In a sea of apologist blog posts claiming that atheism is a religion or that we hate God because we want to sin, it’s a breath of fresh air to find something that’s a little more intellectually generous.
This piece took my breath away; I’m not going to lie.
It’s called “7 Things To Ask An Atheist“, and I can’t find an author, but I was holding my breath as I worked my way through the questions. At any moment, I expected a first cause argument or the implication that atheists lack morality. I was prepared for the immense eye-roll induced headache that would come after the inevitable, ‘why are there still monkeys?’ question. I was squinting in anticipation of an insistence that atheists are all nihilists.
But none of that happened.
Heathens, this is about the most generous post I’ve ever come across from a believer in my five years of writing about atheism. I honestly didn’t know how to compartmentalize it. When I finished reading, I sat back and stared for close to ten minutes.
Whoever wrote this appears to have tried their hardest to represent the atheist position as well as they possibly could. Sure, there are some wording issues that they could work on, but overall, you can genuinely feel the willingness to understand.
And so, it is in that spirit that I thought I would answer these questions for them openly and as honestly as I can, even though I’ve done it a million times before. Here goes:
1. Why don’t you believe in God?
The author of the piece on Beliefnet said this to follow up their question:
Most atheists will point to the lack of compelling evidence that God exists. Don’t try to convince an atheist otherwise. Simply thank God for your own faith.
I mean, you nailed it. Right there. On the head. I was not raised with a religion and have yet to find any reason to believe in a god. That’s the long and short of it.
2. Do you pray?
In the post, the author suggests that some atheists do have some form of prayer in their life, and I would bet that’s true. We are a diverse group, and though prayer does imply a deity of some kind, an atheist can engage in activities that are “prayer-like”. I, however, am not one of those sorts of atheists. I do not pray unless it’s in jest and the Browns are at first and goal.
3. What’s your source of hope?
After this question, the author says,
Be curious. What makes your fellow man tick always makes for interesting conversation. The atheist is no exception.
Seriously, can we stop for a minute and just appreciate how much of a breath of fresh air this is? I don’t understand why we can’t all be this generous with each other when discussing opposing points of view. Thank you, mysterious author of these questions. Thank you.
As for the query itself, my hope comes from the future. My son, my daughter, progress, science. I have an overabundance of hope, some might say that I have so much hope that I’m annoyingly naive. I attribute this to my mother, who taught me every day of my life to see the positives of everything, no matter how bad things might appear to be. I am endlessly and obnoxiously hopeful. I hope for a fairer and freer society. I hope that our planet thrives for many millennia to come. I hope we stop judging each other by trivial things and learn to live alongside those who differ from us. I hope for less and less suffering, more and more prosperity. I hope for more knowledge, not just for me, but for all of mankind.
If you ever get the opportunity to chat with my good friend Donovan (@MrOzAtheist), ask him just how exhaustingly much I go on and on and on about the Star Trek future I hope for. I want Picard, I want Janeway and I want a peaceful, compassionate existence for all life on earth and beyond.
I don’t just want them or wish for them, though. I have an unbridled and wholly irrational hope that these things will come true. That is why I am here. I believe in people and the power we possess to affect change and drag ourselves away from cruelty, ignorance and barbarism.
4. Do you consider atheism your religion?
The answer to this is no. I subscribe to the definition of atheism that says it is but a mere lack of belief in any gods. So, like your lack of belief in leprechauns is not a religion, nor is my lack of belief in Yahweh or Ganesh.
5. Do you think religion can be a positive experience for certain people?
I think that religion can lead people to some positive experiences, for sure, but I also believe that those positive experiences are obtainable without religion. The good experience exists independently of religion. Of course, I can go out and have a great time drinking my face off and getting fall-down blotto, but that doesn’t make the drink a good thing. We all know, we can have a blast without a drop of alcohol. When you accept your religious ideas on faith, you are under the influence, and I think it is a far purer form of joy to experience positive experiences with a sober mind.
6. What are your views about an afterlife?
I don’t believe in one. I have always thought the very idea of an afterlife is pretty silly. Of course, I can see how it might bring comfort to those who have lost a loved one, but wanting comfort doesn’t make something real. There are many uncomfortable truths about life that we have to accept, and death is just another of them.
The way I see it, the very fact that this life is finite is what gives it value. We have a limited time to do what we want to do, and so we must do it now, full throttle. Carpe Diem because there may not be another diem to carpe, you know?
7. Where do you find guidelines for good values, moral and ethical behaviour?
I don’t really have guidelines so much as I listen to my conscience, empathy and compassion. You see, I can look into your face and recognize emotions I have, myself, felt at one point or another. When you feel pain, I can empathize with how that feels, whether it is emotional or physical. This is how storytelling works, by triggering your empathy which makes you relate to the characters. When they go through something devastating, you might cry or feel shock or horror. Even though the characters are not real, you can still feel those emotions because your body is equipped with the ability to recognize emotion in other people and in words and imagery. So, being a compassionate person, it’s unpleasant to see or hear about other people suffering in any way, and like I avoid the unpleasantness of sticking my finger in an electrical socket, I also avoid the discomfort of being the cause of anyone’s pain. If I hurt you, I must then witness your suffering and then go on with my life carrying around the guilt that came from me being the cause of it. This is not something I want, and so I will avoid it to the best of my ability. I won’t hurt you or cause you suffering to the best of my ability because I don’t want to see you suffer. I don’t want to see someone in pain. I certainly don’t want to feel the immense guilt that would come with me being the cause of it.
Of course, this is a sort of emotional triage. Sometimes causing pain is necessary for a greater good. For instance, when I take my son to get immunized. Yes, the needle causes him pain, but it’s a minute amount of pain when you compare it to what he might suffer if he contracts one of the ailments the vaccine is made to prevent.
Many grey areas are less clear, and for those less apparent scenarios, I look to the science to help me decide. For instance, the death penalty. I have been a staunch anti-death penalty activist for my entire adult life. It’s far easier to look at someone who has committed a heinous crime and want them to suffer and die for it than to approach the situation with reason. It’s easier just to allow the anger to envelop you, but does the death penalty actually help us in any way? The data says no. The evidence even suggests it’s a detriment to civilized society.
This, in a nutshell, is the engine that drives my morality.
Thank you to the author of this question for posing them with generosity and kindness. Perhaps I will do the same for believers in an upcoming post.
I want to know how you might answer these seven questions. Feel free to leave a comment down below with your answers!
I’m writing a book addressing the many reasons believers distrust atheists. I’m around 40,000 words in! If you want to help me get it done, you can support me by donating here or becoming a patron here.
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