The newly hired adventurers gather around the campfire. They swap stories, share a drink, and get to know each other better. “So, Sir Reginald, to which god have you devoted your life?”
“I don’t much believe in all that junk, I’ve always been an atheist myself…”
Seems kind of silly, right? How can you not believe in gods when they have a direct hand in most settings? They fight wars, grant powers to clerics, rule over the outer planes, and the PCs may have even personally met some of them. But what if I told you that D&D has a history of atheist and agnostic characters?
To be an atheist, one has to believe that there are no gods. This is kind of tough when you just fought Tiamat. How can you not believe that Tiamat exists when you just defeated her in the last campaign? That’s what an atheist is right, someone that doesn’t believe that gods exist. You can’t deny the existence of something you just drove a sword through, that would just be silly. What you can deny however, is that Tiamat is actually a god. She’s strong, sure, but so are plenty of other creatures out there. Strength alone doesn’t make one a god. Plus, you just defeated her in battle, does that mean that you’re stronger? Are you a god now too? Of course not. There are plenty of powerful creatures out there that call themselves gods. Dragons, liches, fiends, wizards, and all sorts of other nonsense. While they haven’t made an appearance in 5E yet, there have even been creatures that have been given stats higher than gods. They may be infinitely more powerful than you or I, but power alone doesn’t make them divine.
In a nutshell, that is the belief of a group called the Athar, one of the factions that (used to) run the city of Sigil. They do not deny the existence of creatures that call themselves gods, nor do they deny their power, they just deny the fact that they are truly divine. Their reasoning? Well first off, mortals thwart the plans of these gods all the time. If they truly were gods, how are they going to be beaten by a few adventurers? The second, and possibly most convincing argument, the fact that the “gods” are mortal. They can die. The Astral Plane is littered with the bodies of these beings. They have several strongholds built on these floating corpses just to make a point.
Another faction, called the Sign of One, believe that they are the center of the Multiverse. Not the group, but every individual member believes that they alone, are the center of the Multiverse, and everything else is a projection of their own mind. Fellow party members, the orcs you just fought, the very ground you stand on, and yes, even the gods, are all just a part of one being. The gods can’t really be gods if they’re just a figment of your imagination, right?
Now, here’s the thing about the Multiverse, and the Outer Planes to be specific, belief has power. If you believe something enough, then there’s a chance it can come true. Members of the various factions gain benefits from their beliefs, and the further up one goes in the faction, the more they benefit from their beliefs. Just by joining the Athar, you find yourself immune to several cleric spells such as Abjure, Bestow Curse, and Quest. This immunity even extends to the spell like abilities of those in service of a god. When a member rises to the rank of Factor, they even gain a +2 bonus to save against cleric spells, and even have to fail a saving throw to be effected by priestly healing spells. Some members even gain immunity to various divination spells and abilities of the gods and their agents.
So what do these characters believe?
Some, like atheists in the real world, don’t believe in any gods. The Multiverse just exists, people live, people die, all without any real god behind the scenes making things happen.
Others may have a more agnostic belief. There is a god, but nobody has ever met them. The all powerful creator did their thing and left. They may refer to this being as the True God, the Great Unknown, or even just the Multiverse itself. You may find this to be ridiculous, but priests Athar priests gain spells and abilities just like any other cleric.
Signers can also view themself as something of a god. They may worship one of the standard gods as an extension of themself, or even just cut out the middle man and be a cleric of themself. Like the Athar, these clerics are also granted the spells and abilities of a standard cleric.
Atheists will point to the above clerics as proof that the gods are nothing special, and that just about anything can grant spells. Are warlock patrons gods? In fact, in 5E, it’s not the gods that grant spells, it’s a priest’s faith in a god that grants them. It doesn’t even have to be faith in an actual god, since there philosophical clerics also gain spells from their faith.
Knowing all this, the real question shouldn’t be how you can be an atheist, but how you can their characters can still believe in these false gods.