I’ve been asked by more than one friend of family member what my beliefs are. I also get the impression that, those who haven’t asked, want to, but feel it would be rude to do so. Now you don’t have to. But be warned, this might not be something you want to read. I do my best to be sensitive, and I have no intention of offending anyone or even in trying to persuade you to stop believing what you believe. This is simply an effort to illustrate what I believe and why.
As always, if you ever have a sincere question for me, please ask. I have a lot more thoughts on this topic than a single post would allow. If I don’t want to answer it (extremely unlikely), I’ll just let you know. I certainly won’t feel offended by being asked. It’s quite likely that our beliefs differ, but if you’re OK with that, so am I!
So the big one to get out of the way, I am an agnostic atheist.
The reason is quite simple. What verifiable evidence is there? Is there any way anyone can demonstrate that there is a god? The first people to ever claim that some form of god exist did so to fill a void in their understanding of the world. They saw something that they couldn’t explain and concluded that it must be supernatural. As time continues and our understanding of the universe grows the definition of god changes. While lightning and volcanoes were originally concluded to be an act of god, we now know better. Every time we prove something new that used to be attributed to a god, the definition shifts to explain away what we still don’t know.
What is so wrong with the conclusion that we don’t know things yet? I’d much rather say “I don’t know” then accept something as fact without proof.
As a side note, this is why I feel like “I don’t know” is an appropriate answer to questions like “was the founder of Mormonism (or any faith) a liar”. Whether the founder was innocently mistaken, or maliciously misleading people is unknown to me, and potentially unknowable. But the burden of proof of the validity of a religion lies with the religion, not me. Can you demonstrate to me that he was telling the truth?
Many religions, especially some Christian denominations, claim that the acceptance of their religion is the only way to get into heaven. Some will even go as far as to say that you will be eternally punished if you don’t live the way their gospel teaches. The concept of an eternal punishment for a finite offence is irrational. The opposite is equally true. Eternal reward because you coincidentally lived the few years you had on earth in line with the right teachings doesn’t make sense either. Those religions that teach that the consequences of choices made in this world are eternal make their God appear irrational. Irrationality cannot be a feature of a perfect being. Therefore, those religions that claim to have a perfect God and eternal consequences to life choices cannot be true. That rules out a LOT of religions.
Another is the point of religious diversity. The fact that a person’s religion is most likely to be dictated by their geographical location, or their ancestry, raises the question of validity for any one of them. It would be much more understandable to believe in the religion of your local area, when the technology wasn’t present to show you how many options for religions you really had. In those times, it would be much harder to see that, no matter what specific religion you believed, there were more people who believed otherwise.
One objection to this reasoning would be to claim that the majority of religious individuals are simply ignorant, not realizing that there are other options. The conclusion then being that there is no reason to be like the ignorant theist, and make an uneducated decision about religion. That being the case, one cannot make an “educated decision” in this regard. Many religions, Christianity in particular, claim that your emotions are how you will be lead to God. When you find the right church, it will feel right. Unfortunately, that reasoning means God is guiding people to many conflicting religions at once. Whether you’re christian, islamic, hindu, budhist, jewish, or some other faith, you feel your beliefs are the “truest”. I would have equal claim to my atheism, since the rationality of it “feels right” to me, and therefore a god must have directed me to it. Even inside some of these religions, you will find denominations that claim their variation is true while the others are either innocently lacking, or intentionally evil. Emotion is an absolutely abysmal indicator of truth.
With some religions preaching eternal damnation and suffering for non-believers, and others promising an incomprehensibly enlightened and, again, eternal existence for those adhering to their laws, it makes the decision of religion a dangerous one. A decision that depends almost entirely on chance. There are such a wide variety of religions that you will never be capable of appreciating the doctrine of all of them, and therefore you would be incapable of making an educated decision on which is the true religion. This then makes God unfair. Again, there is no mechanism for determining the will of God. You can’t rely on feelings, as we mentioned above. You can’t rely on prayer for the same reason. People all over the world use prayer to confirm their beliefs, despite those confirmations being different from millions of other people who have said the same prayer. So it’s chance. Your odds of even picking the correct religious group is at least 1 in 7. Those 7 are Abrahamic, Iranian, Indian, East Asian, African, Indigenous and folk, and other. One of those 7 is other, or “anything not fitting into one of the previous 6 categories“, and there are plenty of smaller religions that don’t fit in those previous categories. 1 in 7 is generous. Then you have to pick between the actual religions inside those groups.
Lets say the right answer is in the Abrahamic group. Now you have to pick either Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. 1 in 3 chance of picking the right one. Let’s say Christianity is the true religion. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations. That means you have a 1 in 41,000 chance of happening to pick the church God wanted you to pick. It’s more likely that you will die by being run over by a car than pick the right religion.
How could we be given no evidence and no means to learn what God wants, and be judged eternally when we have nothing but random chance to depend on to pick a correct religion. My conclusion is that, if there is a God, and if any religion is true, then God is not perfect, kind, or fair.
Now there are religions who would agree with me that God judging us based on whether we performed the appropriate rituals in this life isn’t cool. They would claim that we would be judged based on how we lived our specific life. Based on the “cards we were dealt”. Whether or not we were just plain ‘ol good people. I find this a nice thought, but still not relevant. Appeal is not a synonym of truth. I have no interest in believing something that is irrational simply because it’s nice to believe it. The appeal of a religion has no bearing on it’s legitimacy. Extremist Islamic radicals have as much claim on religious validity as charitable, peace loving Jews.
So, if there is a God, then the majority of humanity has fallen short of his requirements. He either intends to punish us all, or at least withhold some blessings from us, for having either accidentally picked the wrong religion, or having abstained from the game entirely.
In my opinion, if I’m wrong, and there is a creator and an afterlife, I think he’d be proud of the atheists. We made good use the resources he gave us. We relied on our minds instead of trends, and when we saw there was no proof of his existence, we lived our lives well anyway.