Reader Request 2: Why is Atheism Better … for US?

Much of this post is duplicated in the adjacent one, because I wanted to separate out the responses.

Thinking about writing a book about how I’m handling the death of my Dad, I realized I was going to have to answer the question “Why is atheism better?”

After all, if the title of your (might-be) book is “Saying Goodbye to Dan: An Atheist Deals With Death,” you’re pretty much obligated to attempt to differentiate yourself, and your named-in-the-title philosophy, from the traditional method of dealing with death — the religious one.

I have a lot of my own ideas about how to answer the question, but I’d like to ask YOU about your own answers.

Because we wouldn’t BE atheists — would we? — if we didn’t have SOME idea that it was better.

Unlike most religious thinkers, who would always assume we’re atheists because we’re bad, the real reason we’re atheists is because we’re GOOD. Or at least trying to be. Trying to be better, righter, more accurate, more oriented toward real-world facts and truth.

So the two questions are:

1) Why is atheism better for you as an individual?

2) Why is atheism better for society?

This specific post asks that second question:

Why is atheism better for US?


Beta Culture: Being Grownups on Planet Earth
Zoning Out on Liberal vs. Conservative Issues
Beta Culture: Seeing The Brackets
  • Bruce Gorton

    One of my coworkers brought be a leaflet from one Dr Mpogo, which basically advertised his services.

    He claimed to be able to read the future, but his grammar left me dubious.

    Amongst the other things he claimed was the power to heal bareness in women, get rid of the “bad spell from your life that is taking away your money”, win court cases and bring back the woman who left you because you fell for this idiocy.

    Given all of his talk of sealing things up – I am left thinking that this “Movit Gel” he is advertising is also known as “Pritt”. Magic glue that can control the size of your genitals aside, it highlights something about why Africa is the way it is.

    We can laugh at this, but people actually fall for it, and one of the claims on that self same leaflet was that it could “Make you see your enemies in the mirror and make demands of them.”

    In other words, in a country rife with violence you now have someone dosing people with hallucinogens and then telling them the face they see in the mirror is their enemy. You could see anyone in that mirror.

    Another claim it makes is that it can get you that job or tender – in other words success is divorced from effort and left at the feet of capricious spirits.

    And this is present to a large extent in more mainstream religion – praying for that increase, praying for that cure, praying for all sorts of things instead of getting off your duff and working for them, or having the courage to go and ask for them directly.

    Instead of working to create a society that is more just and equitable we see giant prayer rallies in Texas. It is no different to what is sold by one Doctor Mpogo.

    In Nigeria you have Islamic and Christian fighters in a low scale civil war, oil fields being seized and children getting abused. Today their senate’s most pressing concern was to criminalise gay marriage. People dying is less important to them than who fucks who.

    And in the West you have the good little liberals talking about how one should respect the diversity of religious experience, which is more or less their bigotted code for “ignore the bad bits.” Embrace it as African when it is anything but.

    Christianity and Islam were brought to Africa to enslave Africa, to tame the natives of this land with promises of heaven and steal their resources while their eyes were filled with visions of some imaginary God.

    And it carries on to this day. Wars fought between Muslim and Christian, tribal villages pillaged and cities ravaged in the name of the great supernatural nothing. From the clink of bullets in a chamber, to the clink of coins in a collection plate.

    Atheism is good for society because it sets us free, it releases us from the illusion of powerlessness, it allows us to see how we can change things. It reveals that we are not servants to our fates, but masters of our fates.

    Atheism is the admission of power, and of responsibility.

    • geocatherder

      Atheism is good for society because it sets us free, it releases us from the illusion of powerlessness, it allows us to see how we can change things. It reveals that we are not servants to our fates, but masters of our fates.

      Atheism is the admission of power, and of responsibility.

      Bruce puts it more eloquently than I could ever have done. I would add that atheism strips away the false responsibility we have to a deity or deities, and reveals the true responsibility we have for each other. We are social animals, and it’s up to us and no one else to make our society something better than it is — because it ultimately, and properly selfishly, benefits all of us.

  • Brad

    1. Atheism gives society the freedom (and responsibility) to engage in a vigorous debate to determine our rules/laws/rights, instead of relying on someone’s interpretation of an ancient parchment or mystical revelation (well, I was thinking of the Bible, but I guess we have some similar issues with disagreement about interpretation of the constitution, too :))

    2. Atheism demands reason and justification for your positions, rather than just “pronouncements from on high”

    3. Atheism and Skepticism give us tools to protect ourselves against deception (by others and by ourselves)

    4. Atheism (in the form of humanism) gives us a reason to protect and preserve our society, our environment and our world. Too many Christians are just waiting for the rapture (or working toward what they believe will bring the rapture sooner) and don’t care about negative impacts on our world, because everything will be straightened out by God in the end.

    • San Ban

      But, at least in democratic countries, constitutions are made by the people, and can be changed at the will of the people. There’s no need for priests, rabbis, imams or other holy men (and they’re usually men, aren’t they?) to interpret some supernaturally immutable text from some otherworldly source. Democracy is such an intrinsically secular idea that I wonder at the oddity of a country attempting this grand experiment while firmly mired in the totalitarianism of religion.

  • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    Because we wouldn’t BE atheists — would we? — if we didn’t have SOME idea that it was better.

    There are many ways of being “better”. The one that inclines me towards atheism is that it is more likely than theism to be true (or, at the very least, more likely not to be false). It seems to me that there is a general personal and societal benefit to not believing falsehoods, but even if there weren’t, I’d still find it impossible to force myself to believe something I consider untrue.

  • Dorothy

    Being Atheist is better because. . .
    From my point of view, it’s the credibility issue. People trained up into the religous are believers – in Dog, in the ‘rightness’ of the pronouncements of their religous leaders, in the ‘rightness’ of their political leaders, of advertisements, economists,con men, and so forth. When you train someone, anyone to believe instead of reasoning matters out for themselves (or finding a scientific proof, or finding a valid scientist to explain matters) you have a manipulatable public. And I am persuaded that religous leaders have known this for as long as there has been any form of any religon – after all, being the interpreter of Dog is a very cosy job, especially when the first commandment is that the interpreter must be fed and cared for by the tribe in order that they may continue to do their very important work of interpreting.
    Additionally, thinking, reasoning, being skeptical is hard work, and should be learned early in life, like reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic. If it isnt learned early, the individual never gets very good at it, and there is a tendency for us humans to be lazy, and let someone else do it. And that way lies religon.
    Please forgive occasional spelling, etc errors. I am just back from a trip into T..and it is wet and cold out and I am fighting a migrain.

  • carlie

    Trying to distill it down, atheism is better because it lets us focus on other people rather than on God.

    Focusing on God is so time-consuming, and such an ephemeral target. What does God want me to do? How will I know? How much do I have to pray to have guidance? How many times do I have to read the Bible? Does it work if I pray really hard and then open the Bible randomly that God will show me a pertinent verse that I then just have to interpret properly for my situation? Does God really want me to help that person with what they seem to need, or are their desires contrary to his will so I have to try to convince them to do something else instead? If I help them, surely I should also tell them about God too, because there’s no way I should help them without a nice big dose of evangelism to go with it. But then I’m kind of shy about evangelizing, so maybe I’d better not do anything at all right now, and I’ll just pray that someone else helps them.

    Without that, it’s so easy. There’s a person. They hurt. Try to make it better. All that time you used to spend in prayer and Bible study? You can spend it helping other people. And you’re not helping them to score points with God, you’re not helping them to try and convince them to be saved, you’re helping them because… it’s good to help people.

    That’s what I’ve found – that moral and ethical clarity is much easier to get now that I’m an atheist. I don’t have to think about how God interprets it, or what the Bible says about it. People have a pretty well-evolved sense of decency and social responsibilities and ethics, and relying on that is not all that hard. Not having God in the way takes out the middle man, and takes out the uncertainty, and leaves us with just humanity. And that’s beautiful.

  • B-Lar

    The same reason that democracy is better than monarchy.

    Now that people are educated, they can take control of their lives instead of being told what to do by the one educated individual who knows better.

  • fastthumbs

    Atheism is better for us as a society because:

    1) Less wasted energy in building monuments to the God(s) – Look at Easter Island… one theory I heard was that so much energy of the society was taken up building those giant heads and in supporting the religious class that basically the society crashed and went into a civil war several times (pre-European contact)

    2) One less reason that the rulers can use to whip up the populace into a killing frenzy (aka war) – the crusades were over the control of the spice/silk trade routes… however your typical peasant wouldn’t be as likely to willingly fight for the king/pope if they knew the real reason… However, using religion…

    3) One less reason for groups to hate each other. For example It’s obvious that us Atheists have disagreements on how to deal with an overtly religious society (USA here… yeah, I know it’s not the same in Europe for the most part) – one of the biggest division in today’s atheist communities is the accommodationists vs. confrontationists, but I never heard of either group “hating” each other over this. Yet many Catholics and Protestants literally hate each other (look at Northern Ireland during the last century).

    4) As a society, there are many many many complex issues and problems (pollution, wealth inequities, the rationing of scares resources, etc.). Most Atheists I’ve met and those that comment on the blogs tend to understand the scientific method (there’s the occasional Atheist that’s into new age woo, but these seem to be a minority) and have good to excellent critical thinking skills which I believe are more conducive to thinking through complex issues and accept the evidence generated by the scientific community and coming up with solutions that mitigate or solve the problems. In the theist camp, I see lots of prayer, but often less action for the most part; I see a lot more conspiracy theorists (e.g. anti-vaxers), more denial of reality (e.g. climate change) and a group more prone to being manipulated by their leadership (Swaggert, Haggert, Hinn, Grahm, Dobbs, Ratzinger, etc.) that will vote for representatives (Gov Davies) that do NOT have their interests in mind.

    5) As a community, I do generally see many Atheists grappling with privilege, sexism and racism and how to expand and make our community more open. I seldom see this happen in the Theist community, except when there’s a scandal and yet the bad behavior continues to repeat itself over and over (RCC over decades stonewalling and covering up the pedophile priests in their ranks).

  • Aliasalpha

    It seems to me that the advantage of atheism for the populace as a whole is that with feet no longer entrenched in theocratic mafia fitted concrete shoes, when thrown into the river we can swim.

    Atheism seems to destroy one of the fundamental appeals of religion, the easy answer. No longer can man (or woman or transgender) ask “why is that so?” and have someone reply “god did it, the end!”. Now the answer must be “I dunno, lets find out!” and on the way to finding out the key to the mystery, who knows what other marvellous things they might accidently figure out? Faster than light communications, a cure for arthritis, why the fuck anyone ever liked billy ray cyrus… all these discoveries could be eliminated by accepting the easy answer.

    Compared to that, I’d like to ask theism how it thinks it can be better.

    Whats that theism, you’re debater’s not ready? Oh well I think I can guess his 3 word rebuttal…

  • JR Hill

    I believe that atheism is better than theism for society because theism creates a dichotomy of good/bad that is different for every religion. People’s morals are so entwined with what their religions tell them, that any deviation from the “good” is seen as “bad,” even if it is considered a “good” for another religion. This leads to intolerance, which I think is one of the greatest evils in our world.
    For theists, all those with different beliefs are inherently wrong, and therefore, sinful and evil. It is easy to treat an evil person with disrespect.
    Atheism, in general, has no central belief system of morals based on what is good or bad. It is a separation from inherent, unchallengeable beliefs. While atheists may have beliefs about what is right and wrong, they come from society as a whole and/or their own personal experiences. These beliefs can evolve and change, and in general are more tolerant of others. Atheism is more tolerant than theism because atheism does not come with a pre-set list of people/actions that are evil and need to be hated.

  • Lori

    I think atheism is better for “us” because it puts responsibility for actions with the actors, whether the responsible party is a person, community or nature. A person who commits a crime is responsible for it — the reasons are myriad but god isn’t one of them. Homeless people exist in our communities because the community failed them, not because god decided to give them the shit end or they sinned or some other nonsense. Etc., etc. Religion is a baseless out for all kinds of reprehensible behavior — war, murder, racism, bigotry, repression. It’s just plain bad.

    I think one of the biggest and maybe even more insidious ills it perpetuates on society is in promoting an unfounded deference to authority. There’s no denying power corrupts and those in power must have their power severely limited to prevent corruption. Religion, as we all know, insists on the opposite, and the powerless have paid over and over and over because authority must not be questioned.

  • A.C. Wright

    Maybe there’s nothing for the individual after death in an atheists viewpoint, but I think there’s something for the world and for the people who are left behind. I guess the way I think about death as an atheist is that your body decomposes and becomes a part of the global food web. Your remains fuels other organisms and I think that is beautiful to finally give back to the ecosystem after being a consumer for so long. For the people left behind they can take comfort just by looking out the window and seeing the plants, insects and other animals bursting with life, you and your relatives gave back to that…. hmm, very similar to how I feel about recycling

  • allenmayton
  • rturpin

    Hank Fox writes:

    Because we wouldn’t BE atheists — would we? — if we didn’t have SOME idea that it was better.

    Well, yes, I would be an atheist, even if I had no idea that it was better. I can’t simply choose my beliefs about factual matters on the basis of how those beliefs affect myself or the world. There’s this notion that knowledge has to align with The Good. So that we are never worse off knowing something that is so, or not thinking an error. And while there are numerous examples where that works, there is scant reason to think it is always the case. The notion that it has to be — that truth is beauty and good, and beauty and good truth — strikes me as almost a religious belief, in its own right.

  • Mr. Widemouth

    Who Really Believes Jesus Existed Anyways?

  • Irene Decker

    “in other words success is divorced from effort and left at the feet of capricious spirits”
    Is the (un)luck of birth better?

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