I Answer 5 Questions Christians Have For Atheists
So, there are many questions Christians have for atheists. Sometimes, the intention of the question's wording is to stump atheists, either to get them to say something irrational or unconscionable, or to simply get them to rethink the whole "atheism" thing. But sometimes the questions are not designed as traps, they come instead from a place of genuine curiosity. Sometimes, Christians asking these questions might be in the process of questioning their own faith. Or they might simply be curious about what it's like to not believe in God, because they never thought not to themselves. So, I'm getting these questions from this video. But the thing is, every atheist is an individual. Aside from atheism, a lack of belief in God or gods, atheists do not necessarily share any other belief about any other thing. Therefore, everyone's answers to these questions might be different and none of us necessarily represents the whole of atheism.
1. What Happens After You Die?
Basically, we don't know. While we can speculate based on neuroscience and near-death experiences, the people who had near-death experiences did not die completely. People who have died completely don't come back. So, seeing as how someone who dies can't speak to us, we have no way of knowing for certain. However, given that brain damage damages what we call "consciousness", it's likely that without brain function, there is no longer what we think of as consciousness.
Furthermore, believing in a God or gods does not in and of itself do anything to prove that your idea of what happens to a human being's consciousness after death is correct. The Egyptians believed in one kind of afterlife, the Hindus another, and so on. Whose hypothesis is correct, and on what basis can you make that claim? Not all God hypotheses can be simultaneously correct, because they contradict each other. You could spend your whole life worshiping God for there to be nothingness after you die, which means you will have wasted precious, finite time praying to something that did not exist. Or you could die and be wrong about your particular beliefs about God and the afterlife. So belief in a deity does not necessarily provide comfort or assurance in the face of death. Therefore, I prefer to simply think of death as the end of life, the end of existence, after which, there is nothing being experienced. To me, morally speaking, God afterlife hypotheses could be used to justify killing or suicide, cheapening human life.
2. Where Do You get Morality From?
In some ways, I can kind of see the appeal of religion in having it all figured out, with one, objectively true moral law that was given to us by a perfect deity and handed down for humanity to follow on immutable stone tablets. But again, not all theists agree on what law to follow, which books are divinely inspired and which aren't, and which rules apply to modern times and which are obsolete.
They figure this out with a little thing called philosophy that predates and supersedes religious traditions. With moral philosophy, one can use reason to deduce if a certain action in a certain given situation is good or evil. Good and evil are not concepts that come from Christianity or Judaism. They existed as long as humanity has lived in settled, organized civilization, where law and order created harmony and rules helped people settle disputes. Different atheists have different moral principles they follow, but so do different theists. For example, Catholics oppose abortion in all cases, while other Christians may support abortion on the grounds that it is a woman's right to choose. Theists tend to make up theological reasons to justify a wide range of moral decisions. And yet, there can only be one "true" morality in a monotheistic worldview, so whose is it? Is it the view of the terrorist who hijacks a plane, or that of the Quaker who says one should never do violence? Both of them believe that God is on their side.
So basically, yes, atheists "make up" their own principles on which they base morality. For me, a heavy emphasis is on the law, being a good citizen, hard work, not disrupting the harmony of society, and respecting other people. Other people have other personal systems of morality. But everyone essentially "makes up" their morality, even theists, who pick and choose which version of the God story fits in with their beliefs about morality that they already hold. Figuring out how to make ethical decisions is one of the most important parts of growing up. And at least, a child raised without religion learns how to make these decisions in a logical way. A child raised religiously is taught what to think, not how to think. So they end up being told "do X" and "don't do Y" but, they get out into the real world and away from their parents, and they end up breaking almost every rule they were raised with, because they were never given a compelling reason why not to do Y and why to do X, beyond the "God said so" thing, which seems arbitrary. You don't have to become an ethics philosopher, but you should be able to reason out for yourself what is moral and immoral. Chances are, even if you're a religious person, you already are, by deciding what books to follow, what preachers to listen to, and so on.
3. So, You Can Do What You Want?
This is kind of the same thing as the previous question. It speaks to a religious mind's fear of atheism, that atheism means "too much freedom" and that people who don't believe in God or a final Judgment thereby will consider themselves free to rape, murder, and pillage to their heart's content. But, the truth is, most people don't want to be violent, they want to have good, happy, productive lives, and violence is rarely, if ever, the most effective means to that end. While people have a wide range of beliefs about morality, most people agree that murder, rape, theft, and other acts of violence are wrong in almost all cases.
I would flip this question around and ask the believer, especially the Christian, can you do what you want, pray, and be forgiven? I'm more morally worried about someone who doesn't fear earthly consequences because of their belief that God is on their side than I am about someone who does not fear heavenly consequences because they doubt the existence of God or an afterlife. Because the former will believe that their deplorable act such as rape, murder, or terrorism is a necessary part of following the will of their God, and no earthly system of punishment will deter that sort of criminal. But, atheists with a violent impulse can be dissuaded by the threat of any "swift, sudden, and severe" punishment here and now. Loss of liberty is a genuine threat for atheists, who know that their time on Earth is finite and limited already. But for those with delusions of leaving this planet alive, prison can be seen as a temporary waiting room before heaven. And Christianity specifically teaches that any immoral act, however bad, can be absolved by truly believing in Jesus and genuinely asking for His forgiveness. That seems kind of messed up in my opinion!
4. Where Did The Universe Come From?
I don't know. Where did your God come from?
Basically, atheism does not pretend to have all the answers about everything. Religion does that. Religion claims to know the origin, purpose, and destiny of the universe and the place of human life in it. Irreligion doesn't. To some, it's quite scary or different to admit that humanity doesn't really know these things. But to me, it's the only intellectually honest answer to that question. We don't know. Nobody does. And that's okay.
Or, if you care way more than I do about astrophysics, you probably know about how the Big Bang theory has evidence for it and does not require a God. And explaining the universe in terms of a God does not explain why and how the God came into existence in the first place.
5. But What If You're Wrong?
Again, this is a question that can just as easily be applied to a religious believer. What if the real gods are the Greek ones, or the Egyptian ones, or the Mesopotamian ones? Then certainly believers in the Hebrew Lord Yahweh will have a bit of explaining to do. How do you know you're not wrong? The standards for belief in one God can be applied to belief in any other.
This is also used as a thinly veiled threat of hell. I'm pretty sure Christians are the ones who are wrong about the concept of hell. First of all, a "lake of fire" is only referenced in the final book, the Revelation, which delineates events that transpire at the end of the world. The concept of heaven as a city with pearly gates is also from that book. Previously, heaven and hell were not Judaic concepts, and they stray from what Jesus actually said. The word he used to refer to hell as a place of punishment for wrongdoers was Gehenna. In Hebrew, this word referred to a place where trash was thrown to be burned at the outskirts of the city. So the word connoted that sinners would be thrown away, cast out, but not necessarily literally burned. And it makes no sense for a God "is love" that loves his entire creation, and places humans as the pinnacle of that creation, to make almost all humans that have ever been created burn forever for the simple fact that they didn't believe in, hadn't heard of, or weren't alive after the coming of some Messiah figure. That's so illogical that the remote possibility that it's all true isn't much of a threat for me.
So what if you're wrong?
None of us can know anything with absolute certainty. We just believe whatever we think is probably true. Does the evidence that's out there really point to the literal truth of some translation of a translation of a translation of a translated account of one particular God of a meandering, landless desert tribe?
What if you're wrong?