I saw a link to this on Twitter — Today Christian posted 10 Questions For Every Atheist with this challenge: “Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! Which leads to some interesting conclusions…”
I look a good challenge. Let’s take a look, shall we?
1. How did you become an atheist?
I was an always an atheist.
Did I attend church? Yes. Did I sing in the childrens choir? Did I go through confirmation? Did I study the Bible and attend church camp? Yes, yes, and yes.
But attending church doesn’t make one religious. I think I was always looking for proof. I was looking for a reason why god and Jesus and all that rot made sense.
I never found that reason.
I watched Cosmos with my dad when I was six, and Carl Sagan described a universe that was absolutely amazing — and also a universe that didn’t require god.
I became fascinated by religious relics like the Shroud of Turin and the Holy Grail because I thought they would be corroborating evidence of what happened in Judea circa 30 CE.
And then there came Easter 1987, when an innocent question in Sunday School planted major doubts about Christianity.
On my own, I formulated arguments that philosophers call the Argument from Reasonable Non-Belief and the Argument from Inconsistent Revelation.
2. What happens when we die?
Consciousness ends. The body decomposes. That’s what happens when we die.
What does “consciousness ends” mean? That’s trickier, and I’m not sure of the answer. Maybe it’s like the moment when you transition from wakefulness to sleep; there’s a moment where the mind simply… stops.
I know there will come a day when whatever mental energy makes me up will cease. That day comes for all of us.
3. What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!
Then there is. The prospect of Hell doesn’t terrify me. A god that created intelligent beings and then tortured them for eternity is no moral exemplar and is unworthy of worship.
I think that’s why I always had a problem with Augustinian theology. Augustine precedes from the assumption that god is a vindictive asshole. My theology, to the extent that I had a theology until I didn’t, was always more Pelagian than Augustinian. Pelagius’ god was capable of empathy, while Augustine’s god was a sociopath.
4. Without God, where do you get your morality from?
I live by a simple code. It goes like this.
Don’t be an asshole.
Classical scholars know this code by another name and a different phrasing. They would say, “Do unto others as you would have them do until you.” The Golden Rule. It predates Christianity by a millennium. Pagans adherred to it. There’s nothing magical or religious about it. It’s a simple code of human decency, one I distill down to its 21st-century essence.
Don’t be an asshole.
5. If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?
Is there eternal justice? No.
Is there an eternal reward? No.
Even the religious would say that, as a general matter, a person can, in fact, do whatever he wants. Human beings have (or at least imagine themselves to have) free will. Actions have consequences in this life, often as a matter of law.
I suspect the thrust of this question is to ask what keeps an atheist from committing reprehensible crimes like rape and murder without the Damocles sword that is Hell hanging over their consciences.
And the answer to that is very simple. Do you know what keeps me from murdering someone? The simple fact that I don’t want to murder anyone. Same with rape and theft and assault and a dozen other reprehensible actions. I don’t do “evil” things because I don’t want to do “evil things.
Conversely, I do “good” things because I like doing “good” things. I try to be kind and caring because of that simple code of mine, “Don’t be an asshole.” I don’t expect rewards in this lifetime, and I know there’s no eternal reward, and yet I still do good. Because I know that the world is a better place by doing good.
6. If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?
In the micro, I derive pleasure from friendships and personal victories.
In the macro, life has no meaning.
I think of myself as an Epicurean in the small picture, and as an existential nihilist in the big picture.
That’s why I don’t deconvert anyone, and my one deconversion was by accident. If religion is a comfort to people individually, why would I want to rip away their security blanket and show them that the universe is fundamentally hostile and meaningless?
7. Where did the universe come from?
I don’t know. It’s okay to admit what you don’t know.
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?
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
9. What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?
Honestly, I think they’re assholes. I have more regard for Hitchens than Dawkins, and Harris would come up third. All fierce and passionate intellects, but they’re also rhetorical bombthrowers.
My problem with the New Atheists is their militancy and their intractability. I agree with their goals, I don’t always agree with their methods.
10. If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?
Not every religion is god-based, though. Taoism is a great example.
And, there we have it. Ten questions for atheists. I don’t think I did too badly.