It’s too bad God doesn’t exist, but being an adult means you deal with it

So a bunch of my atheist Facebook friends are sharing a really stupid Yahoo News article which Dan Fincke quite accurately summarized as follows:

Atheists, you would really be so much cooler if you were depressed and depressing? Why can’t you just accept that religious interpretations of existence would be awesome and that being an atheist is just awful? Because that would be HONEST. You LIARS who stubbornly insist on living outside of your intellectual opponents’ paradigms as though they, like, weren’t valid or something. But of course they must be. You liars.

(Just to show you this isn’t a distortion, the title of the article is “Where are the honest atheists?” and the first sentence is “That godlessness might be both true and terrible is something that the new atheists refuse to entertain.”)

Now I need to start my own reaction with a very big “IF.” If you define God as a perfect being, all-powerful, all-knowing, morally perfect (including just, loving, etc.), and whatever else it takes to make a perfect being, and you totally ignore what a monster God is in orthodox Abrahamic monotheism (something I don’t think atheists are under any obligation to do every time we use the word “God”)–if you stipulate that, then yeah, it’s too bad that God doesn’t exist.

But you know what else is too bad? It’s too bad that Batman doesn’t exist. It’s too bad that Superman doesn’t exist. It’s too bad that life isn’t fair, the world isn’t perfect, and–as the Rolling Stones pointed out–you can’t always get what you want. Being an adult means you deal with stuff like that, rather than wasting a lot of your and everybody else’s time talking about how terrible they are.

And part of the reason I can agree that it’s too bad God doesn’t exist is that I think that if there were an all-powerful, loving god, thinks like little girls getting raped and beaten to death wouldn’t happen. The claim that the world is the creation of a perfect god, and this is the best he could do is not one I find comforting.

(Note: in case you’re confused by the page image, that’s a picture of the Samaritan, a character from the excellent comic book series Astro City which you should totally read, using his empyrean web to hold a collapsing building together while the people inside evacuate. Wouldn’t it be nice if stuff like that actually happened?)

  • Daniel Engblom

    This point also merits a mention of Anti-Theism, because any rational, humane person wouldn’t want to live in a universe in which the God people do worship would be operating in – The personal, anthropomorphic, petty, narrow-minded, homophobic, misogynistic, racist… The God mirroring our own shallow personalities, which people rationalize away like someone with battered wife syndrome.

  • Gordon

    The real “good news” is that there is no invisible monster in the sky.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    But when the topic is the problem of evil, theists are always yammering on about what a great thing free will is. It is so valuable that God would allow evil to happen jsut in order to preserve it. So why wouldn’t they appreciate the freedom of not having any gods?

  • MNb

    Oh, this circular argument is quite popular among Dutch spiritual/religious people as well. “You atheists are always so sour and nasty! That’s because atheism is sour and nasty by definition! So you must be sour and nasty! If you deny it you are lying/fooling yourself!”
    Know what? I have never been baptized. I decided that I was an unbeliever some 35 years ago, that I’d call myself an atheist 25 years ago and possibly I’ll grant myself a 7 on the scale of Dawkins in the very near future. Sure I have had some setbacks in my life, but overall I have (had) a lot of fun, laugh(ed) a lot and am content. If you believers are christians reread Matth. 7:1 again, will you? Then think about what it means for a couple of hours. Then come back. For you spiritual but non-religious people: don’t take yourself so g*dd**n serious.

    “it’s too bad that God doesn’t exist”
    Is it? Recently I learned that God loves X is devoid of any meaning anyway. He supposed to be a bodiless entity can’t express His Love by means of talking, facial expression, body language and/or behaviour. Well, maybe it’s too bad. It’s also too bad that my bike can’t express its love for me for exactly the same reasons. Fortunately there are my son (also an atheist), my girlfriend (who is muslima), my pupils and my collegues who actually do express their love and appreciation. That’s why I don’t need a meaningless Skydaddy.
    I don’t buy the false dichotomy of truth versus happiness.

    “Wouldn’t it be nice …”
    No. If the Samaritan wakes up badly or he decides he doesn’t like me those people – or me – will be worse off than now. Thank you very much; omnipotence has a dark side.

    • Chris Hallquist

      “If the Samaritan wakes up badly or he decides he doesn’t like me those people – or me – will be worse off than now. Thank you very much; omnipotence has a dark side.”

      True. As someone who enjoys things like Invincible, I should have thought of that.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    This argument is not about facts, but about emotional responses to (putative) facts. Some people are half glass full people, others are glass half empty people. The theist has no business telling the atheist what his emotional reaction should be.

  • smrnda

    To me, this argument has no more substance than an arrogant and ignorant US citizen imagining that life must be pointless in all other nations because they don’t have American Football and the Super Bowl, the only reason being that he thinks that are the most awesome things ever, and so if you don’t have them, life must be totally empty. The possibilities of there being a world cup in a different type of football doesn’t even seem to be speculated on.

    I agree that, as atheists there is no Ultimate Purpose To Life, but I think that’s a good thing. There is no Ultimate Purpose to film, literature, art or music either, which is actually good because then artists can actually be creative and not work within some artificially imposed agenda.

    Also, as most gods are depicted, we’re really better off if they aren’t real. The world has enough petty tyrants and powerful narcissists, and they cause a lot of damage. Super-powered ones would be a bad thing for sure.

  • Kodie

    As I said elsewhere recently, if you are alive, at least part of the universe can’t help but acknowledge that you exist and might even love you.

    Why do people shiver at the thought of not existing, and that it’s most important for a huge governing deity to acknowledge and love them? The universe where I live is not cold and merciless, not saying it can’t be, but I think these people are admitting that they themselves are cold and merciless. Do you live somewhere you fear for your life if you admit that you’re gay? Religious people making the universe a colder and less merciful place.

    I do think atheists seem a bit too happy to me sometimes, and I am one. Some of the things they say don’t really come right out and say it, but this whole “you get one life, live it up” kind of attitude, where you’re supposed to celebrate life and every day, and in the (not-very)-long run, it really doesn’t matter if you “waste your life” playing video games or farting around online. You might think you can change the world, and maybe you can, maybe everything you do does. I don’t mean make it better, but is the world changed if you go out as opposed to staying in? It could have devastating consequences on someone’s whole family if you go out, but then that shouldn’t be something to fear either. There’s that whole “it is what it is” thing. Do you live your life where your choices affect others in a positive or negative way? I mean, when the guy is saying that honest atheists don’t speak up, I could say the same for religious people. They are doomed, and they seem to use this doom to guide their lives. If they could say what the godless world should look like and how one should react to knowing that, they live as dishonestly as possible. They get that there’s death at the end, and they add extra “hell” just to be fancy. Ok, if you add hell, which is made up, I think that’s worse than just being alone and meaningless in a vast, impersonal universe. But be honest, if you really believed in hell, you wouldn’t rationalize every thought you ever had to fail to accept that’s where you would go, if you were honest.

    I kind of got all this existentialism (I guess) when I went out with a sort of suicidal continually pot-smoking pot-smoker who lost his job, when I was in my 20s. I was the same sort of person most people are when they hear someone entertaining suicide, you know, don’t do that, think of your mother, you will cause people pain, there’s got to be some way out here. He didn’t do it, I’ll say right beforehand. But his response wasn’t of course to be moved by my appeals. “I won’t know and I won’t be able to care,” he said. When you’re dead, I guess immediately dead, you will matter to some others, but they won’t matter to you. That sort of put a spin on things I hadn’t thought through before.

    Maybe you discovered this awesome vaccine that spared millions of families a tragedy, and that changes the world. I’m not going to say nobody changes the world, but I have this other friend in his late 20s going through something I went through around the same age. He needs to be someone like a vaccine-discoverer. He doesn’t want to vanish without accomplishing something worldwide changing. That’s not his field of study, but you get the idea here. Without the ability to become that important, people feel way too small, and that they will die without really counting as a human being. They’re pretty well aware that their family members start dying and then children are born without knowing them at all, and how can that happen? Imagine your own child doesn’t know your parents, who shaped you, doesn’t know them as actual people? Who will talk about them after you die, where will the photo albums end up, who will laugh at the styles more than recognize the faces? This is the mortality people get kind of sentimental about. You can be a star in that child’s life, or someone’s life, and change the world. Do you want people to talk about you, the legend, or do you want people to be influenced by having known someone who knew you, because you were pretty good at whatever you do until you had no time left? There is this idea that we are individuals all worth something, and we should be more patient and better listeners, to really value an individual every time you get a chance. People really seem to like that you pay them personal attention, but it is really hard to get that kind of attention back (it is for me), because people have to be told and encouraged to notice people who don’t talk themselves up or who don’t think they have a story anyone wants to hear. Life does get tiresome when you feel like wallpaper, even when you do have accomplishments to show off, no one takes time to care. But what people like most about you then becomes what a patient and good listener who always made others feel special. Is that a terrible thing to accomplish? That’s exactly why people love the heck out of god, but I think it’s also why people refer everyone they know to him.

    Religion is the personal glory of having so mattered that someone identifies you by name forever as being that unique being that everyone thinks they are. It doesn’t matter if you can’t see them, but then how is mattering eternally to that being helpful at all? How is that good enough terms to live by? If people feel lonely and lost and cold out here on earth without that future to look forward to, it means to me that’s the best stupid answer they could come up with to the questions of life. What should I be doing? What is my purpose? What is my plan? And then people get married and shop at the mall and the grocery store and have kids and work in a doofy but necessary paycheck-earning, economy-driving industry of some sort – a cog in a machine. Everyone knows it and even the religious don’t not know it. Dreams are for other people, so in place of it, they choose “god” who lives on a star and amazingly loves me even though I’m not really any better than anyone else. I’m not the best at what I do, what I do isn’t the best sort of thing to do, and sure, I love my family the best I can, I guess, but how can that be enough? Everyone does that.

    I don’t know, terrorize other people to get with the plan or else? That seems like it might just change the world. I didn’t grow up around super-religious hyper-Christian Christians, just the sort of people who kind of seemed to half-ass it and only part of the way. It’s hard to figure out just how important or comforting that one resurrected dead guy is to them in a way that nothing else literally is. HE LOVED ME SO MUCH THAT HE DIED! And then harass people for being ungrateful to the symbolic (fictional) gesture, and then litter and take up 2 parking spots and leave the dog shit on the ground (but in a baggie!).

    I do not find heaven comforting, unless it’s like that retirement deal they show a lot in popular culture. It’s exactly like they advertise retirement living communities where you get old and play cards and swim indoors, except you get to meet John Lennon and he wants to be your friend, and eat anything you want and don’t get fat(ter), stay the “good” drunk without overdoing it, driving unadvisedly, or suffering a hangover. I haven’t heard any reports seriously that it will be like that – your own mansion, some guilt-free sex, and that’s about it – or even weirder, you just become one with god and that alone is the happiness you can’t find anywhere on earth, and somehow makes you stop worrying about gays, abortion, and what religious beliefs you suspect the president really has. By the way, if you have dead friends in heaven now, and these issues are still an everyday problem for you on earth, how serious could they be that you’re still working on them, but your friend couldn’t care less. That’s exactly like what being gone forever is going to feel like.

  • CelticLight

    Kodie – I don’t think John Lennon would be high on my list of people I would want to meet in an AfterLife. I know many worship “Imagine” – and the tune is very good – but the philosophy is gibberish. “Imagine there is no heaven or hell”, OK – but then he goes on to paint the picture of a utopia that sounds awfully boring. A brotherhood of man doing what ? No countries, no possessions, no challenges (no greed or hunger), probably no jokes, no sports (at least no winners or losers). Probably everyone sitting around getting high and passing out – Don’t worry man, be happy. Pleaseeee – I think I prefer the world the way it is. At least it is interesting.

    • Kodie

      I’m excited for you to read my whole post and pick out one random cool dead person I named that you might meet in the most popular fictional account of heaven to make your response about. It’s like I might as well not even exist.

      • CelticLight

        at Kodie – “But what people like most about you then becomes what a patient and good listener who always made others feel special.” Sorry – I did not practice being a good listener, and I did not make you feel special. I usually/well sometimes do a better job.
        I enjoyed your post, and I think I may know what you are saying about life. I had to process it several times, before I could seriously comment. It was easier do a hit job on the John Lennon reference. It is a hot button with me. His philosophy does not seem to link to the real world – scientific view of the world, etc. His utopia – reading the lyrics closely – is one I have trouble relating to.
        I do struggle sometimes with the universe and my role in it. That is the beauty of challenges in life – they distract you and give you something to focus on. I get the evolutionary part of life, however consciousness does not seem to make much sense to me. Why are we conscious, do we need to be conscious, is other matter conscious … ??? I used to be concerned with “making a difference” on a larger scale, now I just try to focus more local than global – look at each individual I meet and try to treat them special, which they are. The human brain is fascinating – conscious, subconscious, left brain, right brain, deeper aspects … we have a long way to go in understanding the brain and how it may have evolved.

      • CelticPeace

        “It’s like I might as well not even exist.”

        Wasn’t that your point ?

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