Sunday, September 2, 2012

I'm An Atheist

I don't believe there is a God.

There, I said it.  It took me nearly 38 years to admit that to myself, and almost another full year before I could say it publicly.  But it's true.

I choose my wording carefully.  I don't care for the more common, "I don't believe in God."  That makes it sound like God is simply an underachieving teen who has shown little aptitude for self-improvement.  The fact that I don't believe there is a God should not be confused with a rejection of the possibility that God exists.  Since one cannot disprove a negative, it would be foolish to state with absolute certainty that God could not, and does not, exist.  I simply find it so unlikely as to make it a non-issue in my life.

The same can really be said of any fantastical, mythological creature.  I cannot disprove the existence of unicorns, minotaurs, nymphs or mermaids, but I have no need to factor them into the daily equation of my life.

How did I come to this?  Well, it was simple really.  I asked myself some questions.

1) Do I believe there is a grandfatherly figure of absolute power in the universe engaged in and guiding my daily life? No.

2) Do I think there is a sentient, universal consciousness that watches over all of us?  No.

3) Do I find any reason to believe that any one religious text or tradition has found the TRUTH, and that it is inescapably right, and by virtue of that proves all other spiritual traditions wrong?  No.

4) Am I scared of negative consequences for not believing in God? No.

5) Am I willing to compromise what reason and thoughtful inquiry tell me, in order to believe a TRUTH that has to be told, but cannot be proven, or in many cases supported? No.

6) Do I believe that a creator who gave me the capacity for reason, would then ask me to ignore that ability in all questions dealing with It.  100%, unequivocally, no.

7) Do I believe that the world needs religion for moral guidance, to be charitable, to be kind, etc?  No, in fact I think the evidence speaks pretty clearly to the opposite.

So you may notice that really what this journey came down to for me is that reason tells me the existence of God is unlikely, and I do not believe that something as powerful as a universal truth would rely on us denying our ability to think critically.

Now some of the common arguments for God and religion are worth looking at because I looked at them hard when arriving at this realization.

1) If there is no God then why do so many people believe in Him?

It seems to me to be a matter of survival instincts.  The idea that there is a plan, that someone all powerful is looking out for us in our darkest moments is a powerful message.  It could easily keep a person going when they would otherwise give up.  This is a potent evolutionary advantage.  But we also know it's untrue that what many people believe is a good argument for truth.  The world used to be flat, the moon used to be made of cheese, leeches used to be good medicine.  Truth is not dictated by the number of people who believe in an idea, or to quote Tim Minchin, "I don't believe that just because ideas are tenacious, it means that they are worthy."

2) There's no harm in believing in God, but the consequences if you're wrong are catastrophic?

Fear is a powerful, and deeply unfair motivator.  How could I possibly believe that a loving God, who wants nothing but the best for us all, would bludgeon us into submission with such an inelegant threat?

3) How do you explain miracles?

Couple of things here.  First, eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable.  Second, just because something is currently unexplainable does not make it a miracle.  Most of the miracles attributed to Jesus would be mid-level magicians tricks in a Vegas show nowadays.  But most compelling for me is that calling something a miracle often ignores the base reality of how odds work.  Say an event is 1 in a million.  Well, it's rare yes, but it will happen once in a million times.  That's not a miracle.  That's expected.

4) What about the Bible?

A very interesting book, but so full of inconsistencies and clear lineage differences in authorship that it reads like something either written by man, or a dyslexic, schizophrenic God who has gone off his meds.  There are many outstanding ruminations about the workings of the bible, but this article about the King James Bible is a favorite of mine.

5) Will you concede that religion is a force for good in a troubling world?

Crusades, suicide bombings, genocide, restriction of liberty, hate speak, judgment, slavery, gender discrimination, rape, child abuse - these are not just some of the things that have happened in the name of religion, but things that have been explicitly allowed or championed by religion.  So no, I would not call religion a force for good.  This is not to say that good-hearted people in a religious context do not do good things.  They surely do.  But they would do the same outside of a religious context as well.  Not because their religion tells them to, but because they are good people.

So there you have it.  I'm an atheist.  I'm not proud, or not proud of it.  I just am.  There are some who will certainly fear that I am going to hell, or will want to tell me to.  I'd say don't worry so much about it.  If your God has a plan then surely my lack of belief must be a part of it.