The problem with being an atheist

The problem with being an atheist

is the lack

of imagination.

no one to talk with

when we were first begun

to share the pain

of dying

the joy of living

to delight in our first words

our singing notes

our pictures on the walls.


The problem with being an atheist

is the lack of gratitude

having no one to thank for being here

nothing to join hands with

and dance the dance of life.


The problem of being an atheist

is the lack

of creation

the determination

that we shall be

that we art that

that we are formed

with intention,

with a smile

a deliberation

that you are you

and no one else.


The problem with being an atheist

is the lack  of possibilities

a world to come into being

a kingdom to be worked for

blood and sweated for

any hope of future travels

curtailed with science.


The problem with being an atheist

is the lack  of mystery

why the Boudhi tree and not a palace garden,

why the woman at the well

and not a real estate agent in Vaucluse

why the air becomes the Holy Spirit

and causes us to shake a little

to grin a little

to write in the dust

and find songlines in the earth.


the problem with being an atheist

is the lack …


© Jorie Ryan.  This poem was first published in Eureka Street in 2011.

Jorie Ryan is an Anglican minister in Australia.

Topics: Atheism and Worship & Liturgy. 8 Points: Point 5: Non-Dogmatic Searchers. Seasons & Special Events: Ordinary Time. Resource Types: Poetry and Readings.

Review & Commentary

  • George

    It’s a sweet poem, but not true. It’s taken me over 60 years to get my head around being an atheist, and I don’t feel I’ve lost anything, but gained a better understanding of the universe. I can also appreciate the Christian mythology for what it is, and have just as much appreciation for the wonderful stories of the bible as I do for the myths of the greeks and nordics (Die Valkure on the radio now). I am still awestruck at the natural world and the diversity of life, but no longer feel I have to credit some magical being for its creation. I celebrate the beginning and end of life with my friends and family, and make the most of each day. I don’t have to pretend to be building up “Brownie Points” in heaven to do good to others, but am satisfied in the comfort it gives me to be compassionate and caring for those less fortunate then myself.

  • Newton Finn

    The problem with being an atheist,
    often but not always,
    is not seeing that atheism, too,
    is a form of faith,
    a choice to believe in something
    that cannot be known.

    • William W.

      Newton Finn, by your reasoning, if atheism is “a form of faith” then NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.

      You dismiss atheism for being, in your mind, “a choice to believe in something than cannot be known.”

      There are two problems with your statement. Rather than being “a choice to believe in something” atheism is an acceptance that certain questions have no answers and, thus, warrant no beliefs. Secondly, it is religious BELIEF that is a CHOICE “to believe in something that cannot be known.”

      The problem with belief is that those who believe do so out of need, not reason.

      Believers apparently cannot imagine accepting existence, life, death, and the universe without imposing on them an “explanation” that is founded not on anything objective and rational but on subjective sentiment. Religious belief does not reflect anything about the external world; it reflects the subjective internal views of the believer, which have no necessary connection to external, objective realities.

      • Newton Finn

        You nor I can know, through reason, logic, and observation, whether there is meaning or purpose in our lives grounded in something other than the subjective experience of such meaning and purpose, or the desire for it felt by many, if not most, human beings. You may choose to stick to only the results of reason, logic, and observation (objectivity) to frame your understanding of life, or you may choose to factor in the heart as well as the head (subjectivity) in determining your view of the world and how you will live in it. Religion, if genuine, acknowledges this inability to know the big picture by talking about faith, which is believing in that which is not and cannot be seen. Atheism, the militant as opposed to the more modest kind, is unaware that it has made an implicit choice in this regard, an act of willing instead of knowing. It is an act of will, inherently subjective, to choose to confine questions of meaning and purpose to reason, logic, and observation. Philosophers have recognized this fact for millennia, and one of our current problems is the lack of philosophical sophistication in the scientific community. One of the greatest of American philosophers did a succinct job of laying this out in the late 19th Century:

        • Adam Eddison

          Reason, logic and observation do not lead to ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’. They are just the foundations upon which the natural world is understood by many people without religious beliefs. ‘Meaning’ and ‘purpose’ are the journey of discovery that living out our humanity brings us. To suggest that the majesteria of philosophy and science must overlap in all scientific endeavour is to not understand the wonder or sophistry of either. And this is one of the great objections by the non-religious to religious belief: It so often limits the believer’s ability to see in others the fullness and beauty of their inherent humanity. You are very good at pigeonholing people who don’t ascribe to your beliefs. Such a pity you choose to tell us who and what we are and what we are aware of, rather than ask us. You never know….. you might learn something new if only you would try it.

  • Adam Eddison

    The problem with being a theist,
    like the one who wrote that poem,
    is that you might actually believe
    that people without ‘faith’
    are somehow less good,
    less valuable,
    less fulfilled,
    less loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, patient,
    worthy, humble, compassionate, creative,
    generous or human,
    than you.