Q&A with a Happily Raging Atheist

Ladies and Jellyspoons, boys and girls, I’m coming out. I’m an Atheist! Yay! I’m not Agnostic, I’m not curious or questioning; I don’t believe in God. Not Islam’s God, Christianity’s God, or New-Age “The Universe Loves You” fabrications. There is not one fiber of my being that believes some higher moral entity exists to govern our behavior towards one another. As a matter of fact, I don’t even want to believe that. I can’t find a single reason to support an argument in favor of divine guidance.

Of course, this joyful announcement may not be news to some of you. I have no shame in my views, nor do I think they make me a pretentious, arrogant bastard (although I am certainly that for other reasons). But I do receive a fairly common string of questions that I want to address, partly because I think I share these views with many fellow Atheists who may not care to articulate them, and partly because I’m lazy and will simply refer future askers of said questions to this blog post.

Doesn’t being an Atheist give life no true meaning?

If you define “true meaning” in the sense that there is no ultimate, existential purpose to human existence, then yes. Because I don’t think a God put us here in order to perform some extraordinary task, and because I don’t think there is any afterlife, that may mean I don’t see life’s “true meaning” the same way you do. Does that mean I believe life has no meaning at all? Absolutely not. I still experience pain, joy, hope, and love exactly the same way that you do. Cooking a mega Christmas dinner for my family and then sitting down to eat and laughing our butts off together brings me joy fit to burst. Having a giant, hairy dog who loves me so much she freaks out every time I come home makes me feel needed and happy. Experiencing the loss of a good friend makes me cry, rage, and hurt. I experience humanity whether there’s a God or not, and that’s meaning enough for me.

Do you believe in anything?

Sure. I believe that humans are fundamentally creatures of tribal existence, with intelligence cultured by millions of years of brutal evolution. I also believe that humans are fundamentally “good” in the sense that they want to be happy and see the people they love happy. We are each motivated by very similar things—the need to feel needed, loved, praised, successful, attractive. Although the extent to which we feel these things varies by person, I haven’t met a single person who didn’t care to be treated kindly. Once you take away threats to someone’s well-being, people are generally pretty willing to be nice to each other. Studies show that altruism breeds altruism—which is why, at my very core, I believe that treating others with humanity is the most important thing we can do in this life.

What happens after we die?

Nothing. We die and (hopefully, unless we were real assholes) our family and friends celebrate our life, and mourn our loss, but we cease to exist as intelligent entities functioning within a living, breathing body of organic matter.

Then why even bother getting up in the morning?

Because I’m hungry, I want to brush my teeth, Lois has to pee, I love my job, and I’m excited for the future.

What gives you hope?

I have to admit that, sometimes, there are things that bring me down. Watching the incessant war in the Middle East and doubting whether it’s ever going to stop—that doesn’t make me feel great. It often seems like humanity is its own worst enemy. Going back to true altruism though, I also think it can be its own greatest hope. When I see groups of people coming together, united under a cause to make life better for people for no reason other than just to be good, I am extremely hopeful. Why must we wait or depend on God to be good?

Why are we here, then?

Does it matter? We’re here, whether you believe there’s a reason to it or not. I personally believe we’re here because billions of years of complicated evolution brought us to a point where we’re sentient enough to realize we exist. Again, that may not be the existential purpose you’re looking for; but as far as I’m concerned, we’d all be a lot better off if we got past the “whys” and delved deeper into the question of “How can I make positive contributions to the life quality of myself and those around me?”

What if you’re wrong, and there is a God?

I probably get asked this question more often than anything else. For the sake of argument, let’s just pick the god I’m most familiar with—the Christian God of the Bible—and play out a little scenario. If I die and float (or whatever one does when they’re dead) off to the pearly gates and am confronted with Jesus Christ and his rather abusive, neglectful father, I have some serious questions to ask them. 1) If you are going to base my entire eternal existence on my behavior on Earth, why did you create me with a brain that cannot believe in a higher power? 2) Why, being the all-powerful dudes that you are, did you allow such senseless, pointless, needless suffering to occur to the innocent? 3) Why were you such as asshole in the Bible? 4) Why did you permit people to carry out atrocities on each other in your behalf? 5) Why did you make such a painstaking effort to conceal yourself, and demand belief anyway? 6) Why use the process of evolution when you can command the elements at will? 7) Why didn’t you turn my water into wine? I really could have used all the money I spent on booze throughout my life.

All joking aside, though, I think believing in God simply on the off chance that He exists is tantamount to base cowardice. Simply believing in God because you’re afraid of retribution is living a life based only on fear. Step back and observe those around you: Does God really, truly bless only those who believe in him? Of course not—you see happy people, hungry people, hurting people in every walk of life and religious denomination. And if there is a God, which God is it? Your god? My god? The god of the starving child in Detroit, or god who tells parents to mutilate their daughter’s genitals? I haven’t heard of one single higher power on this planet that I believe is worthy of worship by human beings. In most cases, the things the gods we worship command us to do, or do themselves, are so much worse than anything we do to each other of our own volition (I guess this might be misleading, because since I believe humans made God up, we are doing anything they “command” us to do of our own volition). But you know what I mean? What is it about a mean, vindictive, jealous, murderous, racist, homophobic, and inconsistent God that you want to worship? If that means I don’t get to go to heaven, count me out.

Do you think you can do whatever you want because you’re an Atheist?

Sure, I could do whatever I want. So could you. It doesn’t mean that we will, because whether I’m an Atheist or not, I still have to operate within the restraints of civilization and basic human decency. And if the only thing between you and committing capital murder is your belief in God, I’m a little worried, bro.

If everyone were Atheist, how would the world have any “morals”?

Let’s just make one thing clear: Morals are not Ethics. I see religious people all the time acting unethically based on their “morals”. So your kid is gay—your morals dictate that his sexual orientation is a sin, so behaving according to your morals, you decry him as a sinner and refuse to allow him to bring his partner into your home. What if your morals dictate that the female sexual drive is fundamentally evil, and those women who experience orgasm will inadvertently stray into sexual sin? Your morals dictate that their genitalia be removed, but ethics say that is the bat-shit-craziest, ugliest, bloodiest, most reprehensible thing you could do to a young girl. Morals are a poor thing to base your decision making process on, because they’re dictated only by what other people believe. Ethics, however, are based on the fundamental principle that we should do good to each other and our behavior should reflect that decision. Morals remain stagnant as part of a religious code—Ethics evolve and become better, higher ways to treat others. I daresay we could use a world without any so-called “morals.”

What about the value of faith?

I find no value in accepting something to be true simply because somebody else told you it was. I think there might be value in having “faith” in humanity, if that’s how you want to put it; but that’s based on the fact that we have observed others doing good, not because of some ethereal concept of human goodness. Failing to ask questions—of everything—is not a virtue. Making enormous, critical life decisions based on what you think God might want you rather than what practicality and circumstances and personal desires indicate you should do—that’s not a virtue. Faith, or blind belief, is not a virtue, it’s a vice, and we’d all be better off without it.

Didn’t Hitler, Mao, and Jeffrey Dahmer do awful things because they were atheist?

There are people in this world who do not care whether those around them suffer. There are people who relish the power to make life difficult for others, who crave the ability to cleanse the world of what they consider lesser human existence. That isn’t atheist—that’s just an ugly part of humanity that, unfortunately, seems to exist across the board. We see it in religious folks and nonreligious folks alike. The Inquisitions were based around doing exactly what Hitler did. The constant wars in the Middle East are pushed onward by religious zealots on all sides. Catholic priests are constantly called into the limelight for preying on little boys. The propensity to do ugly things to other humans has nothing to do with one’s beliefs—it has everything to do with one’s character, and the belief in God doesn’t seem to improve character one bit.

Doesn’t something have to exist in order not to believe in it? Why is God any different?

This is the dumbest fucking question I’ve ever heard, and I’m surprised by how often I hear it. The utter lack of logic evidenced by such a proposition scarcely deserves to be dignified by a response; but for the sake of this post, I’ll just say this. You don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy. That doesn’t mean a little green pixie with a tiny waist and giant boobs is hiding quarters under children’s pillows in exchange for a rootless molar–just so you can have the luxury to not believe in her.

Why do atheists hate religion?

Because we see it cause so much damage. Even if most religious people are fundamentally good, religion gives people an excuse to behave in ways they normally would not. If God didn’t say being gay was bad, would we ever disown our LGBT children? If God didn’t say a woman’s virtue is encased in her virginity, would strong, independent women be valued higher and would slut shaming stop? If God didn’t say men were the head of the household, would we see less spousal abuse? If God didn’t tell the Sunnis that the Shiites were wrong, would we have factional wars in Yemen and Syria? Religion spearheads much of the ugly behavior we see in the world today, and for non-participants, it is sad and frustrating.

What about programs like Alcoholic Anonymous that make people better through religion?

I won’t deny that we humans seem genetically preprogrammed to believe in a higher power. The simple fact that we alone look up into the heavens with a blazing curiosity to understand the powers in the firmament is remarkable. It is hardly surprising that we invented superstitious ways to explain the incredible things we saw. Interestingly, those who have less control over their lives tend to rely on superstition the most. Even in baseball, where superstition is a fundamental part of the sport’s history, it is the players who have the least control over the game—namely, the pitchers—that exercise the most rigorous superstitious rituals. Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous that make users acknowledge a higher power that can usher in relief and assistance to the struggle of addiction certainly have their place. I take no issue with the fact that simply believing in a higher power can assist those whose lives seem to have lost control to substance abuse. Certainly I would prefer to see that higher power be relationships with loved ones rather than God, but who am I to dictate what makes other people stronger? If they’re not using it as a weapon against anyone, power to them.

What about studies that show religious people live longer?

Correlation does not equal causation. What scientists are finding now is that religions encourage people to unite in groups with a strong foundation in community and common purpose. Humans are social creatures, and we are happier when surrounded by those who love and support us. That is what makes people live longer—not the religion itself. I have watched several people struggle through issues of enormous implication, like death, cancer, and divorce. When these people have family and friends who join together in supporting the sufferer, the entire community is buoyed up and strengthened. Religion acts as a core unifier, not as a magical life-extenze.

What about the new age spiritualism? Is that better than religion?

I guess, in a sense, I would much rather see people engaged in “spirituality” than religion. Those I’ve seen who consider themselves spiritual are typically in the pursuit of personal enlightenment, and do so because they want themselves and those around them to be happy. That being said, I think the “Law of Attraction” (which is a theory, not a law, and a flimsy one at that), and “Universal Guidance” are absolutely ridiculous and have no ground in reality. The universe doesn’t “love” you, because the universe is not a sentient whole capable of loving anything. Love is a concept that exists for humans because it makes us behave in ways that are beneficial to ourselves and each other. It’s a measurable force that exhibits itself in chemical reactions in the brain, and then causes us to carry out behaviors that reinforce good relationships. The universe is not human, and is not subject to our lovey-dovey wishes. The fact that positive thinking can make us happier is no Secret—but it doesn’t give us whatever we want. If it could, we’d all be manifesting ourselves into millionaires driving Maseratis. And the constant invocation of “Quantum Physics” to support the arguments for the Law of Attraction is the biggest psuedo-science bogus alive and well today. The average layman has so little knowledge of the quantum physics that they can’t distinguish the difference between quack science and genuine physics, but any reputable physicist will tell you that the Law of Attraction is utter nonsense. My biggest issue with this new-age Spiritualism is that it comes from a very self-serving point of view, and seems to blame those who have less simply because they haven’t tried hard enough to attract it to themselves. But that is a whole blog post unto itself (coming soon).

I’ve covered as many of these as I can think of; I’m sure there will be more added later. If you’re curious about any of these answers, or feel like they have been explain fully, or even just have a question of your own, I welcome comments and suggestions. May the force be with you. Always.

4 thoughts on “Q&A with a Happily Raging Atheist

  1. Henricus Institoris

    A very interesting and enlightening post where you raise many good points!

    I just want to highlight two preconceptions which are usually not questioned. I do not presume that you don’t either, but at least the people posing the questions obviously didn’t.

    1) Theism = Religion
    This is exemplified by the identification of Atheism with being non-religious. Although a quarrel about words is usually not helpful, sometimes it is fruitful to have a closer look. Then we’ll see that “Atheism” is a negation of “Theism”, which appears too trivial. But having been brought up in a monotheistic society, people often forget that a religion doesn’t necessarily need a “God”. So you could be very religious, yet not believe in one or several deities. In this case you are still an atheist. For sure, you can be non-religious and an atheist, too. Nothing wrong with that as the influence of religion is hugely overrated in my humble opinion.

    2) Religion and Morality
    I don’t want go on about differences between morals and ethics and I don’t think that it is necessary to make this point clear. The underlying preconception, reinforced during centuries, is that morals are exclusively derived from religion. This renders all non-religious people “amoral” (regarding atheists, point 1 comes into play again also). But this is more than just questionable. In fact, the way religion is usually taken to bring morals about leads to amorality according to strict definitions of morality as the promised reward in an afterlife becomes an egoistical goal. The mistake is that religion is generally introduced as a basis for morality (e. g. see Jesus Christ’s teachings) but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only possible one (which, of course, it isn’t). A typical pattern to exaggerate the importance of one aspect, which comes in handy to put social pressure on dissenters. In the end, if religion really does make people behave better towards their neighbours it is more than just fine. If it leads to suppression and prosecution, not so.

    Reply
    1. nate

      So I’ll ask the obvious question. where then did morality and ethics orginate from? There’s certainly no place for it in darwinian evolution. If survival of the fittest is how humanity has gotten this far, why then does a cop take a bullet for a complete stranger or a firefighter go running into a burning building to save lives. this goes well beyond ones self fulfilling need to feel good by doing things for others. It actually makes dying in service of ones country seem pretty pointless as well. Your bodies number one priority is sustaining itself. Putting yourself in emminent danger goes directly against nature. So why then do people do it willingly?

      human beings are highly rational creatures. We can think abstractly, learn languages at an amazing speed, and know the difference between right and wrong. In contrast natural selection would only have developed in us the basic abilities to survive. Aquire food, avoid danger, and find a mate. Nature would not have generated the capacity for higher reason.

      That’s not to say that i don’t believe in science. I just believe that science and religion are two distinct, equally valid spheres of existence. even Einstein understood this. And i quote “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” There is no denying science. the proof of it is all around us. But so is the proof of a creator. the undeniable fine tuning of the universe alone proves this to me. Our universe spontaneously popping into existence and perfectly balancing itself to sustain life (ex: if the neutron mass were 0.1 percent less massive, all the stars would have collapsed into black holes and there are countless examples like this) would be like a tornado tearing through an empty junkyard and perfectly assembling a functioning boeing 787.

      Although all humanity was created equal, everyone’s moral beliefs were not. To say that everyones beliefs are equally valid is self refuting. But that’s what you’re left with without a moral law giver. Someone who says it is permissible to hurt children or neglect the elderly does not have the same moral status as someone who says the opposite. But if there is no god there couldn’t possibly be a transcendent morality that everyone should obey. Good and evil would simply be illusions, man made and arbitrary. Essentially swaying with the opinions of the majority. Now that is not to say that being religious makes ones morals better than being atheist. Rejecting god won’t necessarily make you some horrible criminal, just like saying you believe in god won’t automatically make you a saint. A religious person persecuting someone for being homosexual is wrong because persecuting anyone is wrong. It isn’t my place to judge I’m not perfect. But i know this because of a superior source of moral authority not my own subjective beliefs. Otherwise i could bend and twist the rules to fit my own selfish wants and needs, making exceptions for my own benefit. That is how you end up with irrational beliefs. The kind that allow you to fly planes into buildings in the name of Allah. Gods pretty clear on these things in the new testament when he tells people to “love your enemies”

      Reply
      1. Liz Emery Post author

        Fuck! I’m really irritated. I just had two really well-developed replies, and twice my browser refreshed itself voluntarily, and I lost them. Now I’m typing my reply on a Word doc… human intelligence at its best.

        Which brings me to my first point. To suggest that Nature would not have bestowed upon humans supreme intelligence in the course of our evolution is just silly. We are successful because we are smart. I highly suggest you read this article: http://www.cracked.com/article_20078_5-weird-directions-human-evolution-could-have-taken_p2.html. It’s written in humor, but the points are valid. Humans, at the time we evolved, were essentially the perfect mix of brain and brawn. We killed our competitors who were bigger and dumber, and we killed our competitors who were too smart to do much besides sit around and think. Even today, the most successful among our species are the right combination of the smartest, the most resourceful, and the hardest working.

        And we do best when we, and those around us, are doing well. More and more research is being published that suggest that altruistic behavior is good and necessary for our evolution. Use worldwide nuclear warfare as a crude example: If, following Nate’s Rules of the Universe, our body’s first priorities were protect us and us alone, we would have no issue blowing the rest of the world to bits. And they would feel the same way. However, our world right now is more successful than it’s ever been because everybody is doing well. The life quality of the average citizen in America is better than it has ever been, and even third world countries are constantly improving thanks to efforts of better developed countries. The human race thrives when it is good to all of its members, and that theory breaks down accurately when you look at smaller subgroups like countries, cities, and neighborhoods.

        That is the basis of secular ethics, which improve and change as we become more aware. We know that suffering sucks, and we know that other people can suffer, so because we are rational and meta-cognitive, and because we can sustain Theory of Mind, we refrain from causing others needless suffering. Ethics can change, and that is a good thing; even in the past few years, financial ethics have improved which prevent powerful people taking advantage of the less powerful—and causing an economic collapse for everybody.

        Morals, however, come from a “God says so” point of view. It doesn’t matter whether your actions hurt another individual if God says what you’re doing is okay. That’s why religious wars have killed more humans than any other war put together; otherwise smart, sensible, good people lose their sense of right and wrong when morals come into play. Isn’t that ironic? But it’s true! That’s why, across religions, cultures, and time periods, morals are so dramatically different. In the Bible, religious wars happen all the time at God’s behest. Parents are given the okay to murder their children for disobedience. In our modern ethical sphere, we would say that’s crazy; but that’s because our ethics have changed, even if the morals in the Bible have not. Morals are a God-based, fear-based way of thinking. They are antiquated, and we’d be better off without them.

        You seem to be of the opinion that the universe and the world were created to sustain us. That’s an awfully self-centered way of seeing things, although, thanks to religion, it isn’t too unusual. The facts indicate exactly the opposite. If the mass of a neutron was different, sure, we wouldn’t be here—but that’s a moot point because we are here. We are here because we live on a tiny rock in an itty bitty corner of an enormous space that just happens to have been stable for long enough for us to evolve. Even though human evolution took a long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, time, in comparison to the age of the universe, we are a tiny blip. We’re here because the conditions were propitious to our existence—not the other way around. Humanity does not dictate the laws of the universe.

        Your quote from Einstein is another moot point. Einstein thought that your beliefs—that is to say, Christianity with a personal God who commanded us to do and be and think certain things—was childish and silly. (As you would say) And I quote: “It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly.” And, “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” Is he still someone you want to quote to back up your argument?

        I completely agree that all morals are not equal. Some are certainly much better than others. But there certainly can be a transcendent moral code without God. What if leaders of different nations came together (like the UN), and decided, as they have, that we will not use chemical weapons in warfare because of the suffering they cause? That, when we see religious genocide, we will step in and take a stand against it? Why the fuck would we need God for that?

        Because, if we do use God, what we get is this: One specific group of people who believe certain things and who want everyone to believe those things no matter what. But whose God do we use? Yours? Mine? The God who is the “most” moral? But how do we decide that? What if we disagree? And are we going to use Nate’s interpretation of the Christian God, or Freddy’s interpretation of the Christian God? Are we going to use the God from the Old Testament, or the New Testament? You mention that flying planes into buildings is irrational because God from the New Testament commands us to love our neighbors, but what about the God in the Old Testament who commands Joshua to invade Jericho? Wikipedia sums it up pretty well: “The walls of the city collapsed, and the Israelites were able to charge straight into the city. The city was completely destroyed, and every man, woman, child and animal in it was killed by Joshua’s army by God’s command. Only Rahab and her family were spared, because she had hidden the two spies sent by Joshua. After this, Joshua burned the remains of the city and cursed any man who would rebuild the city of Jericho would do so at the cost of his firstborn son.” And this was under your God’s command, Nate. Love they neighbor indeed.

      2. Henricus Institoris

        “But so is the proof of a creator.”

        A trivial petitio principii.

        “Although all humanity was created equal, everyone’s moral beliefs were not. To say that everyones beliefs are equally valid is self refuting. But that’s what you’re left with without a moral law giver.”

        Even if this point was granted, the “moral law giver” need not be a god or your God.

        “But if there is no god there couldn’t possibly be a transcendent morality that everyone should obey. Good and evil would simply be illusions, man made and arbitrary.”

        Of course, there could. And no, arbitrariness also doesn’t logically (or practically) follow from it.

        “Otherwise i could bend and twist the rules to fit my own selfish wants and needs, making exceptions for my own benefit.”

        A very apt description of the morals successfully applied to start religious wars and the inquisition.

        If someone only recognizes God as a solution to those problems (this already presupposes that those problems can be solved), this does not mean that God is the only solution. Just that there is much more for you to discover yet.

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