This article is part of a series on “God”, religion, and religious people. I recommend reading the first part listed below before you read this article.
Atheism Is Irrelevant
I think that it’s wrong how often people use the term “atheist” to describe themselves. Being an atheist tells me only one thing about a person: that they don’t believe in “God.” The problem with describing yourself as an atheist is that you’re not really describing yourself, you’re not telling me what you believe in or your views on anything, you’re just telling me what you don’t believe in.
It bothers me that more often than not, when people describe themselves as being atheists, they don’t go on to say what they do believe in, as if being an atheist says anything about a person. Okay, you don’t believe in “God,” good for you, but what do you believe in? That’s what really matters, not what you don’t believe in. I’m not going to be more inclined to have a conversation with you based on the fact that you’re an atheist, because that doesn’t matter to me and it shouldn’t matter to anyone, but I am going to be more inclined to do so if you say you’re a freethinker, or a rationalist, or a humanist, etc.
Children of Faith
As Richard Dawkins once said, there are no Christian/Muslim/Hindu/etc. children, only children with Christian/Muslim/Hindu/etc. parents. There are no religious children in the same sense that there are no conservative or liberal children. Children do not poses the mental capacity to rationally weigh the implications of religion, so they only think what their parents tell them to think and they accept their parents’ views as their own because parents are authority figures and serve as role models to them.
Children are baptized and forcefully thrown into religion at an age when they are unable to think for themselves and most of them end up going through life without questioning their religion because it was the way they were brought up and it just seems natural to them.
The bible says one cannot go to “Heaven” unless they are baptized, does that mean that if a child dies before its baptism, he goes to “Hell”? Christians might argue that that doesn’t happen because it’s not his fault, being a child and all; a convenient exception to an otherwise strict rule. However, it’s only fair that baptism should not be imposed on one, but it should be done out of one’s own desire to be baptized. As I said earlier, deciding to be religious should require one to poses a certain mental capacity, it should be a choice one takes at an age when they are capable of making such a decision and not a choice taken in their stead at an age when they don’t have a say in it, but that doesn’t happen; it’s much easier to indoctrinate someone from the beginning of their lives, raising them in ignorance, rather than allowing them to become rational, intellectual beings and then presenting them with religion.
The Illusion of Choice
It’s funny how most religious people talk about their “choice” to believe in their god/s, as if they were ever actually presented with the opportunity to be religious, it was explained to them what it meant and they specifically chose it. Most religious people who acknowledge the fact that they weren’t really given a choice explain that they have it now and they choose to go on being religious. Well of course they do, it’s what they’ve known their whole lives, it’s what they were always taught since they could understand words and while it may seem like now they’re religious by choice, they really aren’t, they just think they are.
I grew up with Christian parents who weren’t really that into religion, but they believed in “God,” they went to Church every once in a while, usually just once or twice during Easter and that’s mostly it, they weren’t really that caught up in it. Consequently, I was a part of all that and I knew all about “God”, the devil, Jesus, etc. I knew about those things and I was raised to believe in them, yet at some point, when I discovered that there are people out there who don’t believe in “God,” I started asking myself questions and I realized that religion doesn’t really make any sense to me, it isn’t good enough for me. It was a long process that took a lot of thought and several years to finally come to the conclusion that I am an atheist, and later a freethinker. That is a choice, it is a choice I made based solely on my intellectual capacity and opposed to what I was raised to believe.
“What Have You Got to Lose?”
Some people argue that one should be religious simply because they have nothing to lose, whereas being a non-believer would guarantee an afterlife in “Hell,” no matter what kind of person they are or if they deserved access to paradise more than many of the religious people out there. I beg to differ; you have everything to lose, because being religious has a huge impact on your life, whether you want to admit it or not, or whether you realize it or not. First of all, your mind is poisoned by religion, so if you believe in something as ridiculous as “God,” then there’s not much left to attest to your ability to rationally judge any other subject. I’m not saying one can’t be an intelligent person just because they are religious, but it’s obviously a huge flaw in the way they think and it in no way helps their image of rational beings, quite the opposite.
Another way being religious would be a huge drawback is in the way religion imposes ridiculous restrictions on you, “God’s” rules. Whereas some are of common sense and do not (or should not) require religion to be present in your life, others are simply irrational and serve no real purpose other than pleasing “God,” while inconveniencing you.
There are many ways in which religion influences the lives of everyone, be they religious or atheists, you don’t even have to come up with a specific list to realize its impact, you can deduce it without much of an effort.
Going back to those people who say atheists should believe in “God” just because they have nothing to lose if they do, it’s clear that to them, religion is only a safe way out, it’s like they’re saying “sure, maybe religion is ridiculous, but I’ll ignore every rational thought on the matter just in case ‘God’ is real, because I don’t want to go to ‘Hell.’” They’re basically religious out of pure selfishness and concern for their own well-being. More on that later.
Atheism ≠ Intelligence
Atheism, however, is not synonymous with intelligence. While there are many atheists out there, not every one of them is an atheist for the right reasons (yes, there is such a thing as being an atheist for the wrong reasons). To me, being an atheist means that you have spent quite some time thinking about the matter and have decided to reject religion on the grounds of reason and common sense. An atheist who does not believe in “God” because of some past trauma, for example, does not impress me.
What Do Atheists Believe?
Religious people often argue that atheists aren’t really the rational beings they claim to be, because they deny the existence of “God” when it can’t be proven that he doesn’t exist. They usually tend to give some credit to agnostics, because they basically believe that “God’s” existence or inexistence cannot be proven, but we’ll get back to agnosticism in a little bit. The thing is, atheists never really assert that “God” does not exist, as they cannot really assert that The Flying Spaghetti Monster does not exist, but they’re both ridiculous notions and of course they don’t believe in them. I highlighted the word “believe” because atheists don’t believe in “God”; no rational atheist will ever assert that they know for a fact that “God” doesn’t exist. Atheists don’t believe in “God” based on rational thinking, exactly the way religious people believe in “God” based on ignorance and no real reason to.
“You Can’t Prove He Doesn’t Exist!”
The thing about proving his inexistence is all wrong. They say atheists are irrational because they can’t really prove his inexistence, but they can definitely make a strong case against it: see evolution and every other scientifically proven fact that directly contradicts “God” or just explains certain acts of “God”, disproving the involvement of divinity.
Second of all, asking atheists to prove the inexistence of “God” is simply irrational, it’s like randomly accusing someone of something and then having them prove that they didn’t do it. Logically, the burden of proving a statement’s veridicality falls on the one making said statement.
“Just a Theory”
I said earlier that evolution is a scientifically proven fact. Most religious people attack atheism by saying that evolution is “simply a theory”, but none of them know the meaning of the term “scientific theory”. A scientific theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of knowledge that has been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. […] Scientific theories are the most reliable, rigorous, and comprehensive form of scientific knowledge. This is significantly different from the word “theory” in common usage, which implies that something is unsubstantiated or speculative.” – Wikipedia
Today the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the Earth goes round the Sun. – Richard Dawkins, “The Selfish Gene” (1976)
The Big Bang theory is another subject that religious people love to bring up and often ridicule people who believe in it. I remember seeing a wide-spread picture online about the Big Bang, trying to mock people who believe in it by saying that in the beginning there was nothing, then nothing happened to nothing and nothing exploded, and it goes on along these lines, but whoever wrote that obviously never really took the time to actually read about the theory and over-simplifies the whole thing until it makes no sense and doesn’t really have anything to do with the actual theory.
The next time someone disregards evolution or the Big Bang for being “nothing more” than theories, tell them that gravity is also a theory.
Agnosticism (I) – The Inexistence of Proof
The truth is, if you look at it from a strictly rational point of view, anyone who doesn’t agree that we currently can’t prove or disprove the existence of deities and isn’t agnostic in this sense is simply wrong. Absolutely every rational atheist is also, in this sense, agnostic. None of them confidently claim to have knowledge of “God’s” inexistence. No real atheist claims to know whether “God” exists or not, but, based on logical deduction, they choose not to believe in him, because reason dictates that “God’s” existence is way more improbable than probable and believing in him is ridiculous.
Sure, you often hear atheists say that there is no “God,” or “Heaven,” or other such nonsense, but their statements are not to be taken verbatim, it is just a way of shortening their discourse, because it comes up often and it’s kind of an inconvenience to stop each time and spell out that they don’t actually know that he isn’t real because it can’t really be proven, but it’s what they believe because it’s a pretty safe bet to assume that he doesn’t exist. This is what atheists imply by saying that there is no “God”, unless they explicitly claim to know he isn’t real.
This sort of discourse shortening is something we all do in day-to-day life when we talk about all sorts of things. It often takes the form of exaggerations, like when you say you hate someone when you really don’t, per se, but just want to emphasize your dislike for that person without going into much detail about it and accurately explaining your feelings towards that person.
The thing is, I can claim to be an agnostic in regard to The Flying Spaghetti Monster, because you can’t really prove whether it exists or not, right? That’s exactly the same as claiming to be an agnostic in regard to any other deities.
I also disagree with the idea that the knowledge of a deity’s existence or inexistence is unknowable, which many agnostics seem to believe. I know it seems that way, I know there seems to be no possible way of determining whether deities exist or not, but somehow, it also seems wrong to me to say that there is something that humanity will absolutely never be able to figure out.
Agnosticism (II) – Between Belief and Disbelief
I think it is rather silly when someone asks you about your religious views and you point to agnosticism, because agnosticism takes no real stance on religion. Being an agnostic who neither believes nor disbelieves in deities is like starting something and stopping half-way for no good reason; you’ve come to the conclusion that we don’t know whether deities exist or not and you just stopped there. You’ve obviously got some shred of reason, so use it to analyze whether it makes more sense to believe or not to believe. To me, there is no middle-ground, I see the belief of there being one as a fallacy; you either believe, or you don’t. Choosing to stand on the inexistent middle-ground and thinking you’re making a reasonable decision seems dumb and illogical to me.
If “God” would end up actually being real, I think it would be far worse for humanity than if he was not. He actually sounds like an awful being, if you really stop to consider his behavior, his views, and his needs. I can’t imagine why anyone would wish him to be real.
Reviewing the false claims of religion, I do not wish, as some sentimental materialists affect to wish, that they were true. I do not envy believers their faith. I am relieved to think that the whole story is a sinister fairy tale; life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually true. There may be people who wish to live their lives under cradle-to-grave divine supervision, a permanent surveillance and monitoring, but I cannot imagine anything more horrible or grotesque. – Christopher Hitchens
Sometimes You Need to Raise Your Voice
I am often accused of being too harsh on religious people. I am, as anyone who’s ever read my articles on religion has undoubtedly figured out, an antitheist. I guess I am also what some would call a “militant atheist” and I am very proud of it; I wouldn’t call myself that, though, it makes it sound violent when it in fact isn’t. I, myself, prefer the term “passionate atheist.” I stand for reason and common sense and consider religion to be one of mankind’s worst inventions, a disease that plagues the minds of the naive and causes immeasurably more harm than good.
I am not even an atheist so much as an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches and the effect of religious belief is positively harmful. – Christopher Hitchens
I am proud of being antitheistic and a passionate atheist, because once I have come to the rational conclusion that the existence of divine entities is ridiculous and once I have understood the ways in which religion poisons humanity, it is my duty and responsibility as a rational and compassionate human being to try and better the world by combating any unfounded beliefs in divine entities. I say compassionate because even though I sometimes insult people’s intelligence on account of their religious beliefs, I do it because I actually care and it pains me greatly to see how unbelievably irrational and indoctrinated they are. Generally (but not always), I actually try to make people feel bad and ashamed of themselves for their ridiculous beliefs, in hope that it will push them to doubt the “God” they so blindly believe in and in time maybe turn them into rational human beings.
While there are kinder approaches to it, they don’t work on everyone. Some people respond to kindness, others to harshness; there’s a need for both kinds of approaches. I usually subject believers to this kind of treatment out of pure fear; fear for myself, my unborn children, and the whole world. As I said, I strongly consider religion to be one of the most awful and dangerous things humanity is, bewilderingly, still struggling with.
My attitude towards religion is simply that of a rational man who understands it and is downright panicked, terrified, and has no patience left to try the kind approach. Perhaps I am wrong to do so, but it is because of that that I am so harsh on believers, because I fear what the future holds for us, should we not dispense of religious nonsense from everyday life.
Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centuries since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly. – Isaac Asimov
My own view on religion is that of Lucretius; I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race. – Bertrand Russell
Countries with a high percentage of non-believers are among the freest, most stable, best educated, and healthiest nations on Earth. When nations are ranked according to a human development index, which measures such factors as life expectancy, literacy rates, and educational attainment, the five highest ranked countries – Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands – all have high degrees of nonbelief. Of the fifty countries at the bottom of the index, all are intensely religious. The nations with the highest homicide rates tend to be more religious; those with the greatest levels of gender equality are the least religious. These associations say nothing about whether atheism leads to positive social indicators or the other way around. But the idea that atheists are somehow less moral, honest, or trustworthy have been disproven by study after study. – Greg Graffin
Anyone who says that atheists should back off and mind their own business by ignoring religious people and respecting their religion and their “choice” to believe in “God” because they have a right to do so and they shouldn’t be judged and whatnot, has clearly not given the subject much thought and does not fully understand the bad influence religion has had and still has on humanity. I’m not saying people should be persecuted for being religious, or anything of the sort, “God” forbid, I’m simply saying that while we cannot and should not violate their right to defy reason, that doesn’t mean that they deserve our respect, especially when their belief actually influences our lives, more or less and in a negative way more often than not.
After all, you wouldn’t respect a middle-aged man’s genuine belief in Santa, would you? In fact, you would for certain think that he’s crazy. Now imagine millions of people believing in Santa, some running countries, others average people, but all following some rules that Santa gave them and imposing their beliefs on others and restricting them from doing anything that goes against their beliefs, even if those other people don’t believe in Santa. The situation with “God” is exactly the same; no one should ever respect anyone’s beliefs if they are completely unfounded and irrational; if anything, they should be challenged at every turn.
One man’s belief might not directly affect you, but as a whole, religion influences your life in ways you may not even be able to realize, whether you’re an atheist or not and whether you want it to or not.
When you ask me to respect religion because people believe in it, I want you to remember something. I want you to remember that long ago your ancestors were not Christian or Muslim. They had their own culture and customs native to their heritage. Through military conquest, religion spread itself through the Old World, and those distant relatives were faced with a choice: either accept Christianity/Islam or die a painful death. This was how most major religions today achieved their position of respect.
After Europe had been fully indoctrinated, the papal Doctrine of Discovery gave the authority to all good Christians to conquer the native peoples of the New World and claim that land for God and the Church. Millions died mercilessly and were even tortured by Christian heroes like Christopher Columbus.
Now, thousands [sic] of years later, when we no longer have to respect these beliefs upon fear of death, we are told that we should respect religion. We are told by those within even the non-religious community that we should show respect to these ideas that have gained a place of vaunted privilege in our societies which are built upon the graves of any who dared question or challenge the authority of divine providence.
You think you are being rational. You think you are being reasonable. What you are really doing is propping up the last leg of human slavery to bad ideas and providing intellectual cover for religion to keep a place of honor and respect it never earned.
Please, stop protecting religion in the guise of false humility. Be honest and firm with your beliefs and never expect anyone to respect your ideas unless they earn it, and always be willing to be wrong. That is what it means to be a freethinker. – Timothy Havener
What about Those other Guys?
I absolutely cannot understand religious people who are convinced that their religion is the “one true religion,” when there are so many more religions out there and so many more people who say the exact same thing about their religions. How can you possibly know that your religion is the right one and theirs isn’t, even though they say the same thing about their religion and call yours a sham? You have to be extra ignorant and conceited to think that your religion is any truer than someone else’s.
“Take a Chill Pill”
I’ve often been called “frustrated” in regard to religion, in an attempt to ridicule me, attempts that have always backfired. They backfire because I openly admit to being frustrated by religion for all the reasons I mentioned above, because of my antitheistic views, and I think it is absolutely normal, it shows genuine concern for humanity, I think every non-believer should definitely be frustrated by the fact that they live in such an indoctrinated world and they should fight for a better world, because, honestly, religion is absolutely horrifying.
The Meaning of Life
I’ve often heard people ask that if there’s no “God”, what’s the meaning of life, its purpose? To that I respond by asking if “God” does exist, what’s the purpose of life then? “To go to ‘Heaven’ and be by ‘God’s’ side.” Okay, fair enough, but why? What’s the purpose of that? You die, go to “Heaven”, and then what? Fine, you don’t want to go to “Hell”; that means the only reason you serve “God” is because you want to save yourself from eternal damnation. That’s the purpose of life for many religious people, to not end up in a place where they’ll endure untold suffering by serving “God,” some religious people openly admit that that’s what they think the purpose of life is.
I ask you now, how does that make you feel? To me, it seems very sad. It seems awful, cruel, and unfair. That’s what “God” wants from you; he loves you a lot and all, but if you don’t love him back, you’re toast. He made you for the sole purpose of loving him and being his followers, punishing you if you aren’t. The word “slavery” pops into mind.
Let us inquire what glory there was in an omnipotent being torturing forever a puny little creature who could in no way defend himself? Would it be to the glory of man to fry ants? – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Ultimately, I believe life has no real purpose, not in the way that some people want it to have. It has no purpose and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think that’s just fine and I don’t think it makes life any less beautiful or worth living. I don’t see why people need an ultimate purpose. Life just is, it’s what you make of it.
I believe that life is simply about living and fighting to make the world better for ourselves, for our fellow man, and for future generations, when we won’t even exist anymore. That, to me, is the purpose of life, and I think it is a far more beautiful and noble purpose than that of serving “God” just so there’s a spot in “Heaven” for me.
I don’t believe in anything after death, I just think we go into the ground and that’s it, but I don’t think it’s sad, as some would say, I think it’s actually more beautiful; I think it’s more beautiful because even though in the end you just die and that’s that, with no punishment or reward for the “soul”, it gives you the opportunity to do everything I mentioned before without expecting anything in return, just for the sake of being a decent human being, out of compassion for your fellow man.
You don’t need “God” to be a good person and to better the lives of those around you.