On the website todaychristian.net (not to be confused with Christianity Today) an unnamed writer poses 10 Questions for atheists without providing any way for any atheists to answer. Well I have a blog so I will answer here. Disclaimer: my answers and views are mine and mine alone. Other people using similar labels like atheist will have their own opinions and not only can they provide their own answers to these questions, I think they should even if, or perhaps especially if, their answers are different from mine.
1. How Did You Become an Atheist?
I asked questions and found that religion didn’t actually provide them. I read the Bible cover to cover twice in my teens and was startled at what I found there and the flimsy excuses for the inconsistencies and the immorality within. That’s didn’t make me an atheist, though. First I studied other denominations. Since I was a professional musician in mostly liberal Christian and Jewish congregations those were a better fit. I also studied (superficially I’ll admit) Buddhism for awhile and found some interesting ideas there but again, no evidence to support those tenets. I realize now that I had stopped believing a long time ago, but there were two critical “wake-up” moments for me. 1) A children’s sermon at a liberal church about the story of Jacob stealing Esau’s inheritance and getting away with it? How is that a moral lesson for children? I was appalled at the light-heartedness of the presentation and that it didn’t seem to bother anyone else. 2) Reading Dawkin’s The God Delusion. I avoided the term “atheist” for a good while because it comes with so much baggage. Personally I prefer “nontheist” but it’s a distinction without a difference. I do not find there to be any credible evidence for the existence of any supernatural forces. Not only do I not believe in any gods, but I also don’t believe in ghosts or demons or reincarnation or any of the rest of what comes with religion and superstition. If you mention to me that your computer crashed because Mercury is in retrograde, expect an eye-roll.
2. What happens when we die?
After you die you return to the state you were in before you were born. Nonexistence.
3. What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!
I love the “scary” all-caps for HELL! I don’t believe that either exists. If I am wrong well then I guess I’m in big trouble. Or am I? That would depend on which heaven and hell from which religious tradition it would be. Perhaps I have enough “good karma” from helping others to not be reincarnated? To assume a binary in which it’s on particular form of Christian theology or nothing at all is rather entitled. What if YOU’RE wrong and you picked the wrong denomination or religion? You’d be a screwed as I am for not believing at all! What kind of deity would allow this much confusion about religion and then doom all the folks who guessed wrong (or were born into the wrong tradition because truth be told there some cultural bias tied into all of this) to eternal torment? And for my flippant answer (since I don’t take this that seriously) if heaven is filled with the self-righteous hypocritical bigots who I encounter on a daily basis and hell if full of all the fun people I like, then hell is where I’d rather be.
4. Without God, where do you get your morality from?
From empathy and reason the same as everyone else. Think of how we teach children morality. A child has just hit another child. What do you tell them? “Jesus doesn’t want you to do that.” or “How would you like it if they hit you?” It’s the second. That is the basis of our morality. Yes, the golden rule is found in the Bible (Deuteronomy (?) which Jesus quotes.) but it’s also found in pretty much every other culture. We can’t have a civilized society if people just do whatever they want without regard for the rights and feelings of other people.
5. If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?
People seem to do what they want even if they believe in God. Prisons are full of religious people. No we are not “free” to murder and rape. There are severe penalties for such crimes. I also know of no case in which someone deconverted and suddenly went on a killing or rape spree. This is probably to extreme an example since most people have no desire to kill or rape anyone. Yes, we get angry and we feel lust but enough to risk life (or decades at least) in prison? No, not even close. I don’t do those things because I don’t want to. A better example might be something that is banned by religion but isn’t illegal. But I’m not going to bother answer questions that it didn’t occur to you to ask. As for good deeds going unrewarded, they often are. Sometimes we have to do what is right because it’s right. Expecting to be rewarded for doing the right thing can only lead to disappointment in most cases.
6. If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?
My life has the meaning that I find for it. So does yours.
7. Where did the universe come from?
We don’t know. If you do and can prove it there’s a Nobel prize in it for you.
8. What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?
There are also people who believe they were abducted by aliens, contacted by spirits and all sorts of other things I don’t believe. Just because someone believes something doesn’t make it so. Obviously they had some sort of experience but unless I can verify that objectively I don’t have any way of knowing if what they experienced was real or imagined. If your personal relationship with Jesus has to be accepted as evidence, then so does the evidence of everyone who believes they have had a supernatural experience and there are plenty of those that I also don’t accept as true.
9. What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?
I have the same opinion of all three. Good on some thing, right on others. I’ll take them one at a time because they are all different. Dawkins: when talking about his own field (evolutionary biology) he’s brilliant. On the social sciences he’s out of his depth and it sometimes shows. Often I think he’s just tweeting or saying things to get a conversation going. That may be useful but it often means I think he’s said things that he either didn’t think through very well or doesn’t actually even believe himself. I have disagreed with him many times and occasionally said so. Hitchens: a great writer. Perhaps the greatest social critic since Mark Twain. He’s also often wrong. I believe he was wrong about Iraq. But I still respect him. Few people in our time have written or spoken so well. I certainly would never want to be on the receiving end of one of his diatribes. I most respect him for taking down the critics of the knighthood for Salman Rushdie. Sam Harris is my least favorite of the three. I do enjoy hearing him speak but find a lot of his ideas easily exploitable by religious fanatatics who want to use his statements as an excuse to persecute Muslims. I really wish he’d be more careful in what he has to say. And some of his books, especially the early ones were a bit caustic for my taste. I think he did that on purpose to get a reaction from Christians and it obviously worked.
10. If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?
Yes, and we reject most of those, don’t we? These are odd arguments from a website called Christian Today. Are you claiming that all religious claims are of equal validity? In that case I’ll pick Thor because he’s cool and has that big hammer thingie. Oh, is that one not real? So why is that one not real while yours is? Where is the evidence to prove or disprove any of it. I reject it all. If you don’t believe in the other gods then you are an atheist except for yours. I don’t believe in your god just like you don’t believe in Odin or Vishnu or Cthullu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
This was fun. I think the writer probably thought there were some “gotcha” questions in there. Believe it or not those of us that don’t believe have thought about most of these things quite a bit.