Direct and To the Point

Question from May:
why dont you believe in GOD

Answer by SmartLX:
I’m not sure anyone’s ever asked me this on the site without coupling it with an argument or challenge. There are a few different parts to it, or if you prefer it could be interpreted a couple of different ways, so I’ll try to cover all aspects in chronological order.

Have I ever believed in God?
Yes.

I went to a Catholic primary school and the family attended church at Easter and Christmas. Most of the authority figures in my life talked about God as if He was real, and the rest didn’t comment, so I accepted it. I would pray matter-of-factly, talking quietly to God as if He were a foot in front of my face.

How and when did I stop believing in God?
It was sometime between the ages of 11 and 26, and the how of it will explain why it’s such a broad estimate.

When I moved on from primary to a secular high school I had a go at preaching to a couple of my classmates, and was immediately met with challenges to the whole idea that I’d never had to face before. The problem of evil, my own hypocritical behaviour, stuff like that. I was so embarrassed and confused, without any proper spiritual guide to reassure me, that I immediately stopped talking about God and pretty much stopped thinking about God too, and this lasted through all of high school and university. I just focused on other things.

In 2006 I read about Richard Dawkins and the New Atheist movement. I didn’t understand the arguments for and against at that point, but after reading what atheism actually is, I asked myself whether I still believed in God. It was the first time in over a decade I had seriously meditated on the concept, and it no longer rang true. In the time that had passed, my emotional connection to faith had completely faded, so I felt no loyalty or fear and continued to question. I realised that I was an atheist, which means that the point when I became an atheist, whether instantly or gradually, might have been any time from 1992 onwards.

Why has my faith not been restored by any apologetics, experiences, evidence or anything else?
Because all of this combined has proved insufficient.

Carrying on from the above, once I knew I was an atheist I quickly learned of the low opinion many believers have of atheists and their reasoning. I specifically sought out the best available arguments in favour of the existence of God in case there was something obvious that I had missed and I was clearly misguided. I found that the flaws in each of these arguments are easy to identify (see my Great Big Arguments series). I eventually realised that they are only really useful for reassuring believers, who do not wish to see the flaws in arguments that support their position. I prayed again, as sincerely as I could, on advice from certain evangelists who were certain God Himself would answer. He never had answered my childhood prayers, and He didn’t start now. There was no longer any apparent reason to believe, so I did not and do not.

What would it take for me to believe in God?
Something major, but potentially quite simple.

An argument could come along which I haven’t considered yet, and which is actually as airtight (to put it formally, both valid and sound) as Christians believe the other arguments are. God could speak to me or otherwise send me a message in a way which could not be explained by a hoax, and had a low probability of being my hallucination or dream. Or I could get old, sick or injured and lose some of my mental faculties, so that when the existing arguments or supposed evidence is eventually presented to me again, I’m unable to remember or discern the flaws or counterpoints and I finally accept God because of a misconception. (Remember, even if I start to believe it won’t necessarily mean that I’ll be right.) That’s about all the ways I can think of.

But enough about me. May, please answer in the comments if you would: why do you believe in God (if indeed you do)? To be a little more specific, never mind the arguments you would give now for God’s existence – I would like to know what caused you to believe in the first place. If you have simply always believed, tell me why that is. Any other believers are free to throw in.

No God, But…Angels?

Question from Joanne:
I’m doing an assignment on different religious beliefs on angels and I want to know if atheists believe in angels and what are atheist perspectives on angels? Does each person’s viewpoint differ based on personal belief or is there a general perspective? Also, what arguments/proofs are there to back up the atheist viewpoint on angels?
Thank you so much.

Answer by SmartLX:
I’ve had an awful month moving house, Joanne, I hope this isn’t too late to help you.

Atheists usually don’t believe in supernatural beings including angels, for the same reason they don’t believe in gods: there’s no good evidence that they’re real. Like with gods their non-existence is not certain, but you need a good reason to positively believe in something so exotic.

That said, through this site I have spoken to some atheists who believe in a few such beings, such as ghosts. They come to these beliefs through personal experiences they interpret as supernatural, even though they don’t sound very convincing to the rest of us. Angels are a special case however, because as defined in the lore of any religion they are created by a god and sent to participate in the affairs of humans. An atheist by definition does not believe in any gods, and therefore would not believe in any creature that can only have been created by gods. So while atheist viewpoints on ghosts, cryptozoology (e.g. Bigfoot) or supernatural forces like karma do vary, their attitude toward angels is a very general one of denial and dismissal.

I Asked For Questions, And I Received

Question from Rachel:
1. What is it like to be an atheist? How does it feel?
2. What is it like to celebrate holidays like Easter?
3. What is your favorite color?

Answer by SmartLX:
1. Atheism provokes a few different feelings at different times. Remembering my former Catholicism, it’s a relief to no longer worry about Hell, or else a god working against my aims in life. In a group of mostly (nominally) religious people, which is most groups, it can feel isolating, especially given the possibility that being open about your atheism will immediately turn some people against you. Considering the population at large, I feel a great concern that not only are the majority very likely to be wrong about their gods, but that some of their efforts to please those gods are wasted – or actively harming people.

2. Widely observed, traditionally religious holidays like Easter usually have secular components that anyone can enjoy. Easter has the bunny and the chocolate, Christmas has Santa and the general urge towards parties and togetherness, Halloween has the whole spooky angle and so forth. I make the most of these aspects, and of course the vacation time if applicable, and don’t begrudge the religious their observances.

3. Green, with deep blue a close second. I try not to read into it.

Sometimes a Question Reads as One Long Snarl

Question from “Progress. Forward.”:
Are you a communist? Atheism is an indirect, cowardly assault on the Constitution. Your overlords think they can eliminate God-given Rights by destroying God with a pathetic religion for low testosterone, limp wrist pussies.

Answer by SmartLX:
I’m not a communist. Communism dictates atheism because it declares religion “the opiate of the masses,” a drug to keep them from feeling the pain of their oppression and overcoming it. It’s a means to an end and theology doesn’t enter into it. (And once communism gets going, it usually functions as a pseudo-religion itself.) I’m an atheist simply because I don’t believe in gods. I run a site about it rather than keeping it to myself because I think people would be better off without their faith in gods, on balance.

I’m not an American either (I assume you are), so I have very little stake in your Constitution. I do know God is not mentioned in it, nor in the Bill of Rights – only in the Declaration of Independence. Your rights as an American citizen are not dependent on the existence of a god, even though most of the founding fathers apparently believed in one. They wrote those rights into secular law, and thus human beings endowed each other with enforceable rights regardless of what they believe.

Atheism is not a religion. It is instead a rejection of the position of belief in any god. No commandments spring from this rejection, nor an origin story for the world. Atheists must look outside of religion for their guidance and core values, and fortunately secular philosophy is a rich field.

As for the “low testosterone” part, I probably prove this in your mind just by not attacking you in kind. It seems an insult for its own sake, being entirely divorced from the subject matter. I hope it made you feel better.

Psychology 20 Questionnaire

Question from :
I’m currently taking Psychology 20 in school and would like to ask you a few questions about atheism for a project on spirituality if you have the time. The questions are:

1. How does your faith or understanding of the world shape your worldview?
2. How do you justify your actions (good and bad) for your belief system?
3.What gives you meaning and purpose?
4.What are ways you express yourself and why?
5. How do you view the idea of the soul and/or the afterlife?

Hoping for a quick response and thank you for taking the time to answer.

Answer by SmartLX:
Not my quickest response ever, but not bad. Here we go.

1. My view of the world is that it’s shaped and influenced by natural forces, which are powerful but undirected and certainly not worth pleading with. I’m acutely aware that many do not feel this way, so I see what appears to be a great deal of effort wasted because it’s spent trying to please gods that I don’t think are there.

2. I care for myself, and as a social animal I care for the people around me. My awareness of the world beyond my immediate surroundings extends that expression of care to all the people of the world, generally speaking. I justify my actions in terms of the benefit and harm they do to myself and other people, not necessarily in that order, with a view to maximising benefit and minimising harm. The exact meanings of those two quantities I often re-evaluate based on the situation, so that I’m not thinking in a way that doesn’t apply to the circumstances at hand.

3. I choose what my purposes are. From personal achievements to the welfare of selected others (that is, not all purposes are selfish), I devote myself to realising those things I want to bring to fruition. This gives my life meaning to me, and to many others, though not to everyone. This is enough, because whether my life matters to all strangers is not something I worry about.

4. I speak, I write, I sing, I draw, I work, I dance, I play, I struggle, I love. I do these things because I can.

5. The soul does not appear to exist, because identity and consciousness are products of the brain and are damaged or destroyed when the brain is. After the death of the brain there is nothing left of a person to experience any kind of afterlife.

More Than a Feeling? Not Even a Feeling

Question from Dylan:
As an Atheist, do you have that feeling/thought deep down that tells you there has to be a God? I was an Atheist for my whole life and fought with the idea of god, even though I felt it was right. I couldn’t bring myself to believe because I didn’t have cold hard evidence right in front of me and obviously didn’t want to waste my life on something that may be false. Long story short I found faith during some hard times, I accepted Jesus and have never felt the same.

I just wanted to say that if you do have that feeling deep down that God is real, give it a chance. From one human to another, faith has changed my life entirely and after stumbling upon your site I felt compelled to share this with you. Sorry if you’ve already completely made up your mind, I just thought I’d give it a shot. Just keep in mind that sometimes the heart knows best.

Enjoy your Sunday and take care mate.

Answer by SmartLX:
I didn’t have that feeling even when I was a Christian. I just accepted what I was told and assumed God was real right up until I realised that some people didn’t believe, and some of the theology (though I hadn’t learned the term) didn’t really make sense to me. This led to a minor crisis of faith at age 11 and I just stopped thinking about it all. A couple of times I reassured myself that certain coincidences were God at work, but they were just so trivial and the argument felt hollow, so I dropped it again. Finally I took stock as an adult and realised my belief had faded entirely, and the world made more sense without a god than with. My heart did not object, and I felt no disappointment. Rather, I felt freed.

Faith does change lives, I wouldn’t dispute that. It even changes some lives for the better overall, though of course it has its drawbacks from a secular perspective. But it’s not the only thing that can effect that sort of positive change, and the change does not depend on the god actually being real because it may simply be all you, with a new attitude. But it’s all good, do what you’re compelled to do.

Help With Your Homework

Question from Sheena:
Hello, I’m currently studying Year 10. I would like to ask you a few questions with my Religion major assignment. If it’s okay.

Here are the questions:
1. What is your name?
2. What is the reason you became an Atheist?

Hoping for your immediate response.

Answer by SmartLX:
Sure it’s okay Sheena, but wow, that’s all they told you to ask? But then I suppose “why” is the only question that’s really on one’s mind when faced with a person whose position is so different from one’s own.

1. My name’s Alex, and you can give them any surname you want and they’ll accept it. Alex is a very common given name. Or be honest and say you asked a public blogger, this site will prove you right and they’ll understand my unwillingness to throw my whole name around.

2. I was a self-professed Christian until about the age of 11-12, when I was suddenly shocked by the fact that I didn’t have an answer to the Problem of Evil: why evil exists in the world if there’s a God who’s all-powerful, all-knowing and absolutely good. (Years later I didn’t just find one answer but far too many different ones; it became clear that no one really knows. But that was after the fact.) It was too hard to think about and I had teen things to focus on, and I moved from a Catholic primary school to a secular high school, so I didn’t consider religion seriously for almost 15 years. Without the constant reinforcement from within and without I barely prayed, I only went to church for Easter and Christmas and zoned out both times, and I only read the Bible when tracking down quotes (like the speech from Pulp Fiction).

Then in 2006 I read about Richard Dawkins and New Atheism, when journalists were all writing their first articles on the subject. Without reading any of Dawkins’ work or knowing any of his contemporaries’ talking points, I suddenly asked myself whether I still believed in God. It turned out that I didn’t, my simple opinion was that His existence no longer seemed likely. I was by definition an atheist. You should note that this is when I realised I was an atheist – the point when I became one could have been any time in the preceding years.

I recognised that this was a pretty big turnaround, so THEN I started digging into the meat of the debate to see if I was missing something. I searched the Web for the best arguments in favour of God, or any other god. Every one of them was plainly flawed (as I’ve chronicled in my Great Big Arguments series). There were certainly plenty of people willing to defend the arguments, but their defenses just weren’t convincing. I hadn’t known of this general weakness in the “apologetic” as a Christian boy, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t even know the arguments, I had merely accepted what I was told. I’d only known atheists existed because my father is one, and he only ever told me on two occasions.

So there you have it. I’m an atheist because I took a break from religion long enough to lose my emotional connections to it, and when I returned to the subject it was easier to see that faith was not intellectually justified. If the right justification finally came along it would be a different story, but I’m still waiting. In the meantime I live my life as if there is no god, and from that perspective much to do with religion appears pretty rotten.

You Don’t Have to Know to Not Think So

Question from Neil:
Why do atheists mostly dismiss the existence of an intelligent creator of any kind?

I see no firm evidence of any god being especially the Old Testament one, he doesn’t seem to be aware the Earth moves among many other things!
But I accept the possibility that one could exist and may have caused the Big Bang.

Until we discover what did cause the Big Bang it seems arrogant to dismiss the possibility.

Athiests are accused of being arrogant (mainly by arrogant religious people). I wonder if they’re right or are most atheists really agnostics?

Answer by SmartLX:
It all depends, heavily, on the atheist.

Like you I acknowledge the possibility, however remote, that there is or was a creator god or equivalent entity. To know for a fact that there wasn’t one would take more information than the human race as access to at the moment. I’m still an atheist because I don’t think or believe that there was a creator, but I accept that there’s a chance I’m wrong simply because I don’t know. That makes me an agnostic atheist, same as Dawkins, same as Dennett and same as many other prominent atheists who spell out their positions in public. I think most or at least a lot of atheists are agnostic but statistics on that are hard to come by.

Those who claim to know there’s no god are gnostic atheists and when I discuss gods with them, like you I ask them how they think they know.

If Questions Came By Instant Messaging

Question from Rachael:
ok i guess i don’t understand how a person can be atheist i mean how can u go through the world knowing that ur going to hell even if u don’t want to believe it

Answer by SmartLX:
Sorry it took so long to get to these next four, but they were incorrectly submitted in the comments of the question submission page instead of using the form, and I’ve worked through the correct submissions first.

It’s quite simple Rachael. If you actually don’t believe in God, you usually don’t believe there’s a Heaven or a Hell either. Removing the existence of God from your worldview doesn’t just leave a Christian worldview with a God-shaped hole cut out of it. The whole afterlife mythology goes out the window (possibly after a long period of “faithdrawal”), and you’re left with one life to live as best you can. So you do that, often with a great deal less fear.

Hope Is A Plentiful Thing

Question from Jun:
This may be similar to a question already asked about dealing with adversity, but I feel it is sufficiently different to stand on its own: How does an atheist overcome thoughts of despair, of giving up, even suicide, when things look hopeless? Christians turn to passages in Scripture or to prayer. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you very much.

Answer by SmartLX:
That’s okay, I think Jake answered the last one about this so I haven’t had a go in a while.

Look at it this way: what does God provide that gives you hope and a reason to go on? Whatever the answer, atheists get it from somewhere else because since they don’t believe in God they don’t believe God is the only source of these things. That can be hard to comprehend for people who think God IS the only source, which is why this question crops up regularly, but without a central theist belief a lot of secondary theist assumptions which you might not even realise you make suddenly go out the window.

Purpose, for example, can come from almost anywhere because people choose their own purpose. Even those who believe in God admit they don’t know what God’s larger plan is or how they personally figure into it, so they make their own choices about how best to serve Him. Not thinking that one has a divine purpose isn’t much worse than not knowing what one’s supposed divine purpose is, and allows more freedom in the choice because it can go entirely outside the realm of religion. Many social and political activists choose what cause to support in direct opposition to the mainstream religious dictates of the day, some because they don’t think the deity is real and some because they think the deity actually disagrees with the religion. Whatever is most important to you in life can become your purpose if you throw yourself into it. And if it ceases to be fulfilling or worthwhile, you can spin on a dime and pursue something else.

To tackle the other major point, people looking for a reason not to commit suicide need not only a purpose but a reason to think there is good to be found in the world. The point is worth hammering that if God doesn’t exist, God isn’t the only source of good in the world because there IS good in the world regardless. However you define “good” it’s happening out there somewhere, you just need to look for it. There’s no denying that terrible things happen all the time, but even in the middle of tragedy some of the greatest deeds are found. The Reverend Fred (aka Mr) Rogers often said as his mother said to him that whenever something awful was happening one should look for the people helping.

Another thing atheists see differently is that they think this life is the only one we have. Therefore leaving it prematurely gives no chance of a better subsequent life. Happiness can only be found in this life, so the only way to achieve it is to stick it out.