I recently received an email from a theist who simply could not comprehend why anyone would not want to believe in God. Here is the offensive email:
"Our world views are not so incompatible. It is just that you refuse to look deeper than what comes naturally to you. I agree with most of what you say: except when you simply deny what I wish to add. I find this frustrating. It seems to me that you are uncooperative and aggressive. It seems to me that the motive for your denial of what I wish to add to your shallow psychological analysis is simply fear of the implications of what you think would result from you buying into it.
Why are you afraid of or hateful or distrustful towards the idea of transcendence or objective morality or God?
What bad effects do you think belief in transcendence or objective morality or God has on others and on their lives?
What bad effects do you think belief in transcendence or objective morality or God would have on you and on your life?
Is this something to do with your Jewish heritage?
How do you feel about your ethnicity and the culture from which you spring? [I ask as a semitophile, not as an antisemite]"
These last two questions were so laughable I had to respond "why do you hold on to your superstitions and fantasies? Is it because you are British? [I ask as an Anglophile, mind you!]
Ignoring that bit however, it is clear that theists in general often find it impossible to conceive of a person genuinely not believing in their deity. As this theist does, they often see nothing else to go after other than the atheist's motivations. They must be hateful or distrustful of the world or other people, and are simply projecting these insecurities back on to God and the world which must have damaged them in some profound way.
As offensive as the assault on my motivations is, I would like to respond, if not to this particular theist, but to all theists like him, with a comprehensive list of actual reasons why someone would not believe in deities. And I would very much like your help! Please add to this list, and I will continually update this discussion to reflect our position. Source materials and references are welcome. Thank you for your help!
1. Lack of evidence: There is no evidence to support belief in deities. Similarly, there is no evidence for fairies or leprechauns or vampires or ghosts or unicorns or mermaids or Bigfoot or werewolves or...
2. Skepticism of sources: The so-called "holy books" were written hundreds and even thousands of years ago by essentially cave-dwellers with no scientific knowledge. They rely upon dubious justifications, such as prophecies, miracles, and testimonies. They offer no methods for verification. They were written by many different people, at many different times, they were edited and translated repeatedly, and some parts were taken out and exchanged for others. It is impossible at this point to say for sure that any of it was "divinely inspired".
3. The sources of theist's beliefs are riddled with questionable moral guidance. They often prescribe murder for imaginary offenses, they condone slavery, genocide, rape, and a host of other evils.
4. The problem of evil: The idea of an omnipotent and benevolent deity is an apparent contradiction. How could a just and all-powerful god allow so much injustice in this world? Is he either unjust or powerless?
5. Religious people are no more moral than non-religious people. The exact opposite actually seems much more likely. Religious people give their faith as justification for extremist attacks on others, whereas this is simply one less justification available for violence which is not religiously motivated. Religious people are overrepresented in prisons. Countries with less fervent religious beliefs are happier and better adjusted. (citations would really help)
6. The existence of so many religions, and so many divisions within each religion, only serves to create hostilities between people who would otherwise have less reason for dispute. Why wouldn't such a deity simply make it clear which was the right interpretation?
I've said some of these things before, but maybe they bear repeating:
1. The "christian bible" as such was never meant to be bound into "one story" telling everything about mankind and the destiny of mankind from beginning to end. It only appears to do this when you put the individual books in place as "one story." It's impossible to tell a fundamentalist this, but there were over 20 gospels and 15 apocalypses to choose from before ending up with "our bible." It's easy to see how the "story" could be changed.
2. If everything was created the way the book of Genesis says it was, and created in the time frame specified there, then everything the Hubble telescope shows us to already exist today would not all be created yet! This one takes a little thinking but shows us our universe is much bigger than the ancients could possibly imagine! At the very least it shows the ancients were not in touch with god, and that the god of the bible is a fake just like all the other gods in the world. (Where is Thor when you really need him?)
3. God is not "trying to get in touch with you" like many say he is. If the bible is the "proof" then it stands on its own merit just like any other story in this world. You believe it to be "sacred and holy" because of your culture and family heritage. Had you been born in other parts of the world you would not have the same belief and religion, and all this was passed down to you and formed within you way before a time that you started critical thinking. This is why you believe.
4. Why the christian world cannot see this is beyond me. Some do see it but want you "to believe in god anyway" thinking that will make you "better off." It's superstition. Some have had ups and downs, then get back into the family religion (or find a new one) thinking they are in the right direction now. The god of the bible did everything then but does nothing now, and you are told you have to have "faith." The proof to believe it all is simply "the bible." Paul talks of "500 brethren seeing the resurrected Jesus at one time, and most of them are alive today." Paul was not present when this "event" took place and its proof is yet again the bible and just the fact that Paul said it.
Atheists are not angry with god any more than they are angry with the Easter Bunny. In my case a lifetime of study for the bible has finally convinced me it is all a myth. God is a myth and he is imaginary. Christian apologists keep writing books and making this shit up, telling you "what it all really meant," but all the writings stand on the words of a previous writer. There is no evidence of god, and if there could be a god at all, there is no evidence god is trying to get in touch with you. Many cannot except that they are not "special" at all, or admit that we are simply here because we were born. There is no devine purpose for individuals or the universe.
Thanks for posting the email here. How dd everything work out with this person?
Not so well! :D I've been having discussions with this fellow, usually very creative and profound ones, on and off for years, so it is a great disappointment that he essentially has been ignoring and dismissing and just not listening or even caring about anything I've been saying the whole time. The way I see it, there are three possible explanations for his email to me:
1. He thinks that anyone who doesn't believe in God (his god of course, the other ones he finds as implausible) must be hateful or angry or mistrustful - their motivations, not their ability to reason, is at fault, or otherwise they would have come to the same conclusions as he has, him being just SOOO freakin brilliant. A repugnant blend of arrogance, narcissism, and actual contempt mixed with pity for people he must see as inferior.
2. He honestly can't conceive of any compelling reasons why someone wouldn't believe in God. Except that I know this to not be the case, because he acknowledged that the problem of evil, as just one example, is very compelling. He of course has reasoned his way through it (he hasn't. As far as I can see, his response is as vacuous as the rest of them: "God is mysterious, he must be educating us [not testing, THAT would be absurd, he acknowledges] for some reason, and it requires free will"). So neither the problem of evil nor anything I've ever said to him or offered up as a counterargument over the years has ever once given him pause? Still deeply offensive, as he has simply given me no credit as a thinker or simply dismissed anyone who hasn't thought exactly as he has as being simply wrong wrong wrong on all counts. And how egotistical and arrogant do you have to be to think only you have all the answers? He does in fact set himself up as some sort of a sage or wise man and trolls around the internet looking for people to take under his wing and enlighten. What a smug, self-satisfied...
3. As I responded to Loren below, he has accepted Pascal's Wager and seriously thinks nothing bad can come of accepting God on faith first and then fitting one's reasoning to match the predetermined conclusion.
Here is my actual response to him:
"Rarely do people receive such an earnest reflection of the fact that they do not take another person and their beliefs seriously as your last message. Just look at the way you start off: "our world views are not so incompatible, its just you..." The rest of this message is just an unabashed attack on what must be my faulty motives for rejecting what is just so clear to you. I mean, just imagine if I asked you, and I hate to do this but you force my hand, if the reason you can't let go of your superstitions and fantasies is because your dead mother promised you that the two of you would be reunited in heaven just before she died when you were at the tender age of 14? Or some such nonsense. And I then proceeded to ask you whether "it" (your obviously mistaken beliefs) were owing to your being British? [I ask as an Anglophile, mind you!] I almost went ahead and tried to delve into a well-reasoned and deeply thought-out response to your vacuous questions, including evidence and rational arguments and so forth, but really, what is the point? You would just love to turn our discussion into being about me than about the actual issues, because isn't that the surest way that your house of cards will not fall? But you just demonstrated, and not for the first time, your unwillingness to take my objections and counterarguments and evidence and reasoning (forgetting about myself as a person!) seriously. This is why I say our world views are incompatible - nothing I can say will ever change your mind that you might possibly be mistaken! You accuse me of being uncooperative and aggressive. Well, I respond by saying that you are unreasonable and arrogant. I truly do not feel like continuing our discussions any longer."
His response was "Fine; but you are misinterpreting me, as usual." And that's the end of it. I truly do not intend on speaking with this arrogant SOB any more.
In the final analysis, after (obviously!) having put a great amount of time and effort into trying to understand whether I am not giving him enough credit, I think the real answer is a mix of all three possibilities I suggested. He explicitly comes out and asks why I am so hateful and afraid of accepting God, so regardless of whatever else he thinks, he definitely impugns my motives. Slightly less offensive is the idea that he doesn't think any objections to his worldview are worthy even of consideration. And even on the most charitable interpretation, which is that he thinks it is reasonable to wager on God first and let the reasoning happen after the conclusion has been reached, he is not worth speaking to.
You can't reason with the religious.
I love this "look deeper" crap that some believers attempt to pull on us. Without exception, it means to abandon critical thinking, feel instead of think, and give consideration to a point of view which has no objective or rational basis.
It is irrational from the get-go, and as I have said many times, from a single irrationality, ANYTHING, good or bad, can be derived.
Loren, you are right, of course. One of the things that drove me just nuts with this guy is his implication that nothing bad could happen if you just accept belief, so there can't be any reason (other than hatred or fear or mistrust!) for rejecting his claims. It should go without saying that if he is WRONG, then one is abandoning one's critical faculties, which is a crime with serious ramifications. Even if there are no immediate consequences of abandoning reason (although if one simply accepts on faith that God really does exist and, as he does, that that means that so does Jesus and Satan and a whole host of other beings, then what one should therefore be doing is going to church and professing belief to others and asking them to have faith as well and acting in perhaps a great number of other ways differently than without belief), there will definitely be consequences later on down the road. Living in a fantasy world is unsustainable, no matter how innocuous it may seem. What about your children? What about the example you set for others to abandon thinking and operate according to faith? I appreciate your comment Loren, because now I think I see a third option for what he was trying to say, which is that he accepts Pascal's Wager and thinks that wishful thinking can't have any negative consequences.
you simply deny what I wish to add
What's so weird about this is that what theists wish to add is a whole new reality in addition to the one we know of. This is a huge claim. If anyone proved it, it would be by far the most extraordinary discovery that has ever been made.
And this person finds it strange that we wouldn't believe it! They're blind to how huge the claim is that they are making.
There could be transcendence and objective morality and God within a naturalistic view, if you define them right.
Yeah Luara, he thinks "what could be the harm?". It's staggering how religion just halts critical thinking dead.
I think there could be a kind of transcendence, objective morality, and god within a naturalistic view... God is either society, or motivation (spirit). Its just a word which describes what we are motivated by or toward. Transcendence is probably just growth, although I have the feeling it is usually just a defense mechanism. And there are plenty of things I could say (and have to him) about morality that approaches objectivity as well. My argument has been that values are essentially reducible to pleasure/pain (I am a hedonist, in the best sense of the word). But that doesn't go nearly far enough for him. He wants us all to strive towards an impossible ideal - small wonder Catholics cast us all as sinners and wretches - instead of doing what I think comes more naturally: idealizing the real.
I would say God is an experience. And there are transcendent realities, like mathematics.
As for objective morality, I would have to agree that an intelligent species that cannibalizes their mates during sex, as black widow spiders sometimes do, would have a different morality :)
I agree, but I think that is what I was saying, that God is the word we use to describe the specific experience of being motivated, either by society or by "spirit" (our life-force, which is just another way of saying "being in touch with our most profound sources of motivation").
I don't know if numbers are a transcendent reality. But I don't know the arguments. :)
Some people have a sense of divine presence, that's what I was thinking of. But one can have that sense and think of it as an experience, with no conclusions attached.
I meant real math, not numbers. But numbers are transcendent too in a way.