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Best of 2021: Atheists and God cancellers



I must have time on my hands. I have been thinking about the difference between atheists and God cancellers. I love my atheist friends, of whom I am blessed with many. I relish the existential grist of our talks, the deep sense of substance and mutual respect. I also love the constant jokes. We keep each other honest. I enjoy a rich engagement with the history of thought and I believe we ennoble each other through the kind of trust that is prepared to talk about things that are off limits to others.

I call one of my dear atheist friends Mr Catheter. He is always taking the piss out of me. At the same time, he commiserates when my church kicks yet another own goal. For him, my pain is more significant than scoring points against an easy target. Our relationship reminds me a bit of Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote, a beautiful book.

Another atheist friend of mine sometimes asks me to light a candle for her. She has a tough life. She does not believe in prayer at all. But, as she tells me, she does believe in my belief, meaning she is comforted that I perform a little ritual in which I am at home on her behalf.

God cancellers are different. I know a few of them too. They use mockery more than humour, ridicule more than bemusement. They have a superior attitude, as if believers must surely be less intelligent than they are, unable to see what is blinking obvious to them. They suspect we are insensitive to the pain caused by our church communities, not realising how bad that pain feels from the inside when you live with it day in and day out.

They accuse us of having all the answers when that is not what God is about at all. God, for me, is the creative love that exists beyond all love and beyond all creation and, for that matter, beyond easy words. Not a pet rock that makes me feel better.


'God cancellers, in my experience, are prone to accuse believers of their own intolerance and narrowness. They want us to go away.'


God cancellers, in my experience, are prone to accuse believers of their own intolerance and narrowness. They want us to go away.

May I offer a couple of comparisons to explain the difference, at least as I see it. Atheists, in my experience, often appreciate the beauty of sacred art and music. God cancellers, on the other hand, tend not to tolerate Christmas carols in public.

Atheists will acknowledge the good things done by religious communities, the hundreds and thousands of old and lonely people supported through the pandemic. God cancellers are irritated by any good news about church communities.

Atheists may ask about saying the Lord’s Prayer in parliament. This is a perfectly fair question, especially in an open society. Personally, I would not like to lose the Lord’s prayer until we can agree on an equally profound statement of existential humility and narrative of forgiveness. I very much appreciate the acknowledgement of country and think it should be on real estate contracts, as a matter of fact, where it might be more than symbolic. Does the prayer need to be Christian? Perhaps not. I happen to love the physical rhythm of Islamic prayer.

God cancellers, on the other hand, tend to want the religion question removed from the census. They want the census to be about the number of rooms in our houses and the level of our education. They see no need for us to be present to each other at a level deeper than that.

The religion question has plenty of room for people to be atheists or have no religion or not to answer. The days of people subscribing to the religion of their grandparents when it means little to them are long gone; I have not met anyone who has done this for years. We can all express whatever understanding we have worked hard to reach. Surely, we can embrace each other at that level without animosity. We are all struggling to make sense of our humanity. It is hardly a competition.


Michael McGirr’s new book, Ideas that saved my life, will be published in Spring by Text.



Michael McGirrMichael McGirr is the bestselling author of Snooze: The Lost Art of Sleep, Bypass and Things You Get for Free. He has reviewed almost one thousand books for various newspapers; his short fiction has appeared in Australian and overseas publications; and he has been a publisher of Eureka Street and fiction editor at Meanjin.

Topic tags: Michael McGirr, Atheists, God-cancellers, belief, Graham Greene, Census



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“Atheists and God cancellers”.... and I would add Bourgeois Christianity which leads us into forming the faithful in a Post-Christian Age, so “Be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2).”~
A “New Reformation” must therefore start by admitting that much of the once-Christian world, and even a great many self-described Christians, are in fact pagan ..V.. for comprehension, please consider following the link


In ‘Curing Mad Truths’ by Remi Brague he states “What is the difference, he asks, between civilization, and barbarism, one answer is that the barbarians are the other, those outside of the city, or those we cannot understand. Brague argues that we (Christians) ourselves might be barbarians. (Sinners”) Which could be understood as……. “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you”…..

While “many that are first will be last, and [the] last will be first.” For insight into this statement, we can look to the parable of The Workers in The Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) For me, this parable is all about our personal presumption before God’s Mercy (Compassion/’Generosity’), hence “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” ….“So, likewise, ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do”#
There are no Vineyards in Leeds but nevertheless even to this day labours stand in the City Centre waiting to be hired. In the fifties and sixties, I was aware of many Irishmen standing outside Public Houses waiting to be hired for work in the construction industry, the custom was to congregate at about 7-30 am and wait to be hired for the day, I know this because on a few occasions I had participated in this ritual.

Different employers would turn up and offer a standard rate and then select those he wanted, some workers would be known to him, others not, in choosing he would choose those who appeared more capable of performing a hard day of labour, there was always joy on the face of anyone chosen, this joy would often dissipate during the day due to the drudgery of the work.

As the morning progressed it could be said that the weaker, impaired, aged, etc were left and some would wait all day in the hope of employment, which at times was occasionally offered, later in the day. It was quite apparent in comparison to those original chosen, the value that these late arrivals placed upon the call to work, in accepting in humility their own physical shortcomings, their ‘gratitude’ was manifest before all.

This same scenario would have applied in our Lord’s time and many workers who heard the parable instantly would have been drawn towards the generosity of the landowner, in his compassion towards the afflicted but also to the selfishness of those who complained, as they had taken for granted the good fortune of their own abilities (in forgetting He who gave them, to them) while begrudging the weak and vulnerable the opportunity to earn a living (Participate in the harvest) and ‘live’
So “The first shall be last and the last first” as only God sees the full picture of our gratitude before the generosity of His Divine Mercy.

“Not one iota will pass from the law until all is accomplished”

We ‘all’ fall short in regards to this teaching which can only be embraced in humility as humility permits us to walk His Way in the ‘generosity’ of His continual Divine Mercy
We can align God’s generosity with “Who Is Forgiven Much Loves Much”. … On the other hand, those who are forgiven little, as Jesus said, “love little”
So ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?#
When God’s ‘Generosity’/Mercy/pardon is received in humility/honesty it compels us to pardon (Be less judgemental towards) others, as it goes to the heart of our faith, which is that Christ forgives, that we may love (Forgive) also, while we walk in humility before Him, wanting for others that which we have been given ourselves, His known gift of Divine Mercy, because is that not what Christianity is all about.

If we struggle with love/forgiveness of others, it could be said that this rigidity stems from our own dishonest ungrateful hearts, as this attitude emanates from self-righteousness, as possibly we underestimated the ‘generosity’ of Jesus Christ in our own personal salvation; as to attempt to embrace our Father in the Truth of His Inviolate Word (Will) can only be accomplished in humility (Self-abasement before Him)

A faith that does not embody this consistent realization, will be sterile, comparable to a stylus stuck in the grove of a record, as the heart will not hear/absorb the full transforming message of Spiritual enlightenment, which is the ongoing transformation of the human heart. I know this from personal experience because my own heart was stuck in a grove over so many years.

Is it not in the self-knowledge of our own individual need of His ‘continual’ Mercy that induces within us a humble heart, as a human heart of self-abasement before God, creates a tender compassionate heart towards our neighbour?
kevin your brother
In Christ

Kevin Walters | 31 December 2021  

I read your article with interest and some amusement. I'm not sure into which of your categories I fit. Like you I have friends in all 3 camps - of faith, of no faith, and anti-faith.
I do totally disagree about the prayer in Parliament. I think it excludes people in the very place where everyone has the right, at least in principle, to equality. The prayer symbolises a dominance of one religion over all other religions, over people of no religion. And in the seat of government, that is a powerful message. Imagine if it was the Nazi salute.
If you deliberately form a group, any group, by default you exclude others who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not be part of that group.
There have been so many wars and disputes over religion, and within religions. Over centuries, millennium. Would it not better serve the cohesiveness of society if people practiced their beliefs individually, privately?

Jan Govett | 11 January 2022  

Something overlooked by atheists is Godel's theorem, which, roughly speaking, says that one can construct propositions correctly, such as "God exists" but which cannot be proved or disproved. In effect, mathematics proves itself agnostic. So, atheism is a belief, just as theism is. What might God Cancellers say about that?

Peter Horan | 11 January 2022  

At least, Michael, the God-cancellers know they are right. What about those who know God exists - know they can't will God out of existence. But they can no longer follow this church in which they were raised, but which they feel has let them down. There is no comfort, no knowing where to go for those who have lost their spiritual home. I am waiting for the church to wake up and move forward. And what about those who weigh it down by hanging on to, insisting on the necessity of old negative views of God and church? I think there are still lots of people "going to church" out of habit. I envy them. They feel comfortable that they are "following the rules". I feel like Jonah, an involuntary prophet. I would like to lead a boycott at the door of "the church" until its heirarchs acknowledge the necessity of change.

Pat Mahony | 13 January 2022  
Show Responses

‘But they can no longer follow this church....'

Does it make sense to boycott sacraments? So, if you can’t find another hand that you like to feed you the Eucharist, the hand you get is all or nothing. The Eucharist does not come from anywhere but the institutional Church. Perhaps the above argument will carry weight if one also gives up meat and fish because that involves the institutional practice of killing sentient life, and supermarket fruit and vegetables because mass farming practices as an institution uses too much pesticide, and water because institutional systems for using water are wasteful.

Occasionally, you hear people spout that they will leave the country if X is elected. They almost never do because, without some kind of dual residency, the idea is a practical impossibility. Boycotting the sacraments is almost always a practical possibility because the esophagus and the hip pocket nerve are almost never affected. But that does not mean that a practical possibility is also a moral possibility and that one should confuse the two, whether by quitting church attendance altogether or by some delusional belief that consecration can occur at a St Mary’s In Exile, South Brisbane.

roy chen yee | 24 January 2022  

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