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.)