Reply to “There Is No God, And I Hate Him”

A Christian blog recently featured a post titled “There Is No God, And I Hate Him,” and it got me to thinking about one of the things that believers often throw at us infidels. I commented there but want to develop it a little more here. The blogger complained about “evangelistic” atheists, writing (in part):

I mean really, what’s the point?  If there is no God, then eventually the sun will burn up, our world will be gone, everyone will die and that’s it…

And we know what rhetorical brickbat is coming next, don’t we?

… Which means your life ultimately has no meaning. No ultimate purpose and really no value. You are a cosmic accident,  your emotions are nothing but chemicals in your brain, and your quest for justice (like the quest to get rid of evil religion) is ultimately just a set of preferences you have. There is no moral and immoral just culturally accepted practices. That is a depressing worldview…  But if that’s the truth, then why does it matter if I believe in Jesus?

The above paragraph is chock full of common misconceptions about atheism and morality. I addressed one of these in a recent post titled, “The meaning of life… as seen from high altitude.” But right now I simply want to answer the question. Why bother challenging religion? Why does it matter?

It matters because we’re here now, living our lives now. We care about our loved ones, we care about the world around us, and hopefully we leave the world a better place for the next generation to live their lives and care about their loved ones.

Do you really expect us to worry about the sun burning out billions of years from now, as if that somehow negates our lives today? I think it’s an awfully cheap view of life that insists that things must be eternal in order to have meaning. It’s a negation of everything beautiful and wonderful and loving and hopeful that we experience just by being alive and being with each other, even though we know we’re mortal.

And that’s why this ongoing discussion about religion matters to unbelievers. It matters because our lives are happening now.

When religion adds to a person’s grief by convincing them that a loved one is in hell, it creates needless misery now.

When religion bases its morality upon the whims of iron age clerics rather than upon notions of fairness, reciprocity, and empathy, and then inscribes these whims into public policy, it results in societies that are less humane now.

When religion tells gay couples they can’t legally marry, or tells women they can’t get contraception or control what happens inside their own bodies, it harms lives now.

When religion waters down science education and opposes the teaching of critical thinking, it dulls minds now.

And when atheists are scorned, mistrusted, and branded as immoral and evil simply for their lack of belief in certain unproven assertions, it harms people now.

We each have one life, and we know that tragedy and suffering is to some degree inevitable within that lifespan. We accept that. What’s frustrating, and what we speak out against, is the needless misery, the stuff that people inflict on each other due to faulty and unchallenged beliefs.

Because that’s all we’re doing, really. We’re challenging beliefs. What you believe is your business, but as soon as you try to shape the world in which we all live according to those beliefs, expect to be challenged.

You say that your worldview is hopeful and ours is hopeless. I don’t know precisely what you believe, but if you (as I am inferring) are a mainstream, Bible-believing evangelical Christian, then you also believe that the great majority of the human race is destined for an eternity of torment in hell. That’s not what I would call a hopeful ending. If the Bible is true, then most people who are alive right now would be better off if they’d never been born. Think about that the next time you’re in a crowd.

And you think our worldview is depressing?

We know our lives are finite. We know our time is limited. But within that span we can live full lives, and can enjoy the pleasure of helping make the world just a little bit better for those around us and those who come after us. There’s a deep satisfaction in that, and it has to do with recognizing the “now-ness” and togetherness of people’s lives–in other words, that we need to live well because no one gets a second chance, and that part of living well involves recognizing that we’re all in this together. There’s meaning enough in that for one lifetime, and it has nothing to do with divine judgment or eternity.

———

(I’ve been a bit bold in saying “we,” as if I’m speaking on behalf of all unbelievers, which of course I’m not, but I wrote it in the second person because I think there are a lot of us who feel the same way. If you don’t, of course, feel free to comment.)

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15 thoughts on “Reply to “There Is No God, And I Hate Him”

  1. Really excellent points! It feels inspirational and, well, rather evangelical. In the good sense. I’m kind of tempted to print it out and hand out leaflets outside some churches …

  2. I wonder if the original Christian poster you cite isn’t so convinced by his or her own religion. I wonder if it is because The alternative he or she paints to theism is so bleak that they feel like they have no option to believe in nonsense.

    • That’s a very interesting possibility. I grew up with a similar prejudice against atheists. I assumed that atheists were basically people who were angry at God – in other words, atheism wasn’t so much unbelief as rebellion. Why did I think this? Well, for one thing that’s the prevailing Christian view, and it was only gradually as I came across happy, thoughtful, ethical unbelievers (both in person and through the written word) and began to understand how they actually viewed the world (as opposed to the strawman atheism I had learned) that this prejudice began to erode. So for me a lot of it was ignorance and lack of experience, but I think you’re right to suggest that this prejudice functions as a reinforcement to religious faith.

  3. I agree but I disagree in the way that you frame it. Too many people frame the discussion of meaning or purpose with the presumption that there is supposed to be meaning or purpose. The presumption slants the conversation in the wrong way and many non-believers buy into it by trying to justify their world view in the vein of expressing meaning or purpose without a god. \

    Pardon me, but FUCK that. I’ve been there, got the t-shirt, and won’t go back. There is nothing in religion that gives meaning or purpose. NOTHING. In case you missed that, let me repeat – NOTHING. There is no meaning or purpose to life. We are. That’s it. There is no guarantee of or need for a full life. Life does not require that you enjoy even one second of your existence. The premise that it is supposed to be meaningful and with purpose is utter hubris. If you find meaning and or purpose in your life it is because you assign it so. Trying to prove your world view as valid by saying that you have such values as meaning and purpose which you assign in your life is arguing that your life is valid because it meets someone else’s values of what is valid. This is an argument for objective value systems. There are no such things.

    • OK, I think I understand where you’re coming from. To clarify, I’m not saying, “My non-theistic view of the world is correct because it provides an adequate basis for a meaningful life.” Clearly, whether or not one can find emotional satisfaction in a worldview is entirely separate from the question of whether or not that worldview matches reality. What I’m trying to do is to explain that, granted that I view the world as a product of purposeless evolution, why I would care enough about it to bother arguing against religion. (I think that’s the part you agree with, correct?) But then I went on to talk about “recognizing the ‘now-ness’ and togetherness of people’s lives” and suggesting “There’s meaning enough in that [emphasis added] for one lifetime, and it has nothing to do with divine judgment or eternity.”

      And I think that last bit is probably the part that sounds too much like religion to you. (Another commenter noted the “evangelical” tone of the post.) What I meant by it is this: as far as self-assigned meaning and self-selected purposes go, these are excellent choices — not because of some built-in universal purpose, but because experience has shown us that living this way tends to improve our lives.

      • It may indeed be that you find these excellent choices. My problem is that we all too often frame the conversation on religious terms. In this instance I am not arguing against religion but the idea that all conversation about the big questions in life being framed in the ‘religious reference’ because I find this a disheartening waste of effort. While it might be true that religion has a couple of things right, I’m with Mr Hitchens on the idea that there is no need to go to religion for them and we should not talk of these things in terms that equivocate the ideas as religious. They are not. It is not the non-believer that has to defend themselves and declare that they do find meaning and purpose in life, for everyone does that. It is the believer who needs to explain why they need an imaginary friend in order to find meaning and purpose when everyone else can do so without the crutch of superstition and all the dogma and bigotry that goes with it.

      • “…we should not talk of these things in terms that equivocate the ideas as religious.” Agreed, but I don’t think I’m doing that.

        “It is not the non-believer that has to defend themselves and declare that they do find meaning and purpose in life…” Yes, but when believers claim that non-believers, by definition, can’t have meaning in our lives, I think it’s a good idea to challenge the claim, which was my point in the last paragraph of my post.

        “It is the believer who needs to explain why they need an imaginary friend in order to find meaning and purpose when everyone else can do so without the crutch of superstition and all the dogma and bigotry that goes with it.” Yes. And for what it’s worth, I think that most believers actually do find meaning and purpose in what we might call the “secular good stuff” of life, it’s just that they’ve been trained to think that it all somehow depends upon a religious narrative.

    • “it’s just that they’ve been trained to think that it all somehow depends upon a religious narrative.”

      Clearly this is a question of the believer needing de-programmed then. What might you suggest as a method or plan for de-programming them, or retraining them as you might consider it.

      I have a strong feeling that it will take a first step of telling them their beliefs are wrong and exactly why their beliefs are wrong. If we pretend that it is not their fault, that they were just taken advantage of 5, 10, 20 or more years ago so it is okay if they continue to ignore the facts and cause harm. Lets be clear that monotheism causes harm to society, even in the milder forms. Anything that promotes it is furthering the harm even if, as you say, they’ve been trained to think that religion is a source of good.

      Without the retraining the religious will continue to push society in a way that frames all discussion in terms they were trained to use… the terms of religion where god is accepted as the default truth.

      I don’t think that you or any particular person is wrong in this respect. It’s a new thing that we need to work on and get inserted into the conversation. I have personally found it quite useful when talking to theists to re-frame the conversation and/or ask for an explanation of why it should be framed in terms of religion. For the benefit of anyone reading this who might think it harmless or not worthy of concern, every time that I do this it changes the conversation 180 degrees because we are no longer talking about why I’m not like theists and instead are talking about why anyone should be theist, or they are justifying to me why they believe what they do rather than I justifying why I don’t believe as they do.

      That _IS_ the atheist position – I don’t believe your claims, why should I believe you? That should be the conversation framing as often as possible. It requires that the theist think about their answers.

      • “I have personally found it quite useful when talking to theists to re-frame the conversation and/or ask for an explanation of why it should be framed in terms of religion.” I think this is an excellent idea. In my experience, most religious believers have never seriously considered any set of assumptions other than what they’ve been taught; even most converts usually have some religious background and start out with some religious-based assumptions before their conversion. But I would avoid terms such as “de-programming” or “retraining,” which sound condescending. Talk like that will just piss people off needlessly and they’ll be even less inclined to listen to an opposing view.

        This is why I often cite my own past as a believer — saying in essence, ‘Hey, I once thought like you do, but gradually I found I couldn’t justify it, and here’s one of the reasons why.’ Or, ‘I used to think that being an unbeliever meant hating God and being bitter and having no moral values, etc., but learned that’s not necessarily the case, and here’s why.’ Even though I realize that most of the people who read this blog are probably those who already think like I do, I try to do that now and then because I would’ve been more likely to listen to that approach myself, and also because I think these fears and stereotypes are huge barriers that often prevent challenges to faith from getting an honest hearing in the mind of a believer, and also because my sympathy for believers is genuine (and I’m *not* saying that you lack such sympathy, by the way). I don’t think that any of these things grants too much ground to religion, though I do take your point (as I interpret it) about being careful not to subtly reinforce religious assumptions by the way we engage believers in discussion, or by being so eager to justify my views to them that I forget to challenge them to justify theirs to me.

      • Who me? Piss people off? Never… LOL, point well taken.
        To be open about it, the day, the very day that I became an atheist started out with me in abject fear of calling god a lie, of saying there is no god. You read that right – abject fear. Fear that I would be struck dead on the spot. Re-read that. I was pissing-my-pants afraid of saying it. Not an elegant position. First I said it to myself, then a whisper, then outloud: If you exist you better fucking get down here and show me because I’m tired of waiting. I lived in fear of my life on and off for a few weeks/months. There is no god. I know that they have to be de-programmed. I deprogrammed myself out of sheer will to express my free will and stop letting people use my fear to tell me what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and with whom to do it. I have more free will now than I ever did as a believer. I know exactly how harmful religion is.

        As for your conclusion, you’re exactly right. That was my point all along, though not so well stated. I shall borrow from you in the future when I talk about this… and I _will_ talk about this.

      • And I’m going to keep your comments about re-framing in mind– that’s very helpful.

        Fear. Yes. That’s what the chains are made of, aren’t they?

        Thanks for this conversation.

      • Oh, no, Thank YOU. That is an awesome icon!
        I’ve enjoyed this exchange, look forward to more. I’ve learned a thing or two. That is always good.

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