7 Things to Ask an Atheist – My Answers

7 Things to Ask an Atheist – My Answers October 1, 2019

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!

Buy Me A Coffee
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.

Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • epeeist

    7. Where do you find guidelines for good values, moral and ethical behaviour?

    This is a question Christians ought to ask themselves too given that Christian ethics is so sparse and inadequate.

    Personally I tend to lean over and pick up my copy of Rawls’, A Theory of Justice.

  • guerillasurgeon

    Gobsmacked. Although one minor nitpick – the atheist is “he”.

  • Carstonio

    Some of my own answers:

    1. You aren’t asking me why I don’t believe in Zeus or Vishnu or Odin or Ba’al, so you obviously have a sectarian agenda to promote Christianity. All religions’ claims about “God” or other beings deserve the same tough standard of scrutiny. The only difference with an omnimax deity is that the hypothesis doesn’t allow for evidence proving the claim false, since all possible evidence is compatible with the hypothesis.

    3. Your question assumes that belief in a deity would give people hope. It’s possible that a deity could be indifferent, malicious or irrational instead.

    5. Of course religion can be a positive experience for some people, but that doesn’t make religion itself inherently good, nor inherently bad. And it certainly doesn’t prove the existence of any of the deities that the religion claim exist.

    6. There’s no evidence that an afterlife exists. For anyone who believes in a literal hell, the moral thing to do is to ask their deity to do away with that realm or stop sending people there, because eternal torture as a punishment is grossly unjust.

  • Dave Maier

    On the other hand, Carstonio, I’m guessing your avatar tells us something about your attitude towards hope.

  • Michael Neville

    7. Where do you find guidelines for good values, moral and ethical behaviour?

    Humans are social animals. We evolved morality to help us live together in groups. Moral behavior has been observed with other social animals such as chimpanzees, wolves and dolphins. All human groups have morals but what is or is not moral differs, often widely, from group to group. Catholic bishops consider using artificial contraception to be immoral, most other people, including most Catholic laity, disagree. Pacifists consider killing other people to be immoral, soldiers have a different opinion. Intelligent, rational, well-meaning people can have completely conflicting views on the morality of abortion.

    Personally my morality is based on the Golden Rule, empathy and altruism. I don’t want people to murder me so I don’t murder other people. If I see someone suffering and I can help alleviate that suffering then, quite often, I’ll do something to help the sufferer. I will go out of my way to help others even though there’s little or no benefit to me.

    My idea of sin is explained by Esmeralda Weatherwax in Terry Pratchett’s Carpe Jugulum:

    And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself.

    I certainly am not brave enough to argue with Granny Weatherwax.

  • Carstonio

    To be honest, I chose it more from my fond memories of the magazine, which is ending printed publication this month.

  • Yeah, the author has been far more reasonable than the average Fundie. That said, here go my replies:

    1.Hard to believe given the poorness of the source material, what has happened and happens in His name or not, what say those who claim to be His middlemen, and especially given our current understanding of the Universe (quantum mechanics, ‘Nuff said and the less one talks of the size of the Universe the better)

    3. That not everything is lost in this world.

    4. Nope. Maybe science in a sort, but having an open mind when new discoveries change our paradigms.

    5. Yes. The problem is the abuse of it.

    6. Non-existence cannot be felt by definition. That’s all I’ll say.

    7. Humanism, those who pick the nice bits of religion and discard the not so nice ones.

  • Michael Neville

    From the “7 Things to Ask an Atheist” post:

    Be an example. Live morally, behave ethically, and even the atheist will notice that there’s something special about faith.

    I have seen Christians and other theists live morally and behave ethically but I’m of the opinion that their faith has little or nothing to do with how they live. Good people live as good a life as they can, regardless of their beliefs. However I have seen large numbers of theists behave immorally and unethically, sometimes using their beliefs as justification for their immorality. When I see the Catholic hierarchy support and protect child abusers, when I see fundamentalists try to deny civil rights to LGBTQ+ because “Gawd hates butt sechs”, when I see the rampant misogyny practiced by many evangelicals, then I don’t see anything special about faith.

  • Clancy

    I’ll play. I’m a cradle atheist whose daughter is progressive clergy.

    1) The scripture of every religion is clearly nothing but myth and legend.

    2) No.

    3) I don’t understand this question.

    4) No.

    5) Yes.

    6) There is no afterlife.

    7) I don’t have a pat answer to this, but it’s some combination of “Do no harm” and “Don’t be a putz”.

  • Charlie DeLuca

    on point 1 – the best response i ever heard was “we’re both atheists, i just believe in one less god than you do.”

  • Makoto

    It’s an interesting set – on the surface it reads more reasonable than a lot of the apologist / evangelical lists.

    But in another way it also reads like a negging list, of the type pick up artists might use, just of general questions that the apologists / evangelicals would use to re-convince believers. It’s backhanded compliments with a dig in them.

    Take #7 for example. The reading of it sounds reasonable, asking where we get ethics and morals. The implication is still “where did you get your morality, how could that happen without god in your life”. Same with the source of hope, etc. Even the very first one about god – they acknowledge the general response of “no proof”, and just cast it aside as “be happy you, believer, at least have faith!”

    It’d be interesting to see if they did any followups after getting responses, I’d be curious if they meant it for the atheist audience, or for their believer audience to show how open they were (while still pointing out in various ways how much better it was to be a believer)

  • Jim Jones

    > 1. Why don’t you believe in God?

    Why can’t you define ‘god’?

  • Jim Jones

    Take #7 for example.

    ‘God’ could have banned slavery or banned bacon. Wrong on both counts.

  • Clancy

    I thought he was a religious figure. Don’t colleges have Newman Societies?

  • Carstonio

    I was making a different but related point. They’re arguing as if their religion and atheism are the only two options, but their stance implicitly deems all other religions as wrong.

  • rationalobservations?

    1. Why don’t you believe in God?
    It’s not that atheists don’t believe in God. We don’t believe in any of the gods and goddesses that appear in fiction but never in reality. The absence of evidence of the existence of any of the millions of fictional undetected and undetectable gods, goddesses and god-men appears to be a good reason to discount the possibility of the existence of any of them.

    A good response to that question has always been: Why don’t you believe in Amun-Ra, Zeus, Odin and Quetzalcoatle?
    It’s amazing how many religionists either duck the question or respond with the same reasons the rest of us cannot believe in “Yahweh” or “Jesus”.
    There is no evidence!
    They only appear in myths!
    Etc…

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    1. Why don’t you believe in God?

    Why should I? And as Jim Jones notes, you have to start by actually defining “God”, so I could also add, “God who?”

    3. What’s your source of hope?

    Obi-Wan Kenobi is my only hope. Oh wait, that’s the Princess..

    I’m not sure I know what this question mean? What hope are you referring to? You have to be more specific on what I am hoping for, and I can tell you why I have that hope.

    4. Do you consider atheism your religion?

    Complete opposite – it is absence of such.

    5. Do you think religion can be a positive experience for certain people?

    Well, a lot believers seem to think that without religion they’d be running around raping, pillaging and murdering, so, if that is the case, then it’s best for all of us if they have that religion. Then again, I’m not convinced they really believe that, and I think they would be very much the same without it, so my answer is the same as yours.

    I also believe that those positive experiences are obtainable without religion. The good experience exists independently of religion.

    6. What are your views about an afterlife?

    This is all we got, so make the best of it

    7. Where do you find guidelines for good values, moral and ethical behaviour?

    Bill S. Preston, esq and Ted Theodore Logan
    1. Be Excellent to Each Other, and
    2. Party on, Dudes!

  • Blanche Quizno

    One thing I’d add to your analysis of the death penalty:

    Psychologist James Gilligan has spent years in the prisons, studying the most violent convicts. He has found that they were ALL, 100%, brutally abused when they were young by the adults in their lives, with some having survived their own attempted murder at the hands of their own parents! So how is there any justice in simply piling *more* punishment on top of what these individuals have already experienced? They’ve already been punished as much as a person can possibly be punished without being killed!

    Add to that the fact that the death penalty (and criminal convictions overall) are disproportionately applied against the poor, people of color, minorities, and the mentally ill. This represents a miscarriage of justice.

    Okay, that’s two things.

  • Jim Jones

    Burn the F___ing System to the Ground

    https://tinyurl.com/y3wbp7hq

  • MelindaF

    /thread.

  • 3vil5triker .

    For me the first question is exactly backwards. Its not so much that I stopped believing in God as it was that I reached a point where I asked myself why I ever believed in the first place, and I realized that I didn’t logically reason myself into that belief. It was something I picked up through the authority figures in my life and the cultural environment I was immersed in, which I later rationalized after the fact.

  • MelindaF

    OK…I cannot sleep anyway.

    1. Question answered itself. Personal, anecdotal evidence to the contrary to be exact.

    2. Only out of habit. I do meditate.

    3. The love I have known.

    4. No.

    5. I do. Doesn’t make it true but it can be used in a positive way.

    6. Do not believe there is one.

    7. From empathy. From the rules of the society I live in.

    Refreshing to see something like that which is not using an atheist straw man.

  • anxionnat

    To questions like #7, ever since I read about Emma Goldman in college, I’ve answered with her version of the Golden Rule: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” Despite all the horrific stuff she faced in her life, she remained the most vibrant and optimistic person I’ve ever heard about. Sure, there are other such people, and I get my morals and optimism from (1) the fact that humans are social and empathic animals, and (2) That it is imperative to laugh, cry, care, and (like Emma) dance. Those have served me well since I ditched catholicism at the age of 11, and I think will serve me well for the rest of my life.

  • Brien

    I never answer any questions from the theists –
    I treat them as evasions and deflections – same as LIES !

    I demand that they prove their god – First.

    …and repeat it until they go away….

  • Miklos Jako

    Here is what I would ask an atheist:
    1. Does it make sense to you that the universe made itself?
    2. Does an infinite regress of physical causes make sense to you?
    3. If the laws of nature produced the universe, what produced the laws of nature?
    4. Does it make sense to you that, from star stuff, from rocks, that life, intelligence, consciousness, and meaning, emerged on its own, without some ultimate source of intelligence?
    And I would ask myself, and certainly have, does the problem of evil refute God? I would say yes, but, a general, almost deistic God, still makes more sense to me than no God. (Regarding traditional religion, we’re on the same page. It’s demonstrably false, irrational, and immoral.)

  • Jim Jones
  • M. Solange O’Brien

    1. The question isn’t coherent.
    2. Sure. Why not?
    3. See 1.
    4. Absolutely.

  • Miklos Jako

    Well, we disagree. I concede atheism might be true (who knows?), but theism is more plausible to me. I can’t afford the time to get into a written debate. I’ll just refer you to a video I have that goes into all the key arguments: “Defending Soft Theism against Atheists” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u24WYtat2e8

  • Raging Bee

    2. Does an infinite regress of physical causes make sense to you?

    It makes a lot more sense than an infinite regress of an all-powerful, all-knowing God who somehow knows everything about everything long before ANYTHING even exists to be known.

    Seriously, why is an eternally-pre-existing universe less plausible to you than an eternally-pre-existing God? If God produced the Universe, then what produced God?

  • Raging Bee

    I can’t afford the time to get into a written debate.

    So, like every other Christian who asks a bunch of questions that atheists supposedly can never answer, you’re just ignoring and running away from the answers you get. Didn’t expect any response other than flabbergasted silence, did you?

  • Jim Jones

    1. Define ‘god’.

  • Miklos Jako

    My concept of God: An ultimate power behind the universe. Unverifiable. Non-intervening, except as the creator and sustainer of the universe, of nature. An almost-deist God. Not tied to any particular religion.

  • Jim Jones

    So irrelevant to humanity and sensibly ignored?

  • Astreja

    1. As the universe apparently expanded from a hyper-dense point of matter 13.7 billion years before, I suspect that the basic materials of the universe could have always existed, and never needed to be created.
    2. I see no logical obstacle to an infinite series of causes. (By the way, how does this indict non-theism rather than theism based on an eternal god-like being?)
    3. The laws of nature are descriptive, not prescriptive, and are derived from the structure and behaviour of matter/energy. If matter/energy behaved differently, the laws would have to be different in order to accurately describe that behaviour.
    4. Life from non-life makes infinitely more sense to me than life bestowed by a creator-god that just happened to be there, with no explanation for its existence. Intelligence and consciousness require a physical brain, which is a complex electrochemical network, and the sense of self and meaning are properties of consciousness.

  • Jim Jones

    Yes, no, ridiculous. You might as well claim it was caused by the oozlum bird.

  • Phil

    Also remember that humans were created in this god’s image. Therefore this god not only had intelligence etc it also had eyes, hands, feet and reproductive organs. Yep makes sense to me!

  • Astreja

    And believers wonder why we sigh heavily and roll our eyes at them…