I’m noticing some Patheos pals are writing answers to a Christian site’s breathlessly-proclaimed list of questions that they think no atheist can possibly ever answer. Though I don’t identify as a red-A atheist, I do identify as a lot of other stuff that they would probably consider the next best things, and I certainly don’t identify as a member of any religions or supernatural-believing groups. Maybe my answers aren’t too inappropriate.
More importantly, though, I want to talk about who comes up with these questions and why, because I think that’s far more germane to our community.
Why I’m Doing This.
The reason I feel like it’s okay to answer these questions is because I think these lists of questions are very common among Christians–and very dishonest. They are not actually asking non-believers any questions they want serious answers to, as I’ll show you. They are actually trying to reinforce their own group identity by denigrating and dehumanizing people in other groups, and they just happen to be picking on atheists because they think atheists are their current big enemy du jour. They’re preaching to the choir, and the people reading that list are meant to be Christians, not atheists.
Those readers are meant to see that list, guffaw and harrumph among themselves, and then get that little rush of glee that comes from feeling morally superior to the mean ole atheists because their religion teaches them, erroneously, that atheists are animals with no sense of purpose, morality, or kindness. They get a burst of pleasure from thinking that atheists are totally unlike themselves (and inferior) because of it. And their religion, as well as its site and many others like it, teaches adherents and followers that these are “GOTCHA!” questions that they can sling at people in their enemy’s tribe to whammy them and maybe make them feel sad and bereft of the superior morality that is Christianity. That’d be ideal, of course. But even if atheists do not join up immediately after being shocked and awed by these needling questions, the rush of superiority contained in the questions themselves is, on its own, all the reason these Christians need to keep asking their silly questions and worse besides.
This isn’t a new list; when I went to archive it, I was informed by the archiving site that this list was first archived a year ago; it was already a year old at that point. But again, this isn’t new. Wide-eyed lists of hateful, nasty, presumptuous questions are par for the course in the Christian blogosphere, and each author of each list thinks that he or she has created the definitive whammy clobber-punches that will destroy atheism and uplift Christians anew.
CARM had one a few months ago ago that you can still fill out if you like (the last few questions are adorbz, I must confess), apologist Norman Geisler had a list of JAQing off “gotchas” that really impressed that particular “geeky Christian,” some other folks have a list that I really hope is satirical that asks if atheists “know about the Shroud of Turin” and are aware of Ray Comfort’s banana argument, and this “Front Porch Philosopher” only has one question (but it’s pretty lame).
Lists, lists, lists, most of them written by Christians who largely don’t understand what they’re asking or anything about the people of whom they are asking these questions.
Goodness, I’m realizing yet again that Christianity is sure full of nasty ideas and absolutely hateful practices and behaviors. I’m glad I’m out of it.
So let’s start by taking a quick look at the authors of the list, and in case you want it, here’s that archive of the list itself.
Clickbait for Fundagelical Fox News Viewers.
Christiantoday.net is basically a clickbait Fox News-style site aimed at fundagelicals who watch way too much of that channel, believe everything their pastors tell them, and seriously think the Bible is clear, easy-to-understand, and totally inerrant and literally true in every word.
As I’m looking at the site’s front page, I see headlines like “Mom Leaves 6-year-old Alone With Newborn Brother… What Happens Next Is Going Viral,” “The True Meaning of Easter Explained by a President Who Actually Loves God and America!” (beside a thumbnail of Ronald Reagan, no less.. LOL!) and “High School Basketball Coach Suspended for Praying With Team.” Their trending list of articles includes one asserting that nobody is ever “BORN” gay, with “BORN” in all caps just in case anybody misses the distinction they’re making.
So yes, it’s one of those tiresome God’s Not Dead, relationship-not-a-religion (if the T-shirts they’re selling, which proclaim exactly that, are anything to go by) kind of “news” sites whose authors and audience believe fervently that Christians are both a persecuted minority being picked on by everyone and somehow also a rightfully-ruling dominant party in America.
That unique kind of glibly mean-spirited, blithely-hateful, grasping and nasty, willfully-ignorant, PRATT-adoring, talking-point-parroting, thoughtlessly-cruel kind of fundagelicalism exemplified in this site goes on and on and on, and I could find nothing on the site itself about who is responsible for this shoddy mess.
It was made by a website creation company that does stuff for a variety of clients from shops to web-based training. They are only the people who designed the site, not the people who run it; they do not reveal who owns the actual site or is responsible for its content. It’s a pity that the Christians who read TodayChristian don’t realize that its creators describe the site as an SEO project, not a ministry of any kind or even a legitimate news source. It’s there to gather clicks, and clearly it’s gathered enough to keep itself going since 2013 despite being lambasted for being inaccurate and poorly-written. Clearly its mysterious owners know their audience!
While researching the list, I did notice something about them possibly having stolen the original list of questions they post to atheists as unanswerable from an actual atheist who himself compiled the list (and thoroughly answered the questions, I might add) from the numerous ones he saw online from Christians. It certainly looks like they did; their current webpage doesn’t link to the original author of the questions, and certainly does not include his thoughtful answers and commentary. That Leo Tarvi post mentions a link back to the original questions post, but the one I saw doesn’t include a single hint of attribution. Quelle surprise!
It’s a pity one cannot trust Christians to be honest, but I must say I get why they cannot afford that simple dignity to their self-created, perceived enemies. That’d require integrity and compassion, as well as an ability to see others–even those in “enemy” tribes–as equals who deserve fair and honest treatment, and it’s quite clear that the people running TodayChristian do not have a single one of those traits. They won’t even put their usernames on the site or reveal anything about themselves or why they feel that it’s acceptable to talk about non-believers in the insulting and grotesque way they do, so I’m adding “coward” to that list of descriptors.
I think we’re about ready to tackle the questions.
TEN QUESTIONS ATHEISTS CANNOT ANSWER!!!! ZOMGWTFBBQ!
1. How did you become an atheist?
This is just some JAQing off to kickstart us. I guarantee you that nobody asking lists of questions of atheists like this is really burning with curiosity over exactly what made anybody realize that Christianity’s claims are untrue (and these questioners always assume that the atheist in question was once Christian–when many are not raised in any faith system, or deconverted from non-Christian religions, as Kaveh did from Islam). The only function this question has is to give the Christian some idea of how to approach evangelizing with the person answering the question. “Why do you need to know?” is not a bad way to answer if you’re not interested in starting that merry-go-round.
One nice thing about being a blogger is that whenever Christians ask me what led me to reject the supernatural, I can just direct them to my blog’s “biography” tag. I’ve not once had anybody ask me further about the matter–offering no pushback or clarifying questions at all–which tells me that they weren’t really all that interested in the question to begin with.
2. What happens when we die?
This is another dishonest question, because at this point, Christians are well aware of what almost all atheists think happens when people die. What they want is to make a distinction between their beliefs about Heaven and Hell, which is coming up in the next question, and atheists’ conclusion that really nothing happens after we die. Or, more to the point, lots happens; we’re just not around for it.
This obsession with the afterlife is one of the little bees-in-the-butt that make Christianity so oppressive and nasty, incidentally. If it was just a worldview aimed at making people live this life in a more loving, charitable way, then nobody’d really have a problem with it or them. But Christians are so panicky about going to Hell that they not only assume everyone else is, but they also assume that deep down, everyone is just as obsessed with the general subject of the afterlife as they are. They don’t even know what to do with a person who isn’t totally focused on the moment of their own death. This question is meant to prod the person answering the question to start thinking along the right lines: the lines they think along.
“I don’t know. Nobody really does. And I don’t really care because this life is what matters most to me,” is not the answer they are looking for.
Their only response to that would be to try to make “this life” seem less important, which leads us to the next question.
3. What if you’re wrong? And there is a heaven? And there is a HELL!
SeewhatImean? This is just Pascal’s Wager, which is not only not compelling at all, but also not a reason to be afraid of Christianity’s various threats or to believe in its claims.
“There’s no evidence for any afterlife at all, so I’m not worried about it,” is not the answer they are looking for.
4. Without God, where do you get your morality from?
This is one of those “harrumph guffaw, those poor ole atheists have NO MORALITY!” questions. The people writing this question clearly believe that their morality “comes from” their god, which is patently untrue. Christians–like the ones running this “news” site–are immoral in the extreme, often, and whenever it serves their purposes, often violating the very terms of morality they think atheists lack and which they claim as their own unique monopoly.
Unfortunately, this question comes from many decades’ worth of demonization of atheists to make non-belief sound more scary and threatening than it really is. Many Christians are actively afraid that if they leave their religion, they will suddenly and immediately lose all sense of morality. The reality is, their morals come from another source than they think it does, a source that transcends Christianity and all other religions, so if they deconvert, they will still be moral people and possibly become even more moral than they were as Christians (as I discovered in my own life!) because now they won’t need to “lie for Jesus” or exaggerate or omit anything to make the religion seem more compelling to non-believers.
Here’s a great writeup of where morals actually come from and what morals guide many atheists (not all–many are just as immoral as Christians tend to be, unfortunately). Here’s a great post about applied ethics (often conflated with general morality, I think) that my friend Dan Fincke wrote a while ago. And here’s one from Neil that you might like.
The short answer is, “the same place Christians do, but that place isn’t the Christian god because nobody has evidence for that god so Christians are just guessing about what he wants them to do,” but the long answer is, well, not something they’re going to like. They want a catchy sound bite like “from evolution!” that they can argue with.
I don’t think it’s a really good idea to get into an argument about morality with people who don’t actually understand what morality is, and besides, even if morality did come from Christian teachings, that’s not actually a reason to believe in Christians’ supernatural claims.
Are you starting to notice, friends, that you can tell a lot about someone by the questions they think will stymie their opponents?
5. If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?
This is an “argument from consequences,” which our old friend Seth (and despite my blistering reply to his blog post, I do think of him as a friend in the blogosphere–the response was to his post, which is a public persona, not him personally) innocently used in a recent response post he wrote regarding my previous post. It’s an incredibly common argument in Christianity, one of believers’ very, very favorites out of a whole host of “argument from X” tactics they commonly use against both their own tribemates and those outside the tribe.
Believers imply, by this question, that only their belief in their religion’s supernatural claims stops them from committing vile crimes against others. Now, I believe this is a false implication. I don’t seriously believe that even those Christians would murder or rape anybody if they lost their belief.
I think this because I know a lot of Christians who’ve lost their belief and deconverted, and vanishingly few of them have hurt anybody.
On the other hand, an astonishing number of fervent, professing Christians have, not to put too fine a point on it, murdered and raped people.
One could certainly argue that these Christian criminals are not TRUE CHRISTIANS™, but if that’s the case, then Christians need to be doubly worried that that many false Christians sit in their churches, sing to Jesus every Sunday, smile Jesus Smiles, tithe regularly, lead flocks of other Christians, and even lead denominations–while being false Christians, right under their very noses, and they have absolutely no way of telling who is true or who is false until a crime is uncovered. That’d worry me a lot. But I don’t agree with this assessment anyway; it’s just a way for Christians to try to distance themselves from their more sinful tribemates. Nobody gets to have a monopoly on who is a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ and who isn’t, but it’s very telling to me when one of them tries to make that declaration about someone else.
The short answer to this is “Because morality and ethics do not come from a supernatural source for atheists any more than they do for Christians, your question is irrelevant,” is not one they wish to hear. Nor do I think it’s an answer they can really engage. If they wish to argue further, we only need them to demonstrate, credibly, that their god exists, has a moral system that is superior to anything other religions or non-belief can come up with, and has given humans a reliable method of ascertaining that moral system. (Good luck to ’em on that first one, by the way; none of ’em have managed even that one for 2000 years and counting.)
If Christians want a worldview that rewards them for their good deeds, as well, then they need to find a religion other than Christianity, because the Bible promises believers only trials in this life. If they think that their worldview will reward them in the next life for their good deeds in this one, that’s not really very moral, is it? Because they’re doing these good deeds to shore up “treasures in Heaven,” as my old church put it (often, and vehemently).
6. If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?
The same way that Christians’ lives do. Meaning in life is not actually contingent upon supernatural belief. That’s another error poor Seth made in his post.
This is another manufactured need that Christian doctrines implant in believers, much like the one implanted about morality and their obsession with the afterlife.
But it’s also another of those “HAR HAR! LOOKIT THEM POOR OLE ATHEISTS! THEY HAVE NO MEEEEEEANING IN LIFE!” questions that Christians will read, then sadly shake their heads about the poor, animalistic non-believers who lack even the most basic human requirement for relevance which they alone can answer and possess. Maybe a more honest question would be “Can you tell me a little about how you view meaning in life?” But very few people expect Christians to be honest, these days.
7. Where did the universe come from?
This one is part of the evangelical anti-science marketing machine. Often they conflate atheism with “science-embracing,” and Christianity with “science-denying,” and assume that all Christians are Creationists while all atheists are what they call, childishly and over-simplistically, “evolutionists” (or worse! They’re quite fond of inventing demeaning nicknames for their perceived enemies–it’s all done from “a place of love,” I’m sure).
At this point, most Christian thought leaders and fervent adherents are so terrified of and threatened by genuine science that they instantly attack any sign of “evolutionism” under the working premise that if they can demolish it, then belief in their god will surely materialize in the person thus convinced. Even worse to them, though, is a Christian who realizes that Creationist claims are nonsense and rejects their pseudoscience in favor of real science; that’s why they reserve their vilest and most nonsensical threats for those who of their tribe who come to accept science.
“Why does this question matter? The people who wrote the Bible certainly didn’t know that answer; they were just guessing, and they managed to believe in their god just fine,” would likely be my response. Belief in pseudoscience and promulgation of it hurts Christians far worse than anything else they do; if a Christian becomes convinced that the Bible rises or falls based on the truth of its myths, and realizes that those myths aren’t true, then that person may well start wondering what else isn’t true, whereas a Christian who understands the nuances of mythicism is far better-prepared to cope with learning the truth. It’s not my problem, of course, but it’s interesting to me that so many Christians fight science, when that really has no impact whatsoever on belief for millions of other Christians.
8. What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?
They’re wrong. People can be sincerely wrong, or they can be lying, but not one of those people has ever credibly demonstrated the truth of their claims of miracles. Most non-believers are not actually very impressed by these claims, though such stories enjoy a great popularity among Christians for believers who haven’t thought much about what those claims say about them and their religion.
Every single debunked miracle claim is one more bit of evidence that the Christian god isn’t real. You’d think Christians would be right out in front testing these claims with every bit of force they can muster, because of how it dings their credibility when the truth comes out (often through the efforts of non-believers!).
Further, many Christian denominations reject the existence of ethereal saints, insisting instead that all dead Christians are currently “sleeping” until the Last Judgment. My church thoroughly denounced this bit of Catholic dogma and prayed only to Jesus or some other permutation of “God.” They did give a pass to angels for miracle-working, but that was it.
9. What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?
This is another example of Christians’ misunderstanding of atheism. One of my friends (I think Thought2Much, but maybe it was Neil or the Latin God of Thunder) called this thinking “the Law of Conservation of Worship.” See, Christians assume everyone has the same way of seeing the supernatural that they do. So they go to church, right? So atheists go to science labs. They pray to their god, so atheists–who worship themselves, totes–must pray to themselves (or, in one case I can remember, to Charles Darwin–for real!). They revere the Bible, so atheists revere Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. They have denominational leaders, so atheists must kneel at the feet of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism.
This kind of dualistic thinking has a very important implication that most people don’t consider, though: If the Bible turned out to be untrue in even “one jot or tittle,” then they think they’d be crushed and probably stop believing; if any aspect of evolution is overturned, then obviously atheists would turn to Jesus.
The idea of having “no gods and no masters” wouldn’t even compute. I don’t think they’d even know what to do with an atheist who had never read any of the 4 Horsemen’s work, or didn’t have a nice, gold-edged, embossed copy of Origin of Species, color-coded-tabbed and highlighted just like a study Bible, sitting on their bookshelf at home.
10. If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?
Another non-starter “argument from X,” in this case “the argument from popularity.” And it’s a really lame one at that.
Pretty much every society in ancient times, including the ancient Hebrews, kept slaves and had extensive rules for handling slave ownership. Does that mean slavery is okay? No, of course not. Until a couple hundred years ago, most people thought diseases were caused by sin; does that mean that the Germ Theory is false? No, don’t be silly; even the most fundamentalist Christians reject that very Biblical idea. A lot of people can be wrong about something–even if it’s a huge lot of people over a huge amount of time. And Christians know this as well as non-Christians do; they just compartmentalize away that knowledge when they put on their Jesus Hats.
Even past the Argument from Popularity, though, this question hoists Christians upon their own petards, and brings up problems they really, really, really should not want atheists to remember.
Not all societies have religions; Japan very famously sorta-practices Shinto, but most of them are atheists even if they do occasionally go to the temples and do the rituals. I noticed that myself when I was there for a few months some years ago. Many other countries are largely atheist–and doing much better than the super-religious ones, I might add.
And not all societies’ religions look alike. Their very frameworks differ enormously. Some have afterlives, and some don’t. Some are more sexually liberated than others. Some insist on a sin/forgiveness paradigm, while others handle wrongdoing totally differently. That’s why missionaries to First World Asian countries have so much trouble making permanent conversions among the people they evangelize there. Even the powerhouse evangelists in the Mormon Church are struggling hard in places like Japan, especially because they cannot share tea (forbidden because it is hot/caffeinated, depending on the exact Mormon you’re talking to) with the people they evangelize, which they’re discovering is quite offensive to many Japanese people.
The sheer preponderance of different world religions is not evidence that Christianity’s particular religious claims are true; it’s actually a serious mark against those claims’ validity.
So That’s the Unanswerable List of Questions, Folks.
Did you notice something those Christians never once did in their list of questions?
Oh, yeah, they did a lot of stuff, with a lot of different twists and turns, but there was one thing that never happened even once in that whole list.
They never once presented any really good reason to think that their supernatural claims are true.
They made a lot of implied threats, insinuated a lot of really insulting and dehumanizing ideas, made a lot of totally nonsensical assertions and conflations, and assumed a lot of things that aren’t actually credibly supported by any objective evidence at all. But they never once actually brought up any good reasons to believe in their claims.
That may well be because they don’t see why they should; they are after all asking–or at least pretending to ask–atheists questions, not offering up their own beliefs.
But they are the ones seeking to sell their worldview to the rest of us.
We are not the ones trying to sell our worldview.
They don’t actually have the right to ask us questions unless they genuinely want to know something (and whoever reprinted this list of questions absolutely does not genuinely want to know anything on it), especially not questions that presuppose their claims’ validity, without first demonstrating those claims’ validity.
We need to remember this truth when we interact with the occasional wide-eyed questions we get from Christians who aren’t actually being honest in their questioning, because they sure aren’t going to.
And there’s a reason for that oversight!
That’s why I chose to focus on what these questions mean and why they are so commonly “just asked,” rather than spending a lot of time on thorough answers to them; my peers have already invented that wheel and done so very ably, freeing me to talk about other stuff–for which I thank them very profusely.
We’re going to talk about happiness and meaning in life next, since this post–as well as the last one–has got me thinking about it. I hope to see you then!