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).