From Ben Love
I have been an atheist for six months now. They’ve been an incredible six months, comprising both good and bad experiences. The bad experiences came from other people’s reactions to my new stance. The good experiences came from my own reactions to my new stance. (Thus, as it is most things in life, we must observe that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about your choices as long as you know they are right.)
Not all of the reactions of have been ugly, though. Many people, even ones from a Christian background, have seemed honestly perplexed by my choice, as though to them atheism is not too far from insanity. Still others have expressed a genuine interest in knowing what made me choose this; even they themselves would never choose the same. What’s been the most interesting, however, is that people who have had no prior experience with either Christianity or atheism and who therefore stand in the middle ground of uninformed agnosticism (as opposed to informed agnosticism) suddenly discover, upon hearing of my views, that they do have an opinion on an issue that they previously felt indifferent to. For instance, I was talking to a distant family member about my atheism, and she suddenly decided after years of indifferent agnosticism that she was a hardcore theist, whereupon she began to debate me as though she’d been a passionate theist for decades. To me, this is an interesting look into the psyche of the human being. The fact of the matter is that we love to argue. All of us. Even those among us who say they don’t and who even think they don’t will still discover, when the issue is one that affects them in some particular way, that they’re much more confrontational than they previously thought. We’re all debaters when the right issue is at stake.
I therefore thought it would be interesting to write an article about some of the most common rebuttals I receive when people hear about my atheism. Perhaps, upon reading them, you can decide where you stand.
“Your atheism is just an inversion of Christian fundamentalism.”
I bought into this for a while, but upon closer inspection, I do not think this is the case. Allow me to explain. The Christian passionately believes that a personal God exists (personified in the character of Jesus Christ). The atheist passionately maintains that no such God exists. We are therefore both passionate about our stances. Thus, you could say that, passion for passion, we are even. But the true differences emerge when we include the issue of faith. The Christian says, “I don’t care what evidence you say you have or what evidence you show me, or what might or might not be proven; I am a believer, and that is what I am going to remain. After all, the Word of God is clear.” Thus, the Christian is immovable in his stance. Without trying to offend him, I might even say that the Christian is somewhat stubborn. And this determination to “remain right” even in the face of mountainous evidence which proves him wrong is precisely what makes him a fundamentalist. The atheist, on the other hand, is what he is because he has followed the evidence to his stance rather than doing what the Christian has done, which is to adopt a stance in spite of evidence. The atheist is therefore much more “movable.” When and if new evidence for this view or that should come under scrutiny, the atheist will respond in precisely the manner which the evidence demands. He is therefore anything but a fundamentalist. He is an evidentialist. Does he fundamentally stand by the evidence? Yes, he does. But when the evidence moves, he will move with it. You cannot say this about the Christian. He will stand planted in the spot he currently occupies regardless of what may or may not come to light around him. So let us hear no more about atheists being the inversion of fundamentalists. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
“You are sitting in judgement on the Creator, and you can’t do that.”
I usually hear this from Christians after I have listed out the many reasons why the God described in the Bible cannot qualify as a true deity. What they don’t seem to understand is that the atheist cannot sit in judgement on a Creator he doesn’t believe exists. For instance, if we were to discuss the dealings of Zeus as chronicled in the writings of Greek mythology, we might observe that Zeus has shady motives, that he has a terrible temper, that he commits atrocities, and that he demonstrates too many human traits in order to qualify as a perfect deity. Even the Christians would nod their heads and say, “Yes, yes, quite right.” But that’s okay for them to do because they don’t believe for one instant that Zeus is a real person or a true deity. They rightly believe him to be exactly what he is: a figment of the Greek mythos. When the atheist is similarly denouncing the acts of Yahweh in the Old Testament, he is doing precisely the same thing as was done with Zeus: he is demonstrating that A, B, and C, chronicled as they are in the very scriptures the Christians believe in, negate this character from being a real deity. It is the exact same thing we have just done with Zeus, only now the Christian is affronted and accuses you of sitting in judgement on the Creator. It never seems to occur to them that you cannot sit in judgment on that which does not exist. You can only observe the reasons why that thing does not and could not exist in the first place. Therefore, when I say that Yahweh could not be a true deity because he orders genocide, I’m not shaming a real deity; I’m pointing out that this deity is false. If there was a real Creator, then yes, no created being could criticize it, but that is not the case with Yahweh. He is no more real than Zeus is. The only difference here is that the Christian has faith in one and none in the other. Okay, fine. But the atheist has faith in neither.
“How could something come from nothing? You have to admit there is a God. Look around you!”
The person making this statement is committing a common error; he is confusing deism with theism. It is one thing to say that you think it is likely that some sort of Creator-Being exists somewhere (deism). It is quite another to say that a Creator-Being exists and it is most definitely the God you happen to believe in and if others do not share this belief they are destined for hell (theism). Do you see the difference? Even the atheist can be a deist. Even the atheist can look at the natural world and say, “Hmmm, it might be likely that someone is out there.” He will also then be fair and responsible enough to claim no exclusive knowledge about that possible “someone.” This is the not what the theist does. He views the natural world as a confirmation of his particular beliefs. The Christian will look at the stars or the Sun or the intricacies of human DNA and conclude that the Apostles’ Creed has just been verified. This is always dangerous, because it brings absolutism into that which is, by its very nature, rife with mystery. As Obi-Wan Kenobi observed, “Only a Sith deals with absolutes.” Besides, not having an answer to a massive mystery, such as the origins of the natural world, is not the same as concluding that no such answer exists. This is the same thing ancient man did when he attributed earthquakes and thunderstorms to the workings of an angry deity. He didn’t have the information that adequately explained these phenomena, so he filled in the blank with a God. Similarly, when we look at the Universe and observe that we do not have adequate information to explain its origins, some among us fill in that blank with God. Filling in a blank with your Band-Aid answer is not the same thing as having solid proof that your answer is correct. Perhaps the natural world does beg for a supernatural answer (or perhaps not), but the problem comes when you think your particular answer is the correct one and when this attitude leads to you cast aspersions on everyone else’s answers. That, by the way, is the hallmark of theism. And that will always lead to division and enmity—the two things that, more than anything else, have been most common fruits of theistic religion in the world.
“You have more to lose if you’re wrong than the Christian does if he is wrong.”
Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the Christian is indeed wrong. If this is the case, he has put all of his hope into an afterlife which does not exist. He has ordered the tenets of his life around a lie. He has made decisions based on faulty information. He has spent energy and passion worshiping a person who is not real. And he may even be persecuted for his beliefs—even unto his own death. Does this sound like a better bargain than the one the atheist has? The Christian, if he is wrong, may as well not have even existed at all. He squandered his only chance to truly live, preferring to leave his mark in eternity, an eternity that turned out to be nonexistent, which then means his mark turned out to be nonexistent. Now, I would never contend that the atheist has nothing to lose if he is wrong (but even that is contingent upon assuming that just because an afterlife does exist it must certainly be the heaven vs. hell scenario spoken of in Christian theology). The atheist may find out, upon his death, that hell is very real and he is indeed going to be spending eternity there. But this is only one out of an infinite number of scenarios one could imagine in an afterlife. No one, not even the Christian, knows for a certainty what happens when a person dies. Suppose the afterlife exists but is nothing like what the Christian thinks? No one knows. Therefore, the atheist can at least say that he is definitely making the most of that time he knows he has: now. The atheist knows he is alive now. He is therefore doing everything he can to fully live now. Will he exist in some sort of afterlife? He could, but the atheist doesn’t know this for a certainty, which is why he chooses not to worry about it. There is no point in fretting over that which you have absolutely no idea. The Christian, on the other hand, has invited the theoretical afterlife into hisnowlife and is using what may happen in that afterlife as the impetus for decisions he makes in his nowlife. If he is wrong, he loses the afterlife and has also wasted his nowlife. And this is to be considered preferable? Let us be honest: both the Christian and the atheist are taking a certain risk here, but one is no more worse than the other is. It depends on what you yourself believe about the matter. But your beliefs on the matter do not necessarily echo the truth. This is therefore a weak argument to throw at the atheist, because even I know that I was much more miserable in my nowlife as a Christian than I have ever been in my nowlife as an atheist. And “now” matters much more than the Christian wants to admit. In fact, now is all you ever really have.
“Christianity must be true because of all the world religions, it is the most unique.”
First of all, Christianity isn’t all that unique. It borrows a lot from its Judeo predecessor, to say nothing of the traits one can find in Christianity that mirror Buddhist thought (which predates Christian theology). Also, let us observe that in the first century there were similar dying god-man cults all over the civilized world, most notably in the form of Mithraism. One can even find hints of Zoroastrian thought and shades of Egyptian mythology in the farther recesses of Christian doctrine. To say that Christianity is unique is, in a sense, a grossly misinformed and slightly naïve statement to make. The truth is that most of the world’s religions are merely various manifestations of one web: the web of the human imagination. However, there are elements of Christian theology that are unique to this particular religion. But so what? How does that necessarily prove its truth? All of the religions share similarities, but all of them also have their unique elements. There are aspects of Buddhism that categorically set it apart from Islam, just as there are aspects of Christianity that categorically set it apart from Buddhism. Adherents of all the major religions can point to this or that about their particular set of beliefs that standout as unique; Christianity does not have the monopoly on that. And if a religion’s uniqueness is grounds for us accepting its theology as solid truth, we must then accept of all of the religion’s theologies.
“There’s too much information that proves the Christian story and not enough to disprove it.”
I have heard this one time and time again. And it is, if I may say so, utterly ridiculous. There is too much information to prove the Christian story? Really? Where is this information? Why isn’t it being distributed to the masses? “It is,” the Christian says. “Anyone can buy a Bible.” Ah, yes. This statement brings us to the truth of the matter: the information that the Christian has at his disposal, the information that allegedly falls under the category of “too much,” is that information to be found in his religion’s own scriptures. I don’t mean to be offensive when I say that this is quite convenient. In a sense, the Christian is saying that he knows the Bible is true because the Bible itself tells him it is true. In other words, the Christian believes the Bible is true because he believes in the truth of the Bible. Whatever else this may be (such as terrible circular reasoning), one thing it is not is “too much information.” If there was an abundance (and I do mean “abundance”) of information outside of the Bible that confirmed the Christian story, then perhaps the above argument would have merit. But there is not. The Christian himself knows this, but rather than admit that this is his undoing, he asserts that God oriented things this way so that a person might have faith. Okay, but which is it? Either you have too much information not to believe this and faith is actually unnecessary, or not enough information to believe it and faith is necessary. Which is it? It cannot be both. The fact of the matter is that faith and certainty are polar opposites. If you are certain, you don’t need faith. If you are uncertain, you do need faith. So, while the Christian maintains that he is saved by faith, that faith is the only true doorway to God, he then turns to us nonbelievers and says that there is enough information out there to make faith unnecessary. Seems to me the Christian needs to pick one. Besides, this argument is superfluous to the fact that the information we humans have, if it is looked at objectively, screams that Christianity cannot be anything other than pure fantasy.
There you have it. These are the most common arguments I receive, and this is my response to them…