Posts Tagged ‘faith

07
Oct
10

What if you’re wrong?

This is a common question that believers will ask nonbelievers. It seems to be gaining some popularity recently, possibly because it’s quick, simple, to the point, and appears to cut right through every possible atheist argument.

It’s really a very simplified version of Pascal’s Wager, the idea that you should live life as if there is a god, because the outcome is better either way. In other words, if you believe in a god and there is one, you go to heaven – if there isn’t, there is no loss.  If you don’t believe there’s a god and there is one, you go to hell – if there isn’t, there is no loss. The odds favor the believer.

There’s a lot wrong here.

First, the question of which god I’m wrong about isn’t addressed. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a book on my desk of over 2,500 gods that have been recorded in one way or another through history. This question applies equally to all of them. Should I evaluate each of these gods asking this same question?

What if I’m wrong about Mara, the evil Buddhist deity who puts obstacles in the way of the Buddha? Or Vulcanus, the Roman god of fire and the forge? Or Isa, the Nigerian river goddess? Mah, the Persian moon goddess? Amaethon, the Celtic god of agriculture? Tien Mu, the Chinese goddess of lightning?

Each of these gods may have penalties for nonbelief – or they may not care one way or the other. Should I research which gods have the worst penalties, create a new pantheon out of them, and worship all of them, just to play it safe? Some of these gods don’t get along with each other. Some of them wouldn’t even approve of me reading about the others, or mentioning their names (Yahweh mentions this in Exodus 23:13, for example – by the way, this gets interesting when you note that the planets of our solar system and days of the week are all named after non-Christian gods!)

The other pressing issue here is that of “tricking” a god into not punishing me by believing in them. Turning it into a wager, or just believing in something to make sure that I’m not wrong, simply doesn’t work. An all-powerful god who demands sincere belief would see right through it, and reject my pitiful attempt at sneaking through the back door of paradise.

Considering all of the above, my answer to this question is simple: I’ll take my chances.

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16
Sep
10

Does your family know that you are an atheist?

Some of them do, and the rest probably have their suspicions. The subject doesn’t come up that often between myself and two of my siblings, but the other one – my oldest sister – knows about my atheism for certain, and we frequently talk about it. For the record, almost all of my relatives are Christians of one sort or another.

I have mentioned this in an earlier post, but it applies here as well, so I’ll repeat it – When my mother was alive, I was much more secretive about my atheism. She was a devoted Catholic, and was very concerned about the fate of both our souls if I did not follow the Catholic way. In the interest of making the latter years of her life as calm and peaceful as possible, I never told her about my lack of faith, and I was as evasive and deceptive as I could be when the issue came up.

Yep, I lied to my dying mother to make her final days more comfortable. Just another example of vile atheistic depravity.

I recognize how fortunate I am in that I have no worries about my lack of belief becoming a problem for my relationship with my family. The same cannot be said for many people who are atheists, unfortunately. Many atheist teens have been kicked out of their homes by believing parents, and in extreme cases, people have been disowned by their families because they don’t share their belief.

While this is certainly not the case for every believing family with nonbelieving members, it is a sad reality for many.

02
Feb
10

Would the world be a better place without religion?

(This is the 11th question in Brett Keane’s Atheist Challenge)

Would the world be a better place without religion?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: As someone who loves artistic expression, humanism, and scientific discovery, it would be common for most folks to say something along the lines of “What about all of the great things that people have done when inspired by religion?”

Things like:
– Assisting the poor, sick, and homeless at home and abroad
– Building beautiful churches and cathedrals
– Inspiring and commissioning incredible paintings, sculptures, and symphonies
– Promoting scientific discovery and knowledge (particularly during the Golden Age of Islam)
– The hope that religious belief brings to so many people

While I appreciate all of these things, I can’t help but think of two points:

1. All of these things can – and DO – happen without any religion as part of the equation. None of them require a belief in any deity. People would still help others out of the goodness of their hearts, artists, composers, and architects would ply their crafts with just as much passion, and scientific knowledge and discovery would have advanced much further than it has today.

2. This meager list is terribly imbalanced by the great amount of wrong done in the name of religion:

– The witch trials in both Europe and the early US colonies
– The Crusades
– The Inquisition
– Any other religious incursion
– The Taliban, and other theocracies
– The Catholic/protestant wars in Ireland
– The subjugation and physical and emotional abuse of women in any belief system that treats them as second-class citizens (or worse).
– September 11th, 2001, and every other religiously-motivated suicide bombing, big or small
– The recent Ugandan bill to allow the execution of homosexuals and AIDS victims, inspired by books against homosexuality written by American evangelicals
– Rampant (often violent) homophobia, occasionally spouted by closeted homosexuals (Ted Haggard and many others)
– The Westboro Baptist Church
– The Klan and other Christian Identity hate groups
– The Library of Alexandria (if you are unfamiliar with this story, I strongly encourage you to look it up.)
– The Holocaust (Despite what you’ve been told, Hitler was not an atheist, and used his belief in God to justify his holocaust – consider these quotes from him before propagating that myth any further.)
– The Catholic Church’s handling of the pedophile priest scandal
– General religious intolerance and discrimination of any degree
– Satanic panic, and the lives that it ruins
– Parents denying health care for their children because their god would rather be prayed to for assistance
– Megachurches (and the people they bankrupt), faith healers (and the real harm that they do), resurrectionists (yes, there are present-day preachers who claim to raise the dead), prosperity preachers (buy their new books!), and Benny Hinn (redundant, I guess, but I didn’t want to leave him out)
– Willful ignorance, lies, and fear of scientific knowledge and discovery, even in the present day (see Ben Stein’s “Expelled”, Ray Comfort, Ken Hamm, Kent Hovind, the Dover trial, and the Creation Institute for more)

…should I go on, or is that enough?

It is true that people will do good or bad without religion. There were great atrocities committed by atheists – Stalin and Pol Pot are two that are always trotted out in these types of discussions. But they just happened to be nonbelievers – they didn’t commit their atrocities in the name of atheism, the way that Hitler believed that he was doing his god’s work. Likewise, there are racial and homophobic hate groups that have nothing to do with any religious belief.

But all of the above is the product of useless superstition, and we would have been much better off without all of it. Taking religion away doesn’t completely take away terrible ideas and deeds, but it does give us less reason to partake in them.

As for the hope and joy that religion brings to so many – I’ve personally found a neverending supply of both from a real, tangible source. Like Soylent Green, it’s made out of people. 

And it’s an awesome buzz, man. You should try it sometime

25
Jan
10

What would it take you to believe in a god?

(This is the 10th question in Brett Keane’s Atheist Challenge)

What would it take you to believe in a god?

Meeting one in person, and having he/she/it display their divinity to me in a way that would remove any doubt.

That’s about it, really.

19
Jan
10

Questions from brucester1959

One commenter, Brucester1959, wrote a rather verbose comment to my post “What is the meaning and purpose to your life?“, and I felt that the entire comment deserved response. There are a lot of questions here that are aimed at atheists frequently, and most of them are questions we have to answer over and over again, because they don’t seem to sink in, for some reason.

Brucester1959’s comments are in bold, and my responses follow. Here goes:

I have never met an Atheist. I am not sure what one is or why.

With all due respect, I doubt that you have never met an atheist. Perhaps you’re not aware of their lack of belief, but I’m fairly certain you know at least one person who is an atheist, unless you know a very limited number of people.

As for what an atheist is: it’s someone who doesn’t believe it any gods. Plain and simple. For more on this, see this earlier post about the definition of atheist.

I come from the Bible belt. The South. I believe what I believe. I’ve never tried to push my beliefs off on anyone else.

I’m going to assume from this, and from other statements you’ve made in this comment, that you’re a Christian. If this is not the case, please correct me.

I am curious though. So maybe you can explain these things to me, so that I can understand it.

Why do Atheists try to change everyone else’s beliefs or try to change our traditions?

This applies to everything I say on this blog (and everywhere else, for that matter): I can only speak for myself, and not the atheist community.

I do not try to change anyone’s beliefs or traditions. I try to give people a reasonable amount of respect in regard to both. There are some beliefs and traditions that need to be changed, and those are the exceptions to this rule – such as the belief some have that their children will be cured of sickness through prayer, rather than medical attention, or the tradition of sentencing homosexuals to death, or any belief or tradition that is so strong, that believers insist on making it into a law that everyone must follow.

(Note that I was careful to say that I give people respect. I don’t believe that ideas deserve the same sort of respect, and should always be open to criticism.)

Other than these types of beliefs and traditions, I let others live as they choose. Abstain from pork, cheeseburgers, or any meat on a Friday. Refuse to turn on lights on a Saturday. Wear special underwear that keeps you pure. Pray while pointing in a certain direction several times a day. Reject a blood transfusion for yourself. It’s all fine with me, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness of anyone else.

Just don’t expect me to follow the same rules, or even respect them.

Why does “In God We Trust” on the currency, cause such an uproar amongst Atheist’s, that it prompts them to challenge it in the courts?

Not everyone in our country trusts in a god, and they are within their rights to do so. Currency is issued by the government, and our government should not be establishing one religion over another, as outlined in the First Amendment. Replace the word “God” with Allah, Eris, Krishna, Thor, Zeus, or any of the other 2,500 deities from world history, and you’d be apt to agree with me.

On top of this – “In God We Trust” was not always there – it was added to our currency during the Red Scare, in some sort of attempt to scare Communists away from it. That divisive attitude was wrong then, and it is wrong now.

How could the location of a thing so beautiful, such as a “Nativity Scene” be so repulsive to an Atheist, that it too, prompts court action?

I don’t find nativity scenes repulsive. Some of them are quite pretty. But when they are displayed on state or government property, and/or funded by taxpayer money, and other displays from other faiths (or lack thereof) are not permitted in the same area, that constitutes favoritism of Christianity over other religions. And that is not permitted through the First Amendment.

Replace “nativity scene” with “menorah,” “Ramadan display,” “pentagram,” or “Satanic altar,” and you may understand the issue a little better. If you have no issue with other displays of faith on public property and funded by taxpayer money, then we’re a little closer to agreeing with each other (but not quite all of the way there).

Why is prayer in school so horrible, that it should be denied to everyone, just because an Atheist disagrees with it?

This is a very, very common myth, and one that never seems to go away no matter how much you try to inform people.  Prayer is not banned from schools. There is not a single school in the United States that bans school prayer – many even have prayer and Bible clubs in them. As long as a child is not distracting others or the teacher or disrupting class or any school function, they are permitted to pray in school.

What is not permitted is the endorsement of prayer by the school – the teachers cannot lead students in prayer, teach them how or what to pray, etc. Again, this favors one religion over another, and most people would not allow it if it was a different religion being favored.

Replace “pray” with “chant to the Buddha” in your question, and it may become more clear.

The Supreme Court’s explanation of; “Separation of Church and State” is flawed. The reading of the amendment is crystal clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It simply guarantees that the Government cannot interfere with a person’s religious beliefs. That is all. It has been distorted to the current explanation. Why do Atheist’s use this to deny believers their right to freedom of religion?

Man, that question is SO loaded that I’m afraid it’ll go off at any second. I’m not sure whether to cut the blue wire or the red one…

I’ve mostly answered this question already, but as I said earlier, these things never really sink in, so I’ll give it another go:

First, to disarm that question – Atheists do not use the First Amendment to deny ANYONE of their right to freedom of religion. In fact, NO ONE’S right to freedom of religion is restricted in this country (excluding human sacrifice and such things, of course).

Not being permitted to put a nativity scene on the lawn of City Hall is not restricting your religious freedom. Please put it on your own lawn instead.  Not being permitted to teach children the Lord’s Prayer or Ten Commandments in school is not restricting your religious freedom. Teach them at home or in church instead.

Whenever I hear claims like this one, I think about the spiritual environment in which I live. There is one street in a small town near mine that I travel on frequently that has eight churches on it – each one a different Christian denomination. On a Sunday, the parking lots are filled to capacity, and I can barely squeeze between the cars parked on the street.

There is a Baptist church on the highway near that town that has a double-sided billboard in front of it. On one side is a scene from the Christian hell, with people burning in flames while demons hover above them. On the other is a close-up of a bloody Christ on the cross, with “SIN” and “SINNERS” scrawled on the wood in blood.

On Friday afternoons, a church group gathers on a busy streetcorner, holding signs with messages about how we all must accept their religion, and handing out pamphlets to people who stop at the traffic light. In another nearby town, a man with a giant Bible on a trailer behind his pickup truck parks in a vacant lot near a traffic light and, regulation-sized Bible in hand, preaches to the people who get caught at the light.

I think of these sorts of claims whenever I see these things, and about how awful it is that all of those unfortunate people are having their religious freedoms restricted.

If you do not believe in God, then you must believe in something else. What?

No, I mustn’t. There’s no need to replace a belief in gods with anything else. It’s kind of like saying “If you shave your head, you must have something else on it. What?”, or “If you have your tonsils taken out, you must have something else put in their place. What?” There’s just nothing there.

I did not begin life with a belief in any gods. I have returned to that state since becoming an adult. There is nothing missing that wasn’t there to begin with.

The belief in God and Christ, promotes; peace, love and hope. Why would this bother you?

Another loaded question. Of course the promotion of peace, love, and hope do not bother me. And I recognize that for many, this belief brings them peace, love, and hope. I just don’t agree that they need that belief to have those things.

In fact, when I took the time to read the Bible from cover to cover, I found many examples of cruelty, hatred, and injustice – so much so that I became convinced that the people who find peace, love, and hope among these pages simply haven’t read them all. Take this quote as a single example out of many, attributed to Christ himself:

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”  (Matt 10:34)

Odd words to come from someone who is often called the “Prince of Peace.”

I cannot prove the existence of God to you or anyone else. That is where faith comes in.

Just as I do not attempt to change anyone’s religious beliefs in this blog, I also do not ask anyone to prove the existence of any gods, because that’s not what it is about.

I too studied evolution in school and it is plausible. So is creation. When I look around at this planet and see all of the miracles of life that surround us, I cannot help but see a higher power at work. Look at the expressions of love, that animals have for their young. The feelings that a new mother has for a child. A tree on a windy day. Rain. Life. Death.

I appreciate beauty in most things – remember, I’m an artist and a musician.I just don’t automatically attribute those things to a higher power.

For one, I can’t be certain that if things were different than they are that they wouldn’t be as beautiful. If the wind changed the colors of the trees instead of blowing the branches around, would I still think it was beautiful? Aren’t there people who believe, yet dislike all of these things, and see no beauty in them? Why and how does our sense of beauty determine the existence of a deity?

There are too many flaws in reality for me to attribute everything to a perfect creator. Disease, birth defects, using the same passage to eat and breathe through, earthquakes, poison, quicksand, Simon Cowell… a perfect creation would have none of these things. A perfect creator would not have inflicted us with them.

Is it all a random series of events? Amongst all of the chaos, there is order. You just have to be able to “see” it.

There is an order to nature. It isn’t random. Things happen in a certain way. That may suggest that there is a higher power, but it doesn’t give us any evidence of it.

And an important point is often lost here – WHICH higher power is it, then? I have a book beside me on my desk that lists over 2500 deities that were worshipped through history. Many of them are creator gods. If all of reality is really a creation, and the product of a creator, then which one did it? What reason do I have to default to your deity of choice?

it saddens me that people cannot “see” what is around them. When you pass on and you will one day. I hope that you will meet Christ and will be shown all that you have missed.

I’m sorry you’re sad. Please don’t be. There’s a lot that I’m not missing. I have a family who loves me, and friends who love me like family. I have the opportunity to perform on stage and express myself artistically, and make people happy with it. I have music and art and theatre and cinema and poetry and prose and nature and science and philosophy and mythology and history and fiction and fantasy, and I appreciate them all.

I’m not missing much, really. And I don’t feel that I have a need for the things I am missing.

Thanks for your comments, and the thoughts and discussion they have inspired.

19
Jan
10

Name three peaceful religions that you have no issue with.

(This is the 9th question in Brett Keane’s Atheist Challenge)

Name three peaceful religions that you have no issue with.

This is probably going to be my favorite question to answer, because I’ve had to do some research to answer it. I should state beforehand that I may not really be answering the question to the letter – it’s hard to have NO issue whatsoever with a religion. There’s always going to be something that I disagree with. So the answers I give here will be the peaceful religions that I have the least amount of issue with.

Here goes:

Unitarian Universalism – Accordng to Wikipedia, members “believe in complete and responsible freedom of speech, thought, belief, faith, and disposition. They believe that each person is free to search for his or her own personal truth on issues, such as the existence, nature, and meaning of life, deities, creation, and afterlife. UUs can come from any religious background, and hold beliefs from a variety of cultures or religions.”

A religion that welcomes atheists is a pretty radical concept, and it makes me wonder if it really qualifies as a religion and not something else, like a philosophy. But I respect their inclusiveness and promotion of individual choice. I’ve heard many anecdotes of people who have joined UU because they miss the community and ceremony of their previous faith, but were driven away by the dogma.

JainismWikipedia describes it thusly: “(A)n ancient dharmic religion from India that prescribes a path of non-violence for all forms of living beings in this world.” While I don’t share their belief in the existence of the soul, I do appreciate their tenets on respecting all life. They take it much farther than I prefer – not eating root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, or onions, because these plants are still alive when harvested, for example.

Buddhism – Possibly the fourth largest religion in the world, after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism (according to Wikipedia). Buddhism is both a religion and a philosophy, and some have even referred to it as an atheistic religion (since followers do not believe in a specific god figure). It has tons of varying beliefs and traditions, but overall I respect their tenets of avoiding suffering and being excellent to each other.

There are others I could list – Wicca, for example, has always been interesting to me, and most of the people that I know who follow it are pretty nice and throw excellent parties, but I don’t know a lot about their tenets.  I’m sure that there are others that I don’t even know about yet – and I’m hoping I’ll learn a lot more from the comments I’ll get to this post!

05
Jan
10

Would you die for your religious beliefs?

In the post “Would you kill for atheism?,” Mark made the following comment:

That’s the wrong question. The question should be, would you die for your religious beliefs?

My answer isn’t different, however: No. Since I don’t have any religious beliefs, I don’t have anything to die for.

(We’ll save the “atheism is a religion” question for a future post, but here’s a quick spoiler:  No, it isn’t.)

But maybe this is the wrong question, too. Perhaps it should be “Would you die for your lack of religious belief?” or “Would you die to defend atheism?”

And for those, the answer is the same. No. Life is far too precious to waste it over ideological disagreements.

The fact is, if I were in a stressful situation, where someone was pointing a gun to my head and telling me that I needed to accept Christ or Mohammed or any other savior, or threatening to kill me if I admitted to being an atheist, I would lie to save my own life. I’d pretend to accept any religion my captor wanted me to right then and there, just for my own self-preservation.

Yep, I would lie – something I normally have a rule against – to keep myself (or others) from dying. And I’m convinced that this would be the most reasonable, rational thing to do.

Cowardly? Maybe. That’s for others to judge, and I’m not particularly interested in their decision. My life is all that I have, and there are a few people beside myself who treasure it – my daughters and partner in particular.

Really, I think most other people would do the same thing in the same situation. But I could be wrong about that.

Thanks for the question, Mark!




I am an atheist, a person who does not believe in the existence of any gods.

Many people don't know a lot about atheists, and have questions about them. In this blog, I do my best to answer them, to help build an understanding between atheists and theists.

Do you have a question? You can post it in the comments to any of my blog entries, and I will do my best to answer it in a new entry.