by Jim Spence
I’m a wee bit older than your average atheist. By that I mean I’m older than most every other atheist I know, save for a small handful. I’ve been an atheist longer than most of my fellow secular humanists of the Charleston SHCC have even been alive.
And I am truly glad to see so many younger-than-middle-aged atheists/agnostics/secular humanists/freethinkers/whatever label you want to put on us. It reinforces the importance of being good without god.
As one of the older folk in the community, allow me the opportunity to pass along a bit of the wisdom my gray hair has given me.
Fifteen Questions for Atheists
There is a writing that circles the internet called “Fifteen Questions for Atheists.” Fifteen questions that most people with faith ask (in one form or another) when they discover we (gasp!) don’t believe in a god.
So as an older, grayer haired atheist, please allow me to give you my answers for these queries.
1) Why do atheists hate god?
We don’t. We certainly can’t hate an entity in which we don’t believe. This question stems from a believer’s view that any person who doesn’t worship their deity must hate said deity. It upsets them that we don’t believe, ergo we must hate.
We don’t hate your god; we just don’t believe in your god or her god or his god or their god.
Yahweh, Allah, Zeus, Elohim, Jehovah, Vishnu…you name it, we don’t believe in it.
You can’t hate what you don’t believe exists.
2) Why do atheists constantly bash god, but they are suspiciously silent on satan?
First, there is a distinct difference between bashing and doubting the existence of, but we covered that in Question # 1. So I’ll give you the other answer for this question: if and when a group of people stands up and declares that satan (or the devil or the antichrist or whichever of the thousands of names thrown about for evil) must be taught in public schools or receive free tax dollars, then we’ll start bashing satan. Until then, we’ll leave the Prince of Darkness alone; we don’t believe in him.
3) How did the universe start?
Why would you ask us this question? Most of us aren’t scientists or physicists or astronomers; however, most of those people don’t know, either. But they have a theory as to how it started, a theory based on research and evidence, not a theory based on, “Well, if you can’t tell us, then god did it.”
That’s called the ‘god of the gaps’. “If you don’t know, then god…” Sorry, that’s wrong.
4) If god didn’t make the universe, who did?
Any particular reason it has to be a who? How come it’s not a what? The key word in that question is ‘make’. No entity made the universe.
A tree falls on a house; who made the mess? It wasn’t made, it just happened.
5) Do you think murder is wrong?
Of course it is. Murder and rape and robbery and child abuse and bullying and…well, the list is pretty long. If I may, I’ll use a quote from Katharine Hepburn here: “I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people.”
I can’t state my answer any more plainly than that. I take care of you, you take care of me, and we both watch out for each other.
Pretty simple, actually.
6) How can atheists have morals?
You believe in the Ten Commandments. You believe that if you break any of these commandments, your god is going to punish you for eternity.
I believe that human beings shouldn’t need commandments from a god to be good. We all coexist on this planet; we should remember that every single day. What I do effects you (see Question # 5), and vice versa.
If anything, I’m more moral than you (or your god, for that matter). I don’t worry about eternal damnation for breaking a law; I worry about the effect I have on those around me.
7) Isn’t it better to believe in god and be wrong, than to not believe in god and spend eternity in hell?
This is commonly referred to as Pascal’s Wager. You’re asking me if the gamble is worth it. While I don’t believe in answering a question with a question, I must do so in this case.
What if you are wrong? I don’t mean in the existence of a god, I mean what if you’re worshiping the wrong god?
Think about your Ten Commandments…what is the very first (and apparently the most important) one?
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Uh oh…how mad is he going to be if you are wrong? There are conservatively a thousand gods worshiped on this planet. You want to take the chance that you stumbled onto the right one?
8) Isn’t atheism a religion also?
Nope. Sorry. We don’t worship anything, we have no dogmas, we don’t sing praises, we don’t pray. Atheism is the total lack of a religion.
Atheism is a religion like ‘off’ is a television channel.
9) Why can’t atheists just let people believe what they want to believe?
We do. Honestly. We don’t care two hoots about what you believe in. We do, however, take notice when you start pushing your beliefs on others: when you demand that intelligent design (creationism in a tuxedo) be taught in public schools, when denominational prayers are forced upon captive audiences, when religious artifacts are displayed on public property without thought to other beliefs (or lack thereof), when our taxes are increased to pay for the share of taxes religion doesn’t pay.
The better question is: why don’t you believe in fairness?
10) Do you believe ‘one nation under god’?
We actually used to be one nation. But once god was forced into the national fabric (on our currency, in our pledge, onto our courthouse lawns) we stopped being one nation, and became a nation of ‘us versus them’.
God divided this nation more than any foreign foe ever could have.
11) Do you idolize Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong?
No. And we don’t idolize Adolph Hitler (Roman Catholic) or Muammar Gaddafi (Islamic) or Ted Kaczynski (Polish Catholic) or Jim Jones (Christian) or Timothy McVeigh (Roman Catholic) either.
12) Why do atheists offend religious people, especially Catholics?
One would have to understand the use of the word “offend” here to be able to answer this correctly. But if I were to take a guess, I would say that the offense Catholics take is one of pointing out the deliberate, heinous and exceedingly illegal acts perpetrated by a small number of priests upon young boys.
Sorry; you asked the question.
If you call standing up for our rights offensive, so be it. That’s what atheists do: we stand up for our right (and yours) not to believe in a god, not to pray to a god, not to look upon a god’s graven image (number two on your lists of commandments, by the way) on the court house lawn, and not to have our children forced to learn junk creationism in schools
If that offends you, too bad.
I will support your right to believe how you see fit. When you don’t support my right not to believe, that offends me.
13) Why don’t you have faith?
I don’t need faith. Faith is “belief that is not based upon proof.” The best I can do for faith is have faith in my fellow man. At least I have evidence that most people are good, and I can make a reasonable assumption of what I should expect. But faith in a deity means to believe in something for which there is absolutely no evidence.
14) Don’t atheists rely on faith because they can’t prove god doesn’t exist?
I can’t prove Bigfoot doesn’t exist, or the Loch Ness monster, or mermaids, or leprechauns, or invisible pink unicorns. Should I have faith in those as well?
Just because there are books that say gods exist doesn’t mean it’s true. J.R.R. Tolkien is a great writer…I don’t believe in Gandalf.
15) Why do atheists celebrate Christmas?
A better question would be, “Why do Christians celebrate a day in late December, when most biblical scholars say the Jesus of the bible was most likely born in September?”
We celebrate because it’s a wonderful way to spend time with family and friends, to show that giving is better than receiving, to watch the faces of children when they open gifts, to reminisce about the past and look forward to a new year with anticipation.
Isn’t that why most people celebrate?
So there you have it. The fifteen questions for atheists. My answers may not be the same answers you’d get from another atheist, and that’s okay. We don’t have a dogma that we live by; we’re humanists, and we live as best we can, for ourselves and for each other.
I highly recommend it.