Next time Today Christian poses questions for atheists, its authors and editors might consider some sort of mechanism by which said atheists might answer them rather than declare “Atheist [sic] Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer” them, lest the questions be mistaken for something that “leads to some interesting conclusions” as to their true motives for asking.
I’ll answer anyway.
How Did You Become an Atheist?
The long answer would consist of extensive enumeration on the years and years of thought, angst, strife, compartmentalization, research, reading, praying, soul-searching, question-asking, question-answering, debating, affirming, deconstructing, back-and-forth, and cognitive dissonance that led me from practicing, devout Muslim to flaming atheist.
The short answer? I finally admitted to myself what my honest answer to a certain important question meant. I asked myself “If had I not been born and raised a Muslim, would I have found the evidence in favor of the truth of Islam compelling enough to have converted to it?” I likely wouldn’t have for many, many reasons.
Other religions did no better as far as that question goes. The Trinity never made sense to me, as much as I’ve tried to wrap my head around it, so most forms of Christianity were out. Mormonism was obviously a con job, with its founder sharing a lot of the same “God’s will is based on my convenience” problems with Muhammad. Judaism seemed more a culture and a set of traditions than a religion to which I could convert. Ditto Hinduism. Many versions of Buddhism don’t require belief in a deity. Conclusion: I am an atheist.
What happens when we die?
I don’t know and neither do you, even if you believe you do. There is a lot we don’t know. Just because I don’t have an answer doesn’t mean that any old answer is more valid than none. Furthermore, religions far older than Christianity have answers to that question that greatly diverge from those that might be found in the Bible. Christianity’s claim to truth can hardly hinge on a question that already had a broad range of answers when it came into existence.
What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!
Ah, Pascal’s Wager, my old friend.
OK, let’s pretend there is a Heaven and a Hell. Your God is a sadist of the highest order by leaving so much confusion and ambivalence in the world regarding His wishes as to how to get to either. Which religion that includes belief in Heaven and Hell is the correct one? Which sect and sub-sect within that religion is the right version? Which interpretation within the sub-sect of the sect is the one that will guarantee me Heaven and salvation from Hell?
Even you believers can’t agree on that one.
I know that this is a real concern because I was once there as a believer. I believed in Heaven and Hell, and the belief tortured me every waking moment (and many sleeping ones) of my existence. I worried incessantly about whether what I was doing was leading me straight to Hell. I worried even more incessantly about whether I was not doing something that would grant me Heaven. The modern scholars to whom I had access were constantly disagreeing with each other. Even the Prophet’s illustrious companions had it out with each other, some to the point of murder and war. How could my sinful, imperfect self know what was true?
There are believers who are more certain than I ever could be, but what inconceivable level of arrogance might lead a believer to think themself utterly above being wrong about something? If you believe in an all-powerful all-knowing deity, it would be blasphemy to think yourself just as all-knowing, enough to never ponder or consider that your flawed human thinking might be causing you to worship and believe erroneously.
Without God, where do you get your morality from?
Mostly myself, the same as where believers in one particular god or another get it from. Believers manage to disagree on everything and anything pertaining to matters of morality. There is no direct line from any god to any particular line of moral reasoning.
If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?
Even with belief in their god firmly in their hearts, people do what they want. They sometimes even murder and rape because they believe their god told them to do so. They are freed by their belief in their deity to commit atrocities. No amount of belief is proven to totally stop people from murdering and raping.
And yes, good deeds are unrewarded. In fact, many are punished. Doing the right thing has no guaranteed reward. Life is hard and not fair.
If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?
Life is intrinsically meaningless, but you make your meaning. We all do. It’s part of being human.
You interpret your life through the lens of your god to give it meaning, which I’m sure works fine for you. I focus on other things, like reforming wayward cats, supporting my disabled spouse, trying to make the world a little better through activism and everyday acts of compassion, enjoying those things that make me happy, and becoming a better-informed person by the minute. These things, among others, give my life meaning.
No snark, but if you’re a believer and feel that your life would be 100% meaningless without your god, I feel sorry for you. I wish you had enough love and joy in your life to feel it would be worth it even if that one belief were stripped from you somehow.
Where did the universe come from?
The answer from “What happens when we die?” applies here. I will add that cosmologists and physicists, of which I am neither, are finding out more and more about this answer every day. It’s exciting and interesting, but not the most important thing.
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?
Hinduism long predates your Christianity. For literally thousands of years, Hindus have claimed to have performed miracles with the help of their gods, have a connection to one or more of those gods, and have seen those gods.
Does that make Hinduism the true religion? I doubt a Christian would agree. It’s rather condescending to use logic that doesn’t compel you to believe in another religion to try to compel someone else to believe in yours.
What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?
Two of those three wouldn’t like me very much if they knew I existed (which either or both of them might). One of them died before he could start resenting people like me for clamoring in favor of the movement of which he was a Horseman to evolve for the better, but I think it’s sadly likely he would’ve felt that way.
If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?
Oh, oh, I can play this game, too!: “If there is a god, why does every society have horrible people in it that do god-awful things?” That something exists in every or most societies does not grant it automatic truth-value or legitimacy.
Credit where it is due: I found out about this via Kaveh (and many other atheists have since followed suit).
8 thoughts on “Today Christian’s 10 Questions for Every Atheist”
This is a fun diversion.
1. How did I become an atheist? A better question would be, how did I realize I was an atheist? Throughout my life, I gave lip service to the idea of a god, or could not rule out the especially unverifiable ones, but I did not ever really believe in them. I came closer to sincere belief in chakras and past lives. Lots of credit goes to my university science education, but also to ScienceBlogs, PZ, and Pharyngula commenters. It’s hard to tease them apart since the former (university) is what led to me becoming interested in the latter (ScienceBlogs).
2. What happens when we die? My suspicion is: absolutely nothing. That which is “I” will cease to have experiences. My body will rot. That’s it. If it’s different than that I will be thrilled to have been wrong.
3. If I’m wrong and the Christian God exists and is in charge of Heaven and throws people in Hell, then I will join forces with Satan in the afterlife to attempt to overthrow Yahweh from his Heavenly Throne since he is clearly the misunderstood hero of this story, while Yahweh is the evil tyrant. It may be a doomed quest but it would be the only right thing to do.
3. Where do I get my morality from? My brain. You get yours from your brain too. Where do the words you read in the Bible go after you read them? Your brain. Where does the decision that “Yes this is good guidance and I will follow it” come from? Your brain.
4. Am I free to murder and rape? I am as free as you are: should I choose to, there would be obstacles placed in my way by laws, customs, social conditioning, and even my own brain’s organization and chemistry. I find it alarming that proselytizers still use this question, as if most people are routinely seized by urges to inflict great damage on their fellow citizens. I am not. I am very curious about what impression you think you give by repeating this question over the years. It makes me wonder if a great number of Christians (or other religious believers) are would-be murderers and rapists whose destructive impulses are held in check only by repeated exposure to the Bible or church. That does not suggest that God is real. It does suggest that you have a weird, fucked-up belief system that attracts a disproportionate number of people who have unusually destructive urges towards other humans.
Of course, as Heina notes, good deeds often go unrewarded and bad deeds often are not punished. If you think otherwise, I think you’re in denial about basic reality.
5. Where do I find meaning in life? This is my favorite one. I figured this out a while ago. Life has no intrinsic meaning. All meaning we find in life is meaning we created for ourselves. My conclusion: life is a giant art project. Do whatever you want, but it would be better if it were beautiful, or useful, or helped other people create meaning.
6. Where did the universe come from? No idea. Don’t know, don’t care. Even if you could prove that Yahweh created the world and everything in it, including me, I would still not grant that this makes it OK for him to tell me what the hell to do.
7. What about miracles and stuff? I dunno, when I was 22 I had a transcendent experience of the interconnected nature of all life. It was boundary-dissolving and ego-destroying. It was beautiful and filled with light and love. It justified the pagan beliefs I had at the time. I spun it into something that told me that all things that are alive are also conscious and sentient. I no longer believe that all things that are alive are sentient and aware. The experience is the same, I just interpret it differently. I wonder, if I had grown up with more explicit Christian beliefs, would that experience have been interpreted as an experience of God’s grace? Anyway, if you had a personal revelation and that’s what makes you believe in Jesus, that’s fine for you, but it’s really unfair to expect others to share your belief when they haven’t received similar revelations.
8. Why do you even care about my opinions on three pompous white guy writers? I like Hitchens’ writing the best, Dawkins’ thoughts on religion were revelatory to me for a few years, until he started making an ass of himself on the internet, and Harris just seems tedious. I’ve never read his stuff and see no reason to.
9. Why do all societies have religions? Because it took us several millennia to invent the scientific method, which compensates for our ingained tendencies towards making certain types of errors, and our societies are still catching up.
[…] Questions For Every Atheist” lists, which are always fun for atheists to respond to (H/T to Heina, who did […]
The “good deeds going unpunished” bit is particularly interesting, since many flavors of Christianity preach that your behavior on earth is completely irrelevant. We’re all horrible, unworthy sinners, no matter what we do, so the deciding factor is whether you believe and repent. Salvation is by faith, not works.
The fact that this question comes up so often shows that most Christians are better than their religion. Deep down, they know what real morality is like. Their inherent humanity bubbles to the top when they don’t carefully repress it with dogma.
So many people call themselves Christians yet they lack a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The reality is Constantine created Christianity aka Catholicism to control the people and hold his throne. Catholicism was a mix of paganism and the Bible to pull Born Again Believers into paganism and Baal worship. The reality of Biblical Salvation is anyone who believes on what Jesus Christ did on the cross is a saved saint. He/She is born again and has eternal salvation. There are no good works required to be saved and that certainly includes repentance. Repentance does not even mean turning from sin, as so many religious heretics try and push. 99% of the churches in America preach a false gospel and have perverted it to the point of no return. The problem is, the people themselves are not reading the Bible because they are too busy worshiping at the throne of statism, atheism or some other ridiculous cult.
Well, that’s a word salad.
[…] tip to Heina Dadabhoy for showing me these questions […]
“If had I not been born and raised a Muslim, would I have found the evidence in favor of the truth of Islam compelling enough to have converted to it?”
Huge for me as well, though I then passed through a much more generic theism to try to avoid atheism.
“how did you come to be an Atheist?”
thought about it.
“what happens when we die?”
you smell bad,
“what if you’re wrong?”
“without hell where do you get yoyr morals?”
Frankly the factthat YOU need an external source to tell you rape and murder are bad says more about the people who ask these questions than us.
“Without God, can we do what we want?”
“Without God, is there no meaning?”
The Meang of Life is way too complcated to be just one question in a list like this. but: “meaning” is subjective.
“where did the universe come from?”
where else is there?
“What about moracles?”
“What do you think of Dawkins”
I agree with Dawkins mostly. The rest I havem’t read.
“Why does every society have a religion?”
Why does every society untill relatively recently have multiple gods? Why does every society untill relatively recently believe the Earth is flat? Why does every society believe their own political system is the best in the universe?
I can play the “Reality is a democracy” game all day. Whall we discuss what the fact that flies outnumber humans proves about shit?