10 Rather Easy Questions, Actually

A recently posted piece on TodayChristian.net.came across my feed today.

They call the piece “10 Questions For Every Atheist: Some Questions Atheist[sic] Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer!“(sic)  This rather odd claim is followed by the observation: “Which leads to some interesting conclusions…”  (You could find the piece here, but the link seems to be dead now. There are many versions of this out there, however.)

I hate to disappoint the author, but these are 10 questions atheists can answer very easily, and are really, really tired of answering, and which are rather condescending. But, just to play along, I will answer them.

1. How Did You Become an Atheist?

I was not raised into a religion, though I wasn’t really taught to despise it either. I actually did embrace Christianity for a while, but I found that none of it stood up to reason, nor was it actually very ethical (More on that in a later essay). So I rejected it because I found it unreasonable and in many ways, offensive. Later, once I began studying other religions and mythologies, it became crystal clear that this one was really no different from all the rest. The bible is a mishmash of contradictory ancient texts that only make sense as part of a series of tribal cults, each adding haphazardly onto the last, and none of them even a smidge more enlightened than what one would expect from bronze age patriarchal & sacrificial cults. Reading the bible critically, the same way as one would read any ancient text, was more than enough to convince me it is no more credible or authoritative than the Epic of Gilgamesh or the Works and Days of Hesiod (and far less well written and edited).

2. What happens when we die?

Not much. We die, dead, gone, cease to be. Our bodies can nourish the earth or be preserved or incinerated, but who and what we are lives on only in the memories of our loved ones, and in the good we’ve accomplished in the world. And that’s awesome! The notion of eternity is monstrous, be it hell OR heaven. I think people who wax rhapsodic about eternity haven’t really thought deeply about it….

3. What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

See above, both are monstrous, and if serving a jealous, vengeful, and bloodthirsty god is the price of admission to the balcony, I’ll take the pit, thanks. My (delightfully secular) grandmother used to say ‘Heaven for scenery, hell for company.’

4. Without God, where do you get your morality from?

Man, I get tired of this You do realize that this question implies that the only reason you aren’t running rampant in the streets is that you think someone is watching? It’s like Santa for grownups. Don’t you think you can do better for a moral code than ‘better watch out; he sees you when you’re sleeping?’

To the actual question, I don’t need a god to tell me that treating others badly is wrong. I can deduce this using reason and empathy. I do the right thing, not in the hope of reward or fear of punishment, but because it is the right thing. Furthermore, without the notion of divine forgiveness, I know that I do, in fact, have to live with my own actions; there is no one to ‘make it all ok.’ This is actually such a basic human thing, I can’t believe you’re even asking. It tells me that as a Christian, you don’t think self-reflectively about your own ethics. I do.

5. If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

Really? See above. Let me note here that if belief in a god that watches you and punishes or rewards you is all that’s keeping YOU from murder, rape, and pillage, please, keep believing. But understand you have made a very self-damning statement here. As an internet meme says “If you are only good because someone is watching you aren’t moral, you’re a psychopath on a leash…”  I am happy to say that I require no such exterior ethical nanny, being able to determine for myself that rape and murder are wrong and that doing good things is rewarding not only to me but to those around me. I also find it deeply sad that you seem to think the only reward for doing good things comes from a god.

6. If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

My life has meaning because it is brief and precious. My life has meaning because I find meaning, I make meaning. I try to celebrate the beauty of life and the world around me and the beauty in others, and I try to make the world better, even if I can only do so in small ways. Every suffering alleviated, every mind educated, every harm prevented, every kindness done gives my life meaning. I find it equally sad that you need to look to an outside god to find meaning for yourself, or that you find the afterlife to be more worthwhile than this one. That’s just a recipe for wasting your life, honestly. To quote another meme (pithy little things, aren’t they?), “Asking ‘If there is no god what is the meaning of my life” is like asking ‘If there is no master, whose slave should I be?'” Go be your own person. Yes, it can be scary, that’s why it’s worth doing.

7. Where did the universe come from?

I don’t know. And that’s OK. What came before the Big Bang is a mystery that remains for us to pursue. This too is a way that our lives have meaning; to unlock the mysteries of this amazing universe. That we may never succeed does not diminish the seeking. The only failure is to abdicate the search for understanding by plugging in ‘god’ as a convenient answer.

8. What about miracles? What [about] all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

People have been seeing visions and hearing voices for eons. Why do you think only those who see or hear Christian ‘miracles’ are valid? How do you determine who is hearing ‘godly’ voices and who is just mentally ill? Why do think anyone hearing voices is valid to begin with? Our minds are highly suggestible; people see what they want to see. It’s so easy to cultivate a ‘feeling’ of connection, especially when others in the room are claiming they feel it too. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s a basic trick of brain chemistry.

9. What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris?

They are brilliant and brave men who are finally taking a stand in the name of reason. I freely admit that all three have said stupid and even hateful things on some subjects (most especially gender and sometimes race), so I don’t agree with everything they say. However, gadflies have their place. We, as a society (most societies, even) let religion get away with murder (all too often literally). We excuse discrimination, denial of education or of healthcare, indoctrination, and oppression of others by religion, which if another group were to do, we would instantly condemn. (The stark hypocrisy of the panic over so-called ‘creeping Sharia law’ even while the right enacts more and more draconian and religiously-based legislation is an obvious example of this.) More and more, people are realizing that we cannot keep marginalizing women, gays, those with other faiths, or those with no faith. We are realizing that we cannot accede to religion’s demand that we reject climate science, medical care, and other scientific knowledge, We are realizing that we need better answers than those penned by bronze age tribes. It is time for religion to be held responsible for its doctrines and their consequences just like any other creed or set of beliefs or precepts. Dawkins, Hitches, and Harris, along with countless others, are leading the way in doing that.

10. If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

Because all societies have had to grapple with the same fundamental questions, and religions developed as our earliest answers. But we have grown past believing that stars are candles in a big ceiling, that people die because of evil spirits, or that chanting or waving totems will heal the sick or harm our enemies. And when it comes to other religions, you know that. You have already consigned the likes of Apollo, Osiris, Sol Invictus, and Wotan to the dustbin of history, to be looked at as peculiarities of ancient cultures. You just lack the perspective to see that your version of chanting and totem-waving is no different. Religion is just the next phase of development from these primitive notions, but it too has been supplanted by real knowledge. It’s time for all societies to let it go along with the tomes and chanting. Incidentally, the fact that all societies have had religions is not an argument for your religion being correct. If anything it’s a clear sign that all religions are man-made. So, like most of these questions, that’s not quite the ‘gotcha’ you were hoping for…

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