Several months back, I asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you would like to ask a question, please leave your question here.
Texas Born & Bred asked:
I am in my sixties. In the last 2 or 3 years, I have attended the funerals of several close relatives and friends that were younger than me. One cousin that died was very close. We were each other’s best man at our weddings. My very best friend in high school died. Several friends my age or younger are struggling with serious health problems.
So death often captures my attention. I am a Christian (what kind? – barely Christian) and I am constantly reminded in church, Sunday school, and bible studies of the glory that await us once we die. That would be nice and does provide comfort. But my problem is that the ones I cared deeply about that have died were not the church-going type. And that is discomforting. Life is not fair.
I took a stroll through an older cemetery one day and could not help but notice the large number of headstones of babies. Back in the 1800’s it was common for children to die in sickness outbreaks. One headstone was simple marked “Wilson babies”. What a horrible thing to go through! But the parents struggled on. They still had crops to work and cows to milk. Their faith must have provided a bit of comfort in such a gut-wrenching time.
How do atheists handle death of loved ones? Is their grieving process the same as believers who expect to see their loved ones again some day in heaven?
This is a great question. For Christians, when death takes a loved one, they have the promise of comfort from Jesus and the hope of being reunited in Heaven some day. Let’s face it, atheism can’t offer life after death, nor is it all that comforting to think that you’ll never see your loved one again. Yet, knowing there is no life after death can and does motivate an atheist to live life to its fullest. If I had one piece of advice to give it would be this:
You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to you your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.
Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.
Death is quite personal and how we respond is too. Unlike the Christian who is expected to put his faith in Jesus and claim the promises of God, the atheist must meet death head-on without any buffer or feel-good beliefs. When death takes a loved one, that’s the end. What’s left are the memories made over a lifetime. While I can’t speak for any atheist but myself, if Polly died before me, I hope I would, in the midst of my grief, revel in our shared experiences. If either of us died today, our testimony would be, it’s been good. While I can’t imagine living one day without Polly, I know life will go one whether I can imagine it or not.
Perhaps I must wait until a loved one dies before I can really answer this question. If so, I hope I never have to answer it.
Eight years of answering questions about WHY I stopped believing in the existence of God and some readers still can’t understand why I am no longer a Christian. I even wrote two posts answering the WHY question, Why I Stopped Believing and Please Help Me Understand Why You Stopped Believing. The former was written for a obstinate Christian commenter and the latter was written for a former parishioner, who later unfriended me on Facebook because she found my story so troubling.
What follows are 16 reasons WHY I am not a Christian. There are many more reasons than this, but this list should satisfy those who continue to prod and poke, trying to find the REAL reason(s) I am no longer a Christian.
I no longer think the Bible is a God inspired text
I no longer think the Bible is an inerrant text
I no longer think Jesus is God
I no longer think Jesus was virgin-born
I no longer think Jesus turned water into wine, walked on water, healed the sick, or raised the dead
I no longer think Jesus resurrected from the dead
I no longer think there is a heaven or a hell
I think the belief that God will torture all non-Christians in hell for all eternity is repugnant, abhorrent, revolting, repulsive, repellent, disgusting, offensive, objectionable, cringeworthy, vile, foul, nasty, loathsome, sickening, nauseating, hateful, detestable, execrable, abominable, monstrous, appalling, insufferable, intolerable, unacceptable, contemptible, unsavory, and unpalatable.
I think the Bible shows a progression of belief from polytheism to monotheism
I think the Bible teaches multiple plans of salvation
I think much of the history found in the Bible is fictional
I think the Bible God is an abhorrent, vile deity, one I would not worship even if I believed it existed
I think science best explains the natural world
I no longer think humans are sinners
I think humanism provides a moral and ethical basis for life
I see no evidence for the existence of the Christian God, thus I am an atheist
These reasons are based on a lifetime spent studying the Bible and studying the textual, historical, and moral underpinnings of Christianity. These studies led me to conclude that the Christian God is a fiction.
If I had any doubt about these things, eight years of interacting with Christians on this blog have led me to conclude that Christianity, as currently practiced in the West, is bankrupt. I see nothing in Christianity that would cause me to reconsider my rejection of the Christian God.
While I have many online friends who are a liberal/progressive Christian, I can not intellectually embrace their beliefs. Since none of them thinks I’m headed for hell when I die, I hope they understand why I can not embrace their faith.
I refuse to let others control my storyline. It’s my life and who knows it better than I do? All I know to do is tell my story. Each reader is free to accept or reject what I write.
Evangelicals believe the Christian God reveals himself to every human through:
Divine Revelation (The Bible)
In this post, I want to focus on the Christian God revealing himself to us through creation. On a clear night, I can look skyward and see a vast array of stars and planets. Recently, Jupiter and Venus were in perfect alignment, a wonder to behold in the Western sky. Last week, the New Horizons spacecraft sent back pictures of Pluto, amazing both the atheist and the Evangelical.
Both atheists and Evangelicals look to the sky and contemplate its vastness and awesomeness. When Evangelicals look at the sky they see the handiwork of their God. They are certain that the Christian God created everything. Atheists, however, point to science and its explanations of the universe. They have a lot of questions, questions science has not yet answered. These questions may or may not be answered in the future. Evangelicals, using the creation framework in Genesis 1-3, are satisfied that the Christian God created the universe. No matter what science tells us about the universe, the Bible explanation is the superior and final explanation. If science conflicts with the Bible, science is wrong.
When Evangelicals use the creation argument with me, I agree with them. I don’t really agree with them, but for the sake of argument, I say, OK, I agree that someone can look at the night sky and wonder if a God created everything. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that a God, a divine force, the first cause, the master holographic programmer created or designed the universe. Since science has yet to tell us all we need to know about the beginning of the universe, perhaps one day we will discover that a God of some sort created everything. I doubt it, but it is certainly possible, just like it is possible the Cincinnati Reds will overcome a 16.5 game deficit in the standings and win the World Series.
Once I grant the Evangelical position, I then ask, how does one get from A GOD to THE GOD, the God of the Evangelical Bible? What is there in the night sky that says the Evangelical God created the universe? It is at this point the Evangelical says, THE BIBLE SAYS, In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Once Evangelicals appeal to the Bible, they’ve lost the argument. Why? Because science tells us that the creation account in Genesis is not true. Once drawn back into the confines of the printed page, Evangelicals are forced to defend all sorts of absurd beliefs, beliefs that can only be swallowed with a large dose of blindness and faith.
But, Bruce, look at the various creation myths. Don’t they ALL testify to there being a creator? Again, Evangelicals are not arguing for a generic, adaptable creator. They are arguing for a specific creator, the one spoken of in the Bible. Even here, I am willing to grant the Evangelical’s assertion. The question remains the same. Why is the Evangelical creation myth true and all others false? Why should I believe the Evangelical myth and not one of the other creation myths?
By appealing to the Bible and the creation account recorded in Genesis 1-3, Evangelicals also must defend everything from a talking, walking upright snake to polytheism. Since the night sky itself is not enough to tell us the Evangelical God created the universe, Evangelicals must appeal to the presuppositions they’ve derived from the Bible. With one hand, they point to the sky and with the other hand point to the Bible. As I have stated many times before, the Abrahamic religions are text-based. For Evangelicals, the Bible is the foundation upon which their religious house is built. Destroy the foundation and the Evangelical house comes tumbling down.\
A man by the name of Steve Ransomovitch (real name?) sent me the following:
I have read through your entire blog. You write honestly and you choose to do so publicly. Therefore, you should also publicly be prepared to defend your theological/philosophical position in certain areas. But the Bruce Gerencser ‘rules of play’ on your site have all but ruled this out. The many, many dos and donts aimed at the ‘evangelicals’ certainly provide an effective earthly shield for you. The thing is Bruce, do you dare enter a very public debate ‘one on one’ with somebody who does not need to resort to any of the cheap shots you quite rightly cite as unacceptable on your site?
And by cheap shots I mean such things as lobbing that favourite scriptural/philosophical hand-grenade (you know, the one we Christians like to lob as a last ditch defence of our position – Ha! That’ll sort ‘im!-type grenade) resorting to such defences as calling on guilt or hell or ‘the evolution v creation debate’ or resorting to looking somehow to ‘save Pastor Bruce’ in order to try and resolve my own inner demons or soul baggage – all these cheap shots plus a load more have undoubtedly already been aimed at you and your loving family – a family that very evidently been strung out and wrung out to dry so many times already and who’ve heard all these cheap shots so many times before.
The thing is Bruce, having read through your entire blog, I am confident that none of those arguments are necessary in order for you and your family (and dare I say many of your readers) to be set on your feet and enjoying God’s favour. But do you dare take that step? And I certainly don’t use the word ‘dare’ lightly or as some kind of you don’t dare means I win position. No, by dare, I mean, look at the blog and the subsequent new life you have since created – the huge emotions involved in your journey so far – the investment can hardly bear thinking about. What if was taken from you? Could you face all of that spiritual upheaval all over again? Do you even want to?
So, here’s my take on this Bruce. I certainly don’t want to be a waste of your time and you’ll certainly read my post to you and you’ll take a position on all of this.
And here is my challenge to you: I challenge you to reproduce this post word for word on your site, ask what your readers think, and let’s take it from there. Have I broken any Gerencser site rules as yet? And be assured, none of you guys out there on the glorious www will be wasting any of my time, that’s for sure.
Thanks for reading.
Steve from the UK. ?
No, I am not going to waste my time with this man, but I thought I would publish his letter so others could read it. I will make this challenge to the letter writer, in ONE succinct, direct paragraph please share the argument you think I have never heard. One paragraph that will clearly show that you have a new argument, a new line of discussion, a new game plan to win atheists to Jesus. One paragraph. Just one. If you make an argument I have never heard before, then I will take the time to answer the newfangled argument that is sure to set my family and I, along with readers of this blog, “on our feet and enjoying God’s favor.”
I would also ask that the letter writer actually read through ALL OF MY BLOG. Numerous Christians have made such a claim, but the server logs reveal another story. Like with the Bible, most Christian speed read my writing, rarely taking the time to read Bruce Almighty’s Genesis, First and Second Chronicles, and Lamentations.
Steve, if you are reading this, please leave your new argument paragraph in the comment section.
It’s time to start a betting pool.
How many of you think the letter writer has a new argument that I have not heard before?
How many of you think it will be an old argument dressed in new clothes?
How many of you think it will be the same old shit?
What follows is a discussion between two Christians about atheists/atheism. This is an actual conversation, overheard by someone I know quite well.
The discussion began with one woman saying that atheists are closed minded. Then the discussion moved to a particular atheist:
Woman:I don’t know why they don’t believe in God. They weren’t raised that way. But, they don’t. How can they live thinking this is it? I guess we just love them.
Other Woman: Yep, you gotta have hope in the afterlife. I don’t care what anyone says. Even without proof, I just believe. You just KNOW God is out there.
Just two ignorant Christians? Here’s what Paul said in Hebrews 11:1:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV)
Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see. (CEV)
The Christian’s hope rests in things they have never seen. By faith, they believe the Christian God exists, the Bible is true, and heaven awaits the saved and hell awaits the lost. They have no proof, no evidence that these things are true or exist, That’s what it really comes down to…either you believe or you don’t. Either you have faith or you don’t. All the preaching, Bible verse quoting, and hate mail won’t change the fact that I do not have the requisite faith necessary to believe.
What would it take to change your mind, Bruce? Jesus stopping by for lunch would certainly do the trick, along with Jesus turning water into wine and helping the Cincinnati Reds win the World Series. Just three little things that should be no trouble for the God who holds the universe in the palm of his hands.
This is the thirty-second installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Ill Mind of Hopsin 7 by Hopsin, an American rapper, record producer, director and actor from Los Angeles, California.
It’s us, find power Live life, mind power It’s us, find power Live life, mind power
Yo, fuck anybody I might alarm Life is a tour, I sit and ride along Taking some notes and then I write the song I’m staring down the road my life has gone Is this where I belong? Is it wrong to not believe in right and wrong? My mental state is fucking me up And I cry the pond while asking you for some answers But we don’t have that type of bond That my desires gone with the way that I’ve been living lately If I died right now, you’d turn the fire on Sick of this bullshit, niggas call me a sellout Cause I hopped on Christianity so strongly then I fell out Now I’m avoiding questions like a scared dog with his tail down Feeling so damn humiliated because they looking at me like I’m hellbound What story should I tell now? I’ll just expose the truth I’m so close to the fucking edge, I should be close to you But who the fuck are You? You never showed the proof And I’m only fucking human yo, what am I supposed to do? There’s way too many different religions with vivid descriptions Begging all fucking men and women to listen I can’t even beat my dick without getting convicted These ain’t wicked decisions, I got different intentions I’ve been itching to get it, I’ve been given assistance But the whole fucking system is twisted Now I’m dealing with this backlash because Marcus isn’t a Christian And I’ve been told that my sinful life is an addiction But I can’t buy it, it’s just too hard to stand beside it I need an answer and humans can’t provide it I look at the Earth and Sun and I can tell a genius man designed it It’s truly mind blowing, I can’t deny it Is heaven real? Is it fake? Is it really how I fantasize it? Where’s the Holy Ghost at? How long it take Man to find it? My mind’s a nonstop tape playing and I can’t rewind it You gave me a Bible and expect me not to analyze it? I’m frustrated and you provoked it I’m not reading that motherfucking book because a human wrote it I have a fucking brain, you should know it You gave it to me to think to avoid every useless moment It was a mission that I had to abort Cause humans be lying with such an inaccurate source It’s gon’ be hard to put me back on the course Next Jehovah’s Witness to come on my porch I swear I’m slammin’ the door A lot of folks believe it though, but I’m not surprised Humans are fucking dumb, still thinking that Pac’s alive I ain’t trying to take your legacy and torch it down I’m just saying: I ain’t heard shit from the horse’s mouth Just sheep always telling stories of older guys Who were notarized by you when you finally vocalized Now I’m supposed to bow my head and close my eyes And somehow let the Holy Ghost arise Sounds like a fucking Poltergeist Show yourself and then boom it’s done Every rumor’s gone, I no longer doubt this shit, you’re the One I’ll admit that my sinful ways was stupid fun And all my old habits can hop onto of a roof to plunge I’ll donate to a charity that could use the funds Fuck the club, instead of bitches I’d hang with a group of nuns And everyone that I ran into would know what I came to do I wouldn’t take a step unless it was in the name of You I hate the fact that I have to believe You haven’t been chatting with me like you did Adam and Eve And I ain’t seen no fucking talking snake unravel from trees With an apple to eat, that shit never happens to me I don’t know if you do or don’t exist, it is driving me crazy Send your condolences, this is me reaching to you so don’t forget If hell is truly your pit of fire and I get thrown in it I’mma probably regret the fact that I ever wrote this shit My gut feeling says it’s all fake I hate to say it but fuck it, shit I done lost faith This isn’t a small phase, my perspective’s all changed My thoughts just keep picking shit apart all day And in my mind I make perfect sense If you aren’t real then all my prayers aren’t worth a cent That would mean that I could just make up what my purpose is And I could just sit in church and say “fuck” in the services Man what if Jesus was a facade? Then that would mean the government’s god I feel like they’ve been brainwashing us with a lot So much that we don’t even notice that we’re stuck in the box Man everything is “what if”, why is it always “what if” Planet Earth “what if”, the universe “what if” My sacrifice “what if”, my afterlife “what if” Every fucking thing that deals with you is fucking suspect I’m fucking done, I’m fucking done This is my fucking life and I’m living it, I’m having fun If you really care for me, prove that I need to live carefully But I’ll be damned if I put my own pleasure aside for an afterlife that isn’t even guaranteed We are you, and you’re us, stop playing games My life’s all I got, and heaven is all in my brain And when I feel I am in hell, my ideas are what get me through pain Do as you please, and I’ll just do me I’m a human, I’ll stay in my lane Ill mind
This is the thirty-first installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Glory Hallelujah by Frank Turner, an English folk/singer-songwriter from Meonstoke, Hampshire.
Brothers and sisters, have you heard the news? The storm has lifted and there’s nothing to lose, So swap your confirmation for your dancing shoes, Because there never was no God. Step out of the darkness and onto the streets, Forget about the fast, let’s have a carnival feast, Raise up your lowered head to hear the liberation beat, Because there never was no God.
There is no God, So clap your hands together, There is no God, No heaven and no hell. There is no God, We’re all in this together, There is no God, So ring that victory bell.
No cowering in the dark before some overbearing priest, Not waiting until we die until we restitute the meek, No blaming all our failings on imaginary beasts, Because there never was no God. No fighting over land your distant fathers told you of, Not spilling blood for those who have never spread a drop of blood, No finger pointing justified by phantoms up above, Because there never was no God.
And I know you’re scared of dying man and I am too, But just pretending it’s not happening isn’t going to see us through, And if we accept that there’s an end game and we haven’t got much time, Then in the here and now we can try and do things right. We’d be our own Salvation Army, and together we’d believe In all the wondrous things that mere mortals can achieve.
Because I’ve known beauty in the stillness of cathedrals in the day, I’ve sung “Glory Hallelujah! Won’t you wash my sins away?” But now I’m singing my refrain and this is what I say, I say there never was no God.
I do not know of one atheist who is working to turn the United States into an atheist nation. I do know a number of atheists who are working very hard to stop theocrats from turning the United States into a Christian nation.
Most atheists want neutrality. Theocrats want authority, domination, and control. When it comes to government and public education, atheists want Christian dogma checked at the door. Atheists want science taught without creationism and other mythical Bible stories being part of the curriculum. Christians are free to learn about creationism at home or their house of worship.They are also free to home school their children or send them to a Christian school. However, when it comes to the public schools, evidence-based science is the only science that should be taught in the classroom. Atheists expect public school classrooms to be free of sectarian prayers, Bible readings, and attempts to proselytize school children.
Atheists want oaths and prayers to God banished from the halls of Congress and any place our secular government does its business. Atheists want the first amendment and the separation of church and state strictly applied. Atheists know that the United States is a secular state and they expect the government to function as a secular state.
Atheists promise to fight attempts to use government funds and programs to support churches and private religious schools. Atheists promise to work to end church tax exemption, clergy tax exemption, and the clergy housing allowance. The fight is direct and to the point…there is no place in the United States for state sanctioned, state funded religion.
Atheists respect the right of religious people to believe what they want and they ask Christians to extend atheists the same courtesy. Atheists have no desire to turn the United States into an atheist state and they sure as hell do not intend to let theocrats turn the United States into a Christian state. Atheists know that history clearly shows that when church and state are one, people die and freedom is lost.
I speak generally about atheists and atheism. I know I can not speak for all atheists.
Thanks to Bruce for welcoming this guest post on his blog. I always enjoy reading Bruce’s blog, and I hope this guest post will fit. This post is a response to a request by Bruce for posts that address conversion from religion to atheism, in particular from those who may be a few years into the process, and how it feels to live without religion. I have written about my deconversion from Christianity elsewhere on my own blog, so you can read the details there if you wish. I may repeat myself a bit here just to make this post complete, but the point here is to describe my perspective since becoming an atheist. I hope that this post may help anyone who is going through a similar process or who is questioning their faith but afraid to give up their religion.
I have been an atheist for about eight years now. At least, 2007 is when I technically stopped believing in God, though the process was a gradual one that probably progressed throughout my adult life. The actual time point at which I stopped believing in God was surprisingly sudden and distinct. I would say that in early 2007 (as late as March) I still believed that God existed and that I wanted to relate to him although my view of God had shifted significantly since my coming of age two decades earlier. But, by May of 2007 I no longer believed that God existed. The final step was that sudden for me. In late 2006 and early 2007 I read a few books that looked at the character of God in a new light, including If Grace is True and If God is Love both by Phillip Gulley and James Muholland. More importantly for my conversion process I also read a book called Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. The book basically follows two stories: a general history of Mormonism and a specific case of murder in the 1980s by two Mormons who believed they were instructed by God to perform the murders. I knew virtually nothing of Mormonism prior to reading the book, but it served as a striking example of how religion can cause people to believe the unbelievable. The religion is clearly a fabrication from 19th century America, with roots that are distinctly American in culture. Yet, there are millions of followers around the world, in what I can only understand as blind faith. The book illustrated the strength of religious influence, and how humans clearly yearn for some meaning to their life, which often seems to be filled by instructions and commands by a person in power – or a religion. I had met a few Mormons, and they seemed as convinced that their religion was true as any other religious person, including the Christians I had grown up with. Yet there was no doubt in my mind that the entire religion was a fabrication. If a religion could essentially be constructed by one man in the relatively modern times of the 19th Century to a point that millions of people worldwide were followers, how much more possible was it that a religion could have developed 2,000 years ago in a time when the availability of information was incomparably lower than in the modern era? (Literacy was lower, formal education was rare, books [at least as we know them now] and newspapers were non-existent).
I then came across a number of the so-called “new atheists” including the most famous, Richard Dawkins. I had previously read a few critiques of Dawkins by Christians, but never read any of his own books or articles. In early May 2007 I was watching TV late one evening and saw Dawkins interviewed on the Canadian television show The Hour:
Contrary to the way he was viewed by Christian apologetics, he seemed down to earth, very rational and well-spoken, and what he said rang true. He was not the pompous arrogant and bull-headed demon that many Christian writers had made him out to be. I read his famous book The God Delusion. The house of cards came tumbling down.
Now, a few books and a television interview in early 2007 were not, of course, solely responsible for my loss of faith. I had occasionally asked myself the hypothetical question: “What if God doesn’t exist?” I sometimes wondered what kind of person I would be if I didn’t have God looking over my shoulder. But, up until that point it was simply a mental exercise I went through, I never for a moment actually doubted his existence. I had always known that God was there watching me, reading my thoughts. I find it hard to pinpoint why it was at this time that my doubts about God’s existence suddenly became more focused. Suddenly, instead of simply theorizing what it would be like if God didn’t exist, I started to realize that it is very likely that he does not exist. I think that Spring of 2007 was the culmination of a very slow march towards rationalism that had begun two decades earlier when I left home in my late teens. I had studied science extensively, and always accepted the science I learned, but also always somehow fit whatever I learned around the model of God that I had been steeped in while a child. This is an important point because I think it is very, very difficult for people who have been raised in religion to give it up. For me, there was always the nagging fear of my impending death and the threat of eternal punishment in hell if I doubted God’s existence.
In any case, at that time I finally realized that I no longer believed God exists. The final step was not really a conscious decision for me. It was more of a realization that the notion of a god was no longer a reasonable belief. It was as though I looked around and realized I still secretly believed in Santa Claus as an adult while everything I had experienced in the world around me screamed that he could not possibly exist.
So, like a child taking the butterfly wings off for the first time in the deep end of the swimming pool and realizing that it can indeed float without them, I considered that the world might work just fine without a god.Julia Sweeney has described a similar experience in her book Letting Go of God:
…as I was walking from my office in my backyard into my house, I realized there was this little teeny-weenie voice whispering in my head. I’m not sure how long it had been there, but it suddenly got just one decibel louder. It whispered, ‘There is no god.’
And I tried to ignore it. But it got a teeny bit louder. ‘There is no god. There is no god. Oh my god, there is no god.’…
And I shuddered. I felt I was slipping off the raft.
And then I thought, ‘But I can’t. I don’t know if I can not believe in God. I need God. I mean, we have a history’…
‘But I don’t know how to not believe in God. I don’t know how you do it. How do you get up, how do you get through the day?’ I felt unbalanced…
I thought, ‘Okay, calm down. Let’s just try on not-believing-in-God glasses for a moment, just for a second. Just put on the no-God glasses and take a quick look around and then immediately throw them off.’ And I put them on and looked around. I’m embarrassed to report that I initially felt dizzy. I actually had the thought, ‘Well, how does the Earth stay up in the sky? You mean, we’re just hurtling through space? That’s so vulnerable!’ I wanted to run out and catch the Earth as it fell out of space into my hands.
And then I remembered, ‘Oh yeah, gravity and angular momentum is gonna keep us revolving around the sun for probably a long, long time.’
I can relate to some of this description quite well. In addition to what she describes, my situation was complicated by the fear that I might die while I had the not-believing-in-God glasses on and go to hell for eternity just because I happened to die while I was trying out atheism for 30 minutes. It was a bit like coming up to a train track and thinking, ‘I need to cross the tracks, but what if the train comes along out of nowhere and mows me down just at the moment that I step across?’ When I finally overcame my fear of being annihilated in a moment of fury like an Efrafan rabbit (from Richard Adams wonderful novel Watership Down), and stepped gingerly on the tracks, my whole perspective changed. Instead of looking up the track in fear of an oncoming train, I looked down at the tracks in detail for the first time and realized they were decrepit and could not possibly bear a train. No train would ever be coming along those tracks and I could linger as long as I like quite safely. Once that was established, the opportunity to really open up my mind to some serious questions availed itself and it was not long before the whole house of cards came tumbling down. Indeed, once I had my Julia Sweeney moment, the whole ordeal was over in a matter of minutes. I was through with God instantly as I realized that the whole game was a farce. There was no desire at all to cling to a false god for comfort. I simply set god aside and moved on.
Once I moved into atheism, there were of course many questions to tackle. I wondered about the afterlife. I accepted almost immediately that the whole thing was man-made and that when I die I will simply not exist anymore. For some time after my de-conversion, I felt quite sad that the prospect of an eternal heaven was gone, but my sadness was also tempered by the realization that I no longer had to fear hell. I realized that there was nothing to fear about being dead any more than there was to fear about before I was born. That thought was a reassuring one as I left behind the indoctrination of fear that Christianity brands its followers with, often without them realizing just how much fear is used to maintain the faith. Do I ever still fear death and hell? Yes, occasionally. Those fears instilled in childhood are difficult to overcome. Very occasionally I do have a very brief moment of panic as I ask myself that ridiculous question: “What if I’m wrong?” Then I always recognize that I’m about as likely to be wrong about the god of the Bible as I am likely to be wrong in believing that we are not all living in some computer matrix such as that in the popular Keanu Reeves movies. These days my biggest fears are something along the lines of Rene Descartes’ evil demon – occasionally I worry that there is in fact a deity, but one that is malicious and malevolent, waiting to torment us all for eternity regardless of our choices here on earth. But then I recognize the absurdity of such ideas and the complete lack of evidence to support them, and that such beliefs and fears and bordering on the schizophrenic.
As I recognized that my existence would end with my death (such an obvious concept now), I very quickly started to value my life much, much more deeply than when I had been a Christian. My view when I was a Christian was that this life was just the preamble to something much greater, that I had all eternity to look forward to. All of sudden I realized that was not the case, and I realized that I’d better make the most of every day that I have in this life.
Another issue that is perhaps of interest to those Christians who are doubting their faith, or those who are cynical about people such as me who have de-converted, is the question of morality. Where do your morals come from, if not from God? As a Christian I would have asked this very question myself, but as an atheist it seems patently absurd. I believe that morality is a human construct, and therefore it does not come through revelation with the divine. Humans created morality. Morality comes from human society. Some human behaviours are almost universally considered immoral, such as murder, rape, theft. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand why these things are immoral. Human societies wouldn’t survive if they were all acceptable behaviours. But there are a lot of human behaviours that are only considered immoral from a religious point of view, for example blasphemy and a host of sexually acts such as pre-marital sexual intercourse. But, usually these types of “immoral” behaviours vary depending on the religion. In any case, I have not found that I’ve plunged into any sort of immoral abyss now that I’m an atheist. If anything, I am probably a more moral person now than when I was a Christian. Certainly I am a more responsible person in terms of contributing positively to society because I now realize that human society is not some temporary situation on the way to eternity in heaven. Rather, I now realize that human society is all we’ve got. It is precious. Things like protecting the environment for future generations have become much more important for me now that I realize the earth doesn’t have to end in an apocalyptic disaster as Jesus comes to establish his kingdom.
Another interesting phenomenon that I’ve recognized in my years since becoming an atheist, is a bit of a role reversal in my point of view on the world and society. When I was a Christian, I sort of looked down on non-Christians. I pitied them for not understanding the truth, for not being saved. Now I have to admit that I sort of look down on Christians. I pity them for not understanding the truth, for not living life to its fullest. I’m not proud of feeling this way, and it is probably just a natural pride in my personality that causes it, but I’m also trying to describe that there is an irony in the thought that I still find most Christians look down on me for not having the truth. But now the difference is that I feel sorry for them. It’s sort of like being looked down up on by a child. In fact,
The world seems much more fragile to me now that I am an atheist. When you believe that there is a God watching over the world, and that he has a long-term plan for humanity, you assume that things can’t go dramatically wrong. Sure, bad things like earthquakes and floods do happen, but the ultimate plan must remain intact. God isn’t about to let a large meteor collided with the earth tomorrow and end all human life because it doesn’t fit with his plan. (There is too much other destruction described in the book of Revelation that has to happen first!). But, now that I don’t believe in God, I realize that we are indeed alone on this rock floating through space. We have to be so careful to take care of both ourselves and nature because the whole thing could come crashing down and no God would be there to step in and keep us on course.
So, I had often wondered what kind of person I would be if I were no longer a Christian. I had wondered if I would be more selfish, I would lie more easily. The reality has been the exact opposite. I hope that I am a much more pleasant and selfless person now that I’m an atheist. The world no longer revolves around me. I am but a speck of dust in vast universe. While my life has great significance to those around me while I am alive, I am completely insignificant in terms of nature and the universe. It is not about me. I am just a cog in the great machinery of nature.
One thing that seems pervasive in relating to Christians since my de-conversion is a complete lack of understanding that I don’t actually believe in God anymore. Most Christians seem to think that atheists are rebelling against God, that we hate him for some reason. Perhaps we’ve been so hurt by religion when we were younger that now we feel hate for God and for Christianity and are like a rebellious teenager who goes off on his own in a huff. But I don’t hate God. I just don’t believe he exists. My position is exactly the same as the position a Christian is in when they consider the existence of something they don’t believe in, like unicorns or Santa Claus. I’m not trying to belittle Christians’ beliefs by making that comparison, it really is that way for me. I don’t hate unicorns, I just don’t think they exist.
In a situation I experienced in which a few atheists were discussing religion with a few Christians, a Christian friend of mine summed up the differences like this: “Either you believe in God or you don’t. That’s about all there is to it.” I very much agree with this statement, and I would take it further and say that you can’t really choose whether you believe in God or not. Either you do or you don’t. If you are a Christian who is finding that you doubt God’s existence, then you may already feel that you don’t believe he exists. You might pretend that you still believe he does exist, but deep inside only you know whether you believe it or not. If you don’t believe in God, there isn’t much you can do to choose to believe in him. I could pretend to believe in God, but at the end of the day I just don’t. It would be a dishonest act for me to pretend I believe in God. It’s not a choice I am capable of making any longer. Ultimately, we all owe it to ourselves to ask the really difficult questions about our beliefs and see where the chips fall. Ultimately the only person who suffers if you don’t is yourself.