America’s favorite grifter Joshua Feuerstein posted this article from Christian Today on his facebook page recently; and while I was strongly inclined to overlook it just like all of the other presuppositional hogwash that so frequently finds its way into my Facebook news feed I thought the author of the article made one very important point. “Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer! (sic) Which leads to some interesting conclusions…”
The fastest growing religious orientation is “none, thanks” and we as atheist activists or armchair philosophers ought to be able to answer these questions. However, so often now I see the same angst ridden talking points that I used against the JUST club kids in 7th grade: “Your God is a fairy tale.” “Do you still believe in Santa Claus?” “You’re so stupid for believing in a magical skydaddy who cares about who wins football games and where your keys are.” et cetera… I say it’s time we move past such foolish talking points and move towards more thoughtful and purposeful dialogue and in that spirit I will answer Mr. Feuerstein’s questions while listening to Limp Bizkit’s album Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water (because Joshua Feuerstein is the Fred Durst of presuppositional apologetics.)
Questions From The Article:
1. How Did You Become an Atheist?
I was raised Methodist and in the Methodist church everyone who wants to seriously pursue the faith is “confirmed in Christ.” The confirmation process includes classes, meeting with a mentor every week and most importantly, bible study. I was assigned to read the book of Luke and that inspired me to read the whole thing that summer. I was excited. I thought that I was holding the document that God himself wanted us to read, that everything I could ever need to know was in this sacred document that I had 2 copies of, I yearned for the revealed truth in that book but it was reading the bible that first time that really ended my belief in God. I decided at 13 that either God wasn’t real or he was and the Westboro Baptist Church was right, he hated everybody, the latter possibility contradicted everything in the New Testament and it was simply irreconcilable. I removed the wool from my eyes and saw that it simply wasn’t real or supported by any material evidence.
2. What happens when we die?
We’re reincarnated…seriously, hear me out… When we die the matter and energy content that make up our bodies and minds disorganize from their current structures and eventually become something else. There are most likely atoms in my body that were once part of a dinosaur, I know that there are atoms in my body that were once chickpeas because I’m going through a pretty severe hummus kick lately. Perhaps if you are cremated and you spread your ashes at sea you’ll become a plankton that is eaten by a blue whale and then that whale will die and be eaten by some scavenger fish, then that fish will be eaten by a shark and the shark will be eaten by a wealthy japanese businessman. We’re all immortal, it’s a matter of looking at immortality through the right lens.
Of course, the retort to that answer is “but what happens to your soul?” to which I say nothing. Literally nothing. My “soul” is contained in the frontal cortex of my brain, when I die the synapses in my brain will no longer fire and my soul will cease to be (in the physical sense) but it too can live on in the lessons I teach my daughter, the kindness I show to my friends and strangers, and the love I show my enemies. But death I imagine feels like the eons that came and went before I was born, but I can’t know for certain because I haven’t died yet.
3. What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!
This was my favorite question by far, I also love the fact that HELL is in all caps, it really exemplifies the Christian movement at large (I often wonder if they fear Hell more than they wish for heaven). If I’m wrong and there is a Heaven and Hell I’ll gladly go to Hell, not just because I want to avoid people like Fred Phelps and Joshua Fuererstein, but because if the God of their bible is real and I knew without any doubt that he was real I would actively fight against him.
If I die and I’m wrong that means that I will have spent my life rejecting a God who not just allows but demands genocide (1 Samuel 15:3), rape (Judges 21:10-24), slavery (Exodus 22:3), infanticide (Hosea 13:16), and genital mutilation (Genesis 21:4). But most importantly, I love my family; I love my wife and my daughter and I would be happy to go to hell for rejecting a God who demanded that I hate them (Luke 14:26)… To quote Christopher Hitchens, if God commanded me to kill my kid as he commanded Abraham to do, I’d say “No. Fuck you.”
4. Without God, where do you get your morality from?
It doesn’t come from authority. My morality comes from my aspirations for fellow humans and for my family. Let’s take it back to question #2. We’re all interconnected, every living thing is just a recycled piece of the same organic matter that has been recycling for billions of years. In the strictest and most material sense, I am you and you are me. My morality comes from the recognition that to harm other people is to harm myself, and to help other people is to help myself. We should strive to better humanity because we are humanity and each human is just one pixel in a massive display.
5. If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?
I don’t get the premise of the question to be quite honest. This question seems to imply that if God is real then we aren’t free to rape and murder and if God is real good deeds are unrewarded, but people already rape and murder and good deeds are already unrewarded, so does that mean there is no God? Also, see the verses cited in question #3 where God demands rape and murder.
Apart from the self contradiction of the question, without God murder is still wrong if you accept the premise in my answer to question #4. Apart from that, murder and rape violate the law in every society (except for the real religious ones where it carries a penalty of “marry the chick you raped so you can rape her forever”) that carries and actual penalty. In America you can be locked in prison for the rest of your life or executed for murder and you could be locked away for at least a few decades (and likely killed by other prisoners if they find out what your conviction is for) if you’re found guilty of rape.
Adversely, if you rape and kill 1,371 elementary school children and you’re able to avoid being caught and you confess it to God on your deathbed and ask God’s forgiveness, you’ll never be punished. So which system has more affinity for justice?
6. If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?
My life has so much more meaning without God than it ever did when I believed in God. Without God my life has been opened to the wonders of the natural, the oneness of humanity, the vast grandeur and wonder of the universe, my social responsibility to others, and most importantly my family. I can’t imagine living my entire life hoping that I was appeasing God’s jealousy and narcissism. I’m part of the only known sentient species of life in the known universe and I live in a time where we’re starting to truly understand creation. To quote Sagan “we’re made of star stuff” and “we are a way for the universe to know itself. My meaning is to learn, my purpose is to work for a better world for my fellow humans and for posterity.
7. Where did the universe come from?
I don’t know, and I’m okay with not knowing. I’d rather admit that I don’t have an answer than make up a silly one.
8. What about miracles? What all (sic) the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?
I once thought I saw a herd of buffalo stampeding on the walls of a garage at a party when I was in 5th grade. It turned out that the refreshments were severely tainted with salmonella and I was hallucinating. As far as miracles, again I’d rather admit that I don’t know than make up a silly answer but I’d happily examine the evidence of miracles if any existed apart from chain emails, unletter facebook posts, or dubious ancient texts. Lastly, I used to think I had a connection to Jesus but that feeling is just inspiration, or to word it more colloquially “goosebumps.” Listening to the right music, reading the right books, watching the right movies, and listening to the right speeches can all invoke that same feeling. People who “feel” the holy spirit are just feeling inspired by the idea of the holy spirit.
9. What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?
Dawkins- He should stick to the study evolutionary biology where he has made very significant contributions. He’s made some missteps recently and I actually intend to write an article about this.
Dawkins is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t look at atheist “leaders” as infallible (as the movie God’s Not Dead asserts we do). We should look at the individual points that they make and think critically about them. Dawkins has done a lot of good work but on some points he’s dead wrong (in my opinion) on some points, but that’s okay and it doesn’t detract from the real good he’s done.
Hitchens- I honestly have never read a word Hitchens wrote or listened to a speech he delivered with which I did not agree. Hitchens was unshaken in his ethical moral and intellectual convictions, he didn’t care to play to an audience, and by all accounts he loved his family. That’s not to say he was infallible, he was and admitted that he was an abrasive opportunist, and there are a few things I think he could have gone about with a little more tact, but when examining the content of his arguments and assertions I find nothing to critique.
Harris- Harris’ quick wit and comedic delivery make him fun to watch. I think a few of his one liners will end up being popular in later generations. I saw him misstep at an event at Cambridge once. He was asked how he can prove that objective morality exists in the mind and instead of answering as I thought he would, by simply saying “empathy” he appealed to common sense with something like “wouldn’t we all agree that murder is wrong?” Harris is alright, but again he’s not infallible.
10. If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?
Because humans look for explanations, and where one isn’t apparent they’ll make one up. It’s important to note here how wildly different the various world religions are. Some of them are non theistic (like buddhism, Taoism, Jainism, several indigenous native american traditions, certain strains of neo-paganism, et cetera). Some are polytheistic (Hinduism, Roman Paganism, Greek Paganism, Norse Paganism, Ancient Egyptian mythology, Zoroastrianism, et cetera). Some of them are monotheistic (Christianity, Sikhism, Judaism, Baha i, Atenism, Islam, et cetera). However the thing that binds all of these religions together is that none of them are supported by any observable or empirical evidence.
Also, that question is a fallacious appeal to popularity, just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s right. A short reading of history will tell you that. Just ask yourself “if Kim Jong Il didn’t really have an average bowling score of 350 then why do so many North Koreans believe it?”
Now I call on everyone reading this to examine and answer these 10 simple questions for yourself, really explore your feelings and share your thoughts either on the comments below, on Joshua Feuerstein’s facebook page, or on the comments section of the original post. Let’s flood their pages with individualized responses. We must know ourselves, we must examine our own lives. Atheism should be about more than the rejection of certain claims or values, but it should also be about the acceptance of other claims for values.