What is an atheist?
A person who does not believe in the existence of a God or any Gods: one who subscribes to or advocates atheism.
Atheism. A word that makes believers cringe. For some, it might be difficult to fathom. How could someone not believe and what are their motives? I am intrigued to learn more about atheism.
The following interview was submitted by someone in my life who is an atheist. He is the kindest, well-mannered, intelligently spoken, man I have come to know. I have to say, I was surprised to find out he was a non-believer, however, knowing this did not alter my view of him in any way.
Please respect his opinions and willingness to participate in this interview. Everyone is welcome to engage in friendly debate. All comments will be closely monitored.
1) Which religion were you raised by your parents and how did they approach religion in your home?
I was raised in an Italian Catholic family environment. I went to a private Catholic school right up until high school. My Mom was religious, my Dad was not. She was a practicing Catholic and I went to Church with her every Sunday in addition to my religious education and time spent in the church during my studies. My parents divorced when I was little so my Mom was the sole religious influencer. My father was apathetic. He never discussed religion nor shared any opinions, positive or negative about religion. While my Mom was religious and active in the church, religion was never a major part of my childhood. It was simply there…like any other tradition or compulsory weekly activity.
2) At what age did you begin attending church? Did you go regularly? Were you forced?
I started attending church before I could remember. I continued to go at least twice a week through my grade school, middle school, and junior high years. The question of “being forced” is an interesting one. I never looked at it like that. But in hindsight, I suppose in school it would have been forced had I exhibited the beliefs I do now. At home though, it would not have been forced. Both parents (and later in my development, step parents as well) supported my beliefs, whatever they were. They encouraged me to challenge, question, and find my own way. I say that, but I’m sure my Mom had a small heart attack when I first brought all this up.
3) At what point in your life did you begin to question the existence of God?
I believe it was early in junior high. I studied the bible and I knew it well. But a nagging feeling inside me wouldn’t subside. I struggled to “find my faith”, but I could not. It was then I realized that this wasn’t a test from god, it was my brain developing and attempting to make sense of what it could not. My brain was maturing and developing, and in this I found my path – the path of reason. I didn’t want to have faith in anything, for if you know you don’t need faith. My logical brain wanted facts and I couldn’t rationalize the existence of any god.
4) What made you decide to convert to atheism? (specific event, suffering, lack of proof, etc.)
There’s an important distinction to be made here. Atheism isn’t a religion or belief system. There is no conversion. Atheism is the “absence of”. There were encounters in school with nuns and teachers that made me question. There are events in the world that make me question. But ultimately there was no singular event that caused this shift in my thinking. It was simply the logical conclusion. In recorded history (defined as invention of writing by the Sumerians about 6,000 years ago) there are about 2,870 gods. I’m atheist to all 2,870. You’re atheist to 2,869 of them. It really irks me that we label atheists too. Why do atheists get labeled? We don’t label people who believe Elvis is really dead, we just call them people with rational minds. We label the people who believe Elvis was part of a government conspiracy and is currently living in an alien spaceship.
“If there is a god, he’ll have to beg my forgiveness” – a phrase carved into the cell of a concentration camp by a Jewish prisoner. I don’t believe that any god would allow such tragedies to happen. If there is a god, I want nothing to do with it. One need look no further than the thousands of children starving to death every day. What god would allow this?
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”
5) What were your parents reactions to your decision?
Considering that I was going to an expensive private school, I’m guessing internally they weren’t too thrilled! My Mom expressed some surprise and shock, but that was it. I was never chastised, guilted, or made to feel badly for my beliefs.
6) So, what exactly are your beliefs?
When I do good, I feel good. That is my ‘religion’ and my purpose. We are but an advanced breed of monkeys on a small flying space rock. If one needs religion or the bible to be moral, ethical, or good, that person lacks empathy, not religion. I think on a macro-level that religion is extremely harmful. The genocides, discrimination, slavery, misogyny, and racism that religion is responsible for makes me sick. I believe in myself and I believe in being a good person. Do no harm. No gods, no masters, no hell, no afterlife. We get the time we have here in this place and then we return to dust. We are all made of stardust (quite literally, actually).
7) Which person(s), films, and books best represent your atheist views?
Carl Sagan, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. They are, but astrophysicists though. I’ve never read a single book promoting atheism.
8) Do you believe that the universe was brought into being out of nothing by a person (agent)?
No, and which universe? There’s a lot to unpack in this question and it’s probably too lengthy for this forum. The multi-verse theory expands a lot on this. I believe we have no creator at the heart of it.
9) “It is better to believe and be wrong, than to not believe and be wrong” Do you agree with this statement?
Did you just throw Pascal’s Wager at me? Well done! I’m giving you a golf hat tip. There’s actually a mathematical equation contained therein that supports the rationality of believing in a god. In the interest of brevity – yes it’s prudent to believe. But that raises another question – is wanting to believe the same as actually believing? And that answer is no.
10) Do you think we would be better off if there wasn’t any religion?
I cannot stress this answer enough – YES. The world would be a better place with no religion. Man created god. Without man, god is nothing.
11) If science can speculate, then why not religion?
You’re getting into my wheelhouse here. We’re at a “god of the gaps” point now. Let me explain. Throughout history man has challenged naturally occurring observations and attributed them to a god, to a higher power – stars, sun, moon, planetary rotation, wind, rain, whatever. Don’t know the answer? God did it. And as science advances that gap narrows. Phenomenon once thought supernatural, now have a commonly accepted answer in science. Science can’t prove everything, yet. That “gap” is getting smaller and smaller. The difference in speculation is that science conducts tests, repeatable hypothesis, and concludes with a theory based in observable evidence. Science will change their position as new evidence emerges. Religion will not.
12) What do you say to people when they ask you to prove that God doesn’t exist?
I wasn’t aware we proved His existence in the first place? You cannot disprove a null statement. Ok, try this….I say that Thor is the one true god. Prove to me he is not and I’ll use your logic. But seriously, I have invisible unicorns that live in my shoes. Can you prove to me that I don’t? Of course you can’t. There is legitimately zero evidence that a god or the capital “G” exists. If anyone can prove otherwise, there’s a Nobel prize & untold fortune and fame waiting for them.
13) Why do you think faith has been such a driving force between human beings throughout the ages?
It’s in our nature to want to understand. We feel more comfortable when everything is explainable and fits in its nice and neatly assigned box. And with nearly 21,000 Christian denominations, can you blame the respective believers for wanting to murder the others? Little humor there.
14) If you’ve ever been in a heated debate with a believer, how did the conversation begin and end? Did you feel it was a friendly debate, or personal attack?
Yes, I have and I never felt it was a personal attack. Always a friendly debate that no matter the context or initial pretense, always devolves into “prove to me there is no god.” And I can’t. Just the same as they can’t prove that I don’t love the invisible unicorns in my shoes very much. Also, I always find it curious when I get the answer, “Well, I don’t know, but God works in mysterious ways.” What I hear there is, “I’m done thinking critically.”
15) What is your honest opinion of Christians?
I know many wonderful Christian people! These people have hearts of gold. I believe them to be misguided, but no doubt they feel the same way about me. It’s like this, I don’t hate people with cancer, I hate the disease. Extrapolate that to religion, and there ya go.
Christian genocide has taken the lives of more people that modern warfare. We killed non-believers, we burned witches, we’ve killed gays, we’ve rallied against race integration, all in the name of God. I recognize that’s not all Christians, but it is what your holy book teaches.
16) What are your biggest objections to religion/Christians and the Bible?
Read the bible cover to cover and tag every passage that supports slavery, rape, racism, misogyny, and murder. The god depicted in the bible is not a loving god. If someone were to follow the bible’s teachings today as they’re stated, they’d wind up in jail. After you tag those passages it’s going to look like a doctoral thesis post editing.
17) Free will is required in order for humans to act in ways that are morally responsible. You cannot assign praise or blame to anyone if they do not have free will. What is the rationale for free will on atheism?
Life without free will would be intolerable. There’s a much deeper question at play here though, and a rational argument supporting the belief in a god. I cannot claim that life would be intolerable without free will, while on the same hand scolding those who think life would be intolerable without a belief in god and say you’re not justified for retaining it. However, believing in something does not make it true. It just means that maybe the belief is worth having in that individual instance. There’s a reason they call religion “opium for the masses.”
Thank you my friend for helping us understand your perspective and providing us with a glimpse of your life. You’re a good Man. ♥