, to have been born in this particular era, to have made it this far in my life, to percieve and appreciate things as I do, to have emerged on this particular planetary accretion in this small corner of the universe, etc. Fortunate to enjoy at all, basically. But more than anything, I'd say that enjoyment is, well, intrinsic - like Chicken said. I don't necessarily need to orient the joy I recieve from a sunset around anything at all. It's beautiful because it's beautiful. Likewise, as for suffering, I really just have to accept it and do my best. Life sucks sometimes, but - save for the precious help and support of other people - it's up to me to get through things. Divine intervention is the furthest thing from my mind.

    In the same sense, my non-theism also makes me quite... proactive, knowing that the success and fulfillment of my life is entirely my responsibility, and that it is quite likely the only one I get. There are no do-overs or second chances in my worldview. It engenders a kind of "carpe diem" mentality, I guess. It also makes me overtly concerned with the enjoyment and wellbeing of other people, because we are more alike than we are different, and are really all there is - humanity and all the awesome people in the world are the closest thing to gods to me.

    But that's just my take. I hope that helps a bit. Although, as was already said, most characters that aren't overtly religious/atheistic come off as at least quasi-secular anyhow. Also, I would actually recommend reading some books by notable anti-theists if you intend to portray one - "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins or "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris aren't too bad, even if they might ruffle your feathers a bit.

    Good luck, and kudos on the respectful and genuinely curious topic. Trust me, atheists often face their own share of hostility from the faithful. It goes both ways I suppose. The cordial discourse on this thread is encouraging.
     
  23. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    In The God Delusion, Dawkins says directly that atheists have no basis for morality, but the book is full of moral injunctions so I think it's fair to say that some atheists are confused on the issue. But then, get theists to consider the implications of the Euthyphro dilemma and they tend to get confused too, so it's probably fair to say that the basis of morality is problematic whether one is religious or not.
     
  24. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Indeed. I've had a couple of reviews published of books on both sides of the God Delusion debate, and one of the things I did privately was to rate the books in terms of how far they got before blaming the other side for the holocaust. Perhaps creative writers are better at getting inside the heads of others and seeing situations in more subtle terms.
     
  25. Chris Gentry
    Offline

    Chris Gentry Member

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2011
    Messages:
    21
    Likes Received:
    0
    Definition of ATHEISM
    1
    archaic : ungodliness, wickedness
    2
    a : a disbelief in the existence of deity b : the doctrine that there is no deity

    Definition of AGNOSTIC
    1
    : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god
    2
    : a person who is unwilling to commit to an opinion about something <political agnostics>

    Not too hard to disbelieve in Deities. Everyone disbelieves in at least one God(dess).

    It is fairly simple really. If you want an Atheist Character then you give him a philosophy that he lives by. Naturalism, Nihilism, Secular Humanism, etc.
     

Share This Page