Why Worry About a God That Isn’t There?

You don’t call yourself an a-unicornist.  Or an a-Santaist.  Why call yourself an a-theist?

I get this a lot.  “Why do you worry about something you don’t even think exists?  Why call yourself an atheist?”

That’s a reasonable question.  People with no God belief may not call themselves atheists for lots of reasons.  Maybe they prefer another name like freethinker or agnostic.  Maybe they want to focus on what they do believe in and so think of themselves as humanists or naturalists.  Maybe, as the cartoon suggests, not believing in God is as irrelevant to their lives as not believing in unicorns or Santa Claus.

But I do call myself an atheist.  God belief impacts society in ways that unicorn belief or Santa belief could never do.  In the list of Christian excesses below, see if you agree that only religion—and not mere belief in mythical creatures—could provoke these actions.

  • The Pope says that condoms shouldn’t be used in Africa to stop the spread of HIV
  • U.S. preachers provoke anti-gay legislation in Uganda
  • Some churches forbid birth control
  • Stem cell research is held up
  • Young women are urged not to get the HPV vaccine that protects against cervical cancer
  • In-vitro fertilization, which has brought four million children to parents unable to conceive, is attacked by the Catholic church
  • Some Christians push for Creationism to be taught in science class, for Christian prayers to be said in public schools, and for the Ten Commandments to be displayed in courthouses
  • Christian belief seems to increasingly be a requirement for public office, despite the fact that the Constitution makes clear that no religious test shall ever be required
  • … and other excesses that come to mind for you.

If Christianity could work and play well with others, that would be great, and I’d find other activities to occupy my time.  But it doesn’t.

If you’re a Christian reading this, you may respond that your church doesn’t do this.  In that case, agree with me!  Agree that Christianity—in some versions, anyway—crosses the line and must be kept in check.

Artwork credit: Mike Stanfill

18 thoughts on “Why Worry About a God That Isn’t There?

  1. In my case, I was a social conservative long before I believed in God, so I always saw the value in those positions even though I did not attend church or believe that those ideas were handed down from some authority. The conservative/liberal divide may be biological, or it may be the result of some earlier experiences that then cause you to filter out one set of information and not another. In any case, there are both atheist conservatives and theistic liberals.

    If by “kept in check” you mean decisions should be made democratically and after thorough and open discussion, then I agree with you completely.

  2. Hold the presses

    Here we have an Atheisit telling us the OUGHT NOTS of why Chrisitianity is not playing fair?

    How does an Athesist account for OUGHT NOT? Bob is a moral relativieist..So it is just his subjective opinion, that these issuse are WRONG..Big deal! They think they are right. In Bob’s worldview There is no Right or Wrong!

    • I agree 103%!!!

      How could Bob have an opinion unless unless the Flying Spaghetti Monster gave him one? The fact that Bob does have an opinion proves the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s existence.

      When will you Apastafarians stop rebelling against the Noodly One, and simply just accept that an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe (after drinking heavily)?

      May the sauce be with you.

      • To Retro,

        I think the difference between “God” and the FSM is that the former has fewer specific attributes, that is, he is less specifically described and can match, in his very vagueness, the supreme being of many religions (which may complete the description as they see fit). But since I don’t belong to an organized religion, I am satisfied with a vague God. The more details you give about your god, the less likely it is that God is like that.

      • RF2:

        The FSM and questions of where Christians get details of God is interesting. An objective description of God pulled from only the Bible would, I think, be a small subset of what many Christians believe. But that’s another topic.

        Why are you satisfied with a vague God? How do you ensure that your belief is actually well founded?

  3. Sure you do, because you are an image bearer of God. But you can not account for it!
    And the reason you can not get God out of your head is not the 8 bullet points you listed above.. It is because you know this God in your heart. But you reject Him in unrighteousness and beleive a lie.. But Bob you are with out excuse.

    • We have a moral instinct (like other primates). Evolution shaped our moral instinct. I don’t see what’s hard about accounting for it in a natural way.

      I know God in my heart? Sounds like there’s lots of evidence for God.

      Show me some.

      • Hi Bob,

        And what is supposed to happen if selfish and agonistic instincts override the moral instinct? Maybe you should have a look at “Demonic Males”, a book that speaks of the origins of violence in apes and humans…

      • It does happen! Sometimes instincts we would call “good” override and win out and sometimes not. You’re simply describing the world we see around us.

        It’s a balance. Too much love leads to gullibility; a little bit of selfishness is appropriate; and so on.

  4. Hi Bob,

    But why do I believe at all? Because only God can give an ultimate meaning to life. Sure, atheists can have a meaningful life: they may have love, friends, aesthetic experiences, and knowledge. But those things are intrinsically frail and contingent. If God does not exist, everything that the atheist finds meaningful is bound to disappear in the cosmic emptiness. Why bother to make a masterpiece if it is bound to fall into oblivion some day in the future? Why have children if they too die and if their name is erased from the indifferent universe? Why search for truth, if it is forgotten at the end of our species? Why struggle for justice, if history is aimless and we cannot be sure that justice will prevail in the long run?

    If God exists, however, our loves, our strivings, our efforts will be remembered and rewarded eternally by God.

    • I’ll grant you that God can give an ultimate meaning to life, but why think that there is a God? Because there’s ultimate meaning? If so, show me that such a thing exists.

      Are you saying that non-ultimate meaning (that is, meaning that we cobble together ourselves in our own fallible way) is pointless? I sure don’t think so.

      What’s the big deal about oblivion? Who cares if I leave an impact that lasts a billion years? A fragile and short life is all the more precious and special.

      • Hi Bob,

        I don’t have the proof that life has an ultimate meaning, but my view is in agreement with the exigencies of the human heart. So you have the choice: either you think that nature is pointless or that nature is meaningful. If you hold that nature is pointless, ok, I cannot disprove you, but it seems to make life harder. If nature is meaningful, then we can search for what is implied by this statement. If nature is meaningful, surely the basic longings for love of our heart must find their fulfillment. But this fulfillment cannot come from this perishable world, because here death and conflict destroy bonds. So it will come from a transcendent being.

      • RF2:

        So your argument is Lewis’s Argument from Desire? That the heart desires it is hardly proof (or even evidence!) that such a thing exists.

        Nature is ultimately pointless. You say that imagining nature as ultimately pointless pointless makes life harder. (1) I don’t see the problem. (2) Imagining something doesn’t make it so.

  5. Hi Bob,

    Atheists can have meaningful lives, I acknowledge it. Some atheists are even happier than believers (who may be overwhelmed by guilt and fear of hell). But this meaning is not ultimate, which means atheists would try to avoid thinking about cosmic purpose when they engage in meaningful activities and to pretend that what they do will really make a difference. It means that atheists are less likely to have an all-encompassing idea of the meaning of their lives: but as Socrates said, an unexamined life is not worth living. So at some level, the lives of atheists is meaningful, but at the most fundamental level, it is not.

    • I don’t think about cosmic purpose because it’s simply mental masturbation. When I see good evidence for a cosmic (ultimate) purpose, I’ll go check it out. But I certainly don’t do it the other way around: it’d be nice if there were an ultimate purpose, so I’ll go pick and choose evidence to support that presupposition.

      The goal is to be accurate, right? Just because people have written something down in old books hardly gives the Christian any standing to say that they have a better grasp of ultimate meaning. The Hindus have old books too–is their belief proportionately more accurate?

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