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Not doing something is usually easier than doing it. Not taking out the trash burns fewer calories than taking out the trash. Forgetting to run a marathon, not getting a Ph.D. in physics, declining to write a novel—each of these non-doings is easier than doing any one of them.

So it should be easy to be an atheist, since all you have to do is not believe in God. But here’s the thing — it’s really hard.

The not-believing isn’t the problem. There are a thousand good reasons for deciding that God was created by humans, not the other way around. But like not breathing or not stopping at a red light, the problem isn’t the act itself — it’s what happens next.

Tell your mother-in-law or boss or boyfriend that you don’t believe in God and suddenly everything becomes complicated. The eyes get all shifty and hands go to wallets. You are quizzed on arcane bits of Sunday School knowledge by people who are sure you missed something. And you’re asked how you can be sure God doesn’t exist when everyone else on Earth but Richard Dawkins and his cat is absolutely sure He does.

Okay, you say, fair questions. Time for a bit of homework. So you read the Bible, cover to cover, and take a good run at the Koran, and toe-dip the Talmud and the Bhagavad Gita. You continue by reading everything that popped into the head of a theologian, only to learn that the arguments for believing in God have enormous names like Ontological, Cosmological, and Teleological. Most believers don’t know these reasons, but if you’d like to claim disbelief, you have to know them, and refute them, one by one by one by one.

You turn for help to the recent surge in atheist writing, only to find another long shelf of 600-page books written by, and apparently for, people with advanced degrees in Philosophy and Neuroscience, not to mention Sentence Structure and Footnoting. You clear your busy social schedule and dig in anyway, finally mastering the complex and nuanced arguments against the complex and nuanced arguments of the theologians.

But when at last you find those believers again, the ones who were sure you’d missed something, and share your newfound knowledge, they shake their heads and smile. It isn’t that kind of a question, silly. It’s not something you can look up in books. It happens in your heart.

And they wonder why atheists are cranky.

Most of the people I know and love are lazy Christians—people who technically believe, but haven’t given it much thought or effort. Some go to church, some don’t. Few of them have cracked a Bible, much less a Koran or the Vedas. I’m more likely to know the stated beliefs of their denomination than they are. Just slap a Jesus fish on your bumper and you’re in. Nobody asks you to list the Ten Commandments (well — not usually), or which two fabrics Leviticus 19 says not to combine, or even how you know there’s a God. It’s easy. Just believe—or at least say you do.

There are lots of lazy Christians. It’s time to clear off the couch, pop open a beer, and make room for the lazy atheist.

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Dale McGowan is chief content officer of OnlySky, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies, and founder of Foundation Beyond Belief (now GO Humanity). He holds a...

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