9 Questions Asked of Atheists

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by Neil Godfrey

Alternet has posted a useful guide for those too afraid to ask certain questions of atheists, of for those too cock-sure about atheists they don’t believe they need to ask them. It’s by Greta Christina, ‘How Can You Be Moral?’: Here Are 9 Questions You Don’t Need to Ask an Atheist — And Their Answers.

Greta’s point is that certain questions “have insult or bigotry or dehumanization woven into the very asking”. That may be so for many, but her answers are there for the genuinely curious nonetheless.

1: “How can you be moral without believing in God?”

I think that question genuinely perplexes many people who have always been taught and mix with others who never question the idea that God is the source of morality.

2: “How do you have any meaning in your life?” Sometimes asked as, “Don’t you feel sad or hopeless?” Or even, “If you don’t believe in God or heaven, why don’t you just kill yourself?”

Oh, that one, especially, genuinely perplexes many believers.

3: “Doesn’t it take just as much/even more faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?”

4: “Isn’t atheism just a religion?”

Now those two questions do bug me just a little as per Greta’s larger point. Just a moment’s half-attentive thought should alert one that they are silly questions.

5: “What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community and a movement for something you don’t believe in?”

There I do feel myself parting ways with Greta’s thought. Greta’s answer:

The answer: Atheists have groups and communities and movements for the same reasons anyone does. Remember what I said about atheists being human? Humans are social animals. We like to spend time with other people who share our interests and values. We like to work with other people on goals we have in common.

That’s where I have a problem. I don’t see atheism as a “shared interest and value”. Atheism isn’t a value. And not believing in god/s doesn’t strike me as enough of an interest to serve as a basis for companionship. I know too many atheists whom I consider to be total jerks. Perhaps coincidentally they also seem to be the ones who like to shout loudest to everyone that, “Hey, I’m An Atheist!” as if that’s a big deal.

Greta continues:

What’s more, when atheists come out about our atheism, many of us lose our friends and families and communities, or have strained and painful relationships with them. Atheists create communities so we can be honest about who we are and what we think, and still not be alone.

That’s not an experience I can relate to. I have not lost friends of family because of my atheism. Maybe it’s an American thing. I don’t think many Australians think it’s a point worth making any fuss over. I think at some time when a situation called for it I did mention to one of my family that I’m an atheist, but I don’t think it really sank in, because years later they still talk with me without any apparent awareness of the fact. I don’t go out of my way to argue with a family member who speaks of one of us now being in heaven. Such a discussion hardly seems appropriate at times when such thoughts are expressed.

6: “Why do you hate God?” Or, “Aren’t you just angry at God?”

Now that question does strike me as being obnoxiously ignorant and bigoted.

7: “But have you [read the Bible or some other holy book; heard about some supposed miracle; heard my story about my personal religious experience]?”

Anyone who asks that level of question I would consider to have been totally sheltered within a religious life and simply ignorant of the world outside.

8: “What if you’re wrong?” Sometimes asked as, “Doesn’t it make logical sense to believe in God? If you believe and you’re wrong, nothing terrible happens, but if you don’t believe and you’re wrong, you could go to Hell!”

The question of a moral coward.

9: “Why are you atheists so angry?”

We are? Only with bigots and ignoramuses who think such a question is valid, maybe. (Though maybe some obnoxious atheist groups are — though I am sure there must be some good people even in some of those online forums, too, if I must follow the inspiring words of some leader.)


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Neil Godfrey

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11 thoughts on “9 Questions Asked of Atheists”

  1. The Euthyphro dilemma is found in Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro, “Is the pious (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” (10a) It implies that if moral authority must come from the gods it doesn’t have to be good, and if moral authority must be good it does not have to come from the gods. I think most religious people would choose that τὸ ὅσιον is what it is independent of the gods, which is why the gods choose it. If the most heinous thing is τὸ ὅσιον because the gods choose it, the gods could be completely terrible and good at the same time, which most religious people won’t allow.

  2. Question 8 (Paschal’s Wager) is complete nonsense.
    No one can just “will” themselves to believe anything; one must be convinced. (As an exercise, try re-believing in Santa Claus. Without some evidence to convince, you can’t do it.)
    And if one isn’t convinced, but goes through the motions anyway “just in case”, won’t an all-knowing God know you’re simply faking it? Or do you think you can fool God?

      1. This won’t be very convincing to some Christian denominations. I have heard both from Catholics and Evangelicals that they don’t define love as an emotion or emotional state, but as constantly acting for the benefit of the loved one. And true love is making this kind of commitment to someone you don’t particularly like.

    1. Pascal was well aware that you can’t just will yourself to believe. He recommended that you start acting like a believer, going to church, reading the Bible, and all that other stuff. You will eventually brainwash yourself into it.

      But the big problem is what you are going to brainwash yourself to believe. In

      “Harwood’s Wager” (“In Praise of Zeus”)
      The Philosophers’ Magazine, Issue 3, Summer 1998

      I use the wager structure to urge people to believe in the old Classical Gods and Goddesses.

      It works just as well.

  3. This can provide a wonderful opportunity for wisdom, humility, love and personal growth. We are all on journeys. By viewing our past as a learning experience, being positive and trying to help others, we simply share with others, if we have the capacity, what we have gone through and are going though in terms of our life-experience. Semantics can be awkward but all we need do is empathise with others and we’ll soon find ways of seeing where the other person can benefit from what we’ve been through and how we can benefit from their experience. While I’m not a Christian now, I used to be, and enjoy sharing with others of both camps. I have no camp. Never mind about labels of atheism, just ignore them, how can you be assertive in the negative about something so undefined and subjective !

  4. “Greta continues:

    ‘What’s more, when atheists come out about our atheism, many of us lose our friends and families and communities, or have strained and painful relationships with them…’

    That’s not an experience I can relate to. I have not lost friends of family because of my atheism. Maybe it’s an American thing. I don’t think many Australians think it’s a point worth making any fuss over. “

    I think you are right, because in my experience this is an issue in my experience as an American. For some reason religion also seems to be a force in politics here as well, with so-called ‘christian evangelicals’ bending political parties to their will, influencing legislation, and even affecting school text books.

    1. The United States is, and always has been, a hotbed of Christian revivalism, including the fundamentalist movement.

      There is a reason that Scientology, Christian Science, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists all began here in America; to paraphrase Asimov, people seem to think that democracy means that my ignorance is just as valid as your knowledge. If I just believe it with all my heart and being, then it must be true . Kurt Anderson’s “Fantasyland” explains it succinctly.

      In that milieu, it is not surprising that people who were once staunch Christians lose their friends and family once they step outside the bubble. Matthew 5:30; if your hand tempts you to sin, cut it off. If the people around you no longer subscribe to or reinforce your deluded belief, cut them out of your life.

    2. Yes, the Australian and American experiences do appear to be very different in this respect. Right now we have a Prime Minister who is associated with one of those pentecostal/evangelical churches, but in the last few years we have had atheists as PM, too. There is usually some commentary about their background and beliefs to be found somewhere at the time when they newly arrive at the office, but the topic is soon lost and forgotten in discussions about the real issues. Although sometimes a PM’s religious bias will become a topic of news again when debates are about abortion or sexual identity rights. I am sure, however, when such debates involved an atheist PM his/her atheism was never once raised — certainly with no significant prominence in the media.

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