By Ben Love ~
No, I became an atheist because I felt it was intellectually the only choice I could make that allowed me to look in the mirror without feeling like a hypocrite. I became an atheist because I truly feel the evidence can lead only to that conclusion. Anyway, did you become a Christian because you're pissed off at logic and reason?
Is there anything that could bring you back to Christianity?
No, nothing. Who willingly goes back to prison?
Aren't you worried you'll go to hell?
Nope. Hell disappears when your belief in God disappears. Besides, fear is a terrible motivator. I'm not saying it isn't effective; it is. But I'm not interested in any fear-based motivations.
Do you believe in the afterlife?
Not really. There might be some kind of afterlife, but I doubt it. Either way, I'm much more interested in the before death than the afterlife.
What are your thoughts on Jesus?
I suspect that the Jesus of history was a real person, or possibly even several people homogenized into one literary character. But the Son of God who rose from the dead? No. That said, I think that a lot of the dialogue attributed to Jesus in the New Testament is interesting. Some of it is even brilliant. And some of it is ridiculous. I equate this character with Lao Tzu or the Buddha—there would seem to be more legend here than actual fact.
Do you ever miss Christianity?
Do you ever miss God?
Sure. Even though I now know that God (in the Christian sense) doesn't exist, he was real in my mind for most of my life up until I was 36. It's difficult to have a relationship with someone like that (even if it's only in your imagination) and then suddenly no longer have that person to talk to. Sure, I miss God. But I'm much better off without my faith in this God, because this God isn't real.
So you don't believe in a Creator?
I wouldn't say that. I'm an atheist, but all that is is a rejection of theism. Atheism does not necessarily reject deism. I think it's at least possible that some type of Creator is at work out there in the far reaches of reality, but I patently reject any of the models that human theism offers on the matter. There may indeed be a Creator, or even Creators, but since we have no hard data on who or what this/these Creator(s) is/are, it amounts to the same as assuming no one is out there. It does no good to speculate on something of this nature, because no one could possibly know. I suspect that whatever is really going on out there metaphysically (if anything) is far more beautiful and wonderful and jaw-dropping than anything the religions of Earth have to say on the matter. One thing I do know, though, is that the Christian God described in the Bible does not and cannot qualify for the role of that Creator, and that is why I reject that particular God.
An atheist can be a deist? How is that possible?
Atheism is a rejection of theism. Nothing else. In other words, atheism rejects the "theistic pantheon of gods that humans believe in." To assume that atheism rejects deism is a common error, one that many make, but it is simply not true. The atheist is capable of conceding that there might be something out there, but he patently rejects that it is any of the theistic gods humans currently believe in. After all, we're talking about atheism, not adeism. An adeist would say he rejects that anything is out there. But such a person would have to be just as fundamental in his adiesm as the Christian is in his theism. Both extremes are dangerous, at least in my humble opinion. Intellectual atheism can and does provide room for the possibility of some truth for which we do not yet have sufficient evidence.
Isn't your life empty without faith?
Far from it. Seen from the correct perspective, it is faith that is empty. Putting all of your hope in the biggest question mark in existence and basing your life on that misplaced hope is the same as building a house on the sand. I'd rather put all my hope on periods, not question marks. I'd rather base my life on certainties, not shaky unknowns.
But isn't there enough evidence out there to justify faith?
Certainly not. If there were enough evidence, you wouldn't need faith anyway. The fact of the matter is that faith and certainty are polar opposites. If you are certain, you don’t need faith. If you are uncertain, you do need faith. If there were enough evidence out there to make you certain, why would you be bothered with faith in the first place? No, faith can only exist when you're not certain. And if there isn't enough evidence to be certain, then there isn't enough evidence on which to base your life. I'm not saying that those who choose to retain faith don't have their reasons. But my stance is that the most intelligent conclusion one can reach is that there simply aren't enough reasons to justify my orienting an entire lifetime around the tenets of faith. If I cannot be certain, I'm not interested. After all, this is my only life to live. I'm not going to waste it on some fantasy simply because it might (or might not) feel good.
What do you believe in, then?
I believe in me. And I believe in you. I believe in love. I believe in compassion and kindness and generosity. I believe in honesty and authenticity. And I believe in the St. Louis Cardinals.
But without a belief in God, doesn't this mean you are free to indulge your base instincts and live selfishly?
Not at all. Morality comes from within, not from without. As a humanist, I feel a personal responsibility to live the best possible life I can. This means that kindness, generosity, compassion, and integrity are extremely important to me. I'm not answering to a God; I'm answering to myself. I choose to live a good life because I believe that benefiting my species and the planet upon which I live is the best use of my time and energy. Faith in God has nothing to do with it. Besides, if you maintain that a person lives nobly simply because of God, then that must imply that the person's motives are actually selfish. If you're behaving because you fear punishment, so what? How does that come from the heart? I'd rather behave because it's what I want rather than because it's what I have to do.
As an atheist, you don't have anything to live for, right?
Wrong. To quote the comedian Ricky Gervais, "It's a strange myth that atheists have nothing to live for. It's the opposite. We have nothing to die for. We have everything to live for."
Do you disagree that Christianity has done much good in the world?
No, I don't disagree with that. But so has Buddhism. So has the advent of abnormal psychology. So has the progress of modern medicine. For that matter, so has humanism. The net positive effect of a given thing is not the measuring stick for whether or not it is based on Truth. If it was, then we would also have to take into account the net negative effect of a given thing—and Christianity's presence in the world over the last 2,000 years has also had a deadly, toxic, abusive, and even sinister influence on the course of history.
But religion gives people something to hope in. Isn't that a good thing?
Having something to put your hope in is always a good thing. But religion teaches the human to look outside of himself for that hope. It teaches him to look to God, a person about which the human isn't even certain. This is detrimental because it fails to teach the human to look inward. Religion leads you away from your true strength, which is always to be found within, and leads you toward a false hope existing somewhere outside of you. Once you've walked away from religion, you are free to train yourself to look inward, and it is there that you will find that everything you needed was always right there with you anyway. This might seem impossible at first, but like any atrophied muscle, exercising it will prove effective over time.
Do you look down on Christians?
No. All human beings have value, regardless of their race, orientation, culture, religion, gender, or age. That said, I do take issue with the beliefs of the Christian. But it is important that this distinction be understood: I severely abhor the beliefs, not the person who possesses those beliefs. After all, Christians have a famous saying: "Hate the sin; love the sinner." It is the same with me: "Hate the belief; love the believer." Or at least try to tolerate him.
But you seem to speak harshly against Christians. Why?
According to my worldview, the beliefs that the Christians are spreading in this world are a huge part of the collective existential problems we humans face. I maintain that the presence of Christian beliefs (and all theistic beliefs) in this world is detrimental to the progression of humanity. Furthermore, because the Christians' theology requires that they actively spread their beliefs inasmuch as they are able means that their negative effect in society is not passive; it is aggressive. I am merely being just as aggressive in my denouncing of these beliefs. Besides, I have been severely mistreated by many, many Christians ever since I first came out as an atheist. Unlike them, I am not required to turn the other cheek. I therefore do not hold back in telling it like it is.
Christianity is really just about loving people. How can you possibly take issue with that?
I don't take issue with love. But you need not be a Christian to love your neighbor. And Christianity is not the only religion, spirituality or philosophy in this world that stresses love. Furthermore, love is not the only aspect of Christianity. The religion as a whole is steeped in guilt, fear, self-abuse, judgement, division, and even mind-control. Christianity is self-demeaning, self-degrading, and responsible for untold mental oppression among its adherents. Christianity is a hypocritical institution, one that proves too financially lucrative for those who are supposed to be giving all their possessions away to the poor. And finally, Christianity is based on lies. It is these things with which I take issue. Love has nothing to do with it. Anyone can be loving, although you'd be hard-pressed to find much love among the throngs of those who populate the Christian realm. You will, however, encounter much judgement. I merely turn that judgement back in on those who monger it.
Are you happier as an atheist, or were you happier as a Christian?
I had happy moments as a Christian. I won't lie about that. But on the whole, I am much happier, more peaceful, and better adjusted as an atheist/humanist. That's just my own personal experience, though; it does not qualify as evidence.
But isn't there loss without prayer in your life?
Not really. I meditate now, and I have found that to be much more effective. There is no ambiguity about meditation. You just do it. Prayer, on the other hand, is the act of addressing a person you're not even certain is there. And even then, once you have voiced the prayer, you have no idea what the outcome will be. I am better off without such ambiguity in my life.
So who do you thank when you feel thankful?
Feeling thankful and expressing thanks are not the same thing. I can look at beauty or wonder or anything that moves me and feel thankful that I am here to see it and experience it, but this doesn’t mean I have to say “thank you” to anyone in particular. It’s enough for me that I’m here to experience that for which I’m thankful.
But what if you're wrong? What if there is a God and you end up in hell?
Why is it an automatic thing that if there is a God there must also be a hell? Why do hell and God always have to go hand in hand? Why can't it be possible that some sort of God does indeed exist but he doesn't come attendant with the automatic implication of hell? I mean, seriously. Why is everyone so hell-focused? Besides, if I am wrong, then I'm wrong. I'm not going to waste my life now worrying about what may or may not happen when I die. What could be more insane? Why does the (possible) afterlife have to be invited into the nowlife? Why does the afterlife have to affect the decisions made now? Anyway, if God is real and wants to send me to hell, I can't very well stop him. I might even prefer hell than to have to spend eternity in the company of such an entity, anyway. After all, if your God sends people to hell for using their minds, I'm not sure he's someone I'm particularly interested in spending time with.
Surely you can see that the Universe is a massively complex thing. Surely you can see it shows signs of intelligent design. Do you deny that?
Prehistoric man could not explain earthquakes because he didn't have the geological information on why the Earth might possibly quake. So he inserted the best answer he could find: there must be some sort of invisible being making the Earth shake, and if this being is powerful enough to do that, this being must be a type of God. But he was wrong. There was no invisible being making the Earth quake. There was a scientific explanation to which prehistoric man did not have access. Similarly, when we look at the intricacies of the physical world and conclude that we have no way of adequately explaining their origins, we do the same thing: we insert the "Invisible Being Answer." But just because we might not have the answers yet doesn't mean that suitable answers do not exist and cannot be attained at some future point. Does the Universe show signs of design? Possibly. It's likely that there is more to the story than we currently know, but the problem with inserting "God" into that "gap in our knowledge" is that it doesn't answer anything. The question has merely been shifted. You cannot explain one Great Unknown (the Universe), so you conclude that another Great Unknown (God) must be responsible for it. But who is responsible for that Great Unknown? In other words, if the Universe requires a designer, then the designer requires a designer. If you look at an airplane and say that it is too complex to have been assembled by some accidental explosion, and you thus conclude that the airplane must have a designer, doesn't this mean that the designer is even more complex than the airplane? In a sense, the designer has become the new airplane, and now also requires a designer, ad infinitum. For this reason, using the Argument from Design creates an infinite loophole that serves neither the believer nor the nonbeliever. As such, this particular argument ought to be discarded by both.
But you're trying to understand something infinite in finite terms. You're trying to understand the eternal in the temporal sphere.
Allow me to tell you something that perhaps you have never considered before. No being, not even a God, could possibly be "eternal". It would take an eternity for an eternal being to even contemplate his own eternality. It would take an eternity for an eternal being to even know himself. If God has infinite knowledge, it would take infinity for him to even know what he knows. A being who requires an eternity to know that he is eternal would have absolutely no time to do anything else. Some have said this is a weak argument, but I personally do not think so. I think it demonstrates quite effectively that the word "eternal" has no meaning in this sense. What we think of as "eternal" is a logistic impossibility. God could not be eternal. But if he's not eternal, he cannot qualify as a true "God". Thus, he cancels himself out and the only conclusion left to reach is that there is no God, at least not in the anthropomorphic sense one thinks of when they imagine a personal God.
What are your thoughts on the Bible?
As an ancient text, I think it is quite interesting. As a work of literature, I think it is beautiful in places. As an historical look into what ancient humans in the Middle East did and thought and believed, I think it is a useful tool. Beyond that, it is not and should not be separated from any other particular writings from ancient times. In other words, I do not believe it is inspired, inerrant, or infallible. There is more than enough evidence that, when seen without the lens of bias, proves the Bible is very much fallible and errant.
Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead?
Absolutely not. I refuse to believe it because people do not rise from the dead today. I therefore have no reason to believe it was possible in Palestine 2,000 years ago. I think that if something of this nature actually did occur, there would be much more at our disposal to verify it than the inconsistent writings of the New Testament, the authors of which do not reveal their identities, cite their sources, or even agree on a few basic facts. Moreover, these writings from the New Testament, which are the only sources we have for this alleged miraculous event, blatantly admit that they exist for the purpose of propaganda. There is not enough here to justify the reorientation of one's entire life around this alleged event.
But not everyone in ancient Palestine was literate. Maybe it just wasn't recorded.
This argument is utter bilge. True, not everyone was literate, but not everyone was illiterate, either. The New Testament says the resurrected Jesus appeared to over 500 people. Not one of them could write? Not one of them knew others who could write? This stretches belief. Why should we assume that a handful of fishermen (who ostensibly followed Jesus and later wrote about him in the New Testament) were literate if most people were not? Clearly, some people could
read and write if mere fishermen were able to do so. At any rate, there should have been enough people who could write to ensure that the story should have been documented in at least few secular records.
Could some parts of the story be true, though?
Think about it this way: a child is born to a virgin, and this event is witnessed by three wise men (who, I assure you, were not illiterate). The birth of this child causes many of the children in the land to be murdered by King Herod (an act that would surely have been recorded somewhere if it had actually happened). The virgin-child grows up and eventually becomes a spiritual leader. He goes from town to town in ancient Palestine, healing people, preaching sermons, performing miracles, raising people (Lazarus) from the dead, turning water into wine, walking on water, feeding 5,000 people (some of whom must have been able to read and write) with a few loaves of bread and fish, and cursing fig trees which then die on the spot. Then, this spiritual leader enters Jerusalem with great fanfare and pomp as a triumphant king, in full view of the Roman soldiers and Roman politicians who live and work in Jerusalem, none of which arrest him, lift a finger to stop him, or even threaten him in any way. At one point, he physically removes all the financiers who have congregated in the Hebrew Temple, an act which surely must have bristled quite a few noses among the more literate bunches of folks living in Jerusalem. Then, he is tried for sedition and a terrible criminal (Barabbas) is released in lieu of this spiritual leader, who is then sentenced to death by crucifixion. His death is attended by earthquakes, violent storms, the rending of the veil in the Temple, and the resurrection of several corpses, who leave their tombs and walk about openly in the streets of Jerusalem. Then, after two days (even though it is apparently supposed to be three days), the dead spiritual leader is suddenly alive again, and this time he is able to walk through walls. Over 500 people see him. And when it's all said and done, he ascends to heaven in full view of everyone, in a public place. Imagine that all of that took place in the first century in Palestine and that no one (aside from the already-religiously-biased writers of New Testament) records a single word of it anywhere. Can some of it be true? What do you think?
But I've read Lee Strobel. He presents a good case for the gospel story, no?
No, he does not. He presents an extremely biased cased for the gospel story. Imagine that I wanted to write a book disproving the Holocaust. Imagine also that I interviewed only those people who supported the idea that the Holocaust never took place, and that I failed to interview any of the people who profess to have experienced the Holocaust. Would you give my book much thought? Of course not. Lee Strobel did this exact thing. He only interviewed those scholars who supported his pre-established bias. There are many, many scholars with just as impressive credentials who arrive at much different conclusions than the scholars with whom Strobel spent time. But he didn't waste any of his time with them, did he? No. That right there ought to be a red flag. Serious scholarship evaluates all the sides of an argument, not just the ones that are favorable to your particular agenda.
But aren't you just as biased?
Everyone is biased. Never believe anyone who tells you that they are not. But the issue is this: when did you form the bias? Did you form the bias and then view the evidence through that lens? Or did you view the evidence and use it to form a bias? We are all biased, but some of us have been a bit more responsible about how our biases are formed.
If you don't believe in God, can't you at least believe in belief?
Why? What makes "belief" so good? Listen, which statement sounds stronger to you: "The show starts at ", or "I believe the show starts at "? The first sounds stronger. It is a statement that is being asserted with no room for doubt. The second statement automatically implies that I'm not sure when the show starts. If I add the words "I believe," then the statement is rendered less sound than it would have been without those two words. Now, granted, I use the words "I believe" to start sentences all the time. Everyone does. But why must there be this stigma that to believe in something, anything, is noble? Why? Says who? All that really means is that you're dissatisfied with reality. I'd rather take reality as it is and deal with it than force myself to be transported into some fantasy realm through the mental power of "belief." I don't want the fairy tale; I want the truth.
Why does it always seem like atheists are so angry?
Not all atheists are angry. But many are, and often their anger is directed at religion in general and Christianity in particular. There are many reasons for this. Often the leaders and/or adherents of Christianity have given these atheists a hard time over their lack religious faith, sometimes even to the point of blatant ridicule. After a while, this is can just simply become intolerable. But more importantly, atheists often harbor anger at organized religion because they genuinely feel that organized religion is harmful to the individual, to the society, and to the species at large. Atheists make the case that most of the wars in human history can be traced to theistic motivations. Think of it this way: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the acts of the Conquistadors, and the atrocities committed by the early European colonists in North America can all be traced to theistic roots. Even in today's age, we have groups like ISIS or the folks at Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas using theism to monger hate, violence, and judgment. Even those Christians who abstain from such overt activities still believe they possess the final monopoly on truth and, as a result, they privately harbor their own personal judgments about who is going to heaven and who is going to hell, even if they never voice these judgments. Moreover, because the atheist has concluded with a good conscious that Christianity (and indeed all theistic religions) are based on lies rather than on truth, he is angered when he sees the arms of these religions spreading throughout the world and having influence over the progression of culture. And when he stands up and begins to voice his views, he is immediately shot down by the religious faithful, who call him a brute, an infidel, and an instrument of Satan. How long are atheists supposed to be treated in such a fashion before they become a bit angry? After all, we're only acting out of our conscience, in much the same way you as a Christian are. You want the freedom to spread Christianity around wherever you go, but you don't want atheists to have that same freedom. That makes us angry.
But we as believers just know that what we believe is real, even if we cannot prove it. We know it from experience.
No one is trying to discredit your experiences. They are as real to you as our are as atheists. We may disagree as to what is causing you to have these experiences, but we do not assert that your experiences are not real to you. The problem, of course, is that the Muslim can wax just as beautifully about his own transcendental experiences with Islam. The Buddhist can testify to extremely transcendental experiences through the use of Zen. People from all sorts of religious and spiritual backgrounds can and do have all kinds of experiences that, to them, are real and are therefore taken as confirmation that their beliefs are founded in truth. The obvious conclusion, then, is that a person's experiences are never a reflection of truth. Unfortunately, you as a Christian seem to feel your experiences outrank those of everyone else, that your experiences point toward something real while everyone else's point toward something false. Thus, you have, in a sense, elevated yourself above the rest of us. I submit that the only way to even the playing field is for all of us, believer and nonbeliever alike, to use empirical evidence, not experience, as the measuring stick. But perhaps you are reluctant to do that because you might suspect that doing so will prove fatal to your belief system? That's your business. At any rate, let us observe that there are all kinds of psychological reasons for why a certain spiritual experience may seem real to you. I prefer to be very careful about such things, for I know the human mind's tendency to latch onto its own thoughts and project them outward as having been received from some "outside source."
What would it take for you to believe in a personal God?
Remove the arbitrary, random aspects and show me a God that can consistently be relied on to act in all cases as he allegedly said he would in his "Word". Show me a God who keeps his promises each and every time, not just some of the time. Show me a God who responds to acts of faith equally. Show me a God who saves all who ask him, not just some. Show me a God who expels the demons from each person, not just a few. Show me a God whose miracles can been seen and felt and heard and experienced by everyone. Show me a God who doesn't write off most of his creations. Show me a God who is consistent with the apparent revelation he has given to his people. And show me all of these things without invoking my faith. In other words, show me these things through data obtained in the physical world.
I can't do that. You'll have to take at least some of it on faith.