Anything but a friendly letter

Was winning at football what Jesus had in mind?
I was sipping Yellow Tail Shiraz and doing yardwork yesterday, and the wine put me in mind of my Australian friends, Kylie and Elephant’s Child. When I later found four dead gnats floating in my glass, I thought of my vegan friend, All Consuming. Specifically, I wondered if a vegan would, for reasons of veganism alone, avoid swallowing dead bugs. After all, lots of foods contain bugs—flour and peanut butter, for example—making pure veganism a practical impossibility. It then occurred to me that my dead gnats were like roadkill in that their deaths were an accident, and I knew that, as one who avoids meat, I wouldn’t eat road-kill, because vegetarianism isn’t just about health, compassion, and environmental concern; it’s also about aesthetics, and dead critters are gross.

A little later, I was running a square-pointed shovel along the curb to rescue earthworms that had been stranded by a week of hard rain. When a neighbor walked by, I told her what I was doing, and, completely free of charge, gave her a little speech about how a human life is worth no more—if as much—as an earthworm’s life, because we humans have to destroy other lives in order to live, whereas earthworms are a friend to everyone. 

People look at me funny when I say things like that. If they respond at all, they mention our bigger brains, opposable thumbs, and the notion that God likes us better than he likes worms, which is why he made us “in his own image.” Yet, of all the species on earth, we take the cake when it comes to causing misery and death. How, then, do we know that God didn’t make earthworms in his image, and that by rescuing earthworms, I’m insuring myself a place in a wormy heaven alongside the very few other humans who loved worms? Really, given the harm that we do, and the good that worms do, why should we imagine ourselves superior?

“Because God said it; I believe it; and that settles it.” “But how do you know God said it?” “Because in Numbers 23:19, the Bible says: “God is not a man, so he does not lie.’” “But how do you know the man who wrote Numbers 23:19 didn’t just make that up?” Because in II Timothy 3:16, we read: ‘All Scripture is inspired by God.’” “Well, gee whiz, thanks for your compellingly rational answer.” “You smart-ass! You bastard! You atheist! Just wait ‘til you get to the judgment throne! Do you really imagine that it will be occupied by a worm? Do you dare blaspheme God?” “Oh, yes! It’s what we atheists do for fun.” “Ahhhhh! The fires of hell await you, for in Psalms 14:4, we read: ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God,’ and again in Matthew 25:41: ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’” 

You might doubt that believers really quote the Bible to prove the Bible, but they do, frequently. But are they  so deluded as to think that sharing the Bible’s low opinion of atheists will win atheists to God, or do they simply mean to insult nonbelievers without taking responsibility for it, as in: “I’m not saying these horrible things to you; God is, but I’m only too glad to share them”?

Why am I all worked up about religion again? It’s because of a recent discussion with my Christian blog-buddy, Joseph. As much as I would like to be understood by Joseph, it’s pointless because I can’t argue against a constant barrage of personal insults, there being nothing in them to argue against. My attempt at dialogue with Joseph inspired the following list of things that atheists commonly hear from believers, most or which are completely devoid of truth. Again, I’m generalizing, it being impossible to portray every believer and every atheist as thinking exactly like I’m about to portray them. 

Atheists think they know everything. Otherwise, they would have admit that they might be wrong about God. (Atheists do admit they might be wrong; they just consider it highly unlikely. There is a big difference between saying: I don’t believe God exists, and, I can prove that God does not exist, and most atheists do the former, because, strictly speaking, no once can disprove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, much less God.) 

It takes more faith to be an atheist than a believer, because atheists have to believe that the universe came from nothing. (1) In accordance with the First Law of Thermodynamics, atheists believe that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed, and (2) they would ask why it’s easier to believe in the eternal existence of an infinitely complex and conscious being known as God than to believe in the far simpler eternal existence of unconscious matter and energy.) 

Atheists know that God exists, but they’re too “swollen with pride” to admit it. (Trust me, I don’t know that God exists, but with all my heart, I would like to be proven wrong. I had much rather believe that I’m under the eternal protection of a benevolent deity than to go around congratulating myself for being an atheist.) 

Theists believe in God; atheists believe in science, so what’s the difference? (Science is not an entity in which one believes, but rather a method for understanding the universe based upon rationality and evidence rather than authority and intuition.) 

Atheists have no reason to be moral because they don’t fear hell. (Atheists believe that morality is the product of evolution, but that it should be guided by respect, compassion, and reason, rather than by the authority of a book or religious leader. As atheists see it, a belief system that rests upon authority is prone to rigidity, contempt, oppression, and cruelty. According to the Bible itself, God ordered “the faithful” to commit murder, rape, abandonment, and pillaging. At his command, God’s people treated women as property, owned slaves, murdered homosexuals, discriminated against the disabled, and on and on and on, so for his followers today to claim moral superiority based upon the Bible is absurd.) 

Atheists just want to make believers look stupid. (Some do, some don’t, but I try to avoid sarcasm, argue rationally, show respect for the person I’m talking to, and keep an open heart rather than resort to insults. I know that I sometimes fail, but I have also observed that believers typically go out of their way to be hurtful, because (1) they hold atheists in utter contempt; (2) they know less about religion than atheists do, so their rebuttal options are limited; (3) their beliefs are based upon emotional need rather than rationality, so they feel severely threatened by serious questions, and their fear gets turned into anger.) 

Atheists are responsible for society’s problems because God is punishing everyone because of them. (Dogmatic belief—whether in God or the State—is a major reason for societal failure, which is why countries—and parts of countries—without such a mindset are happier, healthier, safer, less stressed, and better educated, than are places where the edicts of religion or the state are beyond criticism. 

Atheists think they’re smarter than everyone else. (Statistically, atheists are better educated than believers, but conceit is a human problem not an atheist problem and, in my experience, it’s more likely to be based upon wealth and class than non-belief.) 

Atheists just like to argue. (Most atheists keep their atheism a secret because they fear discrimination that can result in name-calling, vandalism, job loss, rejection by their families, imprisonment, and even being hacked to death with machetes. Personally, I enjoy discussing religion, but, except on my blog, I don’t around looking to do it.) 

The life of an atheist is without meaning. (The life of an atheist is without a God-given meaning, but it is not without the self-given meaning of work, family, and other interests.) 

Atheists want to outlaw religion. (Atheists want to outlaw discrimination based upon religion, and they’re far more likely than theists to oppose other forms of discrimination as well. It’s NOT atheists who want to silence believers, but believers who want to silence atheists.) 

Atheists go around trying to force their beliefs upon others. (Atheists resist having the values, music, ceremonies, and visual representations of religion forced upon them, but many believers decry any such limits as oppression. Their advice to those who don’t share their particular brand of Christianity is: If you don’t approve of them, don’t listen to our prayers, sermons, and hymns, in schools and at city council meetings. If you don’t like to look at Jesus; turn your head when you pass his statue or poster in a park, courtroom, post office, sheriff’s office, mayor’s office, etc., If you don’t want to read Bible verses, look at your feet when our public school cheerleaders and football players run onto the field carrying banners with Bible verses on them. In those parts of America where they can get away with doing whatever the hell they please and excluding everyone who disagrees with them, believers use public property as if it were church property, and for anyone to argue that not all believers are that way is just not much of consolation given that millions of them appear to be exactly that way.) 

Atheists hate God. (You can’t hate an imaginary being, but you can hate what that being represents and the harm done by those who think he is real.) 

Nearly everyone on earth believes in God, so atheism is a defect. (The thinking of the minority has often been proven superior to the thinking of the majority, so instead of atheism being a defect, it could be a positive trend away from a system of thought that has caused so very much pain and grief.) 

Atheism didn’t exist until the modern era with its emphasis upon science and materialism. (Atheism originated way before Christ, but the word itself is only 500 or more years old.) 

Atheists are insensitive, humorless, and unable to appreciate beauty. (It’s rather believers who denounce the natural world as fallen and attempt to put limits on art, dance, literature, and music. As for sensitivity and humor, these are individual characteristics, and if they’re limited at all by belief, I should think the limits would be more common among among theists. I don’t know the extent to which laughter is frowned upon by theism—right off hand, I can’t recall a single instance of laughter in the Bible—but it’s not limited by atheism.) 

America’s increasing secularism is why God is punishing it with storms, crime, political turmoil, cyber attacks, military failures, and in many other ways. (Similar things were said about Europe during the Black Plague, so the people burned witches and heretics, expelled Jews from their countries, and threw their cats on bonfires, all in an effort to win God’s forgiveness. Today’s growing tendency to blame Jews, homosexuals, atheists and other not nice people for America’s problems is the first step toward a repetition of the crimes that Christians have committed so many times before.

My discouragement around dialoguing with believers is primarily based upon such insults as I have listed, insults that are repeated endlessly in lieu of rationality no matter how many times I try to say, “No, that’s not true. I’m not like that. I don’t feel that way.” Now, I’m going to generalize about believers in a way that I know is insulting, but I truly do believe it based upon a lifetime of experience. Again, I’m generalizing, by which I mean I’m portraying believers as a group, but with complete awareness that some believers are smart, educated, humane, and thoughtful. To begin:

Few believers have a clue as to what constitutes a rational argument. My discouragement with Joseph in particular arose from the fact that—brilliant as he is—all he had to offer was one insult after another combined with one very personal reason for his faith and two arguments that he considered rational. His personal reason was that life would be pointless without God, and his two arguments were: (1) Christianity must be true, or else all those people wouldn’t have died for Jesus; (2) the fact that nearly everyone who ever lived believed in God proves that God exists. His claims represented an argument based upon authority, in this case, an authority that I have no confidence in, so, combined with the constant insults, I finally concluded that my attempts at dialogue were a waste of time, considerable time as it turned out, because I really tried for all I was worth.

The believers whom I respect don’t try to defend their faith, not because they’re afraid their reasons might be shown to be lacking, but because they know their reasons are lacking. They might consider the so-called evidence and logical arguments for believing in God to be suggestive of God existence, but they recognize that, at best, nothing they can say would prove God’s existence. Why, then, do they believe? This is where it gets hard for me, and not just because of the lack of evidence in favor of God but for the abundance of evidence against God. Most notably, why, if an all good and all-powerful God exists, are trillions of the world’s creatures suffering undeserved pain and fear at this very moment; pain and fear that my species, even if it tried its best, could not even begin to eliminate?

Nothing that anyone has ever offered has come even close to defending against this most important argument in opposition to belief, and so it is that atheism isn’t just based upon the paucity of evidence but upon the massive contradictions between the supposed characteristics of God and the situation that we find ourselves in. Some believers recognize that there is no explanation, so they take the position that God is indeed all-good, but that he/she/it is not all-powerful, and so it is that God needs our help. I consider this a fantastic claim because it means that God had the power to create the whole damn universe only to be defeated by the situation on planet earth. In other words, I should think that even a limited God could at the very least do better than he is now doing. For example, he could get rid of floods, droughts, famines, forest fires, and earthquakes. Surely, the God who created black holes so immense that they could swallow our entire solar system like the tiniest part of the tiniest gnat could do better than he’s now doing, so why doesn’t he, and why do people believe in him?

I have thought and thought about this and, aside from them wanting the various comforts that belief brings, I have no idea. They can’t tell me—at least not in a way that makes sense to me—so the best that the more thoughtful of them seem able to do is to redefine God in terms that, frankly, makes his existence irrelevant. Pantheism, for example. I call the universe the universe, and pantheists call the universe God. Well, so what? I guess it makes them feel good, but I don’t see that it would make me feel good. Other people define God as “the force for good that permeates the universe.” Surely, good (however defined) exists within almost every human being and other creatures too, but why call it God?

It’s as if liberal believers are able to give up each and every significant claim about God, but somehow find comfort in retaining the word. They take the position that I, as an atheist, am somehow missing the point, perhaps because I lack depth, sensitivity, and openness. But no, I abhor being an atheist, and I would seriously doubt that anyone who reads this blog would consider me shallow, insensitive, or unwilling to go where my best thinking takes me. But just as liberal theists fail to give me credit, so it is that I am at a loss to give them credit. They could, for example, define love, gravity, and hundreds of other things, and tell me why they believe in them, so why not God? It always comes back to claiming that, if I don’t believe, there must be something wrong with me, but this ignores the contradictory diversity of belief, and besides, such a claim could just easily be turned back on them.

I think that there surely must be a physiological basis for belief, and that it is to their credit that atheists lack it because it results in them being the ones who are open whereas it is believers who are closed. Believers might or might not be—I think they probably are—more content with life because of their beliefs, but when I look at the amount of harm they do, is personal contentment worth the harm done by religion?