Christian apologists, perhaps knowing that they won’t do well in the arena of argument and evidence, try instead to beat the atheist worldview by arguing that it’s more pleasing or happier. In several recent posts, I’ve responded to the claim that Christian hope is a strong plus for Christianity. It’s not. It incorrectly imagines that consoling is enough, it encourages Christians to not see reality clearly, it encourages complacency and magical thinking, it provokes anxiety when promises and reality don’t mesh, it makes God a jerk, and it infantilizes Christians.
Let’s now look at the big picture of each worldview. Compare Christianity and atheism, and atheism wins.
Positives of Christianity (and the negatives)
Let’s start with Christianity’s positive traits. The church can create community for its members, and it can catalyze their good works and charitable giving. As such, it is an important social institution. While this natural part of the church is a positive, however, the supernatural side doesn’t hold up as well. Let’s look at some examples. For one, heaven is a nice idea, but it comes as a package deal with hell.
And you’re told that God is eager for a relationship, but he won’t even meet you halfway when his very existence isn’t obvious.
Laying your problems at the feet of Jesus might be comforting, but they’re usually still there when you go back to check. Why are prayers answered at a rate no better than chance?
One of Christianity’s strongest selling points, we’re told, is that salvation doesn’t require works but is a gift. All you need is faith. But with so many interpretations of correct belief within Christianity, how do you know the Jesus you have faith in is the right one? You may be headed for hell if you guess wrong.
What is God’s goal when he allows bad things to happen to people—tsunamis that kill hundreds of thousands or childhood cancers, for example? As an omnipotent being, he could achieve any goal without causing suffering.
Christians might deal with issues like these by compartmentalizing, by not asking questions, or by denying their doubt. But not being able to honestly raise your concerns, let alone resolve them, creates mental stress, not a healthy relationship.
Facing reality (and the positives of atheism)When challenged with some of these concerns, a common Christian response is to argue that the atheist worldview is bleak and empty (as if “that worldview is depressing” is any argument against it being correct). But let’s consider that worldview—a world without God. This would be a world where praying for something doesn’t increase its likelihood; where faith is necessary to mask the fact that God’s existence is not apparent; where no loving deity walks beside you in adversity; where natural disasters kill people indiscriminately; where far too many children live short and painful lives because of malnutrition, abuse, injury, or birth defects; and where there is only wishful thinking behind the ideas of heaven and hell.
Look around, because that’s the world you’re living in. But this isn’t anarchy, it’s a world where people live and love and grow, and where every day ordinary people do heroic and noble things for the benefit of strangers. Where warm spring days and rosy sunsets aren’t made by God but are explained by science, and where earthquakes happen for no good reason and people strive to leave the world a better place than they found it. God isn’t necessary to explain any of this. Said another way, there is no functional difference between a world with a hidden god and one with no god.
It’s not that the atheist worldview finds no value in life. In fact, the opposite is true: the Christian worldview is the one that devalues life. Of what value is tomorrow to the Christian when they imagine they’ll have a trillion tomorrows? What value are a few short years here on earth when they have eternity in heaven?
There are consequences. If the atheist is right, the Christian will have missed seeing their life for what it truly is—not a test to see if you correctly dance to the tune of Bronze Age traditions; not a shell of a life, with real life waiting for you in the hereafter; not drudgery to be endured or penance paid while you bide your time for your reward; but rather the one chance you have at reality. We can argue whether heaven exists, but one thing we do know is our one life here on earth: a too-short life, no matter how long you live, that you can spend wisely or foolishly. Where you can walk in a meadow full of flowers, and laugh and learn, and do good things and feel good for having done them. Where you can play with children, and teach someone, and love.
I won’t be able to visit new places after I die; I won’t be able to learn another language, or comfort a friend, or apologize, or forgive, or simply stop and smell the roses. If it’s important to me, I’d better do it in the one life I know I have. Life is sweeter when that’s all you’ve got. Sure, there’s a downside to having a finite number of days on this earth. It’s a downside, but that’s why it’s an upside.
Atheism is far from being a depressing worldview—just ask any ex-Christian atheist. They’ll tell you how empowered and free they feel now that they can honestly ask questions and follow evidence where it leads.
They seek only the truth, but the truth is enough.
but if you do it right, once is enough.
— Mae West
Image via Sivesh Kumar, CC license