Did you become an atheist because you are pissed off at God?
No, I became an atheist because I felt it was intellectually the only choice I could make that allowed me to look in the mirror without feeling like a hypocrite. I became an atheist because I’ve seen that the evidence leads only to that conclusion. Did you become a Christian because you’re pissed off at logic and reason?
Would anything bring you back to Christianity?
No. Who willingly goes back to prison?
Aren’t you worried you’ll go to hell?
Hell disappears when your belief in God disappears. Besides, fear is a terrible motivator. I’m not saying it’s not effective; it is. Nonetheless, I’m not interested in fear-based motivations.
Do you believe in the afterlife?
No. There may be an afterlife, but I doubt it. Besides, I’m way more interested in the beforedeath than the afterlife.
Do you ever miss Christianity?
Do you ever miss God?
Sometimes. Even though I know God (in the Christian sense) doesn’t exist, he was real in my mind for most of my life until I was almost 37. It’s difficult to have a relationship with someone like that (even if it’s only in your mind) and then suddenly no longer have that person around. Sure, I miss God. But either way, I’m much better off without my faith in this God, because this God isn’t real.
So you don’t believe in a Creator?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that. I’m an atheist, but all that is is a rejection of theism. Atheism does not necessarily reject the possibility. I think it’s at least possible that some type of Creator is at work in the far reaches of reality, but I patently reject any of the models that theism offers on the matter. There may indeed be a Creator, but since we have no hard information on who or what that Creator is, it amounts to the same as assuming no one’s out there. I’ve found it does no good to speculate on things of this nature because no one could know for sure. I suspect that whatever’s really going on out there metaphysically (if anything) is far more beautiful and wonderful than anything the religions of Earth have to say on the matter. One thing I do know for a certainty is that the God described in your Bible doesn’t and can’t qualify for the role of that Creator, and that is why I reject that particular God.
An atheist can suspect there’s a Creator? How is that possible?
Atheism is merely a rejection of theism and nothing else. In other words, atheism rejects the theistic pantheon of gods that humans believe in. To presume that atheism rejects the possibility is a common error, one that many make, but it is simply not true. The atheist is capable of conceding that there might be something out there, but he patently rejects that it is any of the theistic gods humans currently believe in. Nevertheless, intellectual atheism can and does provide room for the possibility of some truth for which we don’t yet have satisfactory evidence.
Isn’t your life empty without faith?
Far from it. Seen from the right perspective, it’s faith that is empty. Putting all of your hope in the biggest question mark in existence and basing your life on that misplaced hope is the same as building a house on sand. And I would rather put all my hope on periods, not question marks. I would rather base my life on certainties, not shaky unknowns.
But isn’t there enough evidence out there to justify faith?
Certainly not. No, if there were enough evidence, you wouldn’t need faith anyway. The fact of the matter is that faith and certainty are polar opposites. If you are certain, you don’t need faith. But if you’re uncertain, then you do need faith. If there were enough evidence out there to make you sure, why would you be bothered with faith anyway? Faith can only exist when you’re not sure. And if there isn’t enough evidence to be sure, then there isn’t enough evidence on which to build the whole of your life. I’m not saying those who choose to retain faith don’t have their reasons. But my stance is that the most intelligent conclusion one can reach is that there just aren’t enough reasons to justify orienting an entire lifetime around the tenets of faith. If I cannot be certain, I’m not interested. After all, this is my only life to live, and I’m certainly not going to waste it on a fantasy just because it might (or might not) feel good.
What do you believe in, then?
I believe in me. I believe in you. I believe in love. I believe in joy and compassion and kindness and generosity and honesty and authenticity.
But without a belief in God, doesn’t this mean you are free to indulge your base instincts and live selfishly?
No. Contrary to what you seem to think, morality comes from within, not from without. And as a humanist, I feel a personal responsibility to live the best possible life I can. This means that kindness, generosity, compassion, and integrity are very important to me on their own. I’m not answering to a God; I’m answering to myself. I choose to live a good life because I believe benefiting my species and the planet upon which I live is the best use of my time and energy. Faith in a God has nothing to do with it. Besides, if you maintain that a person lives nobly simply because of God, doesn’t this imply that the person’s motives are selfish? I mean, if you are behaving merely because you fear some punishment, so what? How does that come from the heart? I would rather behave because it’s what I want to do rather than because it’s what I have to do.
As an atheist, you don’t have anything to live for, right?
(Sigh.) Wrong. You have it completely backward. To quote the British comedian Ricky Gervais, “It’s a strange myth that atheists have nothing to live for. It’s the opposite. We have nothing to die for. We have everything to live for.”
Do you disagree that Christianity has done much good in the world?
I don’t disagree with that. But so has Buddhism. So has the advent of abnormal psychology. So has the dawn of modern medicine. For that matter, so has humanism. Look, the net positive effect of a given thing is not the measuring stick for whether or not it’s rooted in truth. If it was, then we would also have to take into account the net negative effect of a given thing—and Christianity’s presence in the world over the last 2,000 years has also had a deadly and abusive influence on the course of history.
Religion gives people something to hope in. Isn’t that a good thing?
Having something t hope in is always a good thing. But religion teaches the human being to look outside of himself for that hope. It teaches him to look to God, a person about which the human isn’t sure. This is detrimental because it fails to teach the human to look inward. Religion leads you away from your true strength, which is always to be found within, and leads you toward a false hope existing somewhere outside of you. But when you walk away from religion you are free to train yourself to look inward, and it is there that you will find that everything you needed was always with you anyway.
Do you look down on Christians?
No. All humans possess inherent value, regardless of race, orientation, culture, religion, gender, or age. That said, I do take serious issue with the beliefs of Christians. But it’s important that this distinction be understood: I detest the beliefs, not the person who possesses those beliefs. After all, Christians have a saying: “Hate the sin; love the sinner.” It is the same with me: “Hate the belief; love the believer.” Or at least try to tolerate him.
But you speak harshly against Christians. Why?
According to my worldview, the message Christians actively spread in this world is an enormous part of the collective existential problems we humans face. I maintain that the presence of Christian beliefs (and all theistic beliefs) in this world is detrimental to the progress of humanity. Moreover, because Christians theology requires that they spread their beliefs inasmuch as they can means that their negative effect on society is not passive; it’s aggressive. I’m merely being just as aggressive in my denouncing of these beliefs. Besides, I’ve been severely mistreated by many Christians ever since I came out as an atheist. Unlike them, I’m not required to “turn the other cheek.” I therefore don’t hold back in telling it like it is.
Christianity is about loving people. How can you possibly take issue with that?
I don’t take issue with love. But you need not be religious to love your neighbor. And Christianity is not the only religion, spirituality or philosophy in this world that emphasizes love. Moreover, love is not the only aspect of Christianity. The religion as a whole is steeped in guilt, fear, self-abuse, judgment, division, and mind-control. Christianity is self-demeaning and responsible for indescribable psychological oppression among its adherents. Additionally, Christianity is a hypocritical institution, one that proves too financially lucrative for those who are supposed to be giving all their belongings to the poor. And finally, Christianity is based entirely on lies. It is these things with which I take issue. Loving other people has nothing to do with it. Anyone can be loving, although you would be hard-pressed to find much love among the throngs of those who inhabit the Christian realm. You will, however, find much judgment. I just turn that judgment back in on those who monger it.
Are you happy as an atheist, or were you happier as a Christian?
I had happy moments as a Christian. I won’t lie about that. But on the whole, I am much happier, more peaceful, and better adjusted as an atheist. That’s my own personal experience, though; it doesn’t qualify as evidence.
Without a belief in God, who do you thank when you feel thankful?
Feeling thankful and expressing thanks aren’t the same thing. I can still look at beauty or hear a piece of music or experience things that moves me and feel thankful that I’m here to experience them, but this doesn’t mean I have to say “thank you” to anyone in particular. It’s enough for me that I am here to experience that for which I’m grateful.
But what if you’re wrong? What if there is a God and you end up in hell?
Why is it an automatic thing that if there’s a God there must also be a hell? Why do hell and God always have to go hand in hand? Why can’t it be possible that some sort of God does indeed exist but he doesn’t come attendant with the automatic implication of hell? Why is everyone so hell-focused? Besides, if I am wrong, I’m wrong. I’m not going to waste my life now worrying about what may or may not happen when I die. Why must the (hypothetical) afterlife be invited into the now? Why should an afterlife affect the decisions made now? And if God is real and wants to send me to hell, I can’t very well stop him. I might even prefer hell than to have to spend eternity in the company of such an entity. If your God sends people to hell for using their minds, he’s not someone I want to be around.
What are your thoughts on the Bible?
As an ancient text, I think it is quite interesting. As a work of literature, I think it’s beautiful in places. As an historical look into what ancient humans in the Middle East did and thought and believed, I think it’s a useful tool. Beyond that, it’s not and should not be separated from any other such writings from ancient times. In other words, I do not believe the Bible is inspired or inerrant or infallible. There is more than enough evidence that, when seen without the lens of partiality, proves the Bible is very much fallible and errant.
Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead?
Certainly not. I don’t believe it because people don’t rise from the dead today. I thus have no reason to believe it was possible in Palestine 2,000 years ago. I think that if something of this nature actually did occur, there would be much more at our disposal to verify it than the inconsistent writings of the New Testament, the authors of which don’t reveal their identities, cite their sources, or even agree on a few basic facts. Moreover, the writings found in the New Testament, which are the only sources we have for this so-called miraculous event, blatantly admit that they exist for the purpose of propaganda. There’s just not enough here to justify the basing of one’s entire life on this alleged event.
But not everyone in ancient Palestine was could read and write. Maybe it just wasn’t recorded.
Not everyone was literate, but not everyone was illiterate, either. The New Testament explicitly says the resurrected Jesus appeared to over 500 people. Not one of them could write? Not one of them knew others who could write? This stretches belief. Why should we assume that a few of fishermen (who knew Jesus and later wrote about him in the New Testament) were literate if most people weren’t? Obviously, some people could read and write, especially if mere fishermen were able to do so. In any case, there should’ve been enough literate folks to ensure the story was recorded in at least a few secular records, but no such records exist.
But aren’t you just as biased as you say we are?
Everyone is biased. Never believe anyone who tells you that they are not. But the issue is this: when did you form your bias? Did you create the bias, then view the evidence through that lens? Or did you view the evidence and use it to form a bias? We are all biased, but some of us have been a bit more responsible about how our biases are formed.
If you don’t believe in God, can’t you at least believe in belief?
Why? What makes belief so much better than nonbelief? Why is there this stigma that to believe in something, anything, is noble? Why? Says who? All that really means is that you’re dissatisfied with reality. I’d rather take reality as it is and deal with it than force myself to be transported into some fantasy land through belief. I don’t want a fairy tale; I want the truth.
But surely there’s loss without prayer in your life?
Not really. I meditate now, and I have found that to be much more effective. There’s no ambiguity with meditation. You just do it. Prayer, on the other hand, is by definition the act of addressing a being you’re not sure is there. Even then, once you have voiced the prayer, you have no notion what the outcome will be. I am better off without such ambiguity in my life.
But we believers just know that what we believe is real, even if we can’t prove it. We just know it from experience.
I’m not at all trying to discredit or devalue your experiences. We may disagree as to what’s causing you to have these experiences, but I won’t say that your experiences aren’t real to you. The problem, of course, is that the Muslim can speak just as beautifully about his own transcendental experiences with Islam. The Buddhist can speak about transcendental experiences through the use of Zen. People representing all varieties of religious and spiritual backgrounds can and do have all kinds of experiences that, to them, seem real and are therefore taken as validation that their private beliefs are true. The only conclusion that can be reached is that a person’s experiences are never a reflection of truth. But you as a Christian seem to feel your experiences outrank those of everyone else, that your experiences point toward something real while the experiences of everyone else point to something false. Thus, you’ve elevated yourself above the rest of us. I submit that the only way to level the field is for all of us, the atheist and believer alike, to use empirical evidence rather than experience as the measuring stick. But perhaps you’re reluctant to do that because you suspect doing so will prove fatal to your belief system? At any rate, let’s observe that there are all kinds of psychological reasons why a spiritual experience may seem real to you. I prefer to be very careful about such things, for I recognize the human mind’s tendency to latch onto its own thoughts and project them outward as having been received from an outside source.
Why does it always seem like you atheists are so angry?
Not all atheists are angry. But many are, yes; and often their anger is aimed at religion in general and Christianity in particular. There are several reasons for this. Often the leaders and/or adherents of Christianity have given these atheists a hard time over their absence of faith, sometimes even to the point of open ridicule. After a while, this can simply become intolerable. But more importantly, atheists will often harbor anger at organized religion because they genuinely feel that organized religion is harmful to the individual, to society, and to the species at large. Atheists make the case that most wars in human history can be traced to theistic motivations. The Crusades, the Catholic Inquisition, the heinous crimes of the Conquistadors, and the atrocities committed by early European colonists in North America can all be connected to theistic roots. Even in today’s world, we have groups like ISIS or the people at Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas using their foul brand of theism to monger hate, division, violence, and judgment. Even those Christians who refrain from such barefaced activities still believe they possess the monopoly on truth and as a result, they privately harbor personal judgments about who is going to heaven and who is going to hell. Furthermore, because the atheist has concluded that Christianity (and indeed all theistic religions) are based on lies rather than truth, he is angered when he sees the arms of these religions spread through the world, having an influence over the progression of current culture. And when he stands up to express his views, he’s instantly shot down by the religious faithful, who call him a brute, an infidel, and an instrument of Satan. How long are atheists supposed to be treated in such a fashion before they become angry? After all, we’re acting out of our conscience, the same way you as a Christian are. You want the freedom to spread Christianity wherever you go, but you don’t want us atheists to have that same freedom. That makes us angry.
What would it take for you to believe in a personal God?
Remove the arbitrary aspects and show me a God that can consistently be relied on to act in all cases as he allegedly said he would in his “Word.” Show me a God who keeps his promises each and every time, not just some of the time. Show me a God who responds to acts of faith fairly, in each instance. Show me a God who saves all who ask him, not just some. Show me a God who expels the demons from each person, not just a few. Show me a God whose wonders and marvels can be seen and felt and heard and experienced by everyone. Show me a God who is consistent with the so-called revelation he’s given to his people. And finally, show me these things without invoking my faith.
I can’t do that. You’ll have to take at least some of it on faith.