This is a great question and one that I think I am uniquely qualified to answer. Religion was at the center of my life growing up. I was a Born Again Christian and experienced all forms of religious ecstasy. Jesus Christ was my personal savior. My walk with the Lord was never far from my thoughts.
My early answer to the question, “Why be an atheist?” was, "I'm not and don’t want to be." I didn’t want to give up beliefs that provided so much comfort. I wanted an invisible, omniscient parent figure watching over me. I wanted bad people to be punished and good people to be rewarded. I wanted miracles to be real. I wanted to meet my loved ones in Heaven after I died. I wanted the power of prayer to influence outcomes in this world. I wanted to believe what everyone I grew up with believed. I wanted to believe in magic.
As I began to develop my intellect, I found that my religious beliefs did not hold up to critical evaluation. I desperately wanted Christian doctrine to be true. Everyone I loved and respected growing up was a Christian. “Christian” and “good” actually meant the same thing to me (I have since found this to be a grossly inaccurate perception). I was so determined to prove mystical beliefs valid that I spent over 20 years attempting to reconcile rational thinking and religion. I failed.
Historically, better minds than mine also failed at this endeavor. I found that there were no loopholes through which I could contort a logical argument to such a degree as to deny reality. Religion is mythology. Reality demonstrates its true nature to us every minute of every day. You don’t need to be an atheist to know that snakes don’t talk, gravity is constant, and death is permanent. Magical forces that operate outside of the laws of nature have never been real.
1. In the absence of credible evidence, atheism is the default position
I didn’t decide to become an atheist. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, atheism is the default position. Every baby on the planet is born an atheist until she is indoctrinated into the mythology of her culture. The burden of proof is on he who makes the assertion. Like Carl Sagan said, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
I am atheist because any other position would be intellectually dishonest. The fundamental human thinking error is to mistake “feeling true” for “being true.” The modern age was born the minute the scientific method factored out this natural human tendency. “Wanting” a piece of information to be true does not make it so. “Believing” a piece of information to be true does not make it so. Objective truth is provable through evidence and logic. Objective truth often conflicts with what I would prefer to be true. However, I value truth above my own emotional needs.
The evidence for every single religion is no evidence at all. They are all justified by the same fallacious support:
- Personal, spiritual experiences that have led to an intuitive sense or "gut feeling" that the god in question is real. Feelings are NOT evidence.
- Many other people within a given culture, especially respected people in positions of authority (parents, ministers, educators, political officials), share belief in said god. Popular opinion is NOT evidence.
- Stories passed on through the spoken or written word stating the existence of the god in question. Stories are NOT evidence.
Sometimes Christians say, “If you knew Jesus as I do, you would believe.” Speaking in tongues? Check. Healing? Check. Emotional redemption experience? Check. Feeling the Lord’s presence? Check. Prayers answered? Check. I have been through the experience that people call “knowing Jesus.” However, I have yet to meet a Christian who has ever experienced the dignity, peace, and wisdom that accompanies living completely without superstition under the warm light of reason. It takes great courage to deal with life without belief in supernatural helpers, but the benefits are tremendous:
2. Self-deception is degrading
As a boy, when my mother told me that Santa isn’t real, I remember longing to believe again. But, it was impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. Discarding my belief in Santa was a loss of innocence and loss of innocence brings the gift of maturity. If I were an adult who refused to acknowledge Santa as a myth, I would be considered mentally unsound. Discarding comforting religious mythology was also a loss of innocence, but it allowed me to develop an aspect of maturity otherwise impossible to achieve.
As an adult, I wouldn’t want to still believe in Santa and I wouldn’t want to still believe in a god. Through the 19th century, women were generally regarded as incapable of managing adult life without the guidance of a man. It is repugnant to modern sensibilities that grown women were treated like children. It is equally offensive to me that religion keeps the adult believer in a child’s role throughout life.
3. The permanence of death is scary, but makes life richer and fuller
The irreversible nature of death is an obvious truth when considering mosquitoes, tomato plants, or bacteria. However, when we have to deal with the death of a loved one, the permanence of death becomes overwhelming. And, when we have to reflect on our own ultimate mortality, this truth is seemingly unbearable. So like children, we retreat into fantasy. No one we care about really dies. We all get to live in a magical paradise forever.
Dealing with one’s own mortality can be frightening business. But, as Emily Dickinson said, “That life will never come again is what makes life sweet.” Truly accepting our own impermanence makes every sunset more beautiful, every meal more delicious, and every kiss more passionate. It shines a bright light on the things that are truly important in life. Knowing that our time is limited makes opportunities to interact with the people we love deeply special.
4. Making the world a better place is intrinsically rewarding
Often times, bad people enjoy great success and good people are punished. Aggressive, violent apes are often rewarded with first choice for food, grooming, and sex partners while their passive counterparts live as victims of an unfair social order. This doesn’t occur because god is punishing or testing the passive apes. It occurs because this is the nature of life in an ape tribe.
Praying will not change unfairness. One hundred years of prayer research has clearly proven that prayer has absolutely no impact on external reality. None. Spending your time praying, watching cartoons on television, or standing on one foot are all activities that do nothing to make the world a better place. The problems of this world are myriad and complex, but solutions will only come about when people take action to provide actual help for one another.
The fantasy that everything will be made right after one dies has been used to control slaves, peasants, oppressed minorities, and the down trodden throughout history. This horrible myth has enabled the rich and powerful to live in opulence through the suffering of gullible believers. Believers who accept their miserable lots in life, because they think a god will fix everything when they die. How many lives have been thrown away? How many people wasted this one and only opportunity they would ever have to enjoy the absolute wonder of living a human life?
5. Being responsible is empowering
You are 100% responsible for your life regardless of your beliefs. This truth becomes obvious at the end of life, but it is often denied by believers. The number one regret of the terminally ill? “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
If you are unhappy with your life, it is not because you are unlucky or because you are being punished by god. You are randomly thrown into this world under a wide range of life circumstances beyond your control. You may be fortunate, unfortunate, rich, poor, ugly, beautiful, healthy, sickly, tall, or short. You may be deformed or blind or brilliant. Regardless of your circumstances, you have the right and the responsibility to make something meaningful of your single opportunity at life.
Religion demands a prescribed life. It provides a paint by numbers formula for meaning. Conversely, my life is a blank canvass on which I paint from an endless palette of the experiences that vibrate with depth and significance specifically for me. Unrestricted by the egocentric delusion that my every thought and act is being monitored and judged by an invisible deity, I live as a truly free man and revel in the joy it brings me. I still experience fear, but I fear things that are real. Superstitious fears of magical forces are absurd. Observation of those who worship gods and goddesses different than your own makes this abundantly clear. Magical forces have never once harmed anyone. People who believe in such foolishness, however, have inflicted harm beyond comprehension.
I guess my final answer to, “Why be an atheist?” is “Because it is the richest, most satisfying life I can imagine!”
 Masters, Kevin S., Glen I. Spielmans, and Jason T. Goodson. "Are There Demonstrable Effects of Distant Intercessory Prayer? A Meta-analytic Review." Annals of Behavioral Medicine Ann. Behav. Med. 32.1 (2006): 21-26. Web.
 Rosen, Katerina. "The Top 5 Regrets Of The Dying." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2015.